Blooming once a year, Taif’s roses embody region’s heritage

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Visual Arts Commission launched “AlHasa Hassana,” a photography exhibition curated by Mohamed Somji, at Hayy Jameel in Jeddah on Sunday.

The exhibition, showcasing winning entrants to the Kingdom Photography Award, as well as newly commissioned pieces by professional photographers, runs from Feb. 11 to March 2.

For the second consecutive year, professional photographers from Saudi Arabia and around the world were invited to explore the Kingdom and capture its diverse beauty through their lenses. Each year, a different region of Saudi Arabia is chosen as the focus of the award, and this year, the lush oasis of Al-Ahsa served as the inspiration.

Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, discussed the unique experience of the artists involved in the exhibition.

“During the setup phase, the professional artists were fully immersed in the life of Al-Ahsa, experiencing the environment and the local way of living,” she said.

“The phrase ‘AlHasa Hassana’ resonated with them, symbolizing the authenticity and genuineness of their experience. This authenticity is what we aim to capture and convey through this exhibition.”

Speaking about the goals of the exhibition, Amin added: “We have two aims for this project. The first is to engage professional photographers from around the world and within Saudi Arabia to create a visual archive of a specific place. We want to capture the essence and heartbeat of that place through artistic engagement, rather than simply documenting the physical aspects.

“The second aim is to discover and celebrate the immense talent of visual artists in Saudi Arabia, encouraging inclusivity and providing a platform for all to showcase their work.”

When asked about what visitors can learn from the exhibition, Amin emphasized the power of artistic communication and exchange. She said: “Art is a language of sharing thoughts, passion, concepts, and ideas. Through this exhibition, we aim to amplify the voices of the artists and create moments of connectivity between artists, audiences, and communities.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate local talent, bring people together, and provide an awakening for those who may not be familiar with Saudi Arabia.”

The photographers selected to participate include Abdo Shanan from Algeria, Alejandro Chaskielberg from Argentina, Farah Foudeh from Jordan, Latifa Al-Bokhari from Saudi Arabia, and compatriot Tasneem Alsultan.

Somji, photographer, curator and director of Gulf Photo Plus, said: “Al-Ahsa, since the dawn of history, has been a keeper of the memory of Saudi culture. It is more than its fertile soil and lush date palms. The landscape influences all aspects of Hassawi culture, from the food to the traditions to the rituals of everyday life. Today, it echoes with traces of journeys across time and kingdoms. ‘AlHasa Hassana’ distills the essence of Al-Ahsa, with our five photographers exploring the region and telling the stories of how intricate connections bind the people to their land.”

During the exhibition’s launch ceremony, each photographer presented their project and shared how it captures the essence of Al-Ahsa region through short presentations,highlighting the unique aspects of their work.

Each artist, from Chaskielberg’s ethereal landscapes to Shanan’s intimate street encounters, weaves a distinctive tale. Alsultan pays tribute to the region’s elders, while Foudeh envisions Al-Ahsa as a sanctuary for the aspirations of young women. Al-Bokhari skillfully intertwines memories of Al-Ahsa’s past with the dreams and ambitions of the present.

Raz Hansrod, general manager of Gulf Photo Plus, said: “The exhibition explores the deep connection between the people and the land of Al-Ahsa, the largest oasis in the world. We wanted to uncover diverse stories about this place, so we selected photographers with different styles and interpretations of the landscape. They were tasked with telling stories closely tied to the location in their own unique ways.”

Regarding the curation process, Hansrod said: “Mohamed Somji used his extensive network to find five photographers whose styles blended well together but were also distinct. It was a challenging task to select individuals who were different yet complementary.”

He also emphasized the exhibition’s aim to provide visitors with a comprehensive understanding of Al-Ahsa. “We want people to experience a nuanced and in-depth exploration of this region. We have been striving to foster narrative storytelling in the region for 15 years, and this exhibition is a testament to that effort. Additionally, we have an open call for submissions, encouraging series of work rather than single images, to further promote narrative storytelling.”

Mick Moore, CEO and creative director at the British Journal of Photography and a judge at the Kingdom Photography Award, expressed his admiration for the artists’ offerings.

“The work we have just seen is truly outstanding. I found it to be refreshing and different, with a variety of perspectives that can appeal to everyone. It challenges your visual expectations in many ways,” he said.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia, and I came here with an open mind. I have heard interesting things about the creative arts scene here, and the standard of work I have witnessed tonight is truly world class. The organizers have done a tremendous job, and the imagery presented was simply stunning.”

The Kingdom Photography Award also includes a competition open to members of the public. This year, under the theme “We Tell Stories,” the award invited participants to submit a series of photographs that express the Kingdom’s multifaceted narratives.

The five winning entries from the public competition will be announced Feb. 15, and the winning photographs exhibited alongside the works of the professional participants. In addition the public winners will also receive a cash prize of SR20,000 ($5,333) and an additional SR20,000 in vouchers.

To complement the exhibition, a captivating public program has been organized, featuring panel discussions, photography workshops and more.

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