More than just a central feature in Saudi Arabia’s cultural calendar, Misk Art Week is the annual meet up for all art enthusiasts that hail from the region and beyond. Last December 1 to 5, Riyadh played host to the organization’s 5th edition exploring identity through the multiple perspectives and lenses of art, design, and architecture.
Set inside Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, artists and creatives from all over the Arab world were invited to take part in this statement-making initiative. From masterclasses to installations, residencies and forums, Misk Art Week tried to cater for all needs while pushing the regional barriers and borders of culture further than before.
Probing all sorts and forms of art, including AI and various multimedia sets, the cultural event is slowly becoming a reference industry-acclaimed figures recognise as such. Never in short supply of ideas to innovate and remain close to their initial purpose, we sat down with CEO Reem Al Sultan and curator Basma Al Shathry, to shoot the breeze in an open conversation, talking about their experiences so far as well as what to expect from the future iterations of Misk Art Week.
How are you feeling after Misk Art Week took place? Talk us through your experience of the event.
Reem: I am feeling very proud of the work produced by the Misk Art Week team and participants. On a personal note, I found it very rewarding to see visitors of all ages engaging with the program, and to witness the impact Misk Art Week has had among the creative community and local art scene. I was delighted with the unveiling of the second annual Misk Art Grant that saw the Institute widen its geographic scope to include Saudi and Arab artists; as well as the showcase of our Residents programme that saw nine artists from across Saudi Arabia as well as Guatemala, South Korea, the UK and Morocco spend time in Riyadh alongside a writer-in-residence – Misk Art Institute and the region’s first. These initiatives compound our mission to foster cultural dialogue and year on year, we are inspired to do more.
Basma: The aftermath of Misk Art Week is positively inspiring. Having witnessed such a culturally active dialogue throughout the week, the event continues to push Misk Art Institute towards further progression.
How did the initiative originally come into place?
Reem: The first edition of Misk Art Week was established in 2017 to celebrate the fundamental role that art and culture play in sustaining and safeguarding a country’s identity and heritage. Recognizing the potential within Saudi Arabia’s creative community, Misk Art Week was launched to bring together thought leaders across creative industries, to nurture the appreciation of Saudi and Arab art, and to enable cultural diplomacy and exchange. We are committed to cultivating our community and believe wholeheartedly in the power and potential of the next generation of creatives.
The fifth edition is just about over, and we’re already thinking about what is yet to come for the next. What can we expect from the 2022 iteration?
Reem: The next edition of Misk Art Week will take place in December 2022, and marks the 6-year anniversary of Misk Art Week alongside the 5-year anniversary of the Institute. As these are seminal moments to celebrate, we will unveil more details in the months to come. No doubt, Misk Art Week will explore a new theme through the lenses of art, design, and architecture. and will continue to showcase the best of multidisciplinary art and critical discourse in Saudi Arabia, offering a range of talks and interactive workshops that place community engagement and outreach at their core. Some of the highlights will also include the third Misk Art Grant as well as our Residents’ showcase.
How much preparation goes into organising an event of this allure?
Basma: Every detail of Misk Art Week is planned carefully and ahead of time. The exhibitions require a minimum of one year of planning.
What did you set out to accomplish with Misk?
Reem: Our objectives are centred around engaging creatives through dynamic programming, providing a critical platform for the creative community, and offering a unique space for cultural dialogue, expression and exchange among artists and creatives. Given the record attendance (3,500 on-site, 90K virtual) and positive feedback from audiences, we are delighted that objectives were met with Misk Art Week 2021 and are ever inspired to continue to do more for our cultural scene.
How much potential do you see in the Saudi scene? What artists do you think are worth looking out for?
Reem: Saudi Arabia has a thriving creative community and there is huge potential for it to continue developing. This is particularly due to the country’s strong vision for culture, considerable investments from the government in the arts, and increasing opportunities for artists to develop their careers. Emerging artists are a key driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s rapidly developing art scene. Misk Art Institute plays a vital role in this talent pipeline, providing a transformative platform for the next generation of artists.
Basma: The Saudi art scene has a deep history and an extremely attractive future. We have yet to taste the full potential of the scene as it grows daily. Any actively working artist that has a personal idea or concept worth sharing should be an artist to look out for. The artists keep surprising us with their talents and ambitions, so by looking out for them we are contributing to fostering their professional journeys.
What do visitors take away from the Misk Art Week experience? Or what do you want them to take away from it?
Reem: We are a cultural institution that serves as a talent pipeline and supportive platform for the local creative community. We hope that all visitors feel a sense of excitement for art appreciation, knowledge, and inspiration.
Basma: Content is key. When visitors engage with the content showcased throughout the week, our goal is fulfilled. We aim to ignite conversations that go beyond Misk Art Week and the walls of the exhibitions.
Where do you see the art scene in Saudi headed towards?
Reem: The evolution of Misk Art Week over the past five years reflects the overall growth of the art scene in Saudi Arabia and regionally. We are proud to play a key role in this development, by emboldening emerging artists through our interconnected ecosystem of support, expertise, and education. We also take great pride in celebrating so many of our alumni artists taking part in other major cultural initiatives nationally and internationally, including many being part of the inaugural Diriyah Biennale.
Establishing a presence in KSA is primordial given that the country is slowly becoming one of the region’s capitals of culture. Are there any intentions of branching out at all?
Reem: Fostering cross-cultural dialogue and exchange is an important part of our programming. For example, the Masaha Residency is open to both Saudi and international practitioners across creative disciplines, whilst the Misk Art Grant is open to artists and designers from the Arab world alongside Saudi nationals. We also adopt hybrid formats across our programs where possible to ensure accessibility, for example, Misk Art Week 2021 took place both physically at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Arts Hall and online via Misk Art Institute’s website.