By Lulwa Shalhoub
Jeddah’s art scene is seeing a rich flow of exhibitions and events that shed light on work from local and regional artists.
The 21,39 art initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting art and culture, has combined a series of events that began this month and will carry on until May, with support from the General Entertainment Authority.
One of the highlights of the activities is “And Along Came Polyester,” which gathers the work of five women artists from the Gulf to showcase their contemporary work in solo exhibitions under the same roof at Athr Gallery.
Other art activities include the opening of the Tadafuq and Tasami exhibitions, as well as a series of talks and panel discussions at the three-day Safar forum at Gold Moor.
Arab News spoke to the five artists about their experiences at the “And Along Came Polyester” exhibition.
Aisha Al-Sowaidi, Qatar
As an interdisciplinary designer, I want to share new ideas and create a dialogue of cultures.
Aisha Al-Sowaidi attempts to shift the dynamics in traditionally used objects and furniture. She focuses on the “majlis,” redesigning core elements in its main function.
With a sense of nostalgia, her artwork suggests that through having these objects in the memory, they can compel you to traverse through emotions.
“I’m very happy to join the exhibit and be among the five selected artists. It was a wonderful experience to come to Jeddah and discover the amazing art scene and see people interested in attending such events.”
Al-Sowaidi prefers to look at artists as individuals regardless of their gender. “I think art gives a person the power to express an idea or emotion through a single glance. The visual makes an impact and creates a clearer memory. For me as an interdisciplinary designer, I want to share new ideas and create a dialogue of cultures.”
She said as women pursue a career in art, they need to listen to inner voices and follow their own direction.
“At some point, stop taking advice. Too much advice controls your direction. The best advice will come from within after creating and exploring many forms and techniques,” she said, adding that a challenge is the lack of creative environment in which to grow.
Al-Sowaidi is a multidisciplinary designer based in Doha. Her work incorporates old experiences and behaviors with contemporary design of objects used in the house. She holds an MFA in design studies and a BA in graphic design.
Sarah Abu Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
Sarah Abu Abdullah’s exhibition “18 Blankets” is an experiential art project she uses as a vehicle to showcase the absurdity of reconstructing daily life in the context of domesticity. Her work unravels the processes of home, a journey mangled and untangled by the uncanny familiar within private domestic spaces.
When talking about what she thought of the event, she said: “I wouldn’t say it’s a precedent. Something doesn’t need to be happening for the first time to be good, and there were many past attempts in the history of art by women in the region. We’re only a result and a continuation of that effort and history.
“There’s an obsession with firsts that’s quite unhealthy. Art (made) by women and giving women artists attention is great and should happen more often.”
She said being an artist is not necessarily about power, yet a focus on women’s voices is important.
Abu Abdullah said the key to success in art is self-education and hard work. “Look at art. Read about art. Write about art. Stay humble, but don’t box yourself into others’ expectations of what your art should be.”
The Saudi artist works primarily on video and film as a medium. She grew up in Qatif, and is pursuing her Master’s degree in digital media at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Layla Juma, UAE
Layla Juma’s exhibition “A Still Moment in Thought & Spatial Perception” displays repetitive, geometric shapes to create rhythmic sequences and forms.
These shapes are crafted to conceptually articulate the ever-changing architectural landscapes of the present and the imagination of their future.
“The participation in this event was an important step toward enhancing mutual understanding between artists in the Gulf,” said Juma.
“It gives a deep interaction and knowledge of the latest development in arts in our region. It’s wonderful that we meet as artists and share our visual and intellectual dialogue through our artwork.”
Art is a powerful tool to express oneself, Juma said. “We express ourselves through our artworks. We can send messages to the community, and we have an important role to get attention to what we’re producing. Art is a powerful and beautiful way to start a conversation.”
She advises the young generation of artists to interact, learn, communicate and develop ways to produce good art.
“There are always lots of challenges in the artist’s way, starting from the first steps of producing the first artwork and ending with criticism, but the most important thing is how our art work can affect whoever sees it.”
Hala Al-Khalifa, Bahrain
Hala Al-Khalifa’s exhibition “She Wore Her Scare Like Wings” demonstrates a personal journey of healing. The colors used in the paintings portray deformed wings conveying a sense of vulnerability yet strength and perseverance.
“It was a fantastic show celebrating women in arts in Jeddah, and I think showcasing five women from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) is an incredible idea,” Al-Khalifa said. “It’s a way to exchange dialogue and share thoughts.
“The beauty of this exhibition is that artists had their own themes and mediums to express themselves. I was very happy with this collaboration.”
Her participation in “And Along Came Polyester” introduced her to the moving art scene in Jeddah.
“I’m very happy and proud to see what’s happening in the Jeddah art scene,” she said.
“I’ve been following this initiative (21,39) over the years, and every year I’m amazed at how much they’ve developed.”
She added: “I left Jeddah with a great sense of excitement and energy. I believe artists in Saudi Arabia are extremely cutting-edge.
“The ideas they shared were very exciting, and so was the diversity of the mediums and dialogues; woman artists working alongside men, the younger generation working with the older… It’s remarkable.”
Al-Khalifa said women in the Gulf are empowered in different fields and receive equal opportunities to their male counterparts.
“I believe women in the Gulf have been empowered in various fields, and art is definitely one of them.”
She urges anyone with a passion for art to pursue it. “There are many platforms that celebrate artists now, either in cultural institutions or museums. It’s important to be in this landscape. If there’s an idea or a voice that needs to be heard and a passion for arts, I absolutely advise you to do it wholeheartedly.”