A New “City Of Light”: Back For Its Second Edition, Noor Riyadh Brings The International Art World To The Middle East

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After lighting up Saudi Arabia’s capital this month, Noor Riyadh brought the spotlight to the city for a second, expanded edition of this city-wide annual festival of art and light, curated by Hervé Mikaeloff, Dorothy Di Stefano and Jumana Ghouth. Over 2.5 million visitors have enjoyed the festival so far, Noor Riyadh is now officially the world’s largest annual festival of light and art. From November 3 to 19, several contemporary artists were in the spaces of the city, all working under one theme: ‘We Dream of New Horizons’. While this thematic approach remained broad as the festival was curated, many of the works dealt with the environment, both in terms of a global future and the local complexities of Riyadh itself. With a highly international cast of artists, including some of Saudi Arabia’s most promising emerging talents, Noor Riyadh cemented the city’s role in the contemporary art world and established itself as a creative hub in the Middle East.

The festival’s forward-looking theme supported a number of site-specific assignments designed to speak to the unique physical and conceptual space of Riyadh, a technologically innovative capital with a long, diverse history of migration and growth. Artists called upon to create site-specific works included Alicja Kwade, Sabine Marcelis, Zineb Sedira and Joël Andrianomericsoa. Representing Poland, Denmark, Algeria, France and Madagascar, this group provides insight into the international scope of the event, with artists from 40 countries bringing diverse cultural experiences to new, unfamiliar urban areas.

Home to a growing technology industry, Riyadh’s own recent history has played a vital role in the festival’s fascination with the urban community, especially through the lens of light as a metaphor. By bringing what is known as “light art” to the forefront, the event saw artists subvert the elusive nature of the medium through sculptural, immersive and interactive work.

Questioning the materiality of light (or lack thereof), artists worked not only to illuminate parts of Riyadh at night, but also to use light as an analogy and metaphor for hope, prospect and anticipation. As if Noor Riyadh were being examined through a mirror, the total event explored glass as a medium, allowing the material to redefine the concept of light through reflection, ideas of exterior and interior, and the act of looking through or looking past.

Drawing attention to environmental issues was one of the main focuses of the festival, and artists working with environmental concepts used Riyadh’s landscape as their substrate, basing their messages in the moment while looking ahead to a global future. Hailing from Saudi Arabia, artist Zahrah presented Al Ghamdi Soliloquy, a work that personifies the planet through the use of found natural materials. Her piece, along with the work of 30 other artists, will be displayed in Riyadh until February 4, 2023 as part of the exhibition From Spark to Spirit, which accompanies Noor Riyadh.

Noor Riyadh emphasized its role as a community initiative and also offered a number of events in November, designed to attract visitors of all ages. Visual workshops were accompanied by guided art walks and family-friendly activities to promote the exhibition’s message while inviting guests to interact with the work and temporarily transform the spaces of their city.

After reimagining 40 locations in the Saudi capital, this year’s Noor Riyadh festivities emphasized the fluid nature of public space and invited contemporary artists to turn the city into an interactive, boundless gallery. With over 500 events taking place alongside the festival, the exhibition expanded its reach to both international visitors and locals, filling Riyadh with the potential hinted at in the interpretive phrase “We Dream of New Horizons.”

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