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5 of the Most Exciting Saudi Artists and Artworks on Show at Noor Riyadh

Squidsoup, Submergence, 2013-2021. Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

A must-see this month and a new annual cultural calendar fixture is Noor Riyadh, a new citywide light and art festival, and a celebration unlike any seen before in Saudi Arabia’s capital. The Festival is part of Riyadh Art, the long-term project beautifying and transforming Riyadh into a gallery without walls, stimulating the creative industries, and bringing together emerging and established Saudi and international names in light art: over 60 artworks across 13 locations.

Can’t get to Riyadh? The Festival will also be accessible online through a compelling selection of talks, workshops, virtual walk-throughs, and other special activities. Noor Riyadh is a citywide festival of light and art commissioned by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) as a Riyadh Art program, March 18 – April 3, 2021.

Nojoud Alsudairi

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

Nojoud Alsudairi (b.1994) is an interdisciplinary artist and architect based in Riyadh whose work ranges from painting to woven sculptures and multimedia installations. She is co-founder of Syn Architects, an interdisciplinary, community-driven practice that focuses on ecologically sensitive design. Ricochet تقؤم لئاسر combines literature with light, projecting haikus taken from letters written by Riyadh’s residents onto public buildings. For Noor Riyadh she has also created a pavilion, a social space to inspire new social connections.

Where: Cultural palace, Jax-01, and Lakum Artspace

Suliman Al Salem

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

Suliman Al Salem (b. 1993) is based in Jeddah and has a background in architecture. He began his career as an artist in 2015 with his work Breathing, and held his first solo show, The State of Being, in 2020. Noor Riyadh includes Will Humans Exceed Their State of Being?, an experiential new installation that combines light, shadow, and motion to make the viewer constantly interact with the work.

Where: Jax 01, Hall 02

Sarah Abu Abdallah

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

Sarah Abu Abdallah’s (b.1990) work challenges the impossible by piecing together improbable elements and connections to recreate what has been lost. Through references to gender roles and the female experience, Abu Abdallah explores issues of obscurity and value, probing the social and cultural conditions of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Trees Speaking With Each Other (2019) recreates a hothouse environment that cultivates the heirloom tomatoes once widely grown in the artist’s hometown of Qatif but that are now decreasing in availability due to urbanization.

Where: Light Upon Light exhibition, Kafd Conference Center

Mohammad Alfaraj

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

Mohammad Alfaraj (b. 1993) was born and raised in Al Hassa, a remote town in Saudi Arabia. His multidimensional practice, rooted in nature and ecology, presents a world on the verge of collapse, using video, photography, installations, and writing to emphasize the importance of light in our daily lives. His video work The Sun, Again (2017), indicates an ecological imbalance, suggesting a dark future that can be avoided if we make genuine reconnections with nature.

Where: Light Upon Light exhibition, Kafd Conference Center

Dana Awartani

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

Dana Awartani (b. 1987) is a Jeddah-born artist who graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins and Prince’s school. Her work explores the relationship between traditional geometry and nature, and she specialises in illumination, tile-work, and parquetry. Her new commission, Diwans of the Unknown, assembles textiles, handembroidery, and poetry, projecting imagery via 3D mapping onto the surface of a largescale accordion book. Projections across the textile appear and disappear, never leaving a permanent mark yet lingering in our minds as a vague but powerful memory.

Where: Light Upon Light exhibition, Kafd Conference Center

Light Upon Light

Light Upon Light brings together masterworks by some of the most celebrated international names in light art, alongside the most exciting and interesting contemporary Saudi artists.

A central component of Noor Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s new festival of light and art, the three-month exhibition takes the theme of illumination as its starting point, examining how artists have used the medium of light in their work since the 1960s.

The exhibition comprises 30 artworks across four sections, or “rays,” and features a who’s who of light art from the last 50 years, including seminal installations by household names including Lucio Fontana, Urs Fischer, Mary Corse, and Dan Flavin. These are presented alongside cutting-edge works by some of the most famous celebrated artists active today, including Japanese collective teamLab, a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room and Leo Villareal’s Corona. The exhibition also features many of the most exciting Saudi artists working today, including new commissions by Dana Awartani, Abdullah AlOthman, Rashed Al Shashai, and Ahmad Angawi, alongside major recent artworks by artists such as Sarah Abu Abdallah, Mohammed AlFaraj, and Nasser Alsalem.

Mixing established and mid-career artists, diverse geographic origins, and a wide variety of media, the exhibition begins chronologically in the 1960s, focusing on artists working in Europe and the Americas in the late 1950s and 1960s who introduced technology into their art-making process. Since then, technology has influenced generations of artists and collectives, the usage evolving significantly, often into more participatory and interactive installations.

From immersive environments that people can move around in – and even through – to video and sculpture, visitors to Light Upon Light will experience a richly illuminated exhibition, a groundbreaking event for culture in Saudi Arabia as it witnesses its first historical presentation of light art.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room – Brilliance Of The Souls (2014)

A dream-like, immersive alternate universe; an infinite visual field of mirrors, multicolored twinkling lights and shimmering water.

Rashed Al Shashai’s Searching For Darkness (2021)

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

A newly commissioned spiral light installation that reflects the uncertainty of our surroundings, created by constantly moving light sources.

TeamLab’s Flowers And People (2015)

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

An accumulation of images that never repeats, continuously rendered in real time by a computer program, and based on human interaction with the work.

Urs Fischer’s Leo (George And Irmelin) (2019)

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

A melting, distorting sculptural rendering of actor and art collector Leonardo DiCaprio, depicted in a double portrait with his mother and father, that provides a continual source of light from a flame that burns at its own speed.

Maha Malluh’s Capturing Light (2010)

Photo: Courtesy of Noor Riyadh

A series of everyday objects that remind the viewer of the joy found in priceless little things, a reflection on youth and consumerist culture.

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