Featuring over 30 Saudi and international artists, this year’s edition of 21,39 takes a fresh look at the growing Saudi contemporary art landscape. Taking place across three venues, the main group exhibition Refusing To Be Still will be held at the Gold Moor Mall, Rubat Al Khunji and an empty PepsiCo factory. A second group exhibition is hosted at ATHR gallery entitled The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen, while a third exhibition will showcase works by Ahmed Mater in Drum Roll, Please at King Abdullah Economic City. A diverse offering of family activities, book launches and trips are also scheduled.
With Tate Modern’s Vassilis Oikonomopoulos at the curatorial helm, “The generation of ideas, concepts and artistic forms is an endless negotiation and a continuous dialogue,” he said. “Like an evolving reality, artistic practices are constantly transforming, refusing to stand still and become permanent. In a fast-forming landscape of events, which characterises the contemporary moment in Saudi, the fifth edition of 21,39 investigates the multifaceted practices that emerge in this continuously active landscape.”
Within the selected theme, Oikonomopoulos has highlighted several works that will be on view. “Abdelkarim Qassem has created a powerful installation which incorporates found and organic elements. Fragments of bombs the artist has sourced in different parts of the country have been turned into sculptural objects,” he says. “Commenting on the history of ready-made in art, but also Minimalism and Land art, Qassem’s shrapnels address both personal and collective layers of meaning.”
Oikonomopoulos also shares that two calligraphers-turned-artists, Abdulaziz Al Rashedi and Nasser Al Salem, will share inspiring works that reconsider the possibility of text, meaning and form through fragmentation and transformation. “Emy Kat’s selection of images from projects that relate to the history of Jeddah and life in Dubai explores questions about the production of a future reality,” he adds, “juxtaposing the two places, the images question the idea of progress and development.”
History and contemporaneity in relation to the activation and future of tradition will be tackled by Filwa Nazer’s large scale work exploring the collective imaginary, identity and history of the Al-Ittihad football team; Nojoud Al Sudairi delves into the future of weaving via a personal and poetic installation; and Aya Haidar will present a hand-embroidered contract in Urdu that addresses the conceptualisation and production of an artwork.
As a final selection of highlights, Oikonomopoulos adds that the Rubat Al Khunji location will celebrate Jeddah through an architectural installation. “The work of Bricklab, an architecture, research and design studio founded by Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz, reinvigorates the spaces of the building, introducing a different nature,” he explains. “The idea of nature as culture, and that plants can present us with a different history of the world permeates the concept of this installation.”
The last venue, an out of use PepsiCo factory recognised as a recent urban monument, will be the setting for the film and video works around the subject of city life and the urban condition from artists spanning Berlin, London, Chiang Mai and Toronto.
Collateral exhibition Drum Roll, Please (10-24 February 2018), curated by Jumana Ghouth of ATHR, will introduce film, photography, sculpture and installation from the last decade of Saudi Ahmed Mater’s practice. Focused on the significant changes occurring across the Kingdom, Mater’s work documents the “upturns and plunges” through five chapters of what Ghouth explains as Saudi’s feverish pace of flux.
“It is fitting that his first major solo presentation in the Kingdom comes at a time of dramatic change; it is a prescient moment to consider the narratives he brings to our attention,” she stated. “Even though the changes are loud and sometimes unsettling, after the commotion has subsided, the new future, imagined and conjured, will remain.”
21,39 is supported by a partnership between UBS and the Saudi Art Council with the collaborative efforts of Van Cleef & Arpels – whose Middle East and India Managing Director stated their support with “We are ardent supporters of local artists and designers, and strongly believe that this exhibition is a great platform to introduce Saudi talent to the world” – as well as BMW Contemporary, an art initiative within BMW Middle East.