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Bringing street art back to the Saudi street | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Street art on the walls of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, forms part of the ‘Inner Voices’ exhibition. (Baher Younes)

Street art on the walls of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, forms part of the 'Inner Voices' exhibition. (Baher Younes)

Street art on the walls of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, forms part of the ‘Inner Voices’ exhibition. (Baher Younes)

Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—An exhibition currently running in Jeddah draws inspiration from a phrase graffitied in one of the city’s streets and provides a general view of street art in Saudi Arabia. Though it may surprise many, street art has become a tool of artistic expression for an increasing number of Saudi youths, and this exhibition displays the work of these artists and opens the door to a completely different world.

Inner Voices—held on the sidelines of the 21.39 art initiative in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s old historical district—is arranged and coordinated by Aya Alireza, Raneem Farsi and Basma Felemban under the supervision of Hamza Serafi.

Alireza spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the decision-making process in terms of selecting participating artists, discussion topics, and most importantly how ‘street art’ was defined, as well as the reason for selecting Al-Balad as the venue for the exhibition. Alireza said the exhibition’s location was chosen by her crewmembers as the area has always been present in the minds of her team as the most suitable venue for a contemporary art exhibition. In spite of the poor condition of some of the old buildings there, her colleague Hamza Serafi found just the right spot to hold the exhibition.

To gain an insight into the street art world, the team sought the assistance of Basma Felemban, an artist who set up her own website and blog about graffiti art. The curators then extended invitations to interested artists to send in sample works for consideration.

Alireza indicated that the Inner Voices exhibition focuses on artwork that has not been put up for sale. “If we wanted to see a sample artwork, we often found it in galleries either drawn on wood or canvas, something that strips the work of its identity and artistic character,” she says. The objective of the new exhibition was to “return street art to the street” in coordination with artists who continue to draw their graffiti on the walls of Jeddah’s streets.

The search for these artists was carried out on social networking sites. Alireza said that although the street artists’ circle is tight-knit, it was still possible to find them. The reactions were “extremely thrilling,” and artists welcomed the idea of working in Al-Balad without even asking about financial compensation. For many of them, the most important issue was that they would be able to use pseudonyms, not their real names, that they usually use to sign their work.

The organizers received applications from across the Kingdom as well as from abroad. One artist traveled from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, whereas another sent her artwork all the way from Australia.

Several artists were selected to exhibit their work based on their proposals. Alireza said the curators did not decide on a particular theme for the exhibition, preferring to leave it open for each artist to decide for themselves. Artists painted or drew their art on the walls within designated areas. Some artists repeated previous work, whereas others created something completely new.

“We gave them the freedom to decide on the number of presented artworks and the place to display them, and their choices were very exciting. Our only condition was that the artist had actually drawn street graffiti,” Alireza said.

The exhibition looked genuinely spontaneous, as they had hoped. “We tried not to organize the exhibition, meaning that we had to try a new method. We have no example to pattern in this particular exhibition, and so we relied on the location as a source of inspiration,” she added.

This non-profit, unique exhibition comes as a counter-balance to street art that is sold, with the aim of reviving and presenting the art form to the public.

Located in a semi-outdoor space in the historical part of Jeddah, the exhibition shows real examples of Saudi street art, bringing together different artists from across the Kingdom, where their work can be displayed in one place.

The exhibition contains all forms of expression such as graffiti, stencils and posters, as well as performance and even anonymous pieces, which makes Inner Voices something that allows the senses to roam free and is an expression of the spontaneity of the province’s locals. The display provides a general view of the rising artistic expression of a generation that sees the street as a way to vent their emotions.


Inner Voices runs until February 19, 2015 in Al-Balad, Jeddah.