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Islamic Arts Biennale


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Islamic Arts Biennale
2023 Edition

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Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale is set to bridge the past, present, and future through 60 contemporary and over 15 never-before-exhibited works, in addition to 280 artefacts, delivered through a unique multi-sensorial experience, at the iconic Aga Khan award-winning Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah from January 23 to April 23, 2023.
The terminal will also host two separate pavilions presenting an unprecedented display of delicately crafted historical objects, originally housed in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and in the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah, among contemporary artistic expressions inspired by these Holy Sites.
Themed ‘Awwal Bait’ – meaning First House’, in reference to the Holy Ka’bah in Makkah – the historic first edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale will feature over 60 established and emerging artists from around the globe, over 60 new commissions, 280 artefacts and over 15 never-before-exhibited works of art, that will connect the past, present, and future through the integration of historic objects and contemporary works.
Curated by a diverse and multi-disciplinary panel of experts, including Dr. Saad Alrashid, leading Saudi scholar and archaeologist; Dr. Omniya Abdel Barr, Barakat Trust Fellow at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Dr. Julian Raby, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; and Artistic Director Sumayya Vally, Principal of Counterspace, and Honorary Professor of Practice, UCL, the Biennale aims to highlight the beauty and diversity of the Muslim experience.
Reflecting on this pivotal moment in Saudi Arabia’s cultural evolution, Farida Alhusseini, Islamic Arts Biennale Director, said, “For a very long time, the world has perceived Islamic Arts through a very specific lens, one that has often restricted or defined its boundaries. With the Islamic Arts Biennale, we are working to broaden that definition, and enable a deeper and more nuanced exploration of the Islamic arts.”
Artistic Director Sumayya Vally, explains, “Seeing the biennale come to life through the voices and perspectives of our artists has been profound. Each of them has boldly and sensitively taken on the opportunity of this platform to contribute to an emerging discourse on Islamic arts that we hope will continue. At its essence, this biennale is about giving contemporary objects a home by giving them a lineage and giving historic objects a home by giving them a future.”
Dr. Saad Alrashid shared, “Juxtaposing past with present, art with history, and tradition with spirituality, the Biennale brings together diverse perspectives to explore the themes and conventions of the Islamic arts, while strengthening their portrayal as a complex, dynamic, and multi-faceted art form.”
Dr. Omniya Abdel Barr added “The Biennale will have an important part to play in the study, understanding, and practice of the Islamic arts. From its distinct quality of non-representation to its inextricable link to culture and spirituality, the Biennale and theme of Awwal Bait will be fundamental in distilling the message of harmonious diversity to global audiences.”
The Diriyah Biennale Foundation will host this holistic, first of its kind event, assuming a catalyzing role in nurturing dialogue, creative expression, and exchange, through an unparalleled portrayal of the Islamic arts as a living tradition. Four galleries and two pavilions will house carefully curated artworks about daily rituals and the Hajj, that will evoke personal and collective emotion and spiritual life of Muslims around the world. In the canopies, the filtered sunlight, long vistas, and views of sky and desert will convey a different experience from the closed galleries; with some of the work highlighting the craftsmanship involved in creating the gold-embroidered ‘kiswa’ and the Qur’ans of the King Fahd Glorious Quran Printing Complex, alongside treasures from The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque (Haramain Authority).
For the first time, over 18 international and local institutions will unite in one venue to showcase masterpieces from their collections publicly, including over 43 international loans and 239 loans from the Kingdom. The biennale will feature never-exhibited-before objects and loans from the aforementioned Haramain Authority, alongside artefacts loaned by other prestigious international institutions with an interest in Islamic Arts, such as Benaki Museum – Athens; History of Science Museum – University of Oxford; State Museums in Berlin – Museum for Islamic Art; The Louvre, Paris; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, UK, which will loan the biennale pertinent works.
Locally, the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has secured loans from General Authority of Civil Aviation, Hail University, King Abdulaziz Library – Riyadh, King Abdulaziz Kiswa Factory, King Abdulaziz Waqf Libraries Assembly – Madinah, King Fahad National Library, King Fahd Glorious Quran Printing Complex, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies – Riyadh, King Saud University, Museum of Antiquities and Heritage – Makkah Museum, The National Museum – Riyadh, The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and Umm al-Qura University. From the wider region, there will be loans from Al Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah – Kuwait, Museum of Islamic Art -– Cairo, and Museum of Islamic Art – Doha, among others.
The establishment of the Biennale is a strong step towards the holistic development and promotion of the Islamic arts across the world. By providing a platform for connection and discourse, in a manner that has never been presented by previous Islamic arts exhibitions, the Biennale can inspire audiences and help shift perceptions around the genre.
Ticket registration for the inaugural edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale can be done at



Notes to Editors


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. At this historical moment of evolution and growth in Saudi Arabia, these Biennales will 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.


creativity, unlocks the economic potential of the sector, and unleashes new and inspiring forms of expression. As part of these efforts, the Ministry of Culture is seeking to bolster the presence of Saudi heritage and culture at events across the Kingdom and abroad, enabling participants to engage with the Kingdom’s rich and diverse history and preserving Saudi heritage for generations to come.

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