Works by Rachel Whiteread and Cornelia Parker to be shown for the first time in Saudi Arabia

British Council exhibition organised by six emerging Saudi women curators breaks new ground


Works by leading UK artists such as Rachel Whiteread, Ryan Gander and Cornelia Parker will go on show for the first time later this year in Saudi Arabia in an exhibition at Athr Gallery in Jeddah. 

The show, titled We Are Not Alone (17 October-16 November), is organised by six Saudi women selected for a British Council study programme called Contemporary Collective. The initiative “aims to build the skills of a new generation of curators and arts managers in Saudi Arabia”, according to a press statement. Curatorial practice and events management were covered on the course. 

Yinka Shonibare MBE's Butterfly Kid (boy) II (2015) (British Council Collection © Yinka Shonibare MBE)

Most of the works are drawn from the British Council collection, including Falling (1990) by Parker; Black Books (1997) by Whiteread and Yinka Shonibare’s Butterfly Kid (boy) II sculpture (2015). Other artists featured include Anish Kapoor, Marcus Coates and Damien Hirst. The exhibition will also include a site-specific wall drawing, Black Sun (2017), by the Scottish artist Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq.

“The exhibition explores shared feelings and anxieties, expressed through the familiar, the peculiar, the uncanny and the transcendental, with art acting as a medium to start conversations that matter to young people in Saudi Arabia and communities around the world,” says Contemporary Collective’s communications manager, Thahab Alosaimi.

The six organisers, chosen as Contemporary Collective’s founding members after an open call in March 2016, are Reem Aljalhami, Dalia Fatani, Raneen Bukhari, Maryam Bilal, Solafa Rawas and Thahab Alosaimi. The programme leaders are Matilda Pye, who is a programme manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the arts consultant Fiona Fox. 

Late last year, the six women visited a range of galleries and events in the UK such as Tate Modern, the Liverpool Biennial and Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham, south London. The programme also featured symposia in Riyadh and Jeddah led by curators from the Hepworth Wakefield and the Artes Mundi prize.   

Bukhari, who runs an organisation for young artists called Loud Art, says: "I've benefited by learning a more structured process of curating that I haven't been exposed to before. I've also benefited from the network we were introduced to during our trips and meetings. The relationships we have created in the UK, UAE, and Saudi are so lovely. Hopefully this course will change the way art shows are experienced in Saudi, by becoming more about the art, the artists, and the story."