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DJEDDAH: Contemporary artists and architects flock to the heart of historic downtown Jeddah to present works that illustrate the city’s first major phase of urban development in a new exhibition, dating back to ‘where and when’ it all began.

The exhibition entitled “Saudi Modern” addresses the narrative of architecture and urban development in the coastal city between 1938 and 1962 by contemporary artists and architects. It was started in the recently renovated iconic Tamer house, owned by one of the families who lived in the old town.

Saudi Modern is a multidisciplinary initiative founded by Jeddah-based architecture and design studio Bricklab. The project aims to unveil the narrative of modern development in the first decades of the twentieth century by focusing on architecture and town planning in the various towns, cities and villages of the Kingdom.

Saudi Modern addresses the narrative of architecture and urban development in the coastal city between 1938 and 1962. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“By studying the projects, buildings and individual developments during this period, we will better understand our collective modern heritage and develop a discourse articulated around it,” modern Saudi curator Abdulrahman Gazzaz told Arab News.

The first edition of the series looks at Jeddah from 1938, recounting the city’s first encounters with modern development. Organized by the founders of the initiative, the exhibition is divided into two parts. The first part documents the key moments of town planning and architecture to reconstruct fragments of a rapidly changing city. The material exhibited is the result of an experimental approach to the constitution of archives thanks to a limited set of available resources, photographic records and digitization technologies.

From the research material from Part 1, a group of seven artists and architects developed a series of works responding to the city’s broader social, cultural and economic narratives. This second part seeks to forge new interactions between the artist and the traces of a period marked by accelerated expansion efforts that have forever recomposed the face of Jeddah and its civic community.

Saudi Modern addresses the narrative of architecture and urban development in the coastal city between 1938 and 1962. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Works by contemporary artists and architects will be presented throughout the exhibition. They include both acclaimed and emerging artists Alaa Tarabzouni, Ahmed Mater, Filwa Nazer, Nasser Al-Salem, Zainab Alireza, Dima Srouji, Aziz Jamal and Lina Gazzaz.

“It all started with a question, what is the genius loci (genius of the place) of Jeddah? What is this distinct character that makes it what it is? It’s certainly not just Al-Balad, ”said Lina Gazzaz.

“There is a fascinating array of architectural styles that emerged as the city moved away from vernacular building traditions. The use of concrete has dominated our streets and international styles have infiltrated the language of our urban fabric. It is this very fact that is long forgotten and remote from our collective understanding of our cities, ”Saudi Modern strives to recognize history in an unlimited way.

Gazzaz’s brother Turki said the Jeddah exhibit is the first step in better understanding modern development, in the built environment and how it has affected social change. As the centenary of the discovery of oil approaches, a critical inquiry into this pivotal period becomes decisive in order to articulate ideas around our cultural heritage.

Saudi Modern addresses the narrative of architecture and urban development in the coastal city between 1938 and 1962. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The exhibition will run at the Tamer House until December 20 and includes weekly lectures and discussions by professionals and experts in architecture and urban planning.

Project manager Rasha Zaki Farsi spearheaded the exhibition, which aims to raise awareness of the nation’s modern heritage at local and international levels. It will also influence local policies relating to the preservation of heritage structures and will encourage developers and landowners to redevelop and reuse spaces.

“Saudi Modern is an initiative that documents, studies and analyzes the progression of Saudi architecture since the 1940s and celebrates it through artistic interpretation. The architectural designs are explored within Saudi Arabia‘s unique cultural and philosophical context, ”said Farsi.

“As the past is what keeps us going, Saudi Modern aims to provide an authentic perspective on the tangible history of Saudi architecture as a valuable resource that future generations can draw upon. “

Zayd M. Zahid, CEO of Zahid Group, the main sponsor of the exhibition, said exploring the many facets of Jeddah offers a fascinating journey through time.

“It is shaped by the diverse and enriching influences that a life of different cultures, people and activities has had on this lovely city,” he said.

Saudi Modern addresses the narrative of architecture and urban development in the coastal city between 1938 and 1962. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“The artists and team at Saudi Modern have done a tremendous job of capturing a pivotal period in the development of Jeddah. A timely initiative to refresh our memories and educate us, as the Kingdom begins its next phase of modernization. “

It is part of a more in-depth study of the history of the Kingdom in modernity. It is an experimental approach to urban and historical research in which artistic practices and academic methodologies are used to communicate the contemporary relevance of the period. Three themes were highlighted: architecture, town planning and contemporary art.

In addition to the three themes, Magic of Imagination, a creative institute for children based in Jeddah, collaborated with Bricklab to present “The Curse of Light”, which captivated visitors.

The director of MOI, Batool Abedi, explained the works of art of the children of the institutes.

“This work was born from the imagination of a group of children aged 8 to 12 years old. The children were immersed in an empty Tamer house, allowing them to absorb the architectural design and create something through their experience of the house itself. The children’s perception was that the house was haunted, ”he told Arab News.

“It was the basis of their design. Then, through the grounds of the house, such as the ceilings, doors, cornice, and chandeliers, the children began to compose a story about the house. Through this process, they created works of art to represent and visualize their history.

About Leni Loberns

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