by Dilpreet BhullarJul 22, 2023
Over the last month, 30 artists from 20 countries transformed stone to sculptures in Durrat Al Riyadh, at the outskirts of the capital city of Saudi Arabia, whilst the public watched avidly, witnessing the sculpting live. With the works finally completed, the fourth edition of the Tuwaiq Sculpture symposium culminated in an exhibition of the artworks, showcasing a wealth of local and international talent, which will later become permanent additions to Riyadh's public art collection.
"Tuwaiq Sculpture is a platform for artists to meet, collaborate and create in a live setting. The artists live together, spend time together, and then there's transfer of knowledge and exchange of experiences,” shared curator Marek Wolynski. “When it comes to the sculptures, it's absolutely stunning how the artists responded to the theme of Energy of Harmony, trying to encapsulate those processes of introducing and witnessing transformative change. We have a range of approaches, from very geometrical to very organic and fluid, trying to touch upon the balance we all strive for in our lives," he added. "A balance between contrast and similarity, repetition and difference, abundance and scarcity and what's in between, and how that intangible idea can be captured with a very tangible material.”
Visual artists from as far as Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland, alongside strong representation from Saudi artists, were selected from over 600 applications, through an open call, by a jury panel of experts, including—Wolynski, Alaa Tarabzouni, Ali Al-Tokhais, Effat Fadag, and Johannes von Stumm. The number of applications for this edition were almost double the previous year’s proposals.
First launched in 2019, the Tuwaiq Sculpture has since turned from a competition into an open call commission, with education at its heart. An engagement program of over 65 workshops, tours, panel discussions, and school visits accompany the live viewing sessions. This edition is also the first time the symposium sourced all the stone locally, using granite and sandstone from Riyadh for the sculptures.
“We are very proud that we have lots of women participating and this year it's basically a 50:50 male to female participation. It’s really amazing to see not only the Saudi females, but even the international females, sculpting with granite, which is one of the hardest materials(...) Rather than going with sandstone, which is an easier one, they went with granite, and it was really inspiring to see,” said Sarah Alruwayti, director of Tuwaiq Sculpture. “I remember having conversations with lots of them and some of the Saudi women were even saying: it's always been said that 'we are not strong enough’ or ‘it’s a man's job to carve,' and for them, they were very proud to showcase the opposite.”
Saudi artist Rajaa Alshafae’s Let’s Blossom Together delved into human relationships and the harmony that should be sought, especially in marriage. The sculpture, shaped like an abstract plant growing and looping around itself, extended its roots down into a granite base. “Before marriage, everyone has dreams and passions, goals, so when they go in this relationship, they should not compromise or give up their dreams,” Alshafae told STIR. “Both of them should support each other and treat their dreams and goals with equal importance to everything else, which is why my piece has deep roots.”
This is the second time that Alshafae participated in Tuwaiq, she narrated that owing to the experience she has grown in confidence and is encouraged to be more creative with her ideas, trading techniques with the other artists. Though she has been a painter for the past 24 years, sculpting is something she learned through observing other curious female artists and through experimentations.
“I always wanted to learn how to sculpt but we never had the chance. In 2007, one of my friends learned from Bahraini artists and she taught me. I started to sculpt with softer stone but we don't have marble in my area in Eastern Province,” she relayed. “A few years ago I started searching till I found some marble and wood and the necessary tools. I taught myself through Google about the tools, bought them from Amazon and started experimenting with them. When you have passion anything is possible.”
For Saudi sculptor Mohammad Al-Faris, Saudi’s fast-changing social and urban landscape formed the inspiration for his piece. Riyadh’s Eye depicted the significance of harmony between natural heritage and modern architecture, featuring two intersecting walls propping each other up.
Camel branding symbols and ancient Al Musnid calligraphy spelling out the name of Riyadh dotted the ‘natural heritage’ wall, shaped after the rocky formations found in the desert canyons. “The first part of my sculpture represents the past, all our natural and cultural heritage,” said Al-Faris. “The other part is the new developments—some see them as supporting each other, others as conflicting. I am trying to show that we should make them in harmony to coexist (...) The lower base represents the desert, with a small pool to reflect the pockets of bounty like the oasis, which birds can use to drink from (...) It's meant to be interactive—I want people to climb on it, look through the windows, read the script, figure out how it all connects together.”
Many of the works are intended to be interactive, taking into account their final use as public art. Some pieces feature benches, multiple textures encouraging touch or are designed to be walked through. British sculptor Rob Good’s surrealist Rain Stones sculpture art transformed grey granite into vertically placed fluffy clouds, reminiscent of classic theatre sets, inviting people to walk between them and pose for photos. The sculpture marked the sculpture artist’s first visit to KSA, his first time sculpting in granite—since he usually creates in Italian marble—and also his first time participating in a sculpting symposium.
“I love the challenge of taking something big, heavy, and solid and trying to create this illusion of light and softness. I am interested in the symbolism of clouds, which represent imagination and storytelling for a lot of people,” shared Good. “I like the idea of sculpture being a literal journey, so for me, this is complete when people are walking in between the clouds and children are running around it.”
Talking about his experience of sculpting in granite, for the first time, he shared, “I was a bit in two minds when I came here and realised I was going to work in this grey granite, but it's actually got this beautiful crystalline structure in it and you can see these sparkling crystals. Which at times look like rain or snow. When you get up close to it, there's loads of different colours in there, especially when the sun starts to set, it takes on this beautiful pink hue.”
The sculptures will soon be relocated to Qasr Al Hokm, the historical district of Riyadh, which aims at creating a new dialogue between old architecture and contemporary artworks. The symposium is also part of the broader Riyadh Art program, which seeks to turn Riyadh into a 'gallery without walls,' with more than 1,000 artworks that will be displayed across the city, in the coming years. With each new edition of Tuwaiq Sculpture, a different area of the city will be populated with the resulting works, creating a sculpture trail around Riyadh.