Feb 07 2020

Highlights from 21,39 Jeddah Arts 2020

by Paul Laster

Saudi architect, urban designers, curators, and artists ALAA TARABZOUNI and FAHAD BIN NAIF’s multi-disciplinary project Al-Manakh, You Will Be Missed (2019) employs photography, video, and shrink-wrapped found objects to comment on the closing of a beloved but environmentally damaging cement company in Riyadh, at 21,39 Jeddah Arts 2020. Photo by Paul Laster for ArtAsiaPacific.

With a focus on the environment, the seventh edition of 21,39 Jeddah Arts, presented by the Saudi Arts Council and on view through April 18, addressed the global climate emergency through the commissioned work of 21 regional and international artists participating in the exhibition “I Love You, Urgently.” Smartly curated by Maya El-Khahlil, a Beirut-born independent curator and former director of the Jeddah-based Athr Gallery, the show explored ideas of biomimicry, adaptability, and specificity through a wide range of media—including painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation—at two locations in Jeddah, the Saudi Art Council’s semi-raw space in the heart of the city and a newly renovated exhibition space in Al-Balad, the historic center of Jeddah.

Complementing “I Love You, Urgently” was the exhibition “Architecture of Tomorrow: Frei Otto’s Legacy in Saudi Arabia,” which functioned as an inspirational platform for the artists’ works in the main exhibition, while presenting the possibilities of renewed creative experimentation in the Kingdom. Curated by Maya El-Khalil and George Vrachliotis, professor of architecture theory and director of the architecture collection at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the show presented drawings, models, photographs and other documentation of the Pritzker Architecture Prize winning architect’s tent-like buildings, several of which were constructed in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Rounding out the program during the opening week were a series of talks and panel discussions with artists, architects, scientists, and scholars. Two satellite exhibitions—“Propositions for a Poetic Ecosystem,” which paired Saudi and Swiss artists with ecological research scientists for a residency exchange, and “Sculpting Spaces – Architectural Desert Dwellings for AlUla,” which planned to bring contemporary dwellings to the desert but was not open yet due to shipping delays—had savvy visitors declaring Jeddah as the next developing art world spot to watch.

Here are some of the highlights from 21,39 Jeddah Arts 2020:

Entrance to 21,39 Jeddah Arts with signage for the exhibition “I Love You, Urgently.” All photos by Paul Laster for ArtAsiaPacific.
Entrance to 21,39 Jeddah Arts with signage for the exhibition “I Love You, Urgently.” All photos by Paul Laster for ArtAsiaPacific.

Paul Laster is a New York desk editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

21,39 Jeddah Arts is on view at various venues at Jeddah until April 18, 2020.

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