JEDDAH: The Saudi Visual Arts Commission launched “AlHasa Hassana”, a photography exhibition curated by Mohamed Somji, at Hayy Jameel in Jeddah on Sunday.
The exhibition, featuring Kingdom Photography Award winners as well as newly commissioned pieces by professional photographers, runs from February 11th to March 2nd.
For the second year in a row, professional photographers from Saudi Arabia and around the world were invited to explore the Kingdom and capture its diverse beauty through their lenses. Each year, a different region of Saudi Arabia is chosen as the focus of the award, and this year, the lush oasis of Al-Ahsa served as inspiration.
Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, discussed the unique experience of the artists involved in the exhibition.
“During the setup phase, the professional artists were fully immersed in the life of Al-Ahsa, experiencing the local environment and way of life,” she said.
“The phrase ‘AlHasa Hassana’ resonated with them, symbolizing the authenticity and genuineness of their experience. This authenticity is what we aim to capture and convey through this exhibition.”
Speaking about the objectives of the exhibition, Amin added: “We have two objectives for this project. The first is to involve professional photographers from around the world and Saudi Arabia to create a visual archive of a specific place. We want to capture the essence and pulse of that place through artistic engagement, rather than simply documenting the physical aspects.
“The second objective is to discover and celebrate the immense talent of visual artists in Saudi Arabia, encouraging inclusion and providing a platform for everyone to showcase their work.”
When asked what visitors can learn from the exhibition, Amin emphasized the power of communication and artistic exchange. She said: “Art is a language of sharing thoughts, passions, concepts and ideas. Through this exhibition, we aim to amplify the voices of artists and create moments of connectivity between artists, audiences and communities.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate local talent, bring people together and provide an awakening for those who may not be familiar with Saudi Arabia.”
Photographers selected to participate include Abdo Shanan from Algeria, Alejandro Chaskielberg from Argentina, Farah Foudeh from Jordan, Latifa Al-Bokhari from Saudi Arabia and fellow countryman Tasneem Alsultan.
Somji, photographer, curator and director of Gulf Photo Plus, said: “Al-Ahsa, since the beginning of history, has been a keeper of the memory of Saudi culture. It’s more than its fertile soil and lush date palms. The landscape influences every aspect of Hassawi culture, from the food to the traditions and rituals of everyday life. Today, it echoes traces of travel through time and kingdoms. ‘AlHasa Hassana’ distills the essence of Al-Ahsa, with our five photographers exploring the region and telling stories of how the intricate connections link people to their lands.”
During the exhibition launch ceremony, each photographer presented their project and shared how it captures the essence of the Al-Ahsa region through short presentations, highlighting the unique aspects of their work.
Each artist, from Chaskielberg’s ethereal landscapes to Shanan’s intimate street encounters, weaves a distinct story. Alsultan pays homage to the region’s elders, while Foudeh sees Al-Ahsa as a sanctuary for young women’s aspirations. Al-Bokhari skillfully interweaves the memories of Al-Ahsa’s past with the dreams and ambitions of the present.
Raz Hansrod, General Manager of Gulf Photo Plus, said: “The exhibition explores the deep connection between people and the land of Al-Ahsa, the largest oasis in the world. We wanted to discover different stories about this place, so we selected photographers with different styles and interpretations of the landscape. They were tasked with telling stories intimately tied to the place in a unique way.”
Regarding the curation process, Hansrod said, “Mohamed Somji used his extensive network to find five photographers whose styles meshed well but were also distinct. It was a challenging task to select individuals who were different but complementary.”
He also emphasized the exhibition’s aim to provide visitors with a comprehensive understanding of Al-Ahsa. “We want people to experience a different and in-depth exploration of this region. We have been striving to promote narrative storytelling in the region for 15 years and this exhibition is a testament to that effort. Additionally, we have an open call for submissions, encouraging series of works rather than single images, to further promote narrative storytelling.”
Mick Moore, CEO and creative director of the British Journal of Photography and judge for the Kingdom Photography Award, expressed his admiration for the artists’ offerings.
“The work we have just seen is truly remarkable. I found it refreshing and different, with a variety of perspectives that can appeal to everyone. It challenges your visual expectations in many ways,” he said.
“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia and I came here with an open mind. I’ve heard interesting things about the creative arts scene here, and the standard of work I’ve witnessed tonight is truly world class. The organizers did an excellent job and the images presented were simply stunning.”
The Kingdom Photography Award also includes a competition open to the public. This year, under the theme “We Tell Stories”, the award invited participants to submit a series of photographs that express the multifaceted narratives of the Kingdom.
The five winning entries in the public competition will be announced on February 15th, and the winning photographs will be displayed alongside the work of the professional participants. Additionally, public winners will also receive a cash prize of SR20,000 ($5,333) and an additional SR20,000 in vouchers.
To complement the exhibition, a captivating public program was organized, with panel discussions, photography workshops and much more.