By PAUL LASTER, February 2022
Creating sculptures in a live space in the JAX Cultural District of the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh, 20 international artists recently carved giant blocks of local black and white marble into monumental public artworks with dynamic results for the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium.
Working outdoors over a 21-day period, contemporary artists from Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East cut, carved, chiseled and polished the massive chunks of stone to explore the connections between matter and emptiness, light and shadow for the competitive group exhibition “The Poetics of Space,” which was on view November 15 – December 10, 2021.
Tuwaiq Sculpture was Riyadh Art’s second public program of cultural exchange, after Noor Riyadh, a festival of light and art highlighting 60 international artists earlier in the year. Some 400 sculptors from 71 countries applied for the 20 creator spots, while the symposium program featured more than 30 talks and workshops and dozens of educational events.
New Zealand sculptor Anna Korver won first prize for her white marble sculpture, The Lighthouse (2021), consisting of three abstracted female figures composed from angular, cubistic forms. Saudi artist Haider Alawi Al-Alawi took home the second prize for Desert Lines (2021), a white marble monolith that referenced the rippling desert sands of Saudi Arabia; and Belgian sculptor Kim De Ruysscher secured third prize for Unseen (2021), an enigmatic work that gave the illusion of an object or couple concealed under a large draped cloth.
The first prize artist received $30,000; second prize earned Al-Alawi $20,000; and the third prize winner got $15,000. Additionally, an honorarium of $10,000 was paid to the other participating artists and all 20 sculptures garnered a permanent place in public spaces around Riyadh, as part of the Kingdom’s “Vision 2030” goal of creating one of the most livable, environmentally friendly and sustainable cities in the world.
Sited in the JAX District, where more than 100 warehouses from the Diriyah neighborhood are being refurbished for cultural activities and events, the area is also home to some of the liveliest street art in the region. The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is currently taking place in the district; the Saudi Design Festival just ended; and art and design studios are popping up around every corner.
It’s all part of a mission to transform Riyadh—a home to 7+ million residents, who are currently experiencing one of the biggest building booms since Beijing before the 2008 Summer Olympics—into a wondrous gallery without walls.
And where there are walls, in Saudi Arabia’s rapidly changing cultural landscape, it’s great to see colorful street art on them. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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