Saudi’s cultural scene is evolving and nowhere is this more apparent than in its capital where, bubbling away below the surface, a thriving arts scene is beginning to take hold. Riyadh is home to some of Saudi’s best galleries and a wealth of heritage sites that are testimony to its rich and beguiling history, making the city a must-visit destination for any culture vulture. Whether you’re seeking contemporary art or traditional markets and museums, get your fix with a list of cultural activities..
Having exhibited the work of pivotal regional artists such as the Egyptian painter Farouk Hosny and the postmodern Syrian expressionist Ahmad Moualla, whose dramatic, larger-than-life canvases blur the lines between reality and fantasy, Naila has firmly established itself as a gallery of real pedigree within Riyadh’s fledgling but growing art scene.
The gallery has worked with world-class cultural institutes such as the British Council, the Goethe-Institut and Institut Du Monde Arabe, and its current artists include the Qatif-born Ghada Al Hassan, whose paintings and sculptures are inspired by history and collective memory, plus the Dutch artist Caroline Havers, now a resident of Riyadh. The center has a changing and active exhibition program, with a lineup of events including workshops and art talks.
Some of the elderly Bedouin selling their livestock here won’t believe you when you tell them, yours is a world without camels. So central is the role of the dromedary to their daily existence.
Camels have always been important to Saudi culture. Admiring these majestic “ships of the desert” in one of Saudi’s largest camel markets is like taking a step back in time. Bedouin hawkers who still reside in goat-hair tents in the surrounding deserts will urge you to examine the teeth and coats of their statuesque animals as they barter over prices.
This is among the city’s most beautifully restored traditional mud and wood mosques, nestled in the historic district of Diriyah. A quaint sand-colored monument built in a traditional Najd style, Al Dawasir Mosque features pointed archways and thick pillars in the main hall, which boasts a ceiling of dark palm trunks. Visitors can climb the small stairs leading up to the roof garden, beside which is the mosque’s square minaret. From atop here, the view over the dense green forest of date palms offers a brief glimmer of an ancient Saudi society that is no more.
Featured on the 1922 map of Riyadh in convert and explorer Harry St. John Philby’s book “The Heart of Arabia,” this atmospheric mud and clay gate, sitting at the eastern edge of Old Riyadh, offers a glimpse of what the tiny little settlement of Riyadh might once have looked like, before the Saudis struck black gold.
A stark and stylish facade greets you at this small gallery in Riyadh’s Nojoud Center. Opened in 2018, and draped across three exhibition spaces, Mono Gallery is committed to promoting the efforts of contemporary artists throughout Saudi and the region.
Recent names exhibited in the Mono include the Iraqi sculptor Muatasim Al Kubaisy, whose famous bronze creations use the Arabian horse as a metaphor for the wider Arab world, and the popular Makkah-born artist Yousef Ahmed Jaha, who produces abstract images using oil on canvas.
But this is not a gallery just about exhibiting exciting contemporary art: Founder Momen al Moslimani also regularly hosts symposiums, talks, and seminars at the venue.
Palace of Light (above) was one of the featured artworks on display in 2021 during Noor Riyadh, a citywide festival of light and art commissioned by Riyadh Art.
Noor Riyadh is an annual outdoor lights and art festival, which celebrated its inaugural event in 2021. The theme of its first event was “Under One Sky,” and it included public art installations across the capital as well as a diverse program of workshops, talks, and events. Noor Riyadh is a part of the Art Riyadh Art, a major project aiming to transform the city of Riyadh into an open gallery, enabling opportunities for new creative expression, engagement of local and international members of the art community, knowledge transfer, and more. The goal? Deliver more than 1,000 installation pieces and landmarks throughout Riyadh’s public spaces, such as residential neighborhoods, parks and gardens, public transportation stations, and traffic stops.