The first of its kind “Out of Britain” art exhibition kicked off yesterday at the National Museum in Riyadh. Held by the British Council in partnership with the Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities and the Riyadh National Museum, the exhibition featured over 50 artworks linked together through the theme of the British landscape.
"Out Of Britain" is also supported by a full, month-long program of public lectures, workshops for artists and teachers as well as a nationwide online art competition.
The exhibition was inaugurated by the Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja and British Ambassador Sir Tom Phillips, both of whom gave speeches before the gallery was opened.
In his opening remarks, the British ambassador expressed delight that cultural relations between the two countries are today stronger than ever. “The British Museum has just run a major exhibition on the Haj, featuring many remarkable pieces from Saudi Arabia and visited by more than 100,000 visitors.”
He also noted next month it would be holding an exhibition dedicated to the horse and timed to coincide with the Olympic Games. It is also conceived as a Diamond Jubilee gift to the Queen and is entitled “The Horse: Ancient Arabia to the Modern World.” Adrian Chadwick, director of the British Council in Saudi Arabia, in his address in Arabic said that this collaboration will extend to a similar art exhibition titled “Out of Saudi Arabia… And About It” planned later this year in London and show new Saudi art. He also explained that "Out of Britain" will tour seven cities in the Gulf and Europe, including Jeddah and Alkhobar.
Phillips told Arab News that this is a very special year on the cultural relations front with the Haj exhibition in London, which featured a major Saudi contribution, as well as the upcoming Horse exhibition in May. He saw this as part of a pattern of cultural exchanges between the two countries that is interesting to him personally because of the spark of creativity that results from the contact between two different cultures such as the English and Saudis.
Furthermore, with the Saudi exhibition going to the UK he wondered what would emerge from this exchange and hoped that it enriched the understanding of Saudi culture in the UK since there’s very little known about it, adding that there is a whole richness to be explored.
He also noted the main exchanges between the two country are in the field of education where there are almost 20,000 Saudi students in the UK, adding that they definitely welcome more numbers.
Moreover, he highlighted that around 75 British universities have come to Riyadh participating in the recent Higher Education Exhibition, which is not just about getting more Saudi students to go to British universities but rather a wider interest in creating links between the latter and various Saudi institutions leading to more academic, cultural, and research collaboration between the two countries. And since the theme of Out of Britain is British landscape, Phillips said he has seen very beautiful landscapes in Saudi Arabia such as the Al-Dariya’a Restoration Project and Old Jeddah, but he believes the most remarkable one is the desert that he visits a lot.
Arab News also spoke to Sean Williams, head of art services, art, architecture, and design at the British Council, who was key in putting Out of Britain together. He told us that the artists represented cover a 100-year period, and the artworks were purposely mixed up so that figurative and realistic scenes are included next to more abstract or surrealist work to help audiences understand the viewpoint of the artist since the exhibition is about how individuals have looked at the world around them.
The artists include Frank Auerbach, Ian Mckeever, John Nash, to name a few of the 39 artists included in Out of Britain. Williams also explained that the exhibition was structured to take the audience on an imaginative journey through the UK. It also includes sculptures by Nicholas Pope and David Nash - literally hewn from wood. A new installation by Conrad Shawcross is also presented, which mounts video projection onto the gunwales of a rowboat to trace a journey through the Lea Valley. Williams took the audience on a tour of the exhibition, giving them a background and perspective on each artwork displayed.