[21,39] Will Take Place in Jeddah from February 7 to May 5
RIYADH, February 4 – Unfolding in three venues in Jeddah, this year’s [21,39] Jeddah Art exhibition, one of the most important events on the Saudi arts calendar, features the work of contemporary Saudi artists working in a wide variety of media in the first major art exhibition to take place following the imposition of social and economic reforms. This show, integral to the Kingdom’s cultural development, has been organized by the Saudi Art Council and will be anchored at the Council’s main exhibition space at the Gold Moor Mall in Jeddah. The event will take place in two other venues in Jeddah this year, the historical site of Rubat Al Khunji, and the currently disused PepsiCo factory, which is being opened to the public for the first time.
The Saudi Art Council invited Vassilis Oikonomopoulos from the Tate Modern Museum London to curate the exhibition. He has brought together 30 artists whose lives and careers include multiple contexts and cities. In a contemporary reality largely defined by movement, Saudi and international artists that participate in the exhibition are examples of ongoing artistic dialogues. This year’s theme, “Refusing To Be Still”, is characterized by the curator as: “The generation of ideas, concepts and artistic forms is an endless negotiation and a continuous dialogue. Like an evolving reality, artistic practices are constantly transforming, refusing to stand still and become permanent. In a fast-forming landscape of events, which characterizes the contemporary moment in Saudi, the fifth edition of [21,39] investigates the multifaceted practices that emerge in this continuously active landscape.”
The partnership between UBS and the Saudi Art Council over the last 4 years, has showcased the Kingdom’s splendid and rich culture from past to present. “We share a passion with our clients and all art enthusiasts to participate in the dynamic world of contemporary art, and to actively support collecting activity,” expressed Ali Janoudi, Vice-Chairman of the Board, UBS Saudi Arabia. “This year’s theme, ‘Refusing To Be Still,’ is one that particularly resonates with us and our clients as we look for continuous dialogue with the evolving world around us.”
Also returning as a sponsor is Van Cleef & Arpels, the world-renowned jewelry company. Commented Alessandro Maffi, Van Cleef & Arpels Managing Director Middle East and India: “Van Cleef & Arpels is proud to take part, once again, in [21, 39] Jeddah Arts, and witness the constant development of the art scene in Saudi Arabia. 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.”
Inspired by BMW Contemporary, a highly exclusive art initiative in the Middle East, Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors, the BMW Group Importer in Saudi Arabia, also expressed his pride at coming on board to partner with the Saudi Art Council for this year’s Jeddah event.
The curator, Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, shed some light on his analysis on some of the artworks chosen:
Abdelkarim Qassem has created a powerful installation incorporating found and organic elements. Fragments of bombs the artist has sourced in different parts of the country have been turned into sculptural objects, a comment on the history of ready-made in art.
The manner in which styles are evolving and changing is evident in the work of two artists who were originally trained as calligraphers. Abdulaziz Al Rashedi and Nasser Al Salem use their backgrounds to re-evaluate the creative possibilities of text, meaning and form. Nasser uses verses of the Holy Quran, which he recreates in the form of constellations. The complex system of letters which he devises explores the fragmentation and de-materialization of language, a process of change 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. Juxtaposing the two places, the images question the idea of progress and development.
Another group of artists draws on questions about history and contemporaneity, the future of tradition and the ways in which heritage can be productively activated, without resorting to clichés. Filwa Nazer has created a large-scale work that explores the history of one of the country’s most beloved football teams, Al-Ittihad. The history of the team, with its victories and losses, resonates with the collective imagination and the collective identity. Similarly, Nojoud Al Sudairi explores the future of the weaving tradition, through a sculptural installation that includes personal layers and poetry as part of its resolution. Aya Haidar has created a remarkable piece consisting of a hand-embroidered contract in Urdu, which reflects the relationship between concepts and production of an artwork.
Rubat Al Khunji, a historic building in downtown Jeddah that is a celebration of the diversity of Jeddah and its rich history. With an architectural installation, the historic building invites audiences back onto its premises for a reevaluation. 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. This presents the idea of nature as culture. And the idea that plants can present us with a different history of the world permeates this installation.
The third site of this year’s exhibition, a decommissioned PepsiCo Factory, can be regarded as one of Jeddah’s more recent urban monuments. Near the confluence of some of the city’s busiest roads, the former industrial plant is a sleeping giant, an enormous space currently filled with empty soft drink bottles. The spectacular size and volume make it a perfect location for the presentation of films and video works. It is the site of two works by international artists based in Chiang Mai and Toronto that deal with concerns surrounding life as we know it in cities and diverse localities.
“Refusing To Be Still” is evidence of an artistic process that is always in flux. The exhibition opens on Wednesday February 7 and will run for three months, offering creative family activities, book launches, and trips that are open to the public.