There is evidence everywhere of a contemporary art renaissance in the Middle East, and fresh art spaces are spearheading the movement. 

Riyadh’s first curated contemporary art space, Alāan Artspace, recently opened with its inaugural exhibition “SoftPower” which examines the position of women in Saudi Arabian society. The show of work by three women artists will run from 3 October to 10 December 2012.

Logo for Riyadh's Alāan Gallery.

SoftPower” features artwork by three young female artists: mixed media artists Sarah Abu Abdallah and Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali and a loaned installation piece from Manal Al Dowayan. According to the exhibition’s website, the artists adopt “a nuanced and at times humorous approach towards exploring the position of women within contemporary society,” eschewing traditional feminist tactics for “solidarity, ambiguity and irony”.

As UAE newspaper The National further explains,

With grace, subtlety, and an indefatigable drive, young women are creating new boundaries for a contemporary art scene that barely existed just a few years ago. Their work is feminist in nature and asks questions about society without offering any clear-cut response.

Women are considered dependants in Saudi Arabia, and the many ways they have adapted this role are on display at the gallery. The females depicted in the women’s art are givers, consumers, objects, souls, power-brokers, and caretakers – sometimes all at once.

‘We wanted to create a feminist show, but not a militant feminist show,’ said [Alāan Curator Sara] Raza. ‘No sensation, no shock tactics.’

Alāan Artspace opens at a time when many other Middle Eastern contemporary art galleries are also expanding their operations. In September 2012, Art Radar reported on how London’s premiere Middle Eastern contemporary art space Rose Issa Projects is moving to a larger location and taking on more artists. Meanwhile Ayyam Gallery will be opening two new locations in London and Jeddah, citing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning contemporary art scene as the main reason for the new space.

Alāan’s curator Sara Raza also comments on this contemporary renaissance in The National article:

The Saudi art scene, many have described it as a sleeping giant. Saudi contemporary art will probably be among the strongest in the region in the next ten years.

Do you think that Saudi Arabian contemporary art is on the rise? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.


Related Topics: Saudi Arabian artistsfeminist art, art in Saudi Arabia, Asia expands, gallery shows

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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