Art Jameel's slogan for its latest initiative is From Jeddah to Jeddah: a laconic tagline in a region of firsts and bests. But with the long-awaited announcement of the opening date for Hayy Jameel – in winter 2021 – the Art Jameel family foundation is underlining its roots in the Red Sea coastal city.
Hayy Jameel will be a 17,000-square-metre cultural complex in the northern area of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It comprises a 700-square-metre exhibition space curated by Art Jameel (Hayy Arts), as well as a 200-seat cinema (Hayy Cinema), a multipurpose performance and workshops space (Fenaa Hayy), studio spaces (Hayy Studios) and space for other creative businesses (Hayy Residents).
The site is designed by waiwai, a Dubai and Tokyo-based architectural studio that also created the Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park in front of Dubai's Jameel Arts Centre.
The idea behind Hayy Jameel was to think of what was needed in Jeddah, a city with a longstanding arts scene but few permanent spaces in which to view, make or talk about art. Instead of just being a museum site for Art Jameel’s collection, the foundation conceives of Hayy as a place of discourse and production.
That emphasis on critical thinking also shows itself in the first show – or round of programming – that will launch with Hayy when it opens at the end of this year. Looking at food as a resource under duress and as a cultural product that unites various cultures, the Art Jameel team has put together Staple: What’s on Your Plate? with its frequent collaborator, the Delfina Foundation in London.
The programme, running from November to April 2022, will take stock of the different culinary traditions followed by Jeddah's diverse populations, for whom food is not only sustenance but also a source of memory and communality.
In a similar spirit, the educational platform Hayy Learning will also focus on training curators, artists and art scholars in researching and thinking about art discourse, particularly in Arabic.
"Thinking about Hayy Arts, and its intersection with our community arts school Hayy Learning, we took a look around at the incredible, fast-growing infrastructure for the arts in Saudi: in-between the richly historical museums and landmark new developments is a place for a responsive, robust contemporary, collaborative institution that foregrounds research and ideas of the now," says Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel.
While Hayy Jameel has been delayed, mostly because of the coronavirus pandemic, its launch at the end of 2021 allows it to coincide with the 75th birthday of the Art Jameel Foundation, created by the late Abdul Latif Jameel.
Now mostly known in the art world for the Jameel Arts Centre, Art Jameel has been one of the region's longest-standing foundations, restoring major works of modern sculpture that were installed throughout Jeddah in the 1970s, funding the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and supporting traditional craft practices through teaching and apprenticeship programmes in Jeddah and Cairo.
This year will be the last of the cohorts who will train in the current Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah, located in the city's Old Town. Subsequent year groups will be in Hayy Jameel, though Cairo's Jameel House will continue as before.
Hayy Jameel will be the foundation's splashiest building yet, and arrives in a Jeddah completely changed from the city of 75 – or even 10 – years ago. It is part and parcel of this transformation. The cinema, for example, will be designed by Bricklab, a Jeddah architecture practice run by the Gazzaz brothers, who have been active participants in the art scene.
Hayy Residents will provide space for other organisations that have similarly helped to build up the art sector, but which have previously been scattered in diverse locations.
"Combined with the residencies and studios programme, as well as the independent cinema, Hayy has the capacity to engage the community in thinking and making," says Carver. "It will play a role in shaping the arts scene in Saudi Arabia, collectively, from the ground up."