Noor Riyadh’s illuminating mission to light up the city with art

RIYADH: Visitors to Wadi Hanifa, a sprawling valley in Riyadh fringed with palm trees and running streams, were greeted last weekend by a series of new large-scale contemporary public art works created by Saudi and international artists.

The installations are part of Noor Riyadh, an annual festival of light and art that features more than 190 works by some 130 Saudi and international artists from more than 40 countries. They are on display until November 19 at 40 locations in five main centers of Riyadh.

The children played soccer in front of “A Thousand Galaxies of Light,” the work of American/Puerto Rican artist Gisela Colón, which consists of an elliptical configuration of 100 vertical tubes of white light, each 2.5 meters high.


Children play in front of ‘A Thousand Galaxies of Light’, a work by American/Puerto Rican artist Gisela Colón, which consists of an elliptical configuration of 100 vertical tubes of white light, each 2.5 meters high. (Supplied)

Colón, who also participated in the first edition of Desert X AlUla in 2020, said that he drew on physics, cosmology and biology for this work, which imagines a forest of mythical horizons that metaphorically point towards a vibrant future, in line with Noor’s theme. Riyadh this year: “We dream of new horizons”.

On a nearby major thoroughfare, passers-by can view Riyadh-based choreographer, dancer and artist Sarah Brahim’s installation “De Anima,” which features images projected onto the underside of a bridge in the Wadi Hanifa wetlands.

“In this work I was inspired by the way light penetrates through the body and exits again in various ways,” Brahim told Arab News.


Ahaad Alamoudi’s work ‘Ghosts of Today and Tomorrow’ is a performative installation that considers the role of light as a natural carrier of information. It consists of two old pigeon towers, alluding to the historical use of pigeons as message carriers. (Supplied)

“The work re-theorises Aristotle’s text ‘De Anima’ and analyzes five different souls during five different moments of the day, about how light animates the soul and the essence of life. Each person represents a type of physical and metaphorical light.

Brahim also emphasizes the use of time in his piece. Visitors to the installation are offered headphones through which they can listen to a soundtrack while viewing the images.

Another work on display in Wadi Hanifah is Saudi multimedia artist Ahaad Alamoudi’s “Ghosts of Today and Tomorrow,” a performative installation that considers the role of light as a natural carrier of information. It is made up of two ancient pigeon towers, alluding to the historical use of pigeons as message carriers, and a singer performing a mawwal, a type of traditional Arabic song, while light shines through the openings in each tower.


Noor Riyadh is the first program implemented under the auspices of Riyadh Art. (Supplied)

“The meaning of light is very accessible and appropriate for a city like Riyadh,” Miguel Blanco-Carrasco, chief executive of Noor Riyadh, told Arab News. “The city comes alive after sunset due to Riyadh’s temperature and geography.”

In the evening, many residents often go out to dinner or spend time in the many parks in the city. As a result, the festival was devised with the aim of installing the art in some of the places in Riyadh where people are most likely to see it.

“Light is a medium accessible to everyone, regardless of their educational level or class or understanding of contemporary art,” Blanco-Carrasco said. “We want to take art everywhere and we want to make it accessible to everyone.”


On a nearby major thoroughfare, passers-by can view Riyadh-based choreographer, dancer and artist Sarah Brahim’s installation ‘De Anima’, which features images projected onto the underside of a bridge in the Wadi Hanifa wetlands. (Supplied)

Another Noor Riyadh highlight is Saudi artist Muhannad Shono’s “I See You Brightest in the Dark,” which is on display at Bayt Al-Malaz.

Meanwhile, “God willing, everything will be resolved,” by Saudi-Palestinian artist Ayman Yossri Daydban, uses carefully selected still images from subtitled films to create a work that paints Arabic script with light.

It is inspired by the commonly used Arabic phrase, “Inshallah,” which means “God willing,” which is rendered in large neon white text on the structure of the abandoned Irqah Hospital. It overlooks the derelict cityscape that surrounds it, breathing new life into a space now largely devoid of human presence.


Noor Riyadh is the first program implemented under the auspices of Riyadh Art. (Supplied)

“Carving the Future,” by Saudi artist Obaid Al-Safi, is set against a desert landscape. With the work, the artist questions the relationship between the desert and the civilization that emerged from it, pondering the links between the ancient past of the Kingdom and its most recent transformations.

Saudi artist Ayman Zedani’s poignant “Between Biotic and Bionic,” in Riyadh’s Olaya district, explores how, in the cities of the Gulf region, nature is increasingly something that people experience as simulacrums or imitations, as artificial rainforests or neon jungles, blurring the distinction. between the real and the artificial.

In Zedani’s characteristic style, he brings together elements of light, sound, sculpture and nature in welded metal structures covered with resurrection plants, which are a type of plant that can survive periods of extreme dehydration, in a nod to the desert. landscape and the effects of climate change.

A text piece by Joel Andrianomearisoa, an artist from Madagascar, is not to be missed. Set up in the King Abdullah Financial District and created in neon and metal, it conveys the message “On an endless horizon, a future nostalgia to keep the present alive”, which speaks of love, hope and dreams for the future.

Noor Riyadh is the first program implemented under the auspices of Riyadh Art, the first public art initiative in the Kingdom. Its objective is to transform the city into a “gallery without walls”, to beautify it and promote the creative spirit among the population.

One of his goals, Blanco-Carrasco said, is to “eliminate any preconceived idea of ​​contemporary art as accessible only to elites; we want to make it available to everyone in Riyadh. Noor Riyadh is their festival.”

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