Artists announced for Saudi Arabia's first ever contemporary art biennial

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is part of a drive to promote the cultural credentials of the middle Eastern kingdom

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John Gerrard’s Corn Work (Corrib) (2020), pictured at Galway International Arts Festival in 2020: the Irish artist will take part in the first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale Photo: Ros Kavanagh

John Gerrard’s Corn Work (Corrib) (2020), pictured at Galway International Arts Festival in 2020: the Irish artist will take part in the first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Manal Al Dowayan of Saudi Arabia, Xu Bing of China and John Gerrard of Ireland are among the artists taking part in the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale—the first art event of its kind to be held in Saudi Arabia. The exhibition—Feeling the Stones (11 December-11 March 2022)—is due to be held in the Jax district of Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh, and will consist of six sections with works from around 70 national and international artists.

“There is a thriving scene in the Kingdom and real anticipation for this project,” says Philip Tinari, the biennial’s chief curator, who visited Riyadh and Jeddah, and met artists and arts professionals, three times before the pandemic began. Other Saudi artists including Zahrah Alghamdi, Muhannad Shono, Ayman Zedani, Lulwah Al-Homoud and Dana Awartani will present works alongside international artists such as Simon Denny, Lawrence Lek and Monira Al-Qadiri (further artists are due to be announced).

The event was initiated by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and is organised by the newly formed Diriyah Biennale Foundation. Another new initiative, the Diriyah Islamic Arts Biennale, is planned for 2022. (The biennials will run in alternate years.)

The new biennial is part of a drive to promote the cultural credentials of Saudi Arabia, helping to diversify the economy and deliver a more “open” image of the country, in line with the government’s Vision 2030 plan. Asked about the possible issue of censorship in the conservative Middle Eastern state, Tinari says: “So much of our effort has gone into creating a biennale that hasn’t happened before with systems that are new. There is so much to be gained from engaging and working [in the country].”

UPDATE (18 October): The complete artist list for the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale has been announced. Sixty-three artists are due to take part with 26 practitioners from Saudi Arabia including Abdullah AlOthman, Daniah Al Saleh and Marwah AlMugait. Tavares Strachan, Geof Oppenheimer, Peter Mulindwa, Sarah Morris and Zheng Yuan are also among the participating artists.

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