Meet the Trailblazers: 5 visionaries redefining Saudi Arabia's creative landscape
Meet the Trailblazers: 5 visionaries redefining Saudi Arabia's creative landscape
Hailing from across the Kingdom, these five Saudi talents are part of a wave of creatives redefining the frontiers of film, art, and music
Meet Saudi Arabia's creative visionaries who are reshaping the Kingdom's artistic landscape.
From pioneering filmmakers to boundary-pushing fashion designers, these innovators are leaving their mark on the Kingdom's vibrant cultural scene.
In this piece, we will explore their journeys and contributions, illuminating Saudi arts and culture.
“I’ve always been into art and storytelling, and I don’t know how to do anything else.” These words by Sarah Taibah encapsulate the essence of who she is: a dynamic force whose journey is firmly anchored in creativity and authenticity.
An artist, filmmaker, and actress from the Red Sea city of Jeddah, Taibah is renowned as the creative mind behind Jameel Jeddan, a groundbreaking dark comedy series that has carved a new narrative for Saudi youth. “It’s my biggest and latest project,” she says. And the multifaceted artist hasn’t stopped there; she’s currently working on a new show for Netflix (still in development) as its creator, writer, and lead.
Her passion for art began at an early age, eventually propelling her towards a master’s degree in free art and printmaking from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. In 2015, she founded Rasma W Kalima Studio, a platform for her drawings and designs. Then, she travelled around Europe, participating in several art residencies, enriching her knowledge and experience.
Taibah doesn’t believe in limits, and in many ways, that’s the beauty behind her creativity – it is fluid and ever-expanding. “Everything exists and can always exist,” she asserts. “I believe, as women, we should tell our stories ourselves because real art has to be honest and authentic.”
Come September, Taibah is traveling to the Toronto International Film Festival, where she will attend the premiere of Mandoob al Leel, a film she stars in, directed by Ali Kalthami. Amidst all this, she’s also shooting a new horror film in the United Arab Emirates – a testament to her ceaseless artistic pursuit.
Born in Khamis Mushait, a city in Abha, Riyadh-based artist Abdulnasser Gharem has long been one of the Kingdom’s most renowned names at home and abroad for contemporary art. Entirely self-taught, he began creating art at Al Meftaha Arts Village in Abha in 2003. Since then, his practice has grown and is today largely focused on conceptual art. His work has been shown in spaces and exhibitions around the world, in cities such as New York, Venice, London, and Los Angeles, as well as throughout the Middle East.
“My work is influenced by ordinary events in both my military and daily life,” he says. “My perspective is seeing inwardness from the outside, which I call ‘Inscape.’ My art relies on two phases: the first is research and acquiring knowledge; and the second is execution, choosing the most suitable medium to convey these concepts and ideas to the viewer.”
Gharem emphasizes that the artwork's significance is a product of the viewer's interpretation rather than the creator's intention. His art delves into “our social change, to the point that clarifies the blind spots and tells the viewers that which they do not wish to hear, at an inconvenient moment but one they can’t ignore nor neglect,” he explains.
In 2013, he founded Gharem Studio, a non-profit art organization also known as AG Studio. Within its walls, artists of all ages are invited to learn, create, collaborate, and exchange ideas. “It is a space where artists can be true to themselves,” he says. “What we are doing here is trying to help them focus on the DNA of their cultural resources. They need to dig and discover their true selves.”
A visual and land artist, Zahrah Alghamdi is also an assistant professor at the College of Art and Design at the University of Jeddah. Her artistic practice focuses on large-scale installation works, often integrated into the landscapes of Saudi and beyond, drawing substantial inspiration from women's lived experiences.
“All of my work is saturated with feeling and emotion,” she explains. “Despite the different production processes that my artworks require, they all attempt, in one form or another, to embody the concept of memory. My work explores the emotions of identity, history, loss, and storytelling. I’ve been lucky enough to observe people’s reactions to my work throughout my career and, my art tends to evoke those emotions, which is exactly what I’m looking for.”
In 2019, Alghamdi was chosen to represent the Kingdom at the 58th Venice Biennale, where she unveiled an installation composed of 52,000 reworked leather pieces – inspired by organic forms inherent to her home in Al Baha, as well as Asiri ornaments. Titled After Illusion, this exhibition was influenced by a sixth-century poem penned by Zuhayr bin Abi Sulma.
In 2020, Alghamdi took part in the first-ever Desert X AlUla, presenting an installation of 6,000 date tins, placed within the desert sands in a way that symbolizes the movement of water in a river. Most recently, she was selected to work on the next façade of Hayy Jameel.
Regardless of the project at hand, Alghamdi says her work continues to be inspired by her hometown of Al Baha and by Earth. “To me, Earth is life itself,” she explains. “We exist on it, we eat from it, and we dwell within its boundaries. When it feels constricted, the world feels suffocating, but when it opens, we can live in it with security. Earth is safety and tranquillity; it is our home.”
Hailing from the Eastern Province, Abdulmohsen Albinali is a multidisciplinary artist who masterfully navigates a spectrum of artistic mediums and materials – often experimenting with clay, metal, wood, and the digital realm to create artworks related to printmaking, collage, video, painting, and interactive installations.
“My work revolves around nature and how we perceive and translate it in our culture,” he explains. Initially, he delved into how individuals depict nature in crafts like carpets. “I then moved onto the idea of the garden, and how we take elements from the natural world and reorganize them in our own image or in a way that is harmless, aesthetically pleasing, and moulded into our vision of what nature is.”
Albinali’s art career kicked off when he moved to the United Kingdom in 2008 and began his painting practice. In 2013, he moved to Sharjah, UAE, where he created artwork and pursued his research at several art institutions, including Tashkeel and the Emirates Fine Arts Society. He also enrolled in art classes at Sharjah Art College. He then moved to New York, where he graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts.
After participating in artist residencies in Paris, Dammam, and Riyadh under the Misk Art Residencies, he furthered his academic journey at the Slade School of Art, University College London (UCL), completing his master's in fine art in June 2023.
“For the last two years, including my recent MFA degree show and my Misk Art Grant research last year, as well as my upcoming two projects, my work has revolved around the concept of folklore and oral traditions from Saudi and the Arabian Peninsula,” he explains. “I'm specifically interested in scenarios and moments in these folklores where I can take them and reshape them – specifically things that deal with animism and how we converse with nature in these stories.”
In November 2023, Albinali will be participating in the upcoming edition of Noor Riyadh, and in January 2024, he will have his first-ever solo show in Kuwait.
The visionary behind fashion brand Hindamme, Mohammed Khoja is keen to encapsulate a forward-thinking, contemporary, multidisciplinary approach interwoven with traditional aspects from Saudi.
The name "Hindamme" is steeped in history, an old Arabic word used for hundreds of years that roughly means “to possess perfect form in harmony and aesthetic.” This, in essence, is what Khoja is trying to do through his brand. His ready-to-wear creations are at once colourful, bold, and edgy through their cuts and forms, and yet also minimalist.
“As a creative, I have a very multidisciplinary approach, so I don't necessarily just design fashion,” he explains. “I also have been designing furniture, objects, and many other kinds of creative forms.”
By also delving into music, he underscores the fluidity of artistic expression, believing that people, and above all creatives, don't necessarily have to be limited to one specific art form. “They can evolve,” he says. “But fashion is truly my favourite creative interpretation, because for me, clothing and fashion are the most engaging forms of art.”
Central to understanding his avant-garde approach is his attempt at melding Eastern and Western cultures. “Hindamme is inspired by merging elements from East and West, and by taking elements from my culture and then integrating them into a contemporary format.”
Think of garments that incorporate rare vintage Khaleeji stamps, but are also reflective of space travel and the moon landing in 1969. Elsewhere, Khoja’s work features garments such as black nylon bomber jackets adorned with gold-embroidered astrological symbols, and t-shirts emblazoned with Arabic calligraphy.
Other pieces, such as ‘A Certain Planet’ varsity jacket,’ a wool cashmere mix created in collaboration with Kyoto-based artist Ikegami Yoriyuki – featuring a print of a mural titled A Certain Planet – are more topical and reflective of major global challenges today, such as climate change.
Khoja most recently presented his designs at a pop-up event called Emerge, right before Paris Haute Couture Week. This event, co-hosted by the Saudi Fashion Commission and the Ministry of Culture, featured his work alongside those of 15 designers from the Kingdom.
“My collections are also autobiographical because I'm very much a third culture kid who has grown up in different places, but is still very rooted in my culture,” he says.” Hindamme is a perfect representation of this mix.”