one-of-a-kind arts complex opens in Jeddah

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In the sleepy neighborhood of Al Mohammadiyyah in Jeddah, Hayy Jameel stands out. Establishing its residence among the individual villas in the region, the art complex, designed by architecture studio waiwai, shines with its bright white exteriors and colorful facade commissioned by artist Nasser Almulhim.

Developed by independent organization Art Jameel, the 17,000 square meter center – which was built 20 years ago – opens Monday with an inaugural five-month program.

Hayy also stands out in other respects: it is the only multidisciplinary arts complex in the city that houses temporary exhibition galleries, art and design studios, and soon, the first art and cinema cinema. trial of the kingdom.

Although the idea of ​​creating a permanent art space in Jeddah came about two decades ago, it was in 2014 that Art Jameel acquired the land that would become Hayy’s site.

Chosen because of its location in a residential area, close to schools and a jazz music center a few streets away, the center aims to be part of the social fabric of the community.

While Jeddah hosts the 21.39 annual Jeddah Arts Exhibition and boasts a number of thriving commercial art galleries, Hayy – Arabic for neighborhood – promises to be a site for collaboration and activity throughout. year round focused on education and research.

Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel, calls it an “anchored, home-focused center,” a place where Jeddah’s diverse artistic and creative practices can come together to “coexist” and “exchange.”

For its opening season, the center, which features a sprawling courtyard and three floors connected by labyrinth-shaped staircases, presents a group exhibit called Staple: What’s on your Plate ?, which examines ecological relationships and social issues around food, whether related to trade, work, tradition and colonialism.

Showcasing 21 artists, including seven commissions, the exhibition is a collaboration between Art Jameel and the Delfina Foundation in London, with curators Rahul Gudipudi and Dani Burrows, who have spent the last three years bringing it to fruition.

Two other exhibitions are also on display, including Paused Mirror: The Saudi Artists, a series of wet plate portraits of artists, young and old, from the kingdom, captured by Syrian artist Osama Esid. The second is Illuminate: A Noor Riyadh Capsule, which re-adapts 11 light installations from this year’s Noor Riyadh Festival in the galleries of Hayy.

More notable is the upcoming Hayy Cinema, designed by Bricklab, an architectural firm rooted in Jeddah. Inaugurated in April 2022, the audiovisual center will include a 165-seat theater, a projection room, a media library and an educational space.

Its existence hints at the rapid changes the kingdom has undergone in recent years. Originally designed as a theater, the space turned to cinema after Saudi Arabia’s 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018.

“From the start, we have been hyper aware of the specific Saudi Arabian context and tried to be responsive to the needs of the kingdom, so Hayy can fill in the gaps and be complementary to all the other incredible developments going on,” explains Fady Jameel, president and founder of Art Jameel.

In developing the center, Art Jameel was keen to keep the local population in mind, which led to an emphasis on Arabic language initiatives. “We recognize the importance of the Arabic language to the community and therefore put more emphasis on Arabic publications and cultural production, examining themes relevant to the country while speaking to global emergencies,” Jameel said.

Jeddah has a long history of initiatives by local artists that contrast with the recent top-down approach to megaprojects across Saudi Arabia, including Al Ula, which hosts the Desert X art festival, and the upcoming Biennale of contemporary art Ad Diriyah. In this sense, Hayy is also unique, privately funded by the Jameel family, he has largely retained his independence in terms of programming. While this type of organization is rare, founder Jameel is hopeful that the arrival of the permanent space will spark more initiatives like this, saying the organization aims to “complement the work of our colleagues in government.” but to “help encourage non-commercial, foundations and non-government enterprises to come to the fore.

Carver agrees, seeing both private and public entities engrave their own role in supporting the arts. “There is a groundswell of the community, as well as government support,” she adds. “We can complement whatever is going on and add a slightly different dimension in others to build ecology together,” she explains.

It’s exciting to throw, but it’s more exciting to do the sequel

Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel

Even as the Saudi government goes all-out in its arts and culture campaign, especially as part of its Vision 2030 mandate, the foundations of longevity and sustainability need some kind of strengthening that takes place on a scale. smaller and quieter.

Perhaps this is the role Hayy Jameel is best suited for. Jameel Arts Center, its outlet in Dubai, for example, started as a project space on Alserkal Avenue for many years before opening in the Al Jaddaf district in 2018. While the Dubai space is perhaps more global in its selection of artists and shows. Hayy intends to continue the more local approach to Jeddah’s art scene.

“We are aware of this history and how artists have always had this community here,” Carver says. “The idea is that we are working together in Jeddah and across Saudi Arabia to build infrastructure from scratch.”

This translates into programs such as Hayy Residents, where the center has invited local “tenant-partners” to move into the complex in order to support creative entrepreneurship. From January, the first group of residents includes Athr, who will retain their art gallery space in the city, but develop new initiatives in Hayy; Al-Comedy Club; Al Mohtaraf and Riwaq Dahr design studios; Aysh Academy, which will develop a bakery; and Homegrown boutique concept.

A number of studios will also be available on the top floor of the center for artists. Additionally, Hayy Learning will serve as an educational platform that will offer courses ranging from four months to two years.

“There is a thirst for slow thinking, slow development. [We’re] reflect on the kinds of infrastructure and skills artists need to resist in the global art world, ”Carver said, noting the center’s emphasis on supporting research and the artistic process.

“It’s exciting to get started, but it’s more exciting to do the sequel,” she adds. Hayy’s transformational potential will show itself in the years to come. In a country like Saudi Arabia, where change seems rapid, the organization’s responsiveness will continue to be tested.

Update: December 5, 2021, 3:31 p.m.


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