I was brought up to completely believe that the words ‘Arts and Saudi’ simply cannot and will not and must not belong in the same sentence.
I saw and lived that first hand indeed. I witnessed firsthand the erosion of arts (however simple and basic they are) in school plays, music and art classes as they were slowly being removed from all curriculums. It was clearly a dawn of a very dark era.
That’s why it is simply mind boggling when I see the huge and continuously growing arts scene in Saudi developing the way it is. Saudi painters, sculptors and photographers are popping up everywhere and exhibiting their interesting work locally and abroad and receiving very encouraging reviews on their work.
The momentum did not stop there, it continued much further as galleries and exhibitions became much more sophisticated and teamed up with international power houses in this field. Thus a Saudi local art scene was truly in the works.
Again, it did not stop there, in a country that has no cinemas, where public cinemas are actually banned and illegal. It is therefore mind boggling to see Saudi films made here with actors, crews and cameras and, furthermore, seeing these films participating in some very important international film festivals and in some occasions receiving high acclaim and even winning some very respectable awards.
In the latest chapter of this hot Saudi arts phase, a new internationally renowned arts gallery recently opened up “Alayyama”, which has its presence in Dubai, Damascus and London and has now officially been set up in Jeddah with two renowned local talents: Qaswara Hafez and Mariam Baidoon.
The occasion was very well received and it promises to attract top regional and international talents to the areas. Opera Gallery, another giant in the arts arena, is coming on board to Jeddah soon. Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the two global arts giants and leading auction houses have participated in many events on the ground in Saudi.
All this will slowly put Saudi arts on the map of a very competent global arts market, but nevertheless it is still an amazing story to be talked about.
I always said that the most ridiculous job in the world was being an arts critique in Saudi Arabia. Well, maybe that’s not the case anymore it seems!
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on March 4, 2013
(Hussein Shobokshi is a columnist who hosted the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa. Twitter: @husseinshoboksh)