Saudi citizens ready to 'light up the world' with Noor Riyadh ahead of Expo 2030

The world’s largest annual festival of light and art returns to capital

A light display created using drones appears after Riyadh won the bid to host Expo 2030. AFP
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Saudi Arabia's capital is lighting up with the Noor Riyadh event, which began after the city won the bid to host Expo 2030.

“Riyadh will light up the world with Expo 2030 and Noor Riyadh is the perfect way to share with the rest of the world,” said Razan Abed, a Saudi visitor to the light and art event.

Ms Abed echoed the pulsating excitement felt throughout the country, but specifically Riyadh, after the capital won the Expo 2030 bid this week. Saudis from all walks of life celebrated the decision with tears and shouts of joy.

“It was a full moon and the fireworks that broke out in central Riyadh just blew our minds,” Ms Abed told The National.

On Tuesday evening, Riyadh's sky was lit up with fireworks as well as drones that displayed the message: “Riyadh: the World’s Choice.”

The kingdom is expecting about 40 million Expo 2030 site visits when it hosts the event.

But the lead-up to Expo 2030 will be filled with a variety of events, including Noor Riyadh, the world's largest light art festival, which has opened to the public.

International artists, curators and art enthusiasts visiting the area said they were blown away by the kingdom and all it has to offer.

Last year, Noor Riyadh broke Guinness World Records for the largest display on a building interface, the longest distance covered for a light laser display and the biggest light laser display, among others.

“I learnt from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, honestly, when it comes to leading events such as Noor Riyadh,” said Nouf AlMoneef, director of the event.

This year, Noor Riyadh is showcasing more than 120 artworks, large-scale installations and immersive projections by more than 100 artists from 35 countries in a bid to transform the Saudi capital into a “gallery without walls”, said Ms AlMoneef.

“The Saudi Crown Prince pushed his citizens, his people, he made us ambitious. He made us love the country more, love the city, to want to give more, to want to be part of it. I really want to be part of this,” she added.

This year's theme for Noor Riyadh is “The Bright Side of the Desert Moon” and explores light as a means of connecting humanity.

Local Saudi artists opened up their studios for international artists to show their works.

“And that's amazing. My favourite part of this, personally, engaging emerging artists and engaging local artists within the community,” Ms AlMoneef told The National.

Miguel Blanco-Carrasco, strategy adviser for Noor Riyadh, told The National: “This is the best edition I think to date with the level of artists that we are gathering, the level of curatorial engagement, the participation from the citizens. We are going to bring more than a thousand permanent artworks to Riyadh city.

“The technology that we use in a lot of these artworks is what actually leads us to achieve those Guinness World Records. We work with a lot of artists that are at the intersection between what is technologically possible and the artistic component- so we work with AI, with VR, with AR.”

Mr Blanco-Carrasco said the “energy in Saudi Arabia is fascinating” and Riyadh is at the core of everything in the world.

“We will work towards Vision 2030 to continue to grow the economy, to change the social fabric, to bring investment from abroad, to bring tourism, to open the country,” he said.

Artworks are spread across several main hubs and additional locations throughout Riyadh, including King Abdullah Financial District, Salam Park, Wadi Hanifa, Wadi Namar and Jax District.

Khaled Makhshoush, a pixel artist from Jazan, attended the opening with his mother.

“I was contacted by Noor Riyadh to do a pixel art piece. It's in Wadi Hanifah, which has nature with an urban landscape which is part of my artwork,” he explained.

He said he is “very happy to be a part of Noor Riyadh”.

“Last year I was the audience and now I get to be part of it.”

Saudi artist Madhawi Algwaiz, is showcasing a light installation titled Thurayya in Wadi Namad. She told The National that the artwork is an ode to her country and lineage.

“I am so scared of stars – they make you seem so small, but I seek them out. Because stars are also tied to our own history, not just as Saudis, as Arabs – astrology was developed by Arabs. The names to this day are Arab names, including Thurayya,” she said.

Arab literature also uses stars and constellations, she said, adding that it also inspired her to work with the theme.

“The constellations are also a big part of the way that my grandparents lived. My grandfather or his brother used to know the star placements and they could navigate their way through stars. I always tell everyone my grandfather is my secret collaborator,” she added.

The event's lead curator this year is Jerome Sans, with curators are Pedro Alonzo, Fahad Bin Naif and Alaa Tarabzouni also participating.

Mr Alonzo said that what really “struck” him is that “this is truly an exhibition for the people of Riyadh”.

“It really is an event for the people,” he said.

“I love working with local artists and curators, visiting sites and developing projects.”

Superflex, an art collective from Denmark, said their virtual projection at Noor Riyadh goes beyond human perspective and into interspecies relations, highlighting how coexistence and compassion is key to humanity.

Hana Almilli, a Saudi-Syrian artist, said her work is a reflection of identity and combats the feeling of being estranged in a foreign land.

“I always found it very important to reconnect where I come from, my ancestors and the idea that sand creates all humans,” she told The National.

Two artists from Jeddah, Amr Abuzaid and Pharah Al Ghalib, created an interactive installation at KAFD. The structure of three parallel glass walls creates two illuminated pathways for visitors to walk through.

“I was really inspired by the psychology of the space, how you can use light to make people feel about it the space. Light has such an impact and power,” Ms Al Ghalib told The National, while Mr Abuzaid added that the installation creates a contemplative space.

A massive exhibition titled Refracted Identities, Shared Futures will also run in Riyadh's Jax District, a permanent hub of Saudi creatives and artists, from November 30 to March 2.

Noor Riyadh runs from November 30 to December 16.

Updated: December 02, 2023, 10:28 AM