From homegrown talents to 'going big' Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale returns

From homegrown talents to 'going big' Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale returns

Saudi’s culture drive gets further impetus with the second edition of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
19 February 24
Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale returns, taking place from 20 February until 24 May in the JAX District, is titled After Rain and will feature the work of 100 artists from 40 countries, some 30 of whom are from the Gulf region.

The displayed artworks are in a variety of media and a multitude of artistic practices exploring a range of subjects from archaeological to environmental, among others. Attendees will find them across seven halls, courtyards, and terraces, close to the seasonal riverbed of Wadi Hanifa.  

With the title After Rain aiming to evoke a scene that emanates from the Earth, the biennale emphasises ideas of revitalisation and renewal – pertinent to the fast forward motion in which today’s Saudi is jetting into the future. “The second edition of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale explores the role that contemporary art can play in a society undergoing rapid change,” says German-born curator Ute Meta Bauer, who serves as the artistic director.  

The curation team was selected and unveiled in August 2023; Bauer and the wider curatorial team embarked on a number of journeys to different regions in Saudi Arabia to study the country's cultural landscape and establish connections with up-coming, newly discovered and established Saudi artists from various generations. The team visited cities such as Dammam, Khobar, Al-hasaa, Riyadh, Jeddah, Khamis Mushait, Abha, and Rijaal Almaa.

The Homegrown Talent  

Local artists include Asma Bahmim, Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, Mohammad Alfaraj, Sara Abdu, and Ahmed Mater. Amongst the specially commissioned works is one by Mater, one of Saudi’s most prominent artists. He has collaborated with Berlin-based photographer and filmmaker Armin Linke to embark on a long-term partnership that will see them jointly documenting Saudi futurism since the 1940s.

Alfaraj, from Al Ahsa, which boasts one of the world’s largest oases, will present a new multimedia work that incorporates palm trees and sound, evocative of the landscape of his homeland. On a more spiritual note, emerging Saudi-based Yemeni artist Abdu has created a series of towers constructed from a number of artisan bars of soap. The towers offer a multi-sensory experience exploring cleansing rituals from the region.  

Going Big 

Large-scale spatial artworks that weave international contemporary art references with more traditional art forms found in the Kingdom are set to be a highlight that fill outdoor spaces.

An example is Bosnian-born Azra Akšamija’s 70-metre-long canopy of recycled felt, inspired by Saudi textiles and traditional Al Sadu weaving techniques. Anne Holtrop, on the other hand, will build a structure made of recycled sheet glass that is produced by local glass manufacturers.  

Community Meals 

Bauer calls the biennale “a meeting ground for young voices and established figures.”

Aiming to create and foster a platform for knowledge and discovery through art, and given that the event will run through the month of Ramadan, there will be a focus will be placed on communal gatherings and the sharing of food.

Reflective of this aim, Britto Arts Trust invites visitors to harvest, cook, and eat in a bamboo architectural structure, while NJOKOBOK, made by artists Youssou Diop and Apolonija Šušteršič, will operate a juice and tea bar serving locally produced hibiscus and ginger juice, alongside Senegalese mint tea.

Additionally, Lucy + Jorge Orta invites the public to participate in a meal during Ramadan in the winding streets of Riyadh's JAX District: the historic district of Riyadh that connects the biennale halls with surrounding artist studios and the greater neighbourhood.

“It is our deeply held belief and ambition as a Foundation to deliver world-class international platforms that highlight the transformative power of the arts in Saudi Arabian society,” Aya Al-Bakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, said in a statement. “After Rain opens a new chapter for the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, where a diverse and multigenerational group of artists come together. We hope to ignite conversations, broaden perspectives, and, above all, engage wider audiences than ever before with the arts." 

As Bauer also underlines, the role of a biennale goes beyond the presentation of contemporary art. “It feeds off and nurtures the cultural ecosystem in which it is embedded,” she said in a statement. And so, the Diriyah one similarly strives to do this by acting as an incubator for artistic dialogue, innovation, and cross-cultural exchange.  

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, from February 20 to May 24, 2024
Various Locations in JAX District, Diriyah, Riyadh