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Saudi Arabia’s First Islamic Arts Biennale Reveals its New Location, Dates, and Theme

The curatorial team from left to right: Sumayya Vally, Dr Julian Raby, Dr Saad Alrashid, Dr Omniya Abdel Barr. Photo: Courtesy of Diriyah Biennal Foundation

The Diriyah Biennale Foundation in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia has announced that the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale will now take place at the Hajj Terminal or Canopy Terminal in Jeddah. The event which was originally slated to take place in Riyadh has now been moved to Jeddah between January 23 and April 23, 2023.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, which was the Kingdom’s first cultural biennale, featured a grand display of contemporary art to date with over 60 acclaimed international artists last year in December 2021 in the outskirts of Riyadh. The rich diversity of the city’s cultural heritage married with an abundance of wealth from the historical sites of Jeddah, like the Bab Makkah, “complement the biennale’s objective to interlink past, present and future,” shared the organizers.

Zahrah Al Ghamdi, ‘Birth of a Place’, 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Diriyah Biennal Foundation

The Canopy Terminal was built in 1981 and was awarded the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The building which used to host a large number of devouts and pilgrims from all over the world will now house the celebrations of the Islamic arts and culture. A 70,000 square-meter venue will also be set up for the Biennale with facilities such as exhibition spaces, a theatre, a mosque, workshops, classrooms, retail shops, and dining outlets. “It will provide a dynamic contemporary setting for Islamic arts featuring leading practitioners from Saudi Arabia and around the world,” stated Aya Al-Bakree, chief executive of Diriyah Biennale Foundation. “This inaugural edition builds on the success of Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale. Local and international audiences are invited to join the dialogue and to experience the work of leading artists in a unique setting.”

The theme for the event is Awwal Bayt, which means ‘first house’ in Arabic. Awwal Bayt is a Quranic term that is used to signify the importance of the most sacred site, the Ka’bah in Makkah and the direction, the Qiblah, which Muslims all around the world face for their obligatory prayers. The theme explores a sense of belonging and connection Muslims all over the world experience, which is inspired by the Ka’bah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

The Biennale will have galleries and outdoor installations to display the relationship between sacred sites and rituals with the theme of indoor galleries being the Sacred Direction (Qiblah) with Makkah as the focal point and the installations traversing the senses of hijrah (migration).

“The theme of Awwal Bayt invites contemplation of belonging,” said curator Sumayya Vally. “As curators, we are excited by the opportunity to create a temporary home, an entirely new physical setting in this context of the Muslim pilgrim’s journey, in which to invite artists and audiences to reflect on ritual, the sacred, the personal and the communal.” Guests can get a glimpse of both contemporary and historical creations including authentic artifacts from the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and Masjid-al-Haram which will be showcased in two different pavilions.

The curatorial team for the event is handpicked and includes professionals such as Saudi scholar and archaeologist Saad Alrashid; Omniya Abdel Barr, Barakat Trust Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Julian Raby, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; and Vally, architect, designer and principal of Counterspace, a design, research, and pedagogical studio.

The Diriyah Biennale Foundation will now alternate between contemporary arts and Islamic arts every year to host the event.

Read Next: Everything to Know About Saudi Arabia’s Inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in 2023

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