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“It is an honour to develop the first Islamic Arts Biennale within this iconic, culturally symbolic and welcoming structure. The theme of Awwal Bait 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.” — Sumayya Vally


January 23 to April 23, 2023

The first event of its kind, the new biennale will showcase the art and creativity of Islamic culture, past and present. It will champion innovation while supporting continuing traditions and encouraging the preservation of skills. It will explore spirituality in the aesthetic realm and celebrate both shared heritage around the globe and diversity of artistic expressions and forms. By inviting artists from around the world, it will provide new dialogues and insights.

Taking place at the iconic Hajj terminal in Jeddah, the first Islamic Arts Biennale, originally planned for Riyadh, will now be the city of Jeddah with its historic and continuing significance as a gateway to the two holiest cities to Muslims across the world, Mecca (officially Makkah Al-Mukarrama) and Medina (officially Al-Madinah Al- Munawwara). The wealth of historical sites such as Bab Makkah, combined with the diversity of the city’s cultural heritage, complement the Biennale’s objective to interlink past, present, and future.

A distinguished international curatorial team has been appointed to oversee the Islamic Arts Biennale: Dr Saad Alrashed, 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 as Artistic Director.

His Highness Prince Badr bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Culture of Saudi Arabia, noted that, “Cultural and artistic exchange are essential in this period of unprecedented growth and development in the creative community in Saudi Arabia. The Diriyah Biennale Foundation is at the forefront of this cultural awakening and flourishing art scene. Our contemporary edition closed in March after attracting critical acclaim, and the Islamic Arts Biennale represents our next chapter.”

Aya Al-Bakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, said: “It is a great honour to announce our Islamic Arts Biennale, the first of its kind. It follows another historic moment, when the Diriyah Biennale Foundation presented Saudi Arabia’s highly praised first contemporary art biennale under the title “Feeling the Stones”. Our Islamic Arts edition will once again work with leading practitioners and curators to present a contextual display of artworks and installations curated thematically. It will enable broad audiences to experience and learn about Islamic civilizations and their ongoing legacies within the arena of arts”.

Contemplating her creative direction of the Islamic Arts Biennale, Sumayya Vally expressed “The selected artists have been chosen for their methods of practice—grounded in the embodied, the aural, collectivity, and the spiritual. Awwal Bait (First House) refers to the reverence and symbolic unity evoked by the Ka‘ba in Makkah, and underscores the importance of the geographic location of this biennale. At the same time, it reflects on the construction of 'home' through our spiritual and cultural rituals in Islam; acts which both unite us and celebrate our diversity and cultural hybridity.I am honored to be working with an incredible constellation of artists, each of whom I believe will contribute meaningfully to this discourse of Islamic art. These artists reflect deeply on the generativity of our contexts and practices for the present and future.”