Cultural Initiatives in North Africa and the Middle East
In partnership with Dar Al Hekma University, Saudi Arabia's leading female education institution, Ibraaz hosted a one-day symposium entitled 'Global Contemporary Art and Its Networks.' The day of lectures and panels was organised as part of the annual Jeddah Art Week (JAW), which ran from February 1st-6th.
A contemporary art initiative founded by Lina Lazaar, JAW is aimed at encouraging and promoting the burgeoning art scene in Jeddah and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Returning for its second year, the week had a secure focus on community-based events and inclusive and accessible activities. The symposium was the first of its kind in the country, extending an invitation to all, and attracting a very high profile group of international and local speakers and participants.
President of Dar Al Hekma, Dr. Suhair Quraishi opened the symposium by welcoming guests and speakers. She stressed the importance of the arts to the university's academic culture and the need for greater awareness and education in the field. She introduced JAW founder Lina Lazaar, who spoke about the long-term aims and ambitions of the art week, before handing over to Dr. Anthony Downey who delivered the first lecture of the day, 'What is Contemporary Art?'
Offering what Dr. Downey called 'a very partial guide' to the development of contemporary art, his lecture began with paintings by Mark Rothko from the mid 20th century, and went on to include works by Barbara Kruger, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol. Discussing the wider contexts of institutional curatorship, market demands and the politics of production, the lecture was further illustrated with works by Damien Hirst, Takeshi Murakami and Ai Weiwei.
Afterwards, international specialists Edward Gibbs of Sotheby's, and Dalya Islam and gallerists Khalid Samawi of Ayyam Gallery and Lilia Ben Saleh of Tunisia's Galerie El Marsa joined local Saudi artists Abdulnasser Gharem and Faisal Samra in a panel entitled Contemporary Art and the Market. The discussion was co-chaired by Anthony Downey and Lina Lazaar, and covered issues of the growth in demand for art from the Middle East and North Africa and the impact this growth has had on artists' practices. Samawi spoke of the need for greater commercial support for artists in the region, without the interference of the government, whilst Gharem shared anecdotes about his experiences with auction houses at the beginning of his career.
Arab News journalist Rima Al Mukhtar acted as a respondent, posing questions to the panellists and generating a fruitful and varied discussion.
Shifting the centre of focus away from the West, Dr Downey's second lecture focussed on Contemporary art in Middle East/North Africa/KSA. He argued that when considering centres of cultural production such as London, New York and Paris, it is also vital to recognise the importance of Baghdad, Cairo, Beirut and Sao Paolo. Starting with modernist painters such as Sharif Abboud and Saloua Raouda Choucair, the lecture moved through forms of calligraphy from the traditional to the contemporary, and into the development of photography by Iranian, Palestinian and Lebanese artists.
The final panel of the day, Contemporary Art Institutions in the Middle East, kept the focus on the region. Invited panellists were Antonia Carver, Director of Art Dubai, Judith Greer of Sharjah Art Foundation, Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, Stephen Stapleton from Edge of Arabia and Ala Edris of FIND at NYU Abu Dhabi. Each panellist provided their unique perspective on the development of art institutions across the Arab world in the last decade, with unanimity that greater arts education in the region was a vital necessity. Saudi filmmaker and actress, Ahd Kamel, shed light on the lack of institutions for filmmaking in Saudi Arabia, whilst engaging in an interesting discussion with Mater about the difficulties and triumphs he has faced as an artist in the Kingdom.
The day culminated in a question and answer session, which opened up discussion further and allowed the large and enthusiastic to pose intelligent and challenging questions and comments to speakers.