DIGNITY: A PICTURE
by Dalia Hashim
In February 2014, the Saudi capital of Riyadh saw an influx of creative entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers alike to the inaugural Saudi Design Week 2014 , organised by Oasis magazine.
Going through the week’s programme, the event was less technically focused on the design field than it was an excuse for creatives to gather and network. I attended in the hopes of getting an insight into what kind of creative rigour Saudi Arabia currently had to offer, and to talk to some of the people I knew would be attending. What I saw exceeded my expectations: floods of beaming and enterprising youths anxious to engage with already established artists, to ask them how they got where they were today, and what advice they could give to fledgling creatives.
Perhaps the first thing to say about the people with whom I had the pleasure of engaging in Riyadh is this: they were all global Saudis, each and every one of them embodying the tenets of a newly emerging value system in the Kingdom.
SDW not only played a pivotal role in bringing the creative intelligentsia together and offering them a collaborative space, but more crucially it laid bare the key players in this new value system, those leading the transition away from the Saudi of yesteryear (or rather, its harsh and out-dated ideals) towards the one so many yearn for. Of course, these changes are still in process; and not all of the new attitudes break with the past — some are basically a melding of traditional values with newer ones.
A few months later, one of the most interesting initiatives took place in Riyadh, likely as a result of the networking platform that SDW offered. Noor Al-Dabbagh, a cultural entrepreneur who had moderated a panel discussion at SDW entitled ‘The Foundations of Creativity, Developing the Next Generation’, engaged her company Banafsajeel to curate a photography auction called Dignity, bringing on board seven award-winning, established and emerging Saudi photographers, including Faisal Al Malki and Sami Al Tokhais (both of whom participated in SDW).
The Dignity exhibition featured the photographers’ take on ‘Dignity’ from their distinct points of view. It took place on the evening of Tuesday 3rd June at Alaan Art Space, in Riyadh and was presented by Riyadh+acumen, a self-organised volunteer-led group that ‘seeks to inspire and empower like-minded individuals in Riyadh who are passionate about supporting Acumen Fund’s mission to create a world beyond poverty.’ The event auctioned off twenty one photos from limited edition prints and took the form of a silent auction, whereby people placed their bids by marking their interest on a piece of paper next to the work in question.
The auction revenue is set to go towards providing critical goods and services — for instance, affordable farming tools — to underprivileged communities in Saudi and various others in Africa and Asia, allowing them to address their own needs and to choose dignity over dependence.
A similar auction was organised by Riyadh+acumen in late 2012; but included the works of international photographers (to see these, click here). This year’s event succeeded in breaking that record and set itself apart by focussing on local talent.
My generation is the first to be able to talk about a publicly held creative events (although privately organised), and its importance resides precisely in its ability to have manifested in the first place. We are lucky to have our work cut out in terms of assembling a broad enough array of social, cultural, and economic stimuli for next year.
The revelation in this year’s Saudi Design Week, however, was not simply in the fact that all the organisers, speakers and attendees united in sowing the first seeds of a supportive community, but that in so doing, they rewrote the course of Saudi history.