Rhizoma (generation in waiting). Saudi Arabia at the 55th Venice Biennale.


RHIZOMA (generation in waiting) is a collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, showcasing the work of 26 young Saudi Arabian artists and is funded by Edge of Arabia in partnership with LATIF JAMEEL COMMUNITY INITIATIVES. Curated by London-based art critic and independent curator Sara Raza and Saudi-based poet, curator and artist Ashraf Fayadh, the exhibition’s curatorial concept draws from the actual rhizoma, the ancient Greek word for the underground root of a plant that shoots its roots both horizontally and vertically, and stands as a metaphor for a bold new generation of artists who are challenging the force of gravity through inspiring projects.


The exhibited works span across verious media such as new media practices and the employment of internet and video art, photography, sculpture, textiles, installation, site specific works that subvert geometric spatial dynamics, and special cross-platform projects.


A special “rhizomatic structure” has been especially designed and built within the exhibition by The Amen Art Foundation, a new Riyadh based platform set up by Edge of Arabia co-founder, Abdulnasser Gharem. Within this structure, The Khatt Foundation, a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to advancing design thinking in the Middle East, will run a participatory research station inviting public collaboration in designing the visual identity of the foundation.



Here below I will present just a few of the artists and artworks in the exhibition.


Dana Awartani (b. 1987, Jeddah)


Widadi (My Love), 2012, from the “Illuminations” series, shell, gold and natural pigments on prepared paper.

The “Illuminations” are made following eight-fold symmetry, which has a pivotal role in Islamic art. In Islamic tradition, the eight-pointed star is commonly referred to as the “Khatam al-Sulayman” or Seal of the Prophets. The artist uses the traditional colours of red, gold and blue: the gold embodies the Divine Eternal light; the blue, a symbol of God’s Mercy or ‘Rahma’; the red, a bridge of colour to bring the other two together.


Basmah Felemban (b. 1993, Jeddah)


Drawn out Truths, 2013, installation.

The artist explores tradition and Islamic references, including and connecting her work with society and the spectator. Drawn out Truths is a series of suspended glass sheets, right at the entrance to the exhibition space, creating a sort of window onto the exhibition. The firstpanel bears intricate motifs of obvious Islamic origins, tracing the shape of a figure wearing a niqab and burqah. Viewers are invited to pose and take their own photograph standing behind the glass. Only the eyes will thus be recognisable. For the artist, it is this interaction between the work, the viewer and the space that is important and interesting.



Abdullah Alothman (b. 1985, Ryiadh)


The Question, 2012, video installation.

The artist interviewed 28 artists, writers, thinkers, actors, students and labourers and asked them about their belief in Allah. The artist was interested in knowing if their life changed when their belief changed. He artist recorded the reactions as they spoke, the changes in their emotional responses, played back in slow motion. For the artist, visual reaction is more truthful than the spoken word.

Nasser Al-Salem (b. 1984, Mecca)


Generation in Waiting, 2013, calligraphy, site specific.

The artist specialises in calligraphy in all its forms and especially in calligraphic performance and site specific calligraphy. Having grown up in Mecca, his work is heavily influenced by Islamic tradition and religion. Arabic calligraphy is one of the most venerated forms of Islamic art and embodies three complementary aspects that are intricately intertwined: the spiritual meditative aspect of the act of writing, the communication aspect and meaning being transmitted, and the beauty of the letters and their craft. In calligraphy, thoughts, ideas and emotions are given a tangible form.

The artist strives to engage his contemporaries in debates about the human condition, inviting them to reflect on the socio-political situation and the universal spiritual struggles. His focus on the conceptual dimension and the poetic powers of language ties together the visual diversity of his body of work.

Ahaad Alamoudi (b. 1991, Jeddah)


Heya (she), 2013, video installation.

The work is a comical social commentary and talks about the constant state of change and transformation in which we live today. Within that evolution, women become the source for past, present and future. Here, the gas tank stand for the burqah clothed woman.

In the video, the gas tank is visible as positioned in a particular urban environment, then it seems as if, after exploding, the environment is changed completely.



Nouf Alhimiary (b. 1992, Jeddah)


What She Wore, 2013, photographic prints.

The artist’s practice revolves around the use of vintage media and cameras, which according to the artist have withstood the test of time and are a means of conveying an idea or a visual message that can support contemporary and modern ideals within them. The main focus of her work is to portray her own life as a young Saudi woman through photography, which makes feminism a recurring theme. What She Wore is inspired by the popular online blogging concept of “outfit of day”, whereby women post photographs of themselves wearing something particular every day. Here the artist, does the same, only that the difference is not as clear cut as in other cultures, since the predominant black of the hijab.

Ramy Alqthamy


Albetra, 2013, concrete sculpture.

This rectangular shape is commonly used in building, placed on the corners of structures to allow the viewer to see the borders of a space. For the artist, such borders are fictitious, imaginary lines built in the human psyche in order to live in security and stability. It is also frightening how human beings can be stuck between imaginary lines, within their own minds.



Heba Abed (b. 1983, Jeddah)


Lost in Transliteration, 2013, digital prints.

The artist’s work explores scotoma, or the “blind spot”, and its potential applications in her society, particularly within subjects that are often overlooked such as incorrect translations of Arabic or the substitution of symbols for Arabic phonemes that do not exist in European languages. In this work, she explores Arabizi, or Arabish, or Franco-Arabic, a transliteration system that has been devised by young Arabs in order to communicate through text messages and web chatting while using a Qwerty keyboard. This system uses numbers to substitute Arabic letters that are absent in the Latin script.


Ahmad Angawi (b. Mecca)


Wijha 2:148 [And everyone has a direction to which he should turn…], 2013, photographic installation.

The photographic installation refers to a particular Quranic verse and can be viewed from two sides, revealing an urban landscape of Mecca now and in the past.



The artist reveals that he makes ablutions and prayers before beginning to work and he points out a religious saying that considers work as a form of prayer. The artist engages with traditional craftsmen cross the Arab world, learning, teaching and collaborating. 21st Century Makkah Manuscript, a delicate composition of ink, gold, silver and watercolour on Wasli paper, is hung facing Mecca and positioned at an angle that encourages viewers to lean in to examine it. This interaction reflects the artist’s intention to create work which stimulates a desire to get closer to the feeling with which the work was created.


21st Century Makkah Manuscript2013, ink, gold, silver, gouache and watercolour on Wasli paper.


Saeed Salem (b. 1984, Jeddah)


Neonland III, 2013, photographic prints.

The artist’s project titled “Neonland” is a series of photographs that depict iconic images and capture the essence of the cosmopolitan city of Jeddah. The umbrella kiosks in these photographs above are a symbol of the city and they can only be found there. For the artist, they symbolise the duplicity of today’s Arab world: the old world, as a meeting place to talk and pray; and the new world, as they look, with their green UFO lights, very futuristic.


Shaweesh (Ryiadh)


Yoda, 2013, photoetching. Detail.

Saweesh is a street artist based in Riyadh. His work reflects on contemporary issues of the Arab world and presents them in a comical or ironic way, through the juxtaposition of pop culture with Saudi or Arabic culture.


Al Baik, 2013, photoetching. Detail.


Captain America, 2013, photoetching. Detail.


Sarah Abu Abdallah (b. 1990)


Salad Zone, 2013, video.

The work looks into multiple narratives that could take place in ordinary every day life, including domestic tensions in the family, dreams of going to Japan, the tendency to smash old TVs in moments of anger and eating fish. The artist’s work embed a sense of tradition and culture, conveyed through contemporary means. One of her main concepts is that of “covering”, that can be directly related to women’s issues in Arabic culture and the experience of females in relation to contemporary issues.





Omamah AlSadiq (b. 1991, Jeddah)


300 Camels, 2012-2013, stencils.

A multi-disciplinary artist, Omamah, which in Arabic means “camel”, came up with the project of spreading 300 stencils of camels all around the world. The concept is to let people experience street art in a very simple manner, while connecting herself with the people and letting the world know that the Arabs are indeed modernised and no longer “a bunch of nomadic tribes riding on camels.”


Huda Beydoun (b. 1988, Jeddah)


Documenting the Undocumented, 2013, photographic print.

Immigration is a serious issue in Saudi Arabia. This series of photographs documents immigrant workers dressed in a polka dots suit and with a black Mickey Mouse head hiding their faces. Mickey Mouse is a character that everyone relates to. He is a figure of joy and happiness. On the other hand, he can also be a vulnerable character, who shows a nervousness and discomfort associated with the illegal workers during the photoshoots.

Eiman Elgibreen (b. 1981, Al Hada)


Does a Face Make a Difference?, 2013, installation.

The faces on the wooden blocks are those of 64 accomplished Saudi Arabian women, who took a stand against materialistic trends in their society that risk leading to their professional accomplishments being dismissed or underrated.



Don’t Look at me Look at my art, 2013, installation. Details.

Mohammed Makki (b. 1988, Jeddah)


Takki is produced by U-Turn and Cinema of Arabia and directed by Mohammad Makki.

See Takki on youtube.com following this link.



Shaweesh, There is no ghost inside of us, 2013.


For full information on the exhibition, artists and artworks, visit Edge of Arabia‘s website. You can also download a catalogue of the exhibition here.


All Photographs: “Rhizoma (generation in waiting)”, collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Location: Magazzini del Sale, Le Zattere. Photos: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.


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