The Secrets of Alidades: new Jeddah show celebrates the theme of the universe

Female artists dominate the eighth iteration of 21,39 Jeddah Arts exhibition

Visitors at The Secrets of Alidades in Jeddah. Mariam Nihal / The National
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The Saudi Art Council launched on Wednesday launched its eighth iteration of the 21,39 Jeddah Arts exhibition, titled The Secrets of Alidades. Curated by French academic Fabien Danesi, the event is showing the works of 35 artists and celebrates the theme of the universe by taking visitors on an interstellar journey. It had initially been set to open to the public in March, but was delayed owing to the pandemic.

An alidade is an astronomical tool used for measuring distant objects and determining directions. The exhibition showcases work by 22 female artists, as well as the work of Saudi artists who are experimenting with different mediums and ‘dimensions’ of art and time based on this year's theme.

“We can understand exhibitions as constellations. As such, artworks are various layouts of material ideas. And it’s the same for exhibitions,” says Danesi. He explains that the layout in a group exhibition helps him to create relationships between the works and underline formally and semantically the links between them. “It is a way for me to create a complex spatial structure that insists on one figure, yet keeps the multiplicity of its composition at the same time,” he says.

Saudi artist and explorer Moath Alofi says his work is an extended message from the past to explore the beauty and treasures of the kingdom.

Cyprium 2139 (2021), uses motifs and symbols found in ancient stone structures across the kingdom. His artworks draw parallels with the Voyager Golden Records, which contained the sounds and images that were aboard the Voyager spacecraft that was launched in 1977 and intended for any extraterrestrial life that might discover them.

Basmah Felemban, also from Saudi Arabia, created a sonic getaway with an interactive video game installation titled The Jirri Tribe Stop (2021). It took her two years to develop the game centred on the main characters, which are catfish that try to maintain the sea's balance.

Moving away from his familiar calligraphy this year, Nasser Al Salem, from Jeddah, created his first sculpture, The First Space Shuttle, 2019-201, inspired by nomads who used tents as their habitat, but borrowing from the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule design. “This idea of mobility creates a link between nomadic Bedouins and astronauts in their use of space and their engagement with nature,” Al Salem says.

Palestinian artist Qamar Abdulmalik tells The National her work Cut and Paste Dreams 2021 represents her struggle with personal and cultural identity. “As a refugee, my work depicts how I feel and my experiences especially when dealing with passport authorities. In the video, you can see a girl stuck in an elevator, who with all the anxiety passes out and travels to another dimension,” Abdulmalik says. Her work offers a dream-escape while depicting the harsh reality and struggles of undocumented immigrants around the world.

Elswhere Aisha Zakiya Islam, an artist from Bangladesh, pays homage to her mother in her latest series titled Sriti, Remembrance 2021. “There is no life without a mother,” reads one of the three traditional hand-loom Jamdani Bangladesh sari prints suspended in one of the exhibition halls. “It’s all very intricate work done by hand,” she says. The artist chose Jamdani handwoven saris, which require a high degree of precision and accuracy in crafting, because she stitched a love story on to them to her mother. "The most difficult thing in my life has been losing my mother. The artwork is at tribute to her and represents my journey of loss," she says.

“The most difficult thing in my life has been losing my mother. The artwork is a tribute to her and represents my journey of loss."
Bangladeshi artist Aisha Zakiya Islam

Saudi artist Bashaer Hawsawi took inspiration from her childhood for her installation, which revolves around time, and memories of her “mother drying lemons and the citrus scent that emerged”.

Saudi artist Ammar Jiman told The National he used natural elements found in Al Ula, in a bid to reconnect “our lives from earth" whilst also exploring themes of reincarnation and rebirth.

“I was able to discover peace and happiness in the process. I always thought the feeling I was searching for was outside of me but I discovered it was always within me and that was the inspiration and journey that led to this artwork,” he said.

Mostafa Mihraje, French Consul General, attending the opening night on Wednesday, was highly impressed by the outcome of his compatriots' work. “I am happy to see more inclusion of female artists, as 22 out of 35 artists are females in this exhibition and also because I believe there is certain sensitivity only female artists can bring and nurture in art,” Mr. Mihraje told The National.

In its eighth year, 21,39 Jeddah Arts continues to grow annually as it increases the role and participation of young local and international artists, says Nada Sheikh-Yasin, director of the Saudi Art Council. The organisation aims to develop and promote the local art scene, and “create bridges” with the international art world.

The Secrets of Alidades in Jeddah runs until Tuesday, September 7

Updated: July 09, 2021, 11:54 PM