Misk Art Week: themes of identity to be explored in Riyadh cultural event

Three major exhibition strands will show at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall in the Saudi capital this December

Saudi artist Filwa Nazer with her work 'The Other Is Another Body 2' (2019), which is on view at Misk Art Week. Photo: Misk Art Institute
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When it first launched in 2016, Misk Art Week was a home-grown affair, with events and exhibitions oriented to a local crowd. This year’s event, taking place from December 1 to 5, brings in more international names, including French writer and curator Simon Njami and British curator Sacha Craddock, alongside regional ones, and builds on programmes that the Saudi art foundation has implemented over the past few years.

“The evolution of Misk Art Week over the past five years reflects the overall growth of the art scene in Saudi Arabia,” said Reem Al Sultan, chief executive of Misk Art Institute. “We are proud to play a key role in this development, by nurturing local talent and unlocking opportunities for the creative community.”

For what she calls an 'instructional art work', Manal Al Dowayan asked participants to cover a page with 'I am here' in Arabic, for her artwork titled as the phrase. Photo: Misk Art Institute

Three major exhibition strands will show at Misk’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall in Riyadh, two of them generated by support programmes that the Saudi foundation has put into place.

Its new residency, Masaha, shows an exhibition of work produced during the three-month programme for Saudi and international artists.

A second exhibition includes works made throughout the course of the Misk Art Grant. The award scheme this year opened up to Arab artists after premiering in 2019 as Saudi-only, and included artists such as Afra Al Dhaheri and Latifa Saeed from the UAE, Basmah Felemban from Saudi Arabia, and Zoulikha Bouabdellah from Algeria. The 10 recipients shared the 1 million Saudi riyals ($270,000) prize, an amount that has already doubled in its short lifespan.

A significant theme throughout the art week in 2021 is that of identity in the face of rapid change. This year’s Misk Art Grant, for example, asked its cohort to respond to the idea of “Under Construction”, while Masaha invited artists to explore the question of belonging. The week’s flagship curated exhibition, also shown at the hall, looks at memory.

Sheila Hick’s woven tapestry 'Palm' (1985). Photo: Misk Art Institute

Craddock has put together this show, titled Here, Now, with an emphasis towards established makers, a notable contrast not just to Misk’s other programmes that support emerging artists, but also to Saudi Arabia’s broadly youthful art scene. Artists here include Manal Al Dowayan, a Saudi artist who has long tracked the status of women in the country; Ayman Yousri Daydban, a Palestinian artist based in Jeddah who considers how images and idioms move across the Arab world; and Salah Elmur, whose paintings summon memories of his childhood in Sudan. Textiles and tactile material also take centre stage, as in the woven work of the US artist Sheila Hicks, or the diaphanous creations of Filwa Nazer, from Saudi Arabia.

Running alongside these exhibitions is Misk’s international talks programme, which has now gone hybrid, with online talks as well as in-person discussion.

As with Misk Art Week overall, the ambition of this programme is growing: participants include Njami, one of this year’s curators for Abu Dhabi Art; architect Wael Al Awar, whose presentation at the Venice Bienniale won the Golden Lion for the UAE this year; and Saudi artist Moath Alofi, whose videos and photographs track development in his native country.

Even as it reflects on change, this year’s Misk Art Week also opens amid a maelstrom of it. In the crowded month of December, there is the anticipated Art Jameel outpost Hayy opening in Jeddah; the next Noor Riyadh, the public-art programme of the capital; and lastly, the Ad-Diriyah Biennale, a major venture headed by the Ministry of Culture on the outskirts of Riyadh, in the launch of the first biennial in Saudi Arabia.

Updated: November 16, 2021, 11:41 AM