Saudi's First Biennale Aims to Uplift Local Artists

Published November 23rd, 2021 - 08:42 GMT
Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale will present spectacular works by Saudi and International artists. (Instagram)

Diriyah Biennale Foundation will present Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale from Dec. 11 to March 11, 2022 in the JAX district of Diriyah, just outside of Riyadh.

In an interview with Arab News, the co-curator of the event Wejdan Reda said that the main goal for the biennale was to provide a platform for Saudi artists and “put them on par with international artists.”

The researcher said that the event aims to create a dialogue between local and international talents, “as well as provide a platform for Saudi viewers and Saudi audiences to view works from around the world but in their home country.”

“It is important to have this distinctive moment every year for the Saudi audiences to get exposed to various art from around the world,” Reda said.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale spans more than 25,000 square meters in the heart of the industrial Ad-Diriyaha area. 

Planning for the event began in 2019. The biennale was initially scheduled to take place in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed the organizers’ plans. 

“Shortly after we were assigned, in late 2019, the pandemic started to take place and pushed our plans. But I think it was actually beneficial as it gave us more time to think about the commissioned works and allow us to further reflect on the plans for the biennale,” Reda said. 

The event has been developed by a team of international curators led by Philip Tinari, director and chief executive of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, China. Tinari is an American writer, critic, art curator and expert in Chinese contemporary art.

Reda said that working with Tinari was “amazing.”

“I learned a lot about Chinese art, and I was happy to share the knowledge that I have acquired over the past years about the local Saudi artists and their practices, and showcasing the cultural understandings that we have,” she said. 

“It was wonderful to have that cultural exchange and that dialogue throughout the past two years with him and the wider curatorial team.”


Among the participating artists is a strong selection of Chinese artists. “Considering that Philip is the director, and he has a long standing with a lot of the Chinese artists there, it was important to incorporate many of those artists in the show as it is also considered a new type of art in Saudi,” Reda said.  

The biennale will unfold in six sections, with works from national and international artists examining the theme “Feeling the Stones,” which is inspired by the phrase “crossing the river by feeling the stones” — an expression used around the world, Reda said. 

“(It) describes the change and the transformation, in specific to economic change, cultural change and social change, and therefore in a sense the biennale focusses on this idea of the aesthetic of change,” she said.

Last month the foundation announced the names of more than 60 artists from around the world who are set to showcase their work at the event. 


“In our search for regional, Saudi and international artists, we based our search on their practices of course (and) what could highlight some of the questions we are raising through the curatorial brief,” Reda said.   

The selected artists include Omar Abduljawad (Saudi Arabia, 1989), Sarah Abu Abdallah (Saudi Arabia, 1990), Hmoud Al Attawi (Saudi Arabia, 1986), Manal AlDowayan (Saudi Arabia, 1973), Fahad Al Hejailan (Saudi Arabia, 1957-2018) and Lulwah Al-Homoud (Saudi Arabia, 1967).

Reda is a Saudi contemporary art curator, researcher and the founder of Sahaba, a consultancy agency dedicated to supporting the art community through providing specialized curatorial and artistic consulting services.  

Over the past seven years she has worked on multiple exhibitions locally and internationally, including curating “Intimate Dimensions (2020),” a group exhibition exploring the notion of constructed spaces and existing built environments, and co-curating “Every Second in Between” (2018), a large-scale public art installation by artist Kyung Hwa Shon in White City, London. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Copyright: Arab News © 2021 All rights reserved.

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