Director, MiSK Art Institute and Artist
As a Saudi-based artist yourself, how would you say the contemporary art scene in Saudi Arabia is changing in relation to the political and social changes happening throughout the kingdom?
The changes in the Kingdom are both unprecedented and anticipated. I cannot recall a similar pace of social and cultural change – I don’t think there’s a direct comparison to be drawn in recent history. Yet, within the Kingdom, there is also a sense of restless, energetic inevitability.
It is not the core artistic communities of Saudi that are changing, it is the support. Artists have been creating exceptional and important work for generations; the artist communities fostering vibrant collaboration, thinking and exchange pre-date the social changes that have recently caught the global news media’s imagination. As part of Art Dubai Modern this year, MiSK Art Institute are proud to support That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life an exhibition of Arab modernism curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, which includes works by one such artist community from Saudi Arabia. Documenting and highlighting these long-standing cultural movements is as important to us as instigating and supporting new work – it provides the foundations for growth, it demonstrates how strong and asserted this moment is.
The excited fervency felt through social change galvanises the artists and their work – it translates to greater institutional foundations and frameworks. It is as if these parts of our burgeoning cultural and social infrastructure are being shaped by and to an artist’s way of thinking – it’s incredibly exciting.
Misk Art Institute is one of these new initiatives – I’m proud to be involved because I am an artist and I believe in what artists can do when they collaborate with institutions. Our intention is to be a grassroots community shaped for and by artists. This means we are responsive to the artist-directed currents that have been coursing through Saudi Arabia for many years. This brings me back to reframe the question – it is not only about the art scene changing according to social currents, but equally about observing how political and social shifts tap into and share in what the contemporary art scene has been doing for some time.
How will the next generation of Saudi artists contribute to the global art stage?
Though they may not all be known internationally, I believe that Saudi artists are already contributing meaningfully to global art narratives. There is a huge amount of attention focussed on the Kingdom. What emerging and established artists are saying has great relevance to the world today. They speak with profound insight on gender, environmental issues, cultural borders, altering identities and geographies.
There’s an urgency about living in the heart of change, amid currents of transformation. It crystallizes what, when and how you speak. That urgency inspires productivity, experimentation, it is absolutely incisive – it’s almost a sense of “speak now or this moment of energy will be gone” – that’s fascinating to me.
Saudi, and the wider Arab world, feels like a microcosm of many geopolitical forces. It seems many narratives lead back to this region, as if they coalesce in our borders. There is great energy in the young artists, architects, makers, doers, designers, thinkers. The moment is full of potential. So, for this generation and the next, they must continue to make, to do. What and how they contribute depends very much on their ability to keep making, keep saying, without trying to conform to any particular archetypal contemporary movement or narrative. I think there’s amazing power in that.
2017 was the year of creative firsts in Saudi Arabia (exhibits, concerts, book fairs, etc.). In what ways would you like to see the Saudi art scene grow in the next five to ten years?
‘Growth’ is such a subjective word – what does that look like? More artists? More galleries? Is that relevant at this moment? I think too much planning or structuring focussed on ‘growth’ does a disservice to the huge potential we sense right now. The moment is unprecedented – what can come from that isn’t something that can be structured. To import growth models from elsewhere, to imitate what has worked in other art scenes and other communities would deny the immense possibility in reimagining what can be done here, unique to this moment and this context. What I want to observe is how this energy can be harnessed, where the artists and thinkers can take us. If they keep doing what they are doing, the ‘growth’ of the art scene will take care of itself.