Saudi Arabia's inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale moves cities and reveals curatorial team

The 2023 event was originally set to take place in Riyadh and has now been moved to Jeddah

The wealth of historical sites in Jeddah, such as the Al Balad area, above, make it an ideal place to host the Islamic Arts Biennale. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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The Diriyah Biennale Foundation has picked a new home for Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale, which will be held early next year.

The event was originally set to take place in Riyadh and has now been moved to Jeddah.

The wealth of historical sites in Jeddah, such as Bab Makkah, combined with the diversity of the city’s cultural heritage “complement the biennale’s objective to interlink past, present and future”, organisers said.

The Islamic arts event will be held more than a year after Saudi Arabia’s first cultural biennale, the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, which took place in the outskirts of Riyadh in December 2021. The event was the kingdom’s largest and most significant international display of contemporary art to date, and featured more than 60 acclaimed international artists.

Scroll through the gallery below to see more from the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Both biennales are overseen by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, in co-operation with the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia, alternating each year between a focus on contemporary arts and Islamic arts.

While the Diriyah event is dedicated to present-day works, the Islamic arts one will focus on showcasing the art and creativity of Islamic culture, past and present.

“The mission of the foundation in establishing the first Islamic Arts Biennale is to celebrate and enrich the cultural and artistic exchange between Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam, and communities around the world,” organisers said.

“The event will champion innovation while supporting continuing traditions and encouraging the preservation of skills. It will explore spirituality in the aesthetic realm and celebrate both shared heritage around the globe and [the] diversity of artistic expressions and forms. By inviting artists from around the world, it will provide new dialogues and insights.”

The foundation also announced the curators of the first biennale.

Sumayya Vally, co-founder of the experimental architecture and research firm Counterspace, is part of the curatorial team of the first Islamic Arts Biennale. Photo: Diriyah Biennale Foundation

The curatorial team includes Saudi scholar and archaeologist Saad Alrashed; Omniya Abdel Barr, Barakat Trust Fellow at Victoria and Albert Museum; Julian Raby, director emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art, a museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; and Sumayya Vally, co-founder of the experimental architecture and research firm Counterspace.

“Cultural and artistic exchange are essential in this period of unprecedented growth and development in the creative community in Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Badr bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture. “The Diriyah Biennale Foundation is at the forefront of this cultural awakening and flourishing art scene. Our contemporary edition closed in March after attracting critical acclaim, and the Islamic Arts Biennale represents our next chapter.”

Aya Al-Bakree, chief executive of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, said the Islamic Arts Biennale will help audiences learn about Islamic culture and its legacy in the arts.

“It is a great honour to announce our Islamic Arts Biennale, the first of its kind,” she said. “It follows another historic moment, when the Diriyah Biennale Foundation presented Saudi Arabia’s highly praised first contemporary art biennale under the title Feeling the Stones.

"Our Islamic Arts edition will once again work with leading practitioners and curators to present a contextual display of artworks and installations curated thematically. It will enable broad audiences to experience and learn about Islamic civilisations and their ongoing legacies within the arena of arts.”

Updated: April 22, 2022, 2:02 PM