Spray and play as Riyadh stages first street art festival

RIYADH: Street art by 30 local, regional and international artists will feature in a citywide celebration that promises to turn the Saudi capital into “a place to play.”

The inaugural Riyadh Street Art Festival will run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 6, and will be curated by Cedar Lewisohn and Saudi artist Basmah Felemban.

It is being staged by the Visual Arts Commission, part of the Saudi Ministry of Culture, and follows Noor Riyadh, the annual celebration that has illuminated the Saudi capital with light installations for the past three years.

“We are excited about street art as a genre and bringing it to Riyadh,” Lewisohn told Arab News. “We see the street art form speaking to different communities locally, regionally and internationally.”

Lewisohn curated a landmark street art exhibition at Tate Modern in London 2008, and has also edited books on the subject and self-published several publications. He was the curator of the “Outside The Cube” project for HangarBicocca Foundation in Milan in 2016, the first event dedicated to street art in the city.

The collaboration also includes additional art forms and activities, such as dance, performing arts and skateboarding, Lewisohn said.

“This idea of using the city as a place to play is a strong theme,” he added.

Murals, sculpture, and events staged by regional and international artists will be featured in the festival, which will also include discussions, lectures and workshops exploring the history of street art.

Live music, dancers, a skate park, street art fashion and family-friendly creative spaces will add to the attractions.

Organizers say the festival will also spotlight female artists, and young and aspiring street artists in the Kingdom.

Felemban, who has been involved in several exhibitions in the country, including “21,39” in Jeddah, said the growing art scene is being noticed throughout the Kingdom.

“There’s a lot of development when it comes to art in Saudi Arabia being noticed by all classes and societies,” she told Arab News.

“We don’t just have art festivals, but also niche platforms that artists can engage with, such as biennales and commercial festivals, and also research-based artistic opportunities. “Art schools are going to open soon. In every city, it seems there is a project for an art school or an academy.”

Felemban, a self-taught graphic designer and artist, received a master’s degree in Islamic and traditional art from the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London in 2017. In 2014, she won the Arab Women of the Year Awards’ “young talent” category.

Supporting the growth of the Kingdom’s art scene has been a priority for Felemban.

Street art is already a popular art form in Saudi Arabia, and the Riyadh festival “will allow everyone to understand the best way to deal with the genre,” she said.

“It’s important to support up-and-coming artists interested in the genre, and to support graffiti shops and skate shops (in the Kingdom) so that they can grow and survive,” she added.

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