“Misk Art Week” and archiving the creative scene in Saudi Arabia

          Mashael Al-Yahya, creative director of the institute, told Asharq Al-Awsat: Part of our mission is to make art accessible to all.            

It's raining art! This is how it felt during the first week of December in Saudi Arabia. Art lovers were preoccupied with various different events in Riyadh and Jeddah, and other cities of the Kingdom, between exhibitions that competed with each other to highlight the latest contemporary and modern artworks, and between dialogue sessions and workshops, Riyadh and Jeddah sparkled, and the audience rooms were able to provide the most joyful artistic bursts.

“Misk Week” launched the celebrations, followed by many exhibitions and events, a symposium for sculpture, and then the Diriyah Biennial, the first in the Kingdom. In all this momentum, the various contributions were not conflicting or competing with each other, but rather they were participating in one system with one goal. But all that creativity posed questions about the plans of the various institutions and the identity that each one aims to create.

Center for Cultural Dialogue

The Misk Art Institute was my first stop to explore; The institute charted a path for itself concerned with educating and nurturing emerging artists, and took it upon itself to highlight talents wherever they were. I address my question to the creative director of the Misk Institute, Mashael Al-Yahya. Al-Yahya believes that “Misk Art Week” has what distinguishes it, which is that it is a critical creative platform. “(Misk Art Institute) is proud of the development in the field of arts, and we consider that our Art Week represents a complementary account to the rest of the events.” She points out that “Misk Art Week” launched the arts season in December, and occupied its rightful place in the calendar of artistic events in the world as “a center for cultural dialogue that provides an opportunity for the convergence of creative ideas and active personalities in Saudi Arabia and the world for cooperation and presentation.”

There was a lot of production between independent exhibitions and between the Biennale or the Sculpture Forum, as names of emerging and veteran Saudi artists were presented. What distinguished the “Misk Art Week” performances, and what were its strengths? Al Yahya says, “(Misk Art Week) is an open space and a welcoming atmosphere that provides art for all.” She adds that the week is characterized by being “educational” that helps build “a private community through which the elements of the creative sector gather in a collective dialogue represented by the audience in the form of exhibitions and educational programs.” She adds, that the week with its activities is “a source of inspiration for artists who present their works through three exhibitions currently hosted by the center, which are (under construction), which presents the works of artists who received a (Misk Art Grant), the (I am here) exhibition, and the residence exhibition (Masaha) entitled ( Al-Watan: Presence and Belonging), in which ten artists and writers of art practitioners in various disciplines from Saudi Arabia and around the world participate in a journey of dialogues, research and experience.

I ask her about the artists who exhibited their works within the establishment of a space in its first session, do you follow their development? She says, “Yes! We are keen to continue our relationship with the artists and follow the developments of their artistic career.”

The second art library publication

During the arts season, the Institute launched the second book of its pioneering project “The Art Library”, a pioneering series of art books highlighting some of the most prominent artists of modern and contemporary art in the Arab visual arts scene with a special focus on Saudi artists. This initiative aims to provide reliable sources that provide readers with an integrated picture of aspects of the artists’ careers that have influenced and shaped modern and contemporary Arab art from its beginnings to the present day. The first book was about the pioneering Saudi artist Abdul Rahman Al-Sulaiman and the Egyptian artist Adam Henein. The second book presents the distinguished Saudi artist, Lulwa Al-Hamoud, and the Iraqi artist, Rafe’ Al-Nasiri. I wonder, if the second book, in its entirety, will be turned into a theme for art exhibitions, such as those held for the first book? Al-Yahya does not reveal what is coming, but indicates that the publication of the book was accompanied by the establishment of an art salon that witnessed the reading of parts of the book and a signing ceremony in which the artist Lulwa Al-Hamoud participated.

One of the distinctive things about the exhibitions of the “Misk Institute of Art” is the full electronic presence, which grants those who have missed attendance or those who wish to return to a particular show, the virtual attendance.

Despite the actual absence of the exhibition, it must be said that the highly professionally executed virtual presentation provides great pleasure to the browser and gives it an interactive experience of great creativity and distinction. During the pandemic period, the site was an outlet for many to watch and follow up on the latest artistic performances to take them away from the real world fraught with anxiety. But with the return of virtual exhibitions, will the virtual show affect the number of visitors to exhibitions? My interviewer does not see the virtual show inconsistent with the actual visits, and says, “Part of our mission is to make art accessible to everyone, and we have audiences from all over the Kingdom and from the world who interact with and request our virtual exhibitions. For us, electronic exhibitions are a means of archiving the art scene in the Kingdom.

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