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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.” — Awwal Bait, Artistically Directed by Sumayya Vally

OMA_Islamic Arts Biennale_photo by Marco Cappelletti


Bridging the past, present, and future through 60 contemporary and over 15 never-before-exhibited works, in addition to 280 artefacts, delivered through a unique multi-sensorial experience, at the iconic Aga Khan award-winning Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah from January 23 to April 23, 2023, with Artistic Direction by Sumayya Vally.

Themed ‘Awwal Bait’ – meaning First House’, in reference to the Holy Ka’bah in Makkah – the historic first edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale features over 60 established and emerging artists from around the globe, over 60 new commissions, 280 artefacts and over 15 never-before-exhibited works of art.

"Movement is at the heart of an Islamic form of thinking, one that traces the trajectory of ideas between people and places. It is a methodology that feels resonant with the tradition of the sahabah, the name given to those who offered companionship to the Prophet (pbuH). Companionship in journeying brings into dialogue the landscape, lived space, and experience of a community, defining their ties and sense of belonging." Sumayya Vally

Awwal Bait (First House) looks to how the source has travelled, as we reflect on the migration of the first muslims from the Awwal Bait to the city of Medinah, we reflect on how rituals are carried in the construction of home and belonging. Many contemporary migrations in our world are synonymous with loss and displacement. In many of these scenarios, rituals become constructions of belonging - bridges between here and elsewhere. The Islamic Biennale draws on these themes, presenting experiences that surround these expressions and forms of belonging - reflecting on the role of rituals in creating connections and constructing belonging.

These fragments inspire, narrate and render visible wisdoms, imaginations and futures of “home” and spiritual placemaking; from the scale of the body to the scale of the cosmos. Artists explore these themes through contemporary interpretations of instruments of home.


Awwal Bait, which translates literally into First House, is used in the Qur’an to signify the Ka'aba in Makkah. As the House of God, it is the most sacred site in Islam and the direction (qiblah) all Muslims face in their daily prayers, regardless of location. Moreover, it is the destination for pilgrims from around the world embarking on the annual pilgrimage, making it the unifying focus for all Muslims. The concept of Awwal Bait examines how the Ka'aba and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah inspire Muslims worldwide on both cultural and metaphysical levels to create a sense of belonging in their own home, their own “bait,” wherever that may be.

The theme unfolds in two complementary sections, with galleries and outdoor installations creating a dialogue between sacred sites and rituals, inviting artists to interpret and reflect on the personal and communal expressions and emotions they invoke. The principal theme of the indoor galleries is that of Qiblah (Sacred Direction), with Makkah as the focus. Under the canopy of the former Hajj Terminal, the installations will reflect on multiple senses of Hijrah (Migration), from the initiation of the Muslim era to reflections on contemporary displacement and how, despite the loss of a physical home, Muslims retain their spiritual home in the Awwal Bait.

Throughout the Biennale, there will be juxtapositions of contemporary creations and historical objects, of which the most significant will be in two separate pavilions presenting artefacts originally housed in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and in the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah.

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 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.”

Creative and Curatorial Team

Creative and Curatorial Team

Prof. Sumayya Vally, Artistic Director of Awwal Bait the first edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale.

Theme, concept, narrative, creative direction of scenography, with scenography design by OMA. Experience and theme identity, contemporary commissions and direction and oversight of overall experience and narrative.

Dr. Omniya Abdel Barr A conservation architect and historian of Islamic art and architecture, Dr Abdel Barr is a Barakat Trust Fellow at the V&A, and Head of Development at the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation. Dr. Saad Alrashid A leading Saudi scholar, and the author of a comprehensive book that chronicles Darb Zubaydah, one of the most important pilgrimage routes across the Arabian Peninsula since the days of early Islam. He also works on archaeological sites across this trail. Dr. Julian Raby From 2002 to 2017, Dr Raby served as Director of the National Museum of Asian Art – Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he lectured on Islamic Art at the University of Oxford for 22 years.


Igshaan Adams (South Africa) Leen Ajlan (Saudi Arabia) Reem Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia) Adel Al Quraishi (Saudi Arabia) Nasser Al Salem (Saudi Arabia) Noura Al Sayeh-Holtrop (Palestine) Sarah Alabdali (Saudi Arabia) Rund Alarabi (Sudan) Nora Alissa (Saudi Arabia) Moath Alofi (Saudi Arabia) Farah Behbahani (Kuwait) Sultan Bin Fahad (Saudi Arabia) M’barek Bouhchichi (Morocco) Sarah Brahim (Saudi Arabia) Bricklab (Saudi Arabia) Lubna Chowdhary (Tanzania/United Kingdom) Civil Architecture (Bahrain – Kuwait) DAL – Digital Arts Lab (Saudi Arabia) Abdelrahman Elshahed (Egypt) Alia Farid (Kuwait/Puerto Rico) Basmah Felemban (Saudi Arabia) Iheb Guermazi (Tunisia) Haroon Gunn-Salie (South Africa) Ziad Jamaleddine / L.E FT Architects (Lebanon) Idris Khan (United Kingdom) Yasmeen Lari (Pakistan) Huda Lutfi (Egypt) Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia) Haroon Mirza (United Kingdom) Joseph Namy (United States/Lebanon) Moataz Nasr (Egypt) Beya Othmani (Tunisia) Yazid Oulab (Algeria) Shahpour Pouyan (Iran) Kamruzamman Shadin (Bangladesh) Wael Shawky (Egypt) Muhannad Shono (Saudi Arabia) Dima Srouji (Palestine) Studio Bound (Saudi Arabia) SYN Architects (Saudi Arabia) James Webb (South Africa) Ayman Yossri Daydban (Saudi Arabia) Ayman Zedani (Saudi Arabia) Fatiha Zemmouri (Morocco) Soukaina Aboulaoula (Morocco)