Jeddah and art go way back. In the 1970s, mayor Mohammed Said Farsi transformed the city through an urbanist redevelopment scheme that placed public art at its core, commissioning a spectacular array of sculptures and turning Jeddah into an open-air museum. Today, the city’s art scene continues to flourish, with a growing circle of galleries acting to both preserve some of the region’s most iconic works and provide a platform for emerging artists. Here’s our shortlist of some of Jeddah’s best outings for art aficionados.
You can shortcut to the good stuff with a visit to the Athr Gallery. Tucked away on the fifth floor of an office tower in a busy part of town, this 20,000 m2 space represents the beating heart of modern art in Jeddah, and is always a mesmerising experience. Since its founding in 2009, Athr Gallery has been a fierce supporter of emerging Saudi artists, with a roster that includes Ahmed Mater, Sarah Abu Abdallah and Shadia Alem, among others. The gallery’s play of sculptures, scripture, photography, ink drawings, abstract work and live installations give fresh clarity to Saudi Arabia’s complex culture, alongside exploring myriad other themes.
Exhibits change regularly and this, paired with the gallery’s robust programme of art talks, forums, workshops and events, make it ideal for return visits. The gallery is also the go-to place for the city’s emerging and aspiring artists to socialise, so look out for some famous faces.
A relative newcomer to the Jeddah art scene, having opened its doors in 2014, Nesma is a homage to home-grown artists. The Rawadah district-based gallery is managed by Saudi artist Mohammed Al Ablan. Its grey-tinged floors and light walls frame an exhibition space that can showcase several artists simultaneously – and does, in vibrant sweeps of colour that bring the gallery to life.
Nesma’s first – and perhaps most iconic – collection featured work by Abdullah Hamas, the influential Saudi artist known for his merging of contemporary and post-modern styles. The gallery is also a prominent supporter of up-and-coming female artists and is a great spot to view work by new artists, on their way to becoming household names. Rest and refuel in Nesma’s café or visit the library before you leave.
Hafez Gallery focuses primarily on showcasing talent from Saudi Arabia and the wider region, and on raising the profile of Arab art and culture on the global art scene. This snug space is named after, and owned by, Saudi proprietor Qaswra Hafez, an ardent support of boundary-pushing local art, and has shown time and again that small, independent galleries have a pivotal role to play in shaping the conversation.
Hafez has a regular rotation of shows and the artwork on display at any one time can stretch from etchings, acrylics, calligraphy and photography to ambitious installations and mixed media. A visit here is a reminder that Saudi Arabia’s dynamic art scene is one to watch.
Jeddah’s open-air sculptures are testimony to the city’s love for modern art. They line the city’s corniche, rising up against the skyline, and represent some of the masters of modern European art, from Henry Moore to Alexander Calder and Joan Miro. Following years of exposure to Jeddah’s sea air and humid climate, however, the works were, by 2011, in need of expert restoration. Thankfully, Saudi-based organisation Art Jameel stepped in to provide it.
The result is the Jeddah Sculpture Museum, an open-air collection of 20 of the works, painstakingly restored and housed in a 7 km2 park alongside the city’s middle corniche. Take a tour to see the kaleidoscopic works of Victor Vasarely or Arnaldo Pomodoro’s architectural sculptures, alongside a range of other Arabic-influenced or abstract works. Saudi artists, such as Maha Mullah and Salah Abdulkarim, are included among their ranks.