Saudi Arabia’s cutting edge art collaborative, Edge of Arabia, opened its first major UAE exhibition last Monday. Terminal, a pop-up exhibition curated by Bashar Al Shroogi of Dubai’s Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, is on at the Dubai International Financial Center through April 15.
Curated by a different person in each city, Edge of Arabia is a travelling exhibition seeking to raise international awareness about Saudi Arabia’s vibrant contemporary art community while highlighting moderate voices from the Kingdom and challenging misconceptions about the country.
Launched in 2008 with a major exhibition of artists from across Saudi Arabia at London’s SOAS Brunei Gallery, the project has attracted international attention with exhibitions at the 53rd Venice Biennale, the 6th Berlin Biennale, and at the European Capital of Culture art fair in Istanbul. The initiative has helped spread the word about Saudi art internationally, with many participating artists gaining places in the collection of the British Museum and spots in the auction books of major houses like Sotheby’s.
Terminal, which explores concepts of travel, bureaucracy, identity and privacy in an increasingly interdependent world, takes visitors on a journey through an airport experience from check-in through security and, finally, to the departure gate. The artworks are comprised of new and commissioned pieces by Saudi artists that range from installation and performance pieces to photography, video and sculpture. The exhibit includes works by renowned photographer Manal Al-Dowayan and the young but powerful visual artist Hala Ali.
Al-Dowayan is a black and white photographer from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. Her work is distinguished by its striking contrasts and tonal variation. A founding member of Edge of Arabia, Al-Dowayan’s work has been well-received both in Saudi Arabia and internationally.
For Al-Dowayan, Terminal’s connecting themes mesh well with past work she has done on issues of women and movement in Saudi Arabia.
“I have four artworks displayed in Terminal. All artworks address the subject of travel and movement within spaces. I hope Terminal will allow new audiences to interact with my art and build a platform for future planned shows in the city of Dubai,” she told Daily News Egypt.
Edge of Arabia’s first foray into Dubai indicates a growing regional platform for artistic pursuits, one which Al-Dowayan would like to see expanded.
“What I aspire for is a space where I can communicate and work with honesty, where art and culture are valued like science, and to always have a platform for me and other creative people to express ourselves freely,” she said.
Though still a fine arts student at the University of Sharjah, Hala Ali has already made a strong impression with her large-scale, innovative works that challenge traditional notions of concepts such as text and image. Although active in Edge of Arabia, Ali is adamant that her identity as a Saudi woman should remain distinct from her work as an artist.
“At this given moment and time, I do not feel that questions regarding my identity and origins are particularly related to my work. I prefer to deal with universal concepts as opposed to local ones,” she explained.
Indeed, Ali’s work addresses universal concepts that resonate with all audiences. She expects Terminal’s themes to be readily embraced in Dubai, where she says the city is receptive to a variety of ideas.
“Text, language and meaning is fundamental to our human experience and to understand that is to understand the human condition as a whole. My work came to center on this line of investigation given my interest in further exploring what we communicate, how we communicate and why we communicate,” she said.
Despite Ali’s unwillingness to link her art to her background, Edge of Arabia and Terminal are undoubtedly about Saudi art and breaking down the stereotypes associated with work by Saudi artists. With talented women like Al-Dowayan and Ali making a strong impression as art critics flock to the UAE this month to experience Art Dubai and the Sharjah Biennale, along with Terminal, it is clear that Edge of Arabia is one step closer to their goal of moving past misconceptions to showcase world-class art.