RIYADH: A group of Saudi artists are reaching new heights through their participation in the opening of the Bienalsur, the International Contemporary Art Biennale of South America, in Argentina’s capital city Buenos Aires.
The National Museum of Decorative Arts transformed under the 2023 theme “Strangers in the Palace.” The show was inaugurated by Anibal Jozami, general director of Bienalsur, and Diana Wechsler, the exhibition’s artistic director and curator.
Bienalsur showcases the works of more than 400 artists of 27 nationalities, including three Saudi artists: Hmoud Al-Attawi, Saad Al-Howede and Sara Abdu. Their works are part of the Argentinian leg of the international exhibition.
Al-Howede told Arab News: “Saudi artists in international art events of the size of the Bienalsur, or any major international exhibitions, enhances the presence of Saudi artists globally, increases their value, and contributes to the creation of a cultural movement based on an authentic culture rooted in human history.
“It also boosts the Kingdom’s art sector, promotes the spread of Saudi art and creates a cultural dialogue consistent with the nature of participation in an important global biennial.”
Following its egalitarian principles, the Bienalsur is the first world-traveling multipolar contemporary art biennale and will collaborate with its network of associative museums, cultural centers and universities across the world during its 2023 run.
My artwork covers the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These three religions are spread in Argentina, have their active presence and are homogeneous and in harmony. The concept of my artwork enhances this harmony and rapprochement.
Saad Al-Howede, Saudi artist
Later versions of the show will include additional works by seven Saudi artists: Zahra Al-Ghamdi, Hatem Al-Ahmad, Saeed Gamhawi, Saeed Gebaan, Tasnim Sultan, Moath Aloifi and Shahad Yousef.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia became the first Middle Eastern country to host the Bienalsur at the National Museum in Riyadh. This year will be Saudi Arabia’s third collaboration with Bienalsur.
At the opening of the exhibition, Wechsler said: “The Kingdom was the first country in the Middle East to join the Bienalsur network. For us at Bienalsur, working with artists from the Kingdom is a wonderful opportunity to experience diversity and exchange.”
The title of the exhibition is a nod to the contrasting nature of the contemporary artworks and the space they are exhibited in.
Wechsler added: “The National Museum of Decorative Arts is located in a historical palace that hosts a unique collection of classical artworks and artifacts. The title also reflects the international nature of the exhibition, as artists from all over the world come to exhibit in Argentina, thus contributing to cultural exchange through art.”
The theme brews various notions. For Saudi artists, it places them in the context of a global scene: As the art world, considered fairly young in the region, continues to grow, Saudi-based artists are new emerging figures that carry different nuances in their work.
In Al-Howede’s words, they are “strangers in terms of nationality, language, culture, identity and cultural heritage, and our human relationships and mutual circumstances on this planet are what we have in common.”
The contemporary work of both local and international artists alike juxtaposes the palace’s classic sculptures and paintings, creating a dialogue around art’s transience and contrasting the classic with the contemporary.
Al-Howede’s work “Millat Ibrahim” (The Creed of Abraham) greets visitors on the balcony of the palace’s main entrance, one of the prominent locations the Saudi works are placed.
Al-Howede said: “My artwork covers the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These three religions are spread in Argentina, have their active presence and are homogeneous and in harmony. The concept of my artwork enhances this harmony and rapprochement.
“My work explores the possibility of developing joint universal values that are closer to solidarity and human fraternity. It also questions whether humanity can develop a new system dedicated to understanding the relationship between humans.”
As a Saudi, displaying his artwork across the globe gives him a sense of responsibility toward the philosophies and narratives artists are creating, he said.
Sara Abdu’s artwork, titled “The unburdened is untethered by what is not of him,” is a six-minute video installation that explores the infinite process of becoming, personified through movements and motion. As an enigmatic figure transforms into a flock of birds, it plays on the self’s constant search for a greater journey.
The piece draws from the Qur’anic depictions of birds, specifically the story of Prophet Dawood and the birds that serenaded him upon his passing. Abdu also pulls inspiration from Farid ud-Din Attar’s poem, “The Conference of the Birds.” Her work platforms the notion that the self is continuously transforming, fleeting, arriving and becoming.
The Bienalsur looks to create new modes of exchange by linking cross-cultural artists and curators in various atmospheres, forcing discourse around notions that are rarely linked.
From Argentina, the works will be displayed in 170 venues in 70 cities globally, concluding the 2023 showcase at the University of Fine Arts in Tokyo, Japan in December.