Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah

The inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is being staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)
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Updated 26 January 2023
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Saudi Arabia stages first ever Biennale for Islamic Art in Jeddah

  • Artworks by 60 established and emerging artists from Saudi Arabia and around the world have been displayed at the event
  • The idea of Islam is the unifying element at the biennale that continues to connects cultures and people throughout the world

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia witnessed a historic moment with the opening of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale, which presented historic and contemporary works of Islamic art from around the world.

On the evening of Jan. 22, the Western Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah was filled with crowds of people waiting in eager anticipation. This was not the usual throng of pilgrims that use the terminal each year to travel to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, but one awaiting the beginning of another voyage — a metaphorical one into the realm of Islamic art through the first-ever Islamic Arts Biennale hosted by the Kingdom. 

The crowd gathered under the impressive canopies of the Hajj Terminal, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which won the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The biennial event, which includes many newly-commissioned and never-before-seen works of art, marked a historic moment not just for Saudi Arabia and the Diriyah Biennale Foundation that staged the event, but for the legacy of Islamic art, which has witnessed hardly any large-scale international exhibitions since the 1976 World of Islam Festival in London.

Jeddah’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale celebrates the legacy of Islamic art in a place close to Makkah, the fountainhead and cradle of Islam, while forging a dialogue between the past, present and future through contemporary artworks by 60 established and emerging artists from Saudi Arabia and around the world, and with over 60 new commissions and 280 historical artifacts. 




A woman walks by a display at the Islamic Arts Biennale staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

The effect is illuminating, mystical and enlightening in that this biennial, like its theme “Awwal Bait” which means “First House” in Arabic, celebrates the beauty and heritage of Islamic art in the birthplace of Islam.

“The Islamic Biennale, staged in this location at the Western Hajj Terminal, has meaning and anticipation for the future,” Saad Alrashid, a leading Saudi scholar, archaeologist and one of the curators of the event, told Arab News.

“Jeddah is the gate of the Haramain and has a deep history. There is an accumulation of strata of civilization in Saudi Arabia and throughout the ages this area was the crossroads of civilization between East and West and up to the North. Staging the Islamic Biennale here presents to the world the idea of connection between all Muslims and everybody that comes and goes from Saudi Arabia geographically, historically and politically.”

In the same vein, the theme “Awwal Bait” explores how the Holy Kaaba in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah aim to inspire Muslims both culturally and metaphysically to explore their sense of belonging and ponder the definition of home.

“At its core, the Biennale is about giving contemporary objects a home by giving them a lineage and giving historic objects a home by giving them a future,” Sumayya Vally, artistic director of the Biennale, told Arab News. 




Artwork displayed at the Islamic Arts Biennale staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

“Seeing the Biennale come to life through the voices and perspectives of our artists has been profound,” she added. “Each of them has boldly and sensitively taken on the opportunity of this platform to contribute to an emerging discourse on Islamic arts that we hope will continue.”

Staging the Islamic Arts Biennale was the result of a global effort. More than 18 local and international institutions, including the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, alongside artifacts loaned by other prestigious international institutions with an interest in Islamic Arts, such as Benaki Museum in Athens, the History of Science Museum at the University of Oxford, the Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Biennale was curated by a multi-disciplinary group of specialists, including Omniya Abdel Barr, an Egyptian architect and Barakat Trust Fellow at the V&A, and Julian Raby, director emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

“It was challenging to find objects that have survived that were made in Makkah and Madinah,” said Abdel Barr to Arab News. “We searched within collections to see how we could create a conversation between historic objects while also keeping in mind the contemporary context and this was the most interesting part.”

Regionally, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has secured loans for the exhibition from institutions such as the King Abdulaziz Library, the National Museum, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and King Saud University — all in Riyadh — and Makkah’s Museum of Antiquities and Heritage, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques and Umm Al-Qura University. From the wider region, works have been loaned from the Al-Sabah Collection and Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah in Kuwait, the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, and the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, among others. 




Man taking a picture of the artwork displayed at the Islamic Arts Biennale staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

The viewing experience is mystical, like a pilgrimage in itself. It begins in darkness with American Lebanese artist Joseph Namy’s commission “Cosmic Breath” presenting recorded calls to prayer from countries around the world played together, working as if in unison with the installation across the room by Saudi artist Nora Alissa, titled “Epiphamania: The First Light,” which depicts various black and white shots of pilgrims around the Kaaba shot impressively from beneath her abaya. Nearby is an Islamic astrolabe that is positioned towards Makkah. The trio of works mark the first example in the carefully curated show, demonstrating the dialogue generated from historic and contemporary Islamic works of art.

The structure of the Biennale is divided into four galleries and two pavilions that house artworks regarding daily Islamic rituals and Hajj. These sections intend to evoke both personal and collective emotions about the spiritual life of Muslims around the world. 

Large-scale, newly-commissioned works are found outside around the terminal’s expansive and evocative canopies, amid rays of sunlight and views of Jeddah that periodically include airplanes taking off high into the sky. The works outside communicate with nature and the Aga Khan award-winning architecture of the terminal itself.

Outside are also the pavilions of Makkah and Madinah, which present material from the Two Holy Mosques, Masjid Al-Haram and from the Hujra Al-Sharifa in Madinah. The focus here is on the initial journey that the Prophet Mohammad and his followers took from Makkah to Madinah to escape persecution. The objects on display, once again a mixture of historic and contemporary, shed light on the sense of universal belonging that ensues from the Muslim pilgrimage and journey home afterward.

Surrounding the pavilions are works by artists including Dima Srouji, Shahpour Pouyan, Moath Alofi, Reem Al-Faisal, Alia Farid, and Leen Ajlan. 




Display of Islamic art at the Islamic Arts Biennale staged at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah. (AN Photo by Ali Khamaj)

Of note is Bricklab’s architectural installation “Air Pilgrims Accommodation 1958” inspired by Jeddah’s historic Hajj housing, which Vally describes as a site that “gathered people from all over the world to stay in one place — a place for cultural production and trade.”

“The idea emanating from the works outside is for them to generate invitations for gathering, for discussion and exchange,” Vally told Arab News.

This is reflected in Tanzanian artist Lubna Chowdhary’s “The Endless Iftar” which is a 40-meter-long table inspired by rituals of eating and gathering from around the world during Ramadan.

Also positioned outside is “My Place is the Placeless” by Iranian London-based artist Shahpour Pouyan, presenting three large-scale differently colored architectural domes that represent the three major traces in the artist’s DNA after he took a test that revealed his origins go beyond his native Iran to include Scandinavia, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East.

“It’s about human interconnectedness in an effort to break down ethnic labels and identities,” Pouyan explained to Arab News. 

Like the other works on show, Pouyan’s work reflects not just on Islamic culture but on its universality, its ability to connect beyond the Middle East and offer a unifying force that goes beyond religion, nationality and culture.

As Alrashid states: “Islam is a communication of knowledge and culture.”

He added: “Since the 2030 Vision we sense that we are more welcoming just like the Makkans in the past welcomed visitors during Hajj.

“We are showing the whole world how they can enjoy Islamic art,” he said. “The Biennale is not just an exhibition or something from the past — it continues through culture, through integration with the multiculturalism of Muslims.”

Perhaps the most powerful theme of the exhibition is the idea of Islam and its art across the ages as a physical and metaphorical unifying element that continues to connect diverse cultures and people throughout the world. It is also a way, as Vally stressed to Arab News, “to define what it means to be Muslim from our own perspective, through our own art and culture to the rest of the world and to show how Islam has the power to unite us all, even non-Muslims, through its history, traditions and spiritual practices.”

 

 


Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era

Updated 01 March 2024
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Jeddah Al-Balad’s new heritage hotels offer glimpse into bygone era

  • Launched by the Historic District Program, the restored houses fuse region’s rich history with contemporary comforts

JEDDAH: Nestled in the heart of Jeddah’s historic district are heritage hotels launched by the Jeddah Historic District Program under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and in partnership with Al-Balad Development Co.

These hotels, including Beit Jokhdar, Beit Al-Rayess and Beit Kedwan, have been meticulously restored while preserving their architectural features to provide guests with an authentic glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

The restoration and rehabilitation of these heritage hotels was carried out in alignment with the highest international standards and the guidelines set out by UNESCO, which designated Jeddah Historic District as a World Heritage Site in 2014.

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage. (Instagram/jeddahalbalad.sa)

Tariq Omar Al-Saggaf, the project manager, told Arab News about the extensive work involved in reviving about 600 heritage buildings in the area. “These buildings are not only being restored but also repurposed for various functions ranging from hotels to residential, administrative, commercial and cultural purposes,” he said.

Through a harmonious blend of historical restoration and modern hospitality, these hotels offer guests an opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich history and architecture of one of Saudi Arabia’s most iconic districts.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The recent agreement between the Jeddah Historic District Program and Al-Balad Development Co. signals a new chapter in the operation of the heritage hotels. • Beit Jokhdar has one of the largest wooden facades in Al-Balad and distinctive elements such as stained glass. • Beit Kedwan, facing Beit Nassif, stands out for its wooden rawasheen and mashrabiyyas.

During an exclusive tour at Beit Jokhdar, Milica Markovic, the general manager of Al-Balad Historic Hotels, told Arab News that the restoration process aimed to maintain the original charm of the buildings: “80 percent of the building has been restored to how it originally was. This building has the biggest roshan window in Jeddah. It has nine rooms and suites and it’s the biggest out of the three that we have.”

She added: “So, that’s why the architecture is actually very unique. It is very important for us to reflect for the guests, although these are hotels (they have) a very homey, elegant vibe.”

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage. (Instagram/jeddahalbalad.sa)

The attention to detail in preserving elements such as the roshan window, wooden ornaments and oil lamp hooks gives guests an insight into the heritage of the region. Local craftsmanship and artistry are also integral to the interior design and ambiance of the hotels, reflecting the cultural richness of Saudi Arabia.

“The ceilings are also original with wood ornament carving that is handmade. We even preserved the old hooks, where they used to put the oil lamps to lighten up the room. Most of the art and furniture you see … most of it has been done locally, so we really try to showcase fully not just the interior design and architecture of Saudi Arabia but also ... the work of the artists,” Markovic said.

Each of the three heritage hotels showcases a different architectural design that highlights the historical and aesthetic value of the buildings.

Beit Jokhdar, for instance, has one of the largest wooden facades in Al-Balad and features distinctive elements such as plaster decorations, arches, stained glass and ornate wooden interiors.

Beit Kedwan, facing Beit Nassif, stands out for its wooden rawasheen and mashrabiyyas, while Beit Al-Rayess is celebrated for its location and architectural features both internally and externally.

Markovic said: “The whole renovation process, I believe, took a little bit more than two years. But to set it up at the hotel and the hotel operation … it’s been only actually three months so we’ve been hardcore working to set everything up for the year.

“The most beautiful thing about these hotels is we don’t have to come up with a fancy marketing strategy or anything, we can just embrace them and share this beautiful history story,” Markovic said.

“Prices go usually from SR5,000 ($1,333) and more per night, but depending on the seasonality event in Jeddah, it can go a certain percentage lower or higher depending on the occupancy.”

Hospitality and dining in all hotels is inspired by an authentic Saudi flavor, “We have hired fantastic young chefs that are basically developing dishes that are inspired by Saudi cuisine, but with a bit of a more modern fine dining and elegant twist,” Markovic said.

The recent agreement between the Jeddah Historic District Program and Al-Balad Development Co. signals a new chapter in the operation of the heritage hotels.

With 34 heritage houses set to be managed under this partnership, Al-Balad Hospitality aims to offer authentic hospitality experiences that celebrate the culture of the region.

The commitment to preserving the history and providing enriching experiences positions Jeddah Historic District as a sought-after destination for visitors worldwide.

The opening of the first three heritage hotels in Jeddah Historic District marks a significant milestone in efforts to preserve and promote cultural heritage.

 


King Saud University pioneers in metaverse technology

The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)
Updated 01 March 2024
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King Saud University pioneers in metaverse technology

  • Unveiled on the inaugural day of the “Fomex” exhibition at the third Saudi Media Forum which was conducted earlier this month, the virtual space meticulously mirrors the intricate details and units in the media department

JEDDAH: In a transformative leap towards technological integration, the Department of Mass Communication at the King Saud University has harnessed the power of metaverse technology and artificial intelligence tools to create a groundbreaking virtual space that encapsulates the essence of the university’s communication landscape.

The genesis of this project traces back to a collaborative effort by Majedah Alsewaiah and Khadeja Moraished, both from the Department of Mass Communication.

The first Metaverse space at the level of Saudi universities for the Department of Media at King Saud University. (Supplied)

Inspired by their training in AI journalism and the metaverse, the duo conceptualized a virtual environment that would serve as a dynamic showcase of the department’s achievements and milestones.

Unveiled on the inaugural day of the “Fomex” exhibition at the third Saudi Media Forum which was conducted earlier this month, the virtual space meticulously mirrors the intricate details and units in the media department.

HIGHLIGHT

The metaverse’s virtual space enhances immersive learning by enabling students to actively engage in their education, such as participating in historical simulations or real-time language practice with avatars.

From the head of the department’s office to the various cutting-edge studios and centers, such as the digital and visual media lab, electronic journalism lab, and the university’s newspaper headquarters, every facet is intricately woven into this digital tapestry.

Moraished, who is a Ph.D candidate in digital media at the Mass Communication Department at KSU, told Arab News: “After earning our diploma in AI journalism and the metaverse, Dr. Majedah Alsewaiah, an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communication, and I developed a project for our final submission, showcasing the accomplishments of the media department. This led to the conception of utilizing metaverse technology to craft a virtual environment.

“We proposed the idea using metaverse technology for a virtual space to Dr. Faisal Al-Oqail, head of the media department, and the project was refined to mirror the department’s various units and key university landmarks, including the iconic book roundabout, emblematic of the KSU,” she said.

Moraished said that the metaverse’s virtual space enhances immersive learning by enabling students to actively engage in their education, such as participating in historical simulations or real-time language practice with avatars.

“Virtual reality allows for hands-on interaction with complex concepts. It facilitates global collaboration by removing geographical barriers, connecting students and educators worldwide for joint projects and exchanging teaching methods. This fosters cross-cultural learning and prepares students for a future where global cooperation is crucial.”

Alsewaiah credits the media department of the KSU with pioneering innovation in the metaverse sphere.

Embracing Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse as “the future of the internet,” she said that “the university’s virtual space supports its commitment to digital advancement and knowledge dissemination.”

Central to the project’s success is the seamless integration of AI tools in editing, designing, and production.

Looking ahead, Alsewaiah envisions further expansion and enhancement of the metaverse project, propelling educational excellence and fostering creativity in communication and media realms.

“The transition to the metaverse will spark competition and primarily enhance education by facilitating knowledge transfer and interaction between professors and students. Utilizing the metaverse and AI for creative outputs will also advance communication, and media, and elevate Saudi media’s effectiveness and distinction,” said Alsewaiah.

 


‘Asayel’ equestrian theater show wins hearts in Diriyah

‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 46 min 31 sec ago
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‘Asayel’ equestrian theater show wins hearts in Diriyah

  • “Asayel” is part of the collective events of Diriyah Season, which aims to promote the cultural and historical heritage of the city

RIYADH: The story of Fahad and his beloved horse Asayel are at the heart of a new theatrical equestrian show in Diriyah that is captivating visitors.

The show follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with Asayel. The horse is later passed to Fahad’s son, Faris, who experiences hardship before navigating the modern city of Diriyah with his animal companion, eventually leading the community to unity and determination.

“Asayel,” which runs from Feb. 28 to March 8 at Mayadeen Theater, is presented by Z7 Show Horses, a company of 40 performers and 40 horses bringing sophistication and passion to Diriyah.

‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

The team’s director, Laura Arkle, said: “Z7 Show Horses and the team are extremely excited to be performing in Saudi Arabia. Being able to tell the Diriyah story whilst incorporating the rich culture through the art of equestrian entertainment is a dream come true for all of us.”

“Asayel” has been met with high praise from audience members, including Saudi model and content creator Reyouf Madkhali, who said: “This is my first time attending a show with this high-quality performance.”

FASTFACT

‘Asayel’ runs until March 8 at Mayadeen Theater in Diriyah.

She added: “It was very professional, clean cut … honestly, it was very well organized.”

Events like “Asayel” in Diriyah, which celebrate the ancient city’s heritage, have reached a new level of professionalism and showmanship, Madkhali said.

Nada Abdul Hakim, a young Saudi singer and actress who plays the role of Nourah in the show, told Arab News: “It is a beautiful experience … my role is Nourah in the story, Faris’ friend. Nourah taught Faris how to ride a horse because he loved horses.”

“Asayel” is part of the collective events of Diriyah Season, which aims to promote the cultural and historical heritage of the city.

 


New Murabba partners with Tourism Development Fund to bring Riyadh’s downtown to life

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri.
Updated 01 March 2024
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New Murabba partners with Tourism Development Fund to bring Riyadh’s downtown to life

  • The agreement aims to unlock New Murabba’s potential, placing Riyadh at the forefront of global destinations

RIYADH: New Murabba Development Company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tourism Development Fund to spearhead the transformation of Riyadh.

The agreement will see the two entities work together to create New Murabba, for what they envisage will be the world’s largest modern downtown, serving as a model for future urban development and contributing toward Riyadh city’s evolution, in line with Vision 2030.

NMDC’s strategic partnership with TFD is pivotal in realizing New Murabba’s ambition to create the most advanced, transformative, downtown experience in the world. It aims to fulfil Saudi Arabia’s potential as a leading investment destination — for what the entities involved foresee as a place where people live, work and play; a tourism and hospitality hotspot distinguished by a thriving technology ecosystem; an enabling business environment; and a diverse and welcoming society.

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. As part of the agreement, TDF will provide direct financing opportunities in collaboration with its network of partners and contracted investors, solidifying NMDC’s access to TDF’s expertise, networks and investment capabilities.

The agreement aims to unlock New Murabba’s potential, placing Riyadh at the forefront of global destinations and showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to innovative, sustainable urban development, cultural richness and international visitor experiences.

 


Riyadh hosts GCC, talks with foreign ministers on Sunday

Updated 01 March 2024
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Riyadh hosts GCC, talks with foreign ministers on Sunday

  • “The GCC Ministerial Council and the joint ministerial meetings with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco will be held on March 3,” the GCC posted on X
  • A joint ministerial meeting will be held on the sidelines

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council will host its 159th ministerial session in Riyadh on Sunday, while separate meetings will be held involving the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
“The GCC Ministerial Council and the joint ministerial meetings with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco will be held on March 3,” the GCC posted on X.
The council shared a statement from GCC Secretary-General Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi, which said: “The meeting of the 159th Ministerial Council of the GCC will be held (on) Sunday in Riyadh, headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Qatar (and) president of the current session of the Ministerial Council, in the presence of the foreign ministers of the GCC countries.”
A joint ministerial meeting will be held on the sidelines between the GCC and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.
The secretary-general said that the Ministerial Council will discuss a number of reports on the subject of following up on the implementation of the decisions of the GCC’s Supreme Council that were issued by the summit in Doha in December 2023.
It will also focus on memorandums and reports submitted by the ministerial and technical committees and the general secretariat, in addition to topics related to dialogues and strategic relations between the GCC countries and global countries and blocs, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
Al-Budaiwi said that the Gulf-Egyptian meeting will look at several topics, the most important of which are the joint action plan and ways to enhance cooperation.
The meetings between the GCC and Jordan and Morocco will form part of the distinctive relationships and partnerships between the parties.