As Saudi Arabia marks its 91st National Day, ‘The National’ sits down with pioneering Saudis to talk about the changing face of the kingdom.
Meet the Bouzo sisters, the creative force behind Saudi Design Week.
The kingdom’s first design festival was launched in 2014 in Riyadh as a hub of creativity, featuring exhibitions, workshops and forums.
Basma and Noura Bouzo had previously launched Oasis Magazine, an arts and culture publication.
Now the siblings’ creative agency, &Bouqu, is preparing to launch Saudi Design Festival next year – with Saudi Design Week as its flagship attraction.
Noura is the creative director, with a background in Islamic art history, while Basma, its managing director, has a degree in public health policy and creative writing.
In an interview with The National, the sisters were keen to focus on the evolution of design and the expansion of creative opportunities in Saudi Arabia since the launch of Vision 2030, the economic plan that brought social and cultural transformation.
“Working together and having completely different perspectives helps us get the best of both worlds,” Basma said. Noura nodded in approval.
Their first venture, Oasis Magazine, celebrated regional and local talent, culture and creativity.
Influenced by their mother and grandfather, both of whom were writers, they launched the English-language title in 2007.
“Once we both graduated, we jumped into working on a project with our mom to tell the story of creatives in Saudi Arabia, regionally and then create the east and west conversation,” Basma said.
Noura said: “One of our goals was to connect people together. People were studying abroad and we didn’t have social media at the time, so it was a great way to bring people together.”
They hope to bring the magazine back.
“We get asked about it all the time,” Basma said.
Until recently, the availability of specialist magazines was limited. With Vision 2030, all that has changed.
Today, Saudi Arabia is expanding its media landscape and more women and young people are being appointed to leading positions.
The country’s gross domestic product is estimated to grow by 30 per cent by 2023, and the majority of its population is under 30 years of age.
In 2013, Noura and Basma launched Saudi Design Week to celebrate the talent and diversity of designers in the region with workshops, panel discussions and exhibitions.
Until then, the Saudi creative market focused mainly on art and graphic design. The duo wanted to share the rich history of design within the kingdom, from craftsmanship to typography and calligraphy, on a platform “that would grow organically”.
“The next step was creating platforms that didn’t exist. We started curating pop-ups and exhibitions,” Basma said.
The event united design experts, foreign media and local creatives in various fields, and provided the kingdom’s young people with an opportunity to engage in public discourse about the world of design.
“One of the biggest milestones is seeing our volunteers who have been with us for six years now, exhibiting their works at Saudi Design Week. Diversity of the economy is a huge part of the Vision  and that is something we also want to achieve in this industry and, hopefully, our efforts will shine through,” Basma said.
The event generated opportunities for designers and helped others to refine and hone their crafts. The most recent event was held in 2019, before the pandemic brought public events to a halt.
In 2017, the Bouzos established &Bouqu, a creative agency, with a Bahraini partner.
“From brand management, creative strategy, procurement and events, we do everything. But it is always rooted in local narratives, so our focus is on resonating with the local audience,” Basma said.
The creative duo recently signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture to expand Saudi Design Week into the kingdom’s first Saudi Design Festival next year.
“They have been supportive in our journey to grow. We will also launch SxD [Saudi multiplied by design] in 2022, which is an online platform to celebrate the design community. There is so much happening at the grassroots in Saudi Arabia, so we want to consolidate that into one platform and amplify their voices,” Basma said.
SxD will be a year-round platform. Since Vision 2030 was announced, the sisters said, many government organisations have supported their vision and “it became much easier to streamline the bureaucratic process, get licences and approvals to run events”.
“Saudi Design Festival will be a more exciting platform for artists and designers. We want to continue doing what we do and support the community of designers,” Noura said.
The theme for the upcoming Saudi Design Festival is “morph” – short for metamorphosis – to emphasise change over time.