JEDDAH: The Saudi Art Council announced this year 21.39 Jeddah Arts, a program of special exhibitions, workshops and educational forums taking place in Jeddah until June featuring the work of 27 artists from across the Kingdom and ‘other countries.
The exhibition will then be hosted by Ithra, in Dhahran, from June 30 until the end of September.
This year’s program was organized by Venetia Porter under the title “Amakin”.
It was inspired by a saying of the famous Saudi singer Mohamed Abdo: “Al-amakin kullaha mushtaqah lak” or “all places desire you”.
Porter asked contributing artists to take visitors to their “makan, a place you love…somewhere real or in your imagination”.
The art historian and curator said “everything clicked into place” as soon as she heard the song.
“Evolving during the global COVID pandemic, when home, dreams and imagination have become a lifeline out of isolation, the resulting works by 27 artists, both special orders and loans, are particularly poignant.
“Expressed through different mediums, including neon, paint, artists’ books, sculpture, photography, poetry and film, the narrative explores each artist’s relationship with their own makan.”
The exhibition opened on March 3 in Jeddah with the works of two Saudi art pioneers, Safeya Binzagr and the late Abdulhalim Radwi.
Now 82, Binzagr, originally from Jeddah, is the only artist in the country to have opened her own museum, while Radwi is well known for her striking and memorable sculptures on the Jeddah Corniche.
Other works related to Jeddah include a fantasy film set in the city of Mohammed Hammad, and photographs evoking the historic district of Al-Balad by Emy Kat and Reem Al-Faisal.
Bashaer Hawsawi highlights the heterogeneous character of the city through many textiles from around the world found in Al-Balad.
From Jeddah, Bader Awwad AlBalawi takes us north to Khobar, documenting the changing nature of the city. Talib Almarri invites us to his makan at the dream lake of Al-Asfar.
Ali Cherri introduces us to Sultan Zeib Khan guarding an ancient necropolis in the Sharjah desert, and the poignant photographs of Gaza-born Taysir Batniji tell a personal story of the idea of home.
Ancient Arabia is brought to light through the Mu’allaqat — the famous poems said to have hung on the walls of the Kaaba in Mecca, and which inspired the early 21,39 Jeddah Arts, in a painting by Dia al- Azzawi. Catalina Swinburn has taken down and rewoven archaeological textbooks, while Shadia Alem’s drawings of the legendary Jinniyat of Lar are inspired by a story by her sister, the writer Raja Alem.
In choosing and commissioning the works for the exhibition, Porter was strongly drawn to artists who worked with paper.
“I am fascinated by the process of drawing and printing, the beauty of handmade paper, the phenomenon of the artist’s book, and how artists work with poetry to express the idea of makan.”
Imran Qureshi uses the traditional techniques of Mughal painters to tell contemporary stories. Sara Abdu paints with henna and Badr Ali explores engraving.
Obadah Aljefri draws inspiration from his childhood diaries. Asma Bahmim evokes the deposit of texts in the house of her aunt in Al-Balad. Manal AlDowayan transforms a medieval text on healing into ceramic scrolls.
Poetry also plays a central role in this year’s work. Hussein AlMohsen is inspired by the poems of Ghassan Alkhunaizi, while the sculptural forms of the poetry-filled books by Al-Azzawi, Ghassan Ghaib and Nazar Yahya recall the destruction that has befallen Baghdad, the city that also haunts Sadik Alfraji which he recalls in the story of a single tree in a street in Baghdad or in his animated film “Ali’s Boat”.
Lujain Faqerah makes books that represent “places of stillness, somewhere of stillness”, and Muhannad Shono makes his book with sand because “the sand chooses the stories to tell and the secrets to hide”.
In the last work of the exhibition, Aisha Khalid takes us into her makan, Makkah, the richly embroidered textiles reminiscent of the Kiswa, the fabric that dresses the Kaaba.