Lawrence of Arabia is alleged to have claimed there is no art in Arabia, but the debut of over 40 works by Saudi artists, ranging from videos to sculptures and even art installations, at the Edge of Arabia exhibition proved otherwise.
The exhibition, exceptionally curated by Mohammed Hafiz and co-curated by Edge of Arabia Founder Stephen Stapleton, began on Jan. 19 at the Al Furusia Marina along the Jeddah Corniche. The highly anticipated second Pan-Arab exhibition of contemporary art remarkably upstaged its prequel, “The Future of a Promise,” which took place at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2010.
“This exhibition is a true homecoming for Edge of Arabia and is geared toward encouraging constructive discussion and dialogue between Saudi contemporary artists and the local community. All participating artists will react to our title ‘We Need to Talk’ within three categories: The Past, The Present and The Future. This is a great opportunity for us all to think about how we can positively shape and influence the world around us,” said Hafiz.
The exhibition features over 40 new works by emerging Saudi contemporary artists, including: Abdulnasser Gharem, Adwa AlMubarak, Ahaad Alamoudi, Ahmed Angawi, Ahmed Mater, Ayman Yossri Daydban, Effat Fadaag, Eyad Maghazel, Hala Ali, Hamza Serafi, Ibrahim Abumsmar, Jowhara AlSaud, Maha Malluh, Manal Al-Dowayan, Mohammed Al Ghamdi, Nasser Al-Salem, Noha Al-Sharif, Saddek Wasil, Saeed Salem, Sami Al-Turki, Sara Al-Abdali and Sarah Abu Abdullah.
“The mood is electric; you can see it on everyone’s faces. People are excited. Finally something like this has come to Jeddah. We are witnessing an awakening,” enthused Sara Maklad, a Saudi professional.
Artists captured the spirit of the exhibition, and in turn, afforded the audience an opportunity to engage in a didactic conversation about common conceptions of ideology, culture, religion and the construct of an Arab identity. “Edge of Arabia Jeddah: We Need to Talk” takes the audience from beginning to end, all the while traversing the brink. There is art in Arabia. It’s provocative, esoteric and we are all a part of it.
Within the context of figuring out what has been lost and what has been inherited, Maha Malluh nourishes the viewer with her piece “Food For Thought,” whereby 30-year-old religious audio tape recordings are neatly arranged on vintage baking trays of the same cultural period. In this preservation for posterity, viewers balance on tiptoes at the precipice of religious ideology and are forced to differentiate between what is choice, what is inherited and what is chance, all the while finding a comfortable balance somewhere in the space in between.
Inspiring audiences yet again, were the artistic compositions by Abdulnasser Gharem, the humble lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Arabian Army and co-founder of Edge of Arabia: “Exit Only,” “Concrete Block,” and the soon-to-be “The Stamp.” The compositions gently nudge his viewers to ponder the quintessence of Arab identity while revealing the power that Arabs possess to free themselves from an artificially conceived western construction of Arab identity. “Exit Only” counters the notion of artistic complexity by absorbing the mundane and channeling it into something simple yet extraordinary.
“Each artwork has a message, it’s not only linked to my country, but it speaks a global language. ‘Concrete Block’ challenges people to think about what they believe. These concrete blocks began to appear in a post-911 world, around embassies and hotels, as an illusion that it can protect people against a threatening ideology. Why put your trust in the concrete? Things we see around us everyday can become art. I never thought someone would buy my ‘Concrete Block.’ I couldn’t believe that someone actually did and that it hadn’t been done before,” explained Gharem.
“The roundabout in ‘Exit Only’ represents the people rising up. The arrow pointing to the left represents the west, while the arrow pointing to the right represents the east. Yet, there is an almost invisible arrow, and it’s pointing towards a new notion of the east and questions our understanding of the east,” said Gharem.
Gharem catapulted to international acclaim after making history at Christies Dubai in April 2011, when his piece “The Message/Messenger” was auctioned for $842,500, one of the largest sums ever paid for a work by an artist from the Gulf. All the proceeds from the sale were donated to the Edge of Arabia to support the expansion of an arts education program in the Kingdom.
Solutions reside in the kind of inclusive discussions encouraged by Ahmed Angawi’s “Street Pulse” installation. In the wake of the Arab Spring, this interactive installation will encourage “Evolution, not Revolution,” Angawi quotes Prince Turki Al-Faisal, by offering the community a medium to speak and express oneself at different recording hotspots across the Arab World. The project acts as an electrocardiogram machine, which instead of measuring the vitals of the body, measures the pulse of the street.
The spirit of Edge of Arabia brings the periphery to the forefront and allows that periphery to define and determine what so many foreign generations have already defined for the Arabs.
To accompany the exhibition, Edge of Arabia will deliver an ambitious education program at Dar Al-Hekma College. The second Edge of Arabia visual arts book will be launched during Art Dubai in March 2012.
The exhibition will continue running until Feb. 18.
Hours: Saturday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to midnight. Admission is free.
For more information, visit: www.edgeofarabia.com