The artistic landscape in Saudi Arabia has seen a phenomenal development over the last few years, credit due for the ongoing efforts of the Saudi Art Council, which was formed to provide an institutional platform for creative thinking and experimentation where the general public can experience thought-provoking exhibitions and an extensive programme of talks and workshops.
The seventh edition of 21,39 Jeddah Arts has been conceived as an urgent call to action in response to environmental emergencies from the specificity of a local context and participants are required to seek out tangible solutions to formulate alternative and symbiotic ways to inhabit our planet.
(Non-)Perishable (2020) by Obadah Aljefri
The exhibition, aptly entitled 'I Love You, Urgently', takes a thorough look at the global climate crisis through a series of individual artistic endeavours. “Each work is a personal journey into the experience of the climate emergency, relating and exploring it through tangible, real-life ideas,” says the curator of the exhibition, Maya El Khalil.
“As such, it is as diverse and as idiosyncratic as each participating artist, and they are all very diverse. There is so much dialogue that is scientific or bureaucratic, this can feel alienating and it is easy to feel defeated.”
21,39 Jeddah Arts has grown steadily since its inception in 2014. This year, through the country’s much-awaited opening to tourism – in line with the Vision 2030 - the seventh edition is attracting a much greater public.
Saudi Art Council curates an extensive educational programme for each edition of 21,39 Jeddah Arts which has young people at its utmost focus. The seventh edition continues building on this important work to elevate education in the arts across Saudi Arabia.
(Non-) Perishable (2020) by Obadah Aljefri
German architect Frei Otto’s sustainable architectural approach was the inspiration behind the theme of the seventh edition. Otto, considered the father of biomimicry, was always inspired by the processes of form-finding in nature and studied the structure of cells and bones, trunks and stalks, spiderwebs and all the minimalistic details encrusted in nature’s bounty.
Taking into consideration the environmental emergency and the migration crisis we are enduring today, Otto’s ecological and adaptable approach to architecture is timely and pressing. "His philosophy is a new approach away from the overemphasis of power into the direction of an understanding of a new human scale,” says Maya. “For him, architecture is a starting point for a collective discourse on the future of society.”
A view of the Jeddah Arts 21,39 Exhibition
This edition of 21,39 Jeddah Arts is exhibiting works such as Al-Manakh, You Will Be Missed (2019) by artists Alaa Tarabzouni & Fahad bin Naif. The work highlights the huge environmental impact of the Saudi cement factory, while also offering an insight into factory life and the tight-knit community it has created around it, with the neighbourhood an unlikely human utopia and an example of ‘live, work, play’ type of philosophy.
Aziz Jamal’s 1056% (2019) documents abandoned water parks in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and Riyadh, drained of water and empty of people, revealing a silent crisis. Saudi Arabia is saddled with a critical debt of having used 1056% of its total renewable water sources, far exceeding the conservative global water-scarcity threshold of 20-40%.
The theme parks featured in the artist’s video work are relics of a short-sighted way of life, a culture of abundance that ignores a critical situation in favour of leisure, and enjoyment and pastimes imported from elsewhere, without consideration of local traditions or conditions.
1056% (2019) by Aziz Jamal
Amsterdam-based designer Duran Lantink’s It’s not what u think (2020) is another highlight. Frustrated by fashion's pervasive overconsumption, Lantink takes leftover designer overstock and interweaves them together to create improbable new garments.
For the fair, he has created a site-specific installation of three outfits from pre-owned garments donated by individuals in Jeddah.
It’s not what u think (2020) by Duran Lantink
Also of note is Ephemeral Witness (2020) by Saudi artist Manal Aldowayan. The 'Desert Rose', known colloquially amongst geologists and mystics as "an ephemeral witness to time", is a rare, flower-like crystal formation, found in the desert near Aldowayan’s childhood home of Dhahran.
Rendered here in fabric, the desert rose's surfaces are printed with information that guides women on how to behave in public spaces. Falling and folding, the soft sculpture loses meaning. Erect, it solidifies the concept.
As the layered petals reveal and conceal the texts, the work suggests the difficulties that exist when discussing gender issues in the public sphere.
Ephemeral Witness (2020) by Manal Aldowayan
Other artists featured at the exhibition include Ayman Zedani, Cristiana De Marchi, Daniah Al Saleh, Farah K. Behbehani, Filwa Nazer, Maha Nasrallah, Marwah AlMugait, Mohammad Alfaraj, Mohammed Kazem, Muhannad Shono, Obadah Aljefri, Omar Abduljawad, Nojoud Alsudairi, Raja’a Khalid, Sultan Bin Fahd and Zahrah Alghamdi.
“These artists were selected based on the quality of their initial proposal or the promise it contained; and importantly, based on their eagerness to be challenged and their readiness to invest time in research,” says El Khalil.
An important characteristic of art is its ability to disrupt, to challenge society’s way of thinking. With the recent major developments, this exhibition is set to encourage a more in-depth engagement with environmental issues and the formulation of community groups and policies to promote an everlasting change in our consumption and extraction mentality.
I Love You, Urgently is on view at the Gold Moor Mall and Rahat Al Khunji in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia until 18 April 2020. Please note exhibition opening times and dates might be subject to change, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Harper’s Bazaar Arabia encourages everyone to stay home and to stay safe during these challenging times.
Images courtesy of 21,39 Jeddah Arts
From the Spring 2020 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Art