Founding Day exhibition displays Saudi history through art
Founding Day celebrations kicked off early this year for Riyadh’s art scene with the “Estihlal” exhibition held by the art initiative Piece of Feel at Line Furniture from Feb. 19-21.
“Estihlal,” an Arabic word for prologue or beginning, was a fitting title for the three-day exhibition, which featured patriotic artworks by 15 Saudi artists from all corners of the Kingdom honoring the region’s history, heroes and heritage that lay the groundwork for the country today.
Piece of Feel is an initiative by Princess Roqayaih bint Saud to create a platform for an art society offering workshops, exhibitions and community engagement opportunities.
Princess Roqayaih, who also curated the exhibition, told Arab News: “The initiative aims to allow each artist to express their feelings about Founding Day, their love for their nation, and the unification of the Kingdom.
“I selected each artwork that truly carries the artist’s emotions within the piece, not merely a piece that contributes to the exhibition because that also aligns with the mission of Piece of Feel,” she said.
The exhibition showcases artworks by Princess Roqayaih, as well as fine artists Mohammed Al-Ajlan, Ibrahim Alalmai, Modhi Muslih, Wedad Alahmadi, Mohammed Rayes, photographer Hadeel Al-Jmaan, sculpture artist Mohammed Althaqafi and calligrapher Bader Aljafen.
At the far end of the exhibition hall, a video installation invited viewers to become its focus. As they stood in the center facing the immersive content, they experienced the events that took place before the establishment of the First Saudi State, the amalgamation of the region, to King Abdulaziz’s reign.
“This is to give off the perception that ‘This is for you, as a Saudi. You’re the focal point,’” she said, describing the artwork.
Princess Roqayaih’s own exclusive artwork, “Fath Al Riyadh (Unification of Riyadh),” offers a slice of history about the Kingdom we know today. In the dark of night, the moon following behind, the heroes of the past emerge to the forefront of the canvas, perched on their steeds and cast in hues of patriotic green.
King Abdulaziz is accompanied by his men, including Princess Roqayaih’s grandfather Prince Nasser bin Saud and his son Prince Saud bin Nasser, Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, Prince Fahad bin Jiluwi and his brother Abdullah bin Jiluwi.
“Not many people know this story and the heroes who accompanied King Abdulaziz, and they all have their own story and contribution to acquiring Riyadh.
So I wanted to join them all in one frame. It’s night-time because their plan took place during the night,” she said.
The national holiday holds a special place in Princess Roqayaih’s heart, not only for its ability to bring people together but also for its potential to educate the Saudi public on its relevant history.
“Founding Day means a lot to me, aside from the fact that it’s my family and one of these heroes is my grandfather. It’s the foundation of who we are today. It’s because of their initial efforts.
“If you read the history, so many things were never mentioned to us, which is why I wanted to highlight the smaller details like King Abdulaziz’s saying before he made any decisions (by calligrapher Bader Aljafen), so people understand the meaning behind Founding Day and what the difference is between it and National Day, as well.”
Digital artist Shams Alsehli has updated her usual surrealist style to recreate a portrait of King Abdulaziz.
“I don’t have any school of art that I stick to, just my mind and my feelings, and sometimes dreams that come to me. This piece was challenging but in a good way. It was a beautiful pain,” she told Arab News.
While Alsehli does not usually create realistic artworks, she put the style into practice specifically to achieve the digital piece showcased in the exhibition.
Not far off, artworks by renowned artist Tagreed Albagshi tell a story of their own. “Women Driving and Social Life” bursts with color as it depicts the freedom women have gained since being granted the right to drive. The work frames three vehicles, all operated by women, in the artist’s signature style.
The other is an exclusive artwork curated specifically for the exhibition.
Mixed media artist Mai Hamdan merges traditional aspects and techniques with contemporary versions in her artwork “Mader,” a mashup Arabic term for “past” and “present.” The artwork overlays rough and uncut gemstones fabricated using resin, making up the outer layer of the artwork, with detailed traditional Sadu embroidery underlying the exterior.
“I’m very interested in consolidating our identity and heritage, so I started to create modern but timeless paintings that stray away from traditional methods,” Hamdan told Arab News.
For Hamdan, the exhibition stands for the unification of not just the state but the artists as well. They all have integrated to showcase a solid identity and greater purpose, regardless of the sway of their paint brushes or nature of their medium.
“Founding Day is when all our stories began,” she said. “Previously, Western artists received more attention, but after Vision 2030, the situation changed completely. The camera lens focused more on Saudi artists to show the world how much art, how much talent and how many creations emanate from our souls.”