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

Zahrah Al Ghamdi, ‘Birth of a Place’, 2021, part of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale. Photo: Diriyah Foundation

Cementing Saudi Arabia’s status as a serious art powerhouse on the world stage, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has announced its inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale. Taking place in Jeddah in early 2023, this incredible event will showcase the vibrancy of Islamic art, both past and present.

Honoring the richness of the Kingdom’s creative heritage, while championing innovation and fresh ideas, the biennale will explore spirituality in the aesthetic realm and a diversity of artistic expressions. It will also provide new dialogues and insights by inviting international artists from around the world.

Where will the Islamic Arts Biennale take place?

The Islamic Arts Biennale’s location in Jeddah couldn’t be more fitting. With its sculpture-speckled Corniche and a slew of hip art spaces like Athr Gallery and Hafez Gallery, Jeddah is a dynamic city that embraces creativity in all its forms. Aligning extraordinary historical sites like Bab Makkah with its cosmopolitan allure, Jeddah’s unique ability to marry past and present perfectly complements the Islamic Arts Biennale’s philosophy and objectives.

At the forefront of elevating the Kingdom’s status as a creative force to be reckoned with is the Diriyah Biennale Foundation. Responsible for 2021’s successful Contemporary Art Biennale, the DBF is leading this transformational shift by nurturing creative expression while promoting cultural exchange between the Kingdom and international communities.

“It is a great honor to announce our Islamic Arts Biennale, the first of its kind,” says Aya Al-Bakree, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation’s CEO. “Our Islamic Arts edition will work with leading practitioners and curators to present a contextual display of artworks and installations curated thematically. It will enable broad audiences to experience and learn about Islamic civilizations and their ongoing legacies within the arena of arts.”

Who will be curating this landmark arts showcase?

A top team of eminent names from around the world is set to bring their skills and pedigree to the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale. First up, Dr Saad Alrashed, who is a leading Saudi scholar and archaeologist. Then, Dr Omniya Abdel Barr, architect and Barakat Trust Fellow at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Next, Dr Julian Raby, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and finally, Johannesburg-based Sumayya Vally, co-founder of the experimental architecture and research firm, Counterspace.

When it comes to recognizing how Saudi Arabia is emerging as an influential player on the global arts scene, no one understands this shift better than Minister of Culture, His Highness Prince Badr bin Farhan Al Saud. “Cultural and artistic exchange are essential in this period of unprecedented growth and development in the creative community in Saudi Arabia,” he explains. “The Diriyah Biennale Foundation is at the forefront of this cultural awakening and flourishing art scene. Our contemporary edition closed in March after attracting critical acclaim, and the Islamic Arts Biennale represents our next chapter.”

Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale, the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale was a significant cultural marker. Held in Riyadh’s JAX district, the event presented the works of 60 regional and international artists. Serving as a platform for the discovery of the Kingdom’s burgeoning cultural scene, it reinforced Saudi Arabia’s creative clout on a global level. And with the Islamic Arts Biennale on the horizon, its reputation is only set to grow.

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