On November 30, the city of Riyadh will open its doors to the third edition of Noor Riyadh. For the uninitiated, Noor Riyadh is the largest light art festival in the world, and will be running on till December 16, 2023. In the words of director Nouf Almoneef, “Noor Riyadh lights up the city. It brings all the communities together. It brings visitors, residents, artists, curators, art enthusiasts, all together, and that’s what’s great about it. It gives us joyful experiences to everyone.”
What truly makes the art festival special is that it won’t be contained to any one exhibit space. Instead, the luminous artworks of Noor Riyadh 2023 will take over the capital city of Saudi Arabia, lighting up the most unexpected nooks and crannies of the city, from residential spaces to bus stations, popular tourist spots, pedestrian pathways, parks, and more.
Each artwork to be presented during Noor Riyadh follows a specific theme. This year, the theme chosen is “The Bright Side of the Desert Moon”, with over 100 pieces on display across five different hubs in the city. Along with this, a special exhibition titled “Refracted Identities, Shared Futures” will serve as one of the key attractions of the annual celebration.
Not confining itself to any one region, Noor Riyadh is bringing together creations from a whopping 100+ artists, hailing for 35 different countries. Among these names are some incredible female artists, who will be proudly presenting their works to the world. From beautifully embroidered creations, to glass sculptures that sparkle in the light, these women are breaking the boundaries of art with their works, and are some of the most exciting individuals in this year’s line-up.
Below, Vogue Arabia introduces you to some of the most exciting female artists spotted at Noor Riyadh 2023, and the artworks they are showcasing.
Mashael Al Saie
Multimedia artist and photographer Mashael Al Saie often looks to mythology from Bahrain to inspire her works. For Noor Riyadh, she presents “Sea of Tears”, an installation bringing together sculptural glass tears, video and audio, to depict the Bahraini myth of Ain Adhari (a desolate natural spring in Bahrain).
“I’m very fascinated with glass — in particular, mixing natural and unnatural material,” she explains. Her piece depicts the story of a young woman who was approached by a menacing man in a palm tree grove, causing her to wail in fear — and the surprising result of her reaction. “I was very fascinated with this idea of the state of transformation of tears in relation to the mythology of Ain Adhari, which talked about a woman whose tears and entire body turned into a natural spring.” Adding to the dramatic theme of her installation is an audio that holds special meaning to the artist. “The work also includes whispers of my grandmother’s voice retelling memories,” Al Saie reveals.
Amna Al Baker
Based in Qatar, Amna Al Baker comes from Qatari, Indian and Persian heritage, and has made a niche for herself in the art world with her whimsical creations, many of which focus on the dualities between the seen and unseen, and the self versus the society. At Noor Riyadh, she presents a vibrant installation, “Story of Land, Sea, and Stars”, which comprises of three interesting elements that work together in harmony: a neon light, a mural, and a cape. “The artwork is basically about the way that our heritage influences storytelling, and so we have in the back, an astronomy map, and in the foreground, we see how everything that is in our life and in our past is influenced by the environment that we live in, and by the land, sea, and stars,” Al Baker explains.
Exploring the mythology of Qatar, Al Baker’s creation takes inspiration from the socio-cultural circumstances that arose from men being away at sea, while women remained on land to take care of their homes and society. Her gleaming tapestry cape highlights stories like that of the sea monster bu darya, and the tale of the girl who used a golden cow to plot her escape.
“My artwork is about my time in Alexandria, Egypt, and paying an ode and a tribute to my childhood there, and it’s also about dealing with grief and the loss of my grandfather.” Titled “Please Don’t Leave Me We Know So Little About Each Other”, the Egyptian-American artist’s installation at Noor Riyadh also echoes a universal feeling. “It’s a constant reminder that no matter how much you may know somebody, you will never know them a hundred per cent.”
Draped in hundreds of rows of fairy lights, Badr’s artwork invites guests in, only to walk on a bed of mirrors with the heart-breaking quote printed across the floor, a stark contrast from its seemingly cheerfully lit backdrop. Based in Dubai, Badr began her journey in art as a painter, and has showcased several pieces that focus on the themes of femininity, childhood attachments and object relations.
Hailing from Saudi Arabia, Ahaad Alamoudi is presenting a video artwork at Noor Riyadh 2023, titled “It’s Really Hard to See From Here”. The video installation demonstrates the power of heat on visibly reactive materials, using light to showcase the result. Presented on LED screens, Alamoudi’s presentation focuses on the power of light in a truly novel way.
Shuffling between Jeddah and London, Alamoudi has dedicated her craft towards spotlighting topics like history and representation, researching Saudi Arabia’s own ethnography, and then attempting to reinterpret historic methods of work via different mediums, ranging from photography, to print and video.
Saudi Arabian artist Dur Kattan showcases a unique installation at Noor Riyadh titled “Closer Than They Appear”. Keeping with the theme of its name, the artwork features a vast selection of side mirrors from cars, all wrapped in a cylindrical shape and highlighted with delicate strings of LED lights.
The aim of “Closer Than They Appear” is to showcase the inherent unity of humanity, and how we as a collective are blind to this fact. As every driver knows, side mirrors all come with a blind spot, not unlike humans and their tendency to unsee certain aspects of their inner selves. With her installation, Kattan hopes to create a dialogue among viewers, encouraging them to contemplate their individual and collective identities, their relationships with each other, and their deep rooted interconnectedness.
Hailing from Australia, Mel O’Callaghan’s Noor Riyadh installation, “The Source”, commands attention with its vast size and vibrant palette. Using two-channel 8K color video, the artist presents a film shot in Eastern Arrernte, where massive termite mounds reign the landscape, to take visitors into another world altogether.
“The depths of the mounds, the roots, are unknown,” O’Callaghan explains about the topic of her film. “The central desert of Australia is the most extreme place you can imagine. there’s no heat, there’s no water, there’s nothing. What there is, is extreme points of color. And so, [you see] the blues and the reds [in the installation].” Doused in shades of vibrant yellow and cool blue, the film is complemented by meditative music.
Jeddah-born, Riyadh-based Hayat Osamah often looks to her Middle Eastern heritage for art inspiration. At Noor Riyadh, she presents “Dust to Dust”, a sculptural installation crafted using compostable textiles that are then dyed to create the illusion of different skin tones, and finally, presented in the organic shapes of sand dunes. The aim of the piece is to signify the temporal nature of humankind’s physical existence, and to highlight the interconnectedness among us all.
Osamah’s installation glows via lights embedded within her artworks, which brighten and fade as a metaphor of the sun’s movement. “Dust to Dust” is Osamah’s way of celebrating diversity, while still talking about the many common threads that tie cultures and varying backgrounds from around the world together.