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Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 31, 2024

  • The second edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale will take place in Jeddah from January to May 2025 and is dedicated to the arts of Islamic civilization, past and present.
  • The Biennale is led by an international team consisting of Artistic Directors Julian Raby, Amin Jaffer, and Abdul Rahman Azzam, with Saudi artist Muhannad Shono as Contemporary Art Curator. Objects included in the Biennale encompass contemporary works of art, historical artifacts, and new commissions.
  • The Biennale will be held at the iconic Western Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz Airport, a site that plays a crucial role for Muslims as the gateway to the sacred Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Makkah. In dialogue with the site, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation is launching an international architecture competition, called AlMusalla Prize, for the design of a prayer space, the inauguration of which will coincide with the opening of the Biennale.

The Diriyah Biennale Foundation is delighted to announce the second edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale (IAB), to take place from January to May 2025 at the landmark SOM–designed, and Aga Khan Award–winning, Western Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. The IAB is the first and only biennial dedicated to the arts of Islamic civilization. It presents historical artifacts and contemporary works together as part of a rich continuum.

Building on the successful vision of its inaugural edition titled Awwal Bait, which attracted over 600,000 visitors, the second edition in 2025 will continue to explore the Biennale's themes through displays of historical artifacts in dialogue with contemporary art, including significant site-specific installations. Over a total area of 110,000 square meters with 12,000 square meters of dedicated exhibition space, the Biennale invites visitors on a journey through the objects, rituals, ideas, and aesthetics that constitute Islamic arts in all its forms. The Western Hajj Terminal, with its iconic canopy, has been repurposed as a cultural venue by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture. The site also holds deep significance for Muslims around the world, as millions of travelers pass through the airport each year to make the sacred Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Makkah. The IAB connects to the spiritual legacy and heritage of this site.

The IAB is a place of gathering as much as of creation, and it offers many different ways of exploring the contributions of Islamic arts and culture to world civilization. The 2025 edition will consist of several components and will see the return of AlMadar, a unique forum for institutions with significant holdings of Islamic art to contribute to a collective, themed exhibition. AlMadar—meaning “the orbit” in Arabic—aims to foster collaboration and dialogue and gives voice to the richness and diversity of Islamic culture through institutions from different geographies. There will also be a dedicated gallery within AlMadar—titled Homage—that celebrates the patronage behind significant collections of Islamic art today, exemplified by works that reflect high points of Islamic civilization. Two special pavilions, Makkah and Madinah, are dedicated to telling the histories of these two holy sites.

Recognizing the architectural significance of its location, the 2025 edition of the IAB will have an expanded focus on architecture as an expression of Islamic culture. In conjunction with the IAB, DBF will launch the AlMusalla Prize, an international architecture competition for a small mosque to be built on the Biennale site. The design for the musalla, typically a space for prayer and gathering in Muslim culture, should be a versatile, modular space that meets all requirements for prayer and is sustainable in its method of construction. Competition details, including the jury members, are to follow, for an inauguration in January 2025 to coincide with the opening of the Biennale.

The Diriyah Biennale Foundation, led by Aya Al-Bakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, has appointed an international curatorial team, which sees the return of leading scholars and artists who contributed to shaping the Biennale’s inaugural edition alongside newly appointed curators. The Artistic Directors are Amin Jaffer, in his ongoing role as Director of The Al Thani Collection, whose academic and curatorial work is focused on the meeting of European and Asian cultures; Julian Raby, a distinguished scholar, former lecturer in Islamic art and architecture at the University of Oxford, and former director of the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution who also served on the curatorial team of the first edition of the IAB; and Abdul Rahman Azzam, an acclaimed author and historian who served as Senior Expert Advisor for AlMadar in 2023. Saudi artist Muhannad Shono, whose work deals with questions of spirituality and the role of imagination in shaping reality, and who represented Saudi Arabia at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2022 and was a participating artist in the first edition of the IAB, will serve as Contemporary Art Curator. Through the continued collaboration with Azzam and Raby, and with Jaffer’s cross-cultural perspective, DBF strengthens its position as an essential part of the arts ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

H.E. Rakan Al-Touq, Vice Chairman of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, said: “Following the remarkable success of its inaugural edition, the second iteration of the Islamic Arts Biennale returns to continue to build on the reverence of Islamic history and civilization, and its celebration of the patrons and institutions who contributed immeasurably to the preservation of Islamic heritage. The second edition will include an expansive return of AlMadar, a dedicated gallery that celebrates the patronage behind significant collections of Islamic art today, and two special pavilions, Makkah and Madinah, that are dedicated to telling the histories of these two holy sites. All this will contribute to the creation of continuous lines of connection between ancient artistic practices and contemporary expressions, under the supervision of a team of international and local experts who will undoubtedly shape a unique and impactful exhibition for local and international visitors alike.”

Aya Al-Bakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, said: “An unwavering commitment to curatorial excellence sits at the heart of our Foundation, and as we build on our inaugural edition’s enormous success, I am delighted to welcome a stellar team of curators whose international, transdisciplinary experience will contribute immeasurably to inspiring fresh perspectives on Islamic arts discourse both globally and in Saudi Arabia.”

The Islamic Arts Biennale is organized by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, a public institution established in 2020 dedicated to nurturing creative expression and instilling an appreciation for culture and the arts in Saudi Arabia. The Diriyah Biennale Foundation also produces the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale. The two biennales are organized and staged by the Foundation in alternate years. The Diriyah Biennale Foundation oversees the development of the JAX District in Diriyah, which is the location of its headquarters.


Julian Raby, Artistic Director

Born in London in 1949, Dr. Julian Raby received his bachelor’s degree with honors from Magdalen College at the University of Oxford in 1971 and his doctorate in Oriental studies from the same university in 1981. He was lecturer in Islamic art and architecture at the University of Oxford from 1979 to 2006. For fifteen years, from 2002 to 2017, he was director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which together form the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

He is the author of numerous publications in the field of Islamic art, including Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey (1989), Turkish Bookbinding in the 15th Century: The Foundation of an Ottoman Court Style (1993), and Qajar Portraits (1999). His research papers cover a wide range of subjects, including Mosul metalwork in the thirteenth century, the “Classical Revival” in the architecture of Zengid and Ayyubid Syria, and the collections of Jalayirid and Timurid paintings and drawings in the Diez albums. Much of his research touches on cross-cultural themes, as in his book Venice, Dürer and the Oriental Mode (1982) and in his studies of the Greek manuscripts in the library of Mehmed the Conqueror and of the inscriptions on the Pisa Griffin.

Raby has served as curator, concept designer, and consultant for numerous museum exhibitions. These include Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey (Istanbul, 1989); Royal Persian Painting: The Qajar Epoch (New York, Los Angeles, and London, 1999); and The Sultan’s Portrait: Picturing the House of Osman (Istanbul, 2000). While at the Smithsonian he oversaw and initiated more than fifty special exhibitions, including the compendious Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries (2007), Style & Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey (2005–2006), Iraq and China: Ceramics, Trade and Innovation (2007), and The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (2016–2017).

At Oxford, Raby was the founder and editor of the series Oxford Studies in Islamic Art and the monographs editor for the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History, Jordan. He is also the founder of Azimuth Editions, a publisher in the field of Asian art. For his contributions to promoting the study and appreciation of their artistic traditions, he has received orders of merit from Portugal, the Republic of Türkiye, and Japan.

Amin Jaffer, Artistic Director

Dr. Amin Jaffer is Director of The Al Thani Collection, an encyclopedic holding of more than 5,000 works of art spanning millenia, representing the vision of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani. Previously Senior Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, and International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s, Jaffer has authored and edited a number of works including Furniture from British India and Ceylon (V&A, 2001), Luxury Goods: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker (2002) and Made for Maharajas: A Design Diary of Princely India (2006).

Jaffer was co-curator of the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500–1800 (2004) and Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts (2009) and was co-editor of the associated books. He edited Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewels (2013, second edition 2019) and co-curated the exhibition From the Great Mughals to the Maharajas: Jewels from The Al Thani Collection at the Grand Palais, Paris, and the Palazzo Ducale, Venice (2017).

In 2018 he curated a double exhibition in the Forbidden City, Beijing, Treasures from The Al Thani Collection, and edited the associated publications. Working with Martin Chapman, he co-curated East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from The Al Thani Collection at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco (2018–2019). In 2019 he curated Man, God and Nature in the Ancient World: Masterpieces from The Al Thani Collection at Tokyo National Museum.

Jaffer oversaw the creation of The Al Thani Collection museum spaces at the Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, which opened to critical acclaim in November 2021. Since its inception, the space has presented exhibitions in partnership with prestigious institutions such as the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon; the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca D’Oro, Venice; and the V&A, London. The next exhibition, A Taste for the Renaissance: A Dialogue between Collections, the second in a series of three exhibitions held in collaboration with the V&A, will open on 6 March 2024.

Abdul Rahman Azzam, Artistic Director

With a BA and Dphil in Middle East and Islamic history from the University of Oxford, Abdul Rahman Azzam is the author of Saladin: The Triumph of the Sunni Revival (2008), The Other Exile (2017), and O Regresso de D. Sebastião (The Return of Sebastian) (2021). Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as Director of Communications and Cultural Advisor to Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation (QF). In 2010, he led the partnership between QF and the British Library, which has to date seen nearly three million documents digitized. He was a member of the Joint Advisory Board of Northwestern University, as well as the Qatar National Library, designed by OMA/Rem Koolhaas.

Previously, Azzam was the Managing Director of The Islamic Texts Society, as well as the founder of Hood Hood Books. He is a member of the KITAB project, a group of historians and computer scientists who employ cutting-edge computer sciences and digital humanities to explore historical Arabic texts in completely new ways and to expand the frontiers of knowledge about one of the world’s largest and most complex textual traditions. In 2019–2020, he worked on a cutting edge digital humanities collaborative project to develop digital methods for research into the biography of the Prophet. He is currently working on a digital humanities network analysis project on power and patronage during the time of Saladin.

Azzam worked as a Senior Expert Advisor on AlMadar for the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in 2023.

Muhannad Shono, Contemporary Art Curator

Muhannad Shono, born in Riyadh in 1977, is a multidisciplinary artist, trained in architecture and working across a range of different mediums. Across intimate works on paper, site-specific interventions, sculptural work, and robotic installations, he has established himself as one of Saudi Arabia’s most original artistic voices. The main drivers of his practice draw on mythology, the usage of the line, the void, and natural and reclaimed materials to create speculative and generative narratives. He represented Saudi Arabia at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia with his project The Teaching Tree (2022).

He has participated in biennials and festivals including the Sea Art Festival, Busan (2023); the Islamic Arts Biennale, Jeddah (2023); Noor Riyadh Festival (2022 and 2023); la Biennale de Lyon (2022); the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale (2021); and Desert X, Al Ula (2020). He has exhibited in various group and solo shows across the region and internationally, including at Louvre Abu Dhabi (2023); Parcours, Art Basel (2022); the British Museum, London (2021 and 2018); GAM Sculpture Garden, Turin (2019); MACBA, Barcelona (2018); Ithra Art Centre, Dammam (2019); 21.39 Jeddah Arts (2020 and 2017); and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2017).

Shono’s work is in the collections of the British Museum, London; the Jameel Art Foundation, Dubai; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Ithra Art Centre, Dammam; and Al-Mansouria Foundation, Riyadh. Shono is the recipient of the 2021–2022 National Cultural Award in Visual Arts, Saudi Arabia. His forthcoming monograph Muhannad Shono. Works [2014-2024] is published by Kehrer Verlag. He lives and works in Riyadh and is represented by Athr Gallery.


The Diriyah Biennale Foundation’s Islamic Arts Biennale provides a holistic platform for new discourse about Islamic arts, offering an unparalleled space for learning, research, and insight. The exhibition takes place every two years at the Aga Khan Award–winning Western Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, a city that for centuries has represented a junction point for cultural exchange and a venue that acts as a port of entry for millions of pilgrims on their journey to Makkah and Madinah.


Inspired by the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia and the heritage site of Diriyah, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation assumes a critical role in nurturing creative expression and instilling an appreciation for culture and the arts and their transformative potential. The Foundation aspires to be a catalyst for lifelong learning and serves Saudi Arabia’s communities by offering opportunities to engage with the burgeoning local art scene. Central to the Foundation’s mandate is to stage two recurring world-class biennials in contemporary and Islamic arts, year-round interactive educational programs, and overseeing the activation of JAX, a creative district with industrial heritage based in Diriyah. At this historical moment of evolution and growth in Saudi Arabia, DBF’s biennials showcase some of the world’s leading artists, drive cultural exchange between the Kingdom and international communities, promote dialogue and understanding, and further establish Saudi Arabia as an important cultural center.

For more information and latest updates, visit biennale.org.sa. To join our conversation follow Diriyah Biennale Foundation on Youtube, X, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, and follow


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