JEDDAH: Islamic art has rarely been the subject of a dedicated international exhibition, with the notable exception of the London Festival of Islamic Arts in 1976. Now, four decades later, the first Islamic Art Biennale is being held in Jeddah and offers a juxtaposition of traditional art and contemporary works.
The biennial, which will be held in the famous western pilgrimage hall at King Abdulaziz International Airport from January 23 to April 23, aims to compare and contrast contemporary works with a group of historical pieces, many of which are loaned by museums, with scenography. Designed by Oma, an international architecture and urban planning firm.
Led by a team of renowned curators, including Somaya Valli, Dr. Julien Rabi, Dr. Saad Al-Rasheed and Dr. Omnia Abdel-Bar, the Biennale has the theme of Awal Beit – or “First House” in Arabic.
“One of our strengths is the location,” Abdel Barr said. Arab News. “It is truly a huge and impressive site and is literally the first place passed by visitors who come to perform the Hajj and sometimes to pay homage during Ramadan.
In this way, the place is intimately linked to our first theme for the Biennale, Awal Beit, or “First Home.” “
The station, which has served as the global gateway to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah since its opening in 1981, is only used during the six-week Hajj period. Built by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, the station won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983.
The original design was inspired by the traditional tents used by pilgrims for centuries on desert journeys to the holy cities. Its transparent and luminous ceiling, made of a Teflon-coated fiberglass membrane, allows natural light and ventilation, making it an impressive and stunning exhibition space.
The theme of “The First House” will be represented through two complementary sections: Qibla or “Holy Direction” which will feature works of art emphasizing the spirituality of Islam and Hijrah or “Hijrah” which will feature large outdoor installations under the umbrella of the Hajj Station. .
The exhibition will be a multidisciplinary representation of what it means to be a Muslim, with many pieces reflecting the central importance of the Kaaba, the holiest site of pilgrimage in Islam, at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. .
The decision to hold the exhibition was made in Jeddah, rather than Riyadh, the Saudi capital, due to the close connection between the port city overlooking the Red Sea and Hajj, which is an important transit point for visitors.
In fact, Jeddah has always been a major gateway for pilgrims past and present on their way to Mecca and Medina, making it a very symbolic location for the fair.
At the same time, this exhibition refers to building a ‘home’ through our spiritual and cultural rituals in Islam – works that unite us and celebrate both our cultural diversity and hybridity,” said Commissioner Vale at the SPA.
The exhibition is one of two biennials organized by the Diriyah Biennial Foundation, which was established by the Saudi Ministry of Culture in 2020. The other is the Contemporary Art Biennale, which kicked off in December 2021 and was held in the JAX district of Diriyah.
This January event will feature contemporary artists from Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. Among them is Farah Behbehani, a Kuwaiti artist and designer, who created “Path of Light” for the event.
This kinetic work, hand-embroidered with metallic thread and silk, as well as cords and glass beads on linen, celebrates the Prophet’s birthday and focuses on the concept of light that is at the heart of the Islamic faith.
For this work, I chose a house by Ahmed Shawky, the Egyptian writer for the 19th centuryH Century known as “Prince of Poets” which he wrote in honor of the Prophet Muhammad “Bahbehani came down to Arab News.
“The verse talks about how the good news of the Prophet’s birth created a path of light out of darkness, illuminating the world from east to west.”
Behbehani fused poetic poetry into three panels designed with Islamic geometric patterns inspired by the domes of mosques.
She explained that “the entire work was embroidered by hand and refers to the brick tile work created and designed in Islamic architecture in mosques and other buildings.”
Cairo-based Egyptian artist Hoda Lutfi created Inside the Black Enclosure, an installation work inspired by the representations performed by millions of Muslim pilgrims on the first and last days of the Hajj.
Creating a new decorated cover for the Kaaba is an act of reverence that goes back to the early days of the faith. Lutfi shows through his work how, since the Abbasid era, black became the preferred color for upholstery.
Made with great care and expense, this woven ornament is known as a kiswah, and is typical of Arab craftsmanship.
In Lutfi’s work, viewers are invited to enter the interior of a dark cubic room illuminated by black fluorescent light. The Kiswa, to protect and decorate the exterior of the Kaaba while showing the wealth and power of its patrons, is hidden within the enclosed structure, where it is used for meditation.
Once inside the enclosed dark area, all that can be seen through the black walls is a shimmering white sign with black writing on it. And the embroidered line that surrounds the piece is a Quranic verse that reads: “God alone belongs the east and the west. And wherever you turn, the face of God is present.”
Ultimately, the aim of the biennial is to celebrate and share the concept of Islam through the art of the past and the present, attempting to establish continuity through artistic discourse, bringing together both the heritage of Islam and its contemporary appropriation.
Farida Al-Husseini said in an interview with the Saudi Press Agency (SPA): “With the opening of the Biennale of Islamic Art in Jeddah, we look forward to the future of Islamic art, while reflecting on its rich and diverse past.”
“By connecting craft, academia, and the ongoing practices of art and creativity, we hope that this edition, as well as future editions, will create space for new perspectives to be expressed and unexpected connections that inspire and generate meaning,” she said.
This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com