The seventh 21,39 Jeddah Arts is back in town, addressing the global environmental crisis under the title “I Love You, Urgently.” Based at the Saudi Art Council’s hub in Jeddah, it parades the work of local artists.
Muhammad Hafiz, vice-chairman of Saudi Art Council, emphasized the importance of art in complementing societies, and how it is now being carried out by the state. He said: “This year we’re supported by the Ministry of Culture, who have kindly reached out to support us.”
Maya El Khalil, the curator of “I Love You, Urgently” paid tribute to Frei Otto, the masterful architect who has painstakingly contributed to memorable sights in the Kingdom and has been the inspiration for this year’s concept.
“In our part of the world, for the time being, these concerns (sustainability of the environment) aren’t a priority,” she said during the press conference to launch the exhibition.
“It was interesting to see the artists go through a long process of research and study, building their awareness of their surroundings,” she said.
Hamza Serafi, head of the curatorial committee at the Saudi Art Council, said that they hoped visitors would be inspired by the works they see.
He thanked the curator for choosing Frei Otto, one of the pioneers of biomimicry — the imitation of nature.
“With that humane concept, the artists started expressing their feelings about how they see nature; some went into architectural forms, filming, music; it’s really diverse,” he said.
Visual artist Marwah Al-Mugait is one of 21 artists who have participated in the main exhibition this year, making her third appearance thanks to the Saudi Art Council.
Al-Mugait’s creation can be sensed upon entry to the cavernous venue, where women’s chants can be heard. Upon inspection, behind a lavish white curtain, a video filmed in Riyadh is playing across a curved wall where a group of women come together in self-expression and self-preservation, before they huddle against an ancient tree and embrace it.
“This year is exceptional because of the theme; I’m so happy and honored to work with Maya El Khalil, who presented the concept of biomimicry,” Al-Mugait told Arab News.
Al-Mugait began to work toward unseen elements to display “multi-layered emotional details” in her work in order to depict the senses rather than what meets the eye. Initially, the Riyadh-based artist felt anxious about applying this new concept to her background in film and performance.
“Throughout my research, I was driven towards the topic of the defense mechanisms of species, plantations and human beings, specifically Mimosa pudica, which closes in on itself whenever a predator is trying to touch it,” she explained.
Al-Mugait also drew inspiration from the way bees deal with predators who attack their hive, during which they perform a shimmering wave collectively.
As she struggled to translate these mechanical moves into a body language that conveys how humans can defend themselves from inner and outer harm, psychological harm and abuse, she came across Movers in Riyadh, and two of their choreographers helped her shape her performance.
Al-Mugait chose 14 female dancers to depict empowered women, two Jamaican-British and 12 Saudis. “I wanted to trace that power which you cannot see with my camera, along with their interaction with nature. That moment when they hug the tree at the end is similar to the one you would get from a mother.”
During the first week of 21,39 Jeddah Arts, a forum will be held with talks and panel discussions by the curator El Khalil and the artists of “I Love You, Urgently.”
The exhibition is open to the public, and also hosts visits from schools as part of educational trips orchestrated by the Ministry of Education, said Hafiz.
The event will run from January 28 to April 18, with further exhibitions taking place besides “I Love You, Urgently,” including “Architecture of Tomorrow: Frei Otto’s Legacy in Saudi Arabia,” which pays tribute to the inspiration behind this year’s theme, and “Sculpting Spaces — Architectural Desert Dwellings for AlUla”.
The Saudi Art Council is a non-profit initiative founded in 2014 by a number of art enthusiasts, and has been supportive of local artists and art movements in the Kingdom.