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Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Islamic Arts Biennale


Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
UpComing 2024
2022 Edition
Islamic Arts Biennale
2023 Edition

Public programs

Biennale Encounters
The Research Room
Studio Youth & minis

The first edition of Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale marked the beginning of era-defining connections, a celebration of Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art scene and the Kingdom’s evolving position as a major global art powerhouse.
Diriyah Biennale Foundation was deeply aware of the current level of recognition enjoyed by Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art and sought to engage visitors with all that the Kingdom’s most creative minds had to offer and most importantly, what it meant in a global and local context. This was achieved via never-seen-before commissions, unique events, interpretive materials, and a rich public program of talks, seminars, workshops and performances.

The 60+ artists invited to be a part of this catalytic biennale came from different nationalities and generations, providing each visitor with fresh experiences and perspectives. The unifying thread running through the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, in each of the newly refurbished warehouses housing the exhibition and public programming was our theme, Feeling the Stones.

“Feeling the Stones“ was drawn from a saying that emerged during the 1980s as a metaphor for action at a time of social and economic transformation, ‘crossing the river by feeling the stones’, which encapsulates considered progress – transformation through intelligent actions, echoing Diriyah Biennale Foundation’s core mission of empowering artistic spirit as a force for meaningful change.

Feeling the Stones was inspired by the cultural fever that swept through China in the 1980s, a decade that saw avant-garde art and social reform take center stage as newly translated ideas helped open society’s minds to new concepts and thoughts.

However, just like social reform, art is a process – incremental, tentative, and, ultimately, directed improvisation. Our theme, Feeling the Stones, was a metaphorical journey through the nuances of artistic production and ideas, unfolding over six sections:

Crossing the River

As its starting point, the Biennale looked to the resonance of historical experiences between a newly reforming China and the world that began in late 1978. That year, decades of oppressive state command was overcome by new economic and cultural movements, providing a fascinatingly modern springboard for artistic expression driven by open questions: Is there an aesthetics of reform? How might disparate experiences of historical transition speak to one another? Are there certain questions or characteristics common to moments of epochal change? Some of the works had directly addressed questions of economic transformation and social progress, while others highlighted artists who played a role in their societies’ own artistic emergence.


Can we better understand the past by considering it an unstable product of the present? Inspired by the work of architect Jorge Otero-Pailos, this section looked at a complicated dilemma common to rapidly developing contexts: How to embrace new technologies, practices, and ideas while retaining that which has characterized a culture or a context until now? Artists often come to function in such situations as unreliable narrators: they interrogate monuments, tell stories untold or untrue, and fabricate new realities. Over and against the notions of “heritage” and “tradition”—and in light of ongoing global struggles—how can art set up alternative sites of memory, deconstructing even as it commemorates, questioning even as it articulates?

Peripheral Thinking

The modern era has forced us to rethink time, space, and the relationship between different cultures as a means of universal connection without compromising on sovereignty. A fundamental paradox, however, remains, even as we look to understand gradients of influence and trace lineages of inspiration, we must remind ourselves that all artists retain autonomy and specificity. This section asked how we could think critically about multiple modernisms across nations, regions, and temporalities in light of more recent discussions of intersectionality and multipolarity. What kinds of new conversations might arise, and which old ones might resurface? Which of the paradigms of contemporary art are globally relevant or viable? How do we understand the relations between locales, eras, and styles in times of connectivity and instability?

Going Public

Art possesses a unique power to convene communities and envision new forms of solidarity. Especially since the turn of the twenty-first century, artists around the world have turned to social practice, moving beyond earlier ideas of the autonomous work of art and towards art as a language and platform for collective thought and engagement in response to specific circumstances. Through their projects, they create everything from fleeting relations and constructed situations to durable organizations and activist institutions. This section looked across geographies and generations at how artists have worked to spark reflection, format experience, convey knowledge, transmit skills, and ultimately bring people together for a larger purpose.

Brave New Worlds

If the COVID-19 pandemic made anything clear, it is the fragility of the order that preceded it. As we emerged from a global event that has afflicted the global systems out of which it has grown, we began to imagine new realities. For years already, artists have been contemplating the Anthropocene and proposing other possibilities in the face of untenable consumption, acceleration, and warming. Faced with new restrictions on mobility and a heightened consciousness of human vulnerability, artists asked: What might a future look like that builds on the lessons of this transnational crisis?

Concerning the Spiritual

Artists today work beyond the horizons of a specific history or geography, often examining, channeling, and convening with the transcendent. Some work and innovate in established religious lineages, while others seek sustenance from unlikely sources. In a nation of sacred places, art’s special relationship to the deeper, lingering questions of human existence resurfaces in new and powerful ways. This final section looked at how artists, particularly at times of upheaval and transition, have attempted to make sense of their worlds and the beliefs that structure them.


Developed by a team of international curators led by Philip Tinari, the 2021-2 Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale unfolded in six sections, with works from national and international artists responding to a central theme and engaging visitor in a dialogue around contemporary art.

Philip Tinari / curator

WEJDAN REDA / Assistant curator

SHIXUAN LUAN / assistant curator

NEIL ZHENG / assistant curator


With its well-rounded series of activities for all ages and audiences, Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale’s Public Program inspired creative dialogue across cultures while enhancing and supporting the local ecosystem and laying the foundation for sustainable, long-lasting engagement.
The program drew inspiration from the biennale exhibition, and the art and culture in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and beyond, facilitating educational explorations and the sharing of knowledge and best practices with access to leading voices in the field.
The Public Program presented a series of talks that brought together experts from the art world to exchange knowledge and expertise on a variety of exciting and relevant topics that impact the larger cultural ecosystem today. Running from 11th to 15th of December 2021 , the opening week featured local, regional, and international voices, including: Simon Denny, Abdullah Al Othman, Sam Bardaouil, Geof Oppenheimer, Ahmed Mater, Todd Reisz, Manal Al Dowayan, and many others. Here was the place to be to get inspired by speakers and enjoy listening to artists participating in the Biennale speaking about their works!
Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale launched its panel series with a unique session featuring the CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation and the team that made the first edition possible. The following sessions featured unique conversations between artists with similar philosophies and intersecting practices including Dr. Zahrah Al Ghamdi and Sir Richard Long, Lulwah Al-Homoud and Han Mengyun, Ayman Zedani and Timur Si-Qin, among others. The panels aimed to create opportunities for ongoing cross-cultural dialogue and enriching conversations that transcend borders and celebrate diverse perspectives.
Creative Experiences at the biennale were centered around developing new communities and networks by engaging audiences in fun and lively activities, such as film screenings, open mics and storytelling sessions, quiz nights, as well as opportunities to explore new ideas and concepts with artists at our coffee mornings.
With an emphasis on the need for a meaningful, healthy debate that considers diverse perspectives, DB Debates provided a platform for unprecedented, powerful, and open discussions between art professionals, enthusiasts, and the general public.
Many people joined and took part in the Biennale’s masterclasses led by established arts organizations, such as Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Urban Arts Projects (UAP), and designed to help artists and art professionals propel their growth within the art and culture sector with both theoretical and practical courses vital to the Kingdom’s art scene today.

The camp experience offered stimulating activities for kids from age 7 to 16. The camp’s all-day activities focused on arts and crafts classes as well as design-thinking and problem-solving exercises to promote emotional, physical, and mental strength and intelligence through creative empowerment.

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale’s school visits offered students the opportunity to develop an appreciation of the arts and enhance understanding of both art and expression. A key pillar in supporting the integration of art into core culture, these meticulously crafted tours provided a well-rounded education for the next generation.
Designed for all ages, engaging and educational workshops, ranged from 1-hour activities through to 3-day immersive sessions, covering subjects from theory and creative development through to applied arts and crafts techniques.


Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1981 and recipient of the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the prestigious Hajj Terminal is now home to the world’s first Islamic Arts Biennale. The Biennale is poised to further enrich the Hajj Terminal’s functional and spiritual relevance, transforming it into a hub for celebrating Islamic arts and culture, and fostering Jeddah’s local arts ecosystem throughout the year. This landmark artistic event sprawls over a purpose-built 70,000m2 venue, complete with a theatre, exhibition spaces, workshops, classrooms, as well as retail and dining spaces. Read More

DB ART 101

DB (Diriyah Biennale) Art 101s were a series of introductory talks on foundational concepts in art and culture led by specialists in the field. What is contemporary art? What is the role of a curator? What is art law? What is a biennale? Experts provided answers to these and other key topics essential to the growth of the art and culture sector in the Kingdom.

Here is where visitors could widen their arts and culture knowledge base by understanding the many aspects of the flourishing art and culture sector.
JAX is a developing cultural center with ambitions to host year-round programming, educational opportunities, and connect visitors to interactive and engaging artforms.

The environment for the Biennale was conceived through collaboration, with Jeddah-based architecture firm Bricklab leading on the design of the Biennale spaces, and US-based firm wHY leading on the Biennale’s scenography.

One area of the JAX site was repurposed to create a custom-made art space to present immersive contemporary art exhibitions, offering an interactive experience for visitors to engage with.

Participating artists

Huang Rui
William Kentridge
Zheng Yuan
Zhang Peili
Richard Long
Wang Luyan
Geof Oppenheimer
Ahmed Mater
Maha Malluh
Jowhara AlSaud (Al Mansouria)
Faisal Samra (Al Mansouria)
Madhi Al Jeraibi (Al Mansouria)
Abdullah Hammas (Al Mansouria)
Al Mansouria Foundation
Shadia Alem
Ayman Youssri
Lei Lei
Wang Yuping
Xu Bing
Andro Wekua
Michael Armitage
Peter Mulindwa (NCAI)
Morris Foit (NCAI)
Zahrah Al Ghamdi
Filwa Nazer
Daniah Al Saleh
Osama Esid
Bricklab / Mammafotogramma
Dana Awartani
Zou Zhao
Yanagi Yukinori
Mohammed Melehi
Sarah Morris
Miguel Payano
Tavares Strachan
Ibrahim El Dessouki
Sarah Abu Abdullah
Colin Chinnery
Koki Tanaka
Rashed Al Shashai
Abdullah Al Othman
Sarah Brahim
Manal Al Dowayan
Marwah Al Mugait
Simon Denny
Monira Al-Qadiri
Timur Si-Qin
John Gerrard
Lawrence Lek
Wang Sishun
Muhannad Shono
Ayman Zedani
Han Mengyun
Larry Bell
Wolfgang Laib
Shao Fan
Sultan Bin Fahad
Omar Abduljawad
Lulwah Al Homoud
Hmoud Al Attawi (DGDA artist)