Curatorial team Sumayya Vally (left), Dr Julian Raby, Dr Saad Alrashid and Dr Omniya Abdel Barr.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Diriyah Biennale Foundation (DBF) has announced that the inaugural edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale will take place at the iconic Hajj Terminal in Jeddah (Jan. 23 – Apr. 23, 2023). A distinguished international multidisciplinary team will curate the Biennale under the theme of Awwal Bayt (First House).
The world’s first-ever Islamic Arts Biennale will be located in the prestigious Canopy Terminal, which was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1981 and was the recipient of the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
There will also be a purpose-built 70,000 square metre venue with facilities to include exhibition spaces, a theatre, a mosque, workshops, classrooms dedicated to programming, as well as retail and dining.
It is considered that the new venue, made possible through the cooperation between the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Transport, and the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), will further enrich the Hajj Terminal’s functional and spiritual relevance. In addition to welcoming millions of pilgrims annually, it will also become a hub for celebrating Islamic arts and culture and fostering Jeddah’s local art ecosystem throughout the year.
Awwal Bayt, which translates literally into First House, is used in the Qur’an to signify the Ka’bah in Makkah. As the House of God, it is the most sacred site in Islam and the direction (qiblah) all Muslims face in their daily prayers, regardless of location.
Moreover, it is the destination for pilgrims from around the world embarking on the annual pilgrimage, making it the unifying focus for all Muslims.
The concept of Awwal Bayt examines how the Ka’bah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah inspire Muslims worldwide on both cultural and metaphysical levels to create a sense of belonging in their own home, their own “bayt,” wherever that may be. The theme unfolds in two complementary sections, with galleries and outdoor installations creating a dialogue between sacred sites and rituals, inviting artists to interpret and reflect on the personal and communal expressions and emotions they invoke.
The principal theme of the indoor galleries is that of Sacred Direction (qiblah), with Makkah as the focus. Under the canopy of the former Hajj Terminal, the installations will reflect on multiple senses of hijrah (migration), from the initiation of the Muslim era to reflections on contemporary displacement and how, despite the loss of a physical home, Muslims retain their spiritual home in the Awwal Bayt.
Throughout the Biennale, there will be juxtapositions of contemporary creations and historical objects, of which the most significant will be in two separate pavilions presenting artefacts originally housed in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and in the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah.
Aya Al-Bakree, DBF CEO, said: “The first Islamic Arts Biennale will be a pioneering event. Developed in a purpose-built venue at the extraordinary Hajj Terminal in Jeddah, it will provide a dynamic contemporary setting for Islamic arts, featuring leading practitioners from Saudi Arabia and around the world.
“Presented by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, this inaugural edition builds on the success of Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale. Local and international audiences are invited to join the dialogue and to experience the work of leading artists in a unique setting.”
An international curatorial team leads on the inaugural edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale and includes Dr. Saad Alrashid, leading Saudi scholar and archaeologist; Dr. Omniya Abdel Barr, Barakat Trust Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Dr. Julian Raby, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and Sumayya Vally, Architect, Designer and Principal of Counterspace, a design, research, and pedagogical studio, named as the architect primed to shape the future on Time’s 100Next list.
Vally said that “it is an honour to develop the first Islamic Arts Biennale within this iconic, culturally symbolic and welcoming structure.
“The theme of Awwal Bayt invites contemplation of belonging. As curators, we are excited by the opportunity to create a temporary home, an entirely new physical setting in this context of the Muslim pilgrim’s journey, in which to invite artists and audiences to reflect on ritual, the sacred, the personal and the communal.”
In December 2021, DBF successfully launched Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale in the JAX district of Diriyah.
The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale was one of Saudi Arabia’s largest and most significant international displays of contemporary art, a platform for global dialogue and exchange featuring more than 60 acclaimed artists from Saudi Arabia and around the world. DBF’s mission in establishing the first Islamic Arts Biennale is to celebrate and enrich the cultural and artistic exchange between Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam, and communities around the world.
The Foundation will host a biennale every year, alternating between the Contemporary Art Biennale and the Islamic Arts Biennale. Inspired by the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia and the heritage site of Diriyah, DBF assumes a critical role in nurturing creative expression and instilling an appreciation for culture, the arts, and their transformative potential.
The Foundation aspires to be a catalyst for lifelong learning and serves Saudi Arabia’s communities by offering opportunities to engage with the burgeoning local art scene. At a historical moment of evolution and growth in Saudi Arabia, the Biennales will showcase some of the world’s leading artists, drive cultural exchange between the Kingdom and international communities, promote dialogue and understanding, and further establish Saudi Arabia as an important cultural centre.