An exhibition at Ayyam Gallery traces the development of Saudi art from the 1970s to the present.
Ayyam Gallery in Jeddah is holding a group exhibition of first generation artists from post-1970 Saudi Arabia who contributed to the shaping of a national identity through art. The show delineates the transformation, influences and evolution of modern Saudi art in the past four decades through the work of some pioneering artists from the country.
“Taliaa” at the Ayyam Gallery Jeddah from 11 July to 16 October 2014 is a group exhibition of some of the most influential names in Saudi art post-1970. The show features the work of eight critics and artists who were among the first generation to study abroad in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom and to receive formal art education. They are:
- Abdulhalim Radwi
- Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya
- Taha Al Sabban
- Abdullah Al Shaikh
- Mohammed Al Resayes
- Abdullah Hamas
- Albulrahman Al Soliman
- Mohammad Al Saleem
Abstraction and Western influences
The exhibition illustrates how Western Modernist schools such as Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism and other post-war movements of abstraction were a major influence on these artists. Nonetheless, each one of them developed an individual style that aimed to harmoniously bridge western styles and techniques with local themes and concepts, referencing Saudi culture, tradition and environment.
The Beginnings of Saudi Art
In his catalogue essay “The Beginnings of Fine Art in Saudi Arabia”, exhibition curator Abdulaziz Ashour writes:
Art in Saudi Arabia developed thanks to the individual efforts of artists aiming to preserve local tradition and culture within a society that did not necessarily support art education and instruction in the same way as the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.
The curator mentions that one of the artists, Abdulhalim Radwi (1939–2006), started being recognised for his artistic talents in the mid-1950s. He was the winner of the first official painting competition in high school with his work The Village, a simple painting of trees and clay houses and was also the first artist to pursue studies abroad.
1965 saw the establishment of the Artistic Education Institute, an event that marked a turning point for artistic production in Saudi Arabia, along with the support of the Youth Care Association. Many of the country’s most significant artists graduated from the Institute while Youth Care supported the self-taught ones, including Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya (b. 1931) and Taha Al Sabban (b. 1948).
Abdullah Al Shaikh (b.1936) was the first to obtain an academic degree in art in 1959 from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, while Mohammed Al Resayes (b.1950) and Abdullah Hamas (b.1953) graduated from the Art Institute in Al Riyadh, and Albulrahman Al Soliman (b. 1954) from the Teachers Institute in Al Damman. Mohammad Al Saleem (1939-1997) attended the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence, Italy and came back to teach western techniques and styles.
The creation of a national identity in Saudi art
The eight artists, born between 1930 and 1960, all contributed to the evolution and development of Saudi art. They participated in the debates around art that took place during the 1980s, which saw the emergence of three main factions. The first was directly related to heritage, tradition and custom, the second saw tradition and heritage as obstacles to advancement, and the third called for a more flexible approach that joined Modernism with tradition.
The “Taliaa” pioneers pushed for the West and East to be part of a cohesive style. Some withdrew from society to work, while others constantly took part in the dialogue, but all of them contributed toward shaping what Saudi art has become today.
Ashour writes in his curatorial essay:
The pioneer artists in the local art scene renewed their visual experiences, and developed the aesthetic vision that wavered between being inspired by heritage, tradition, and what they learnt from experience and technique in school […] These innovations furthered the art experience as simple gestures changed into real visions belonging to new aesthetic and theoretical conditions. The most important issue unearthed during this time was the upholding of a national identity.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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