Last May, 15 young Saudi artists rented a former shelter for widows in Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad area. It had a charm about it: rustic and unfinished, many likened it to a Venetian palazzo. Led by Ramy Alquthamy,
and a few others, they called their initiative “Al Hangar,” meaning warehouse in Arabic, a moniker meant to insinuate speed vis-à-vis temporality.
They rented the space for 10 days at a fee of $3000, money they’d secured from a Saudi art patron. Some had priced their artworks, others hadn’t, and each occupied a six-square-meter room. The point was to “ignite a sense of community,” says Al Salem. “Recently, it’s been ‘to each his own,’ a form of selfishness even, with very individual practices.”
The inaugural show, aptly titled “Bismillah”—a common phrase in the Islamic world used when embarking on something—did not feature a theme, nor did it present the curatorial influence of a gallerist. “We wanted to exhibit independently and show that there is an underground Saudi art scene,” says Alquthamy. Artists are individually invited to show work at Al Hangar, similarly to a biennial. And so far, they’ve been inundated with requests to participate, an indication of both the buzz around the alternative space, and the growing energy around Saudi’s art scene. “Bismillah” was an achievement, attracting Jeddah’s intelligentsia and enthusiasts, who flocked to see what some of the Kingdom’s bohemians had conjured. “I was absolutely blown away,” recalls Sara Tamer, art patron and member of the Saudi Art Council, which is behind 21,39, the non-profit initiative that promotes arts and culture in Jeddah.