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Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

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28 Feb 2024 02:02:03 GMT9
28 Feb 2024 02:02:03 GMT9
  • Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale celebrates work from around the world
  • Many pieces being shown for the first time in public

Jasmine Bager

RIYADH: Work by several of the best artists from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province will be among the offerings at this year’s international Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh.

Among them is Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, who has been a force in the Saudi art world for many decades. He has also written several books on the subject, including his 2000 work, “The Journey of the Saudi Fine Arts Movement.”

At the exhibition, which has the theme “After Rain,” his series of ink drawings, titled “Palm, Bow and Fragments” (1990-91) is on show for the very first time.

Mohammad Al-Faraj. (Supplied)

Born in 1954 in Al-Ahsa, Al-Soliman told Arab News he created the collection during the Gulf War, more than 30 years ago, and that the paintings reflected the unfolding chaos that engulfed neighboring Kuwait.

“I lived with the side effects of the Kuwaiti conflict and its liberation. I started organically, I didn’t know it would become a series,” he said.

“I’ve always loved drawing since I was young, I would scribble daily, it is part of my life. At school, I was good at art only, nothing else.

Nabila Al-Bassam. (Supplied)

“Since 1970, I have been making art. And this series on display at the biennale — some in color, some not — I rolled them up and put them aside. This is the first time anyone has seen them displayed, even my family at home didn’t see this. The curators came to my studio and selected them,” he said.

Another Eastern Province artist whose work is on show is Nabila Al-Bassam, who founded the Arab Heritage Gallery in Alkhobar in 1979. She also is also showcasing previously unseen works at the event.

“I was invited to join the biennale and said yes because I am an artist and I have a lot of artwork and no one has seen it,” she told Arab News.


Armin Linke and Ahmed Mater. (Supplied)

“I have my own gallery. It was one of the first in the Kingdom and it’s still working, so I’m very happy about it. But I don’t really exhibit a lot of my own work, I exhibit other people: Saudi artists and others who draw about the Middle East.”

Al-Bassam is a mixed-media artist who uses traditional textile-making processes to produce and create multi-layered collages. She said she was delighted to be among the artists on show.

“What stood out to me at the biennale was the works of Saudi women artists, I really was surprised,” she said.

“I’ve seen many beautiful works. The installations, the hangings — very, very interesting, made out of metal and things like this. There’s a lot to be excited about. They were large works and they were new works, completely new, modern and a new way of thinking.”

Tara Aldughaither. (Supplied)

Several of the younger generation of Eastern Province artists are also exhibiting in Riyadh.

Among them is Tara Aldugaither, 34, who grew up in Dhahran and in 2020 founded Sawtasura — “voice of the image” — a community-based platform that collects and reimagines the musical histories of Arab women.

Another is Mohammad Al-Faraj, a 31-year-old from Al Ahsa whose work reflects his environment. His playful pieces regularly feature palm trees.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is being held in the city’s JAX district and runs until May 24.

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