Don’t Forget the Women Who Forged Saudi Arabia’s Art Scene

One of Saudi’s first modern art exhibitions was held in Jeddah by local painter Safeya Binzagr more than 50 years ago, before the city even had any art galleries (instead, it was shown at Dar Al-Tarbia Al-Hadetha, a school for girls). Binzagr has continued to be a fixture in the country’s art scene, having opened a museum in Jeddah in 2000, which made her the only artist in Saudi Arabia to have their own museum. The museum not only exhibits her artwork, but also her decades-long research in the country’s regional textile traditions.

More recently, women have been at the forefront of the majority of the kingdom’s contemporary galleries, creative incubators, and art schools. In 2007, Princess Adwa Yazid bin Abdallah Al Saud founded the Arts and Skills Institute, the first visual arts school in the capital city of Riyadh. Alaan Artspace was one of Riyadh’s first galleries, founded by Neama Al-Sudairy in 2012 and active until last year. Another space in Riyadh, Naila Art Gallery, was established in 2012 by artist Naifa al-Fayez and also functions as a creative hub in the city, hosting a variety of workshops, art talks, and seminars, and offering mentoring opportunities to local emerging artists. Jeddah’s Tashkeil, founded in 2011 by Sofana R. Dahlan—one of the first females to have been granted a permit to practice law in Saudi Arabia—supports local creative industries with incubating and mentoring services. These creative programs and projects—almost all headed by women—have generated opportunities for local designers, artists, and makers to not only showcase their work, but also develop professional skills.

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Saudi women have also helped develop new links between Saudi Arabia and the global art and design world, both by disseminating information about the kingdom’s growing arts scene, and through events such as Saudi Design Week.


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