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The Renaissance of Saudi Art
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The Renaissance of Saudi Art

The Renaissance of Saudi Art

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.

By Yousif Al-Harbi
August 13th, 2023

Half a century of artistic experience has enriched the cultural life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, establishing the artistic foundations of an experience that has its own identity and privacy, nurturing generations of creators, and providing them with hubs of creativity and discovery.
There have been great and pioneering efforts made by decision makers in support of ambitious aspirations, which we see today as a global presence that attracts the interest of artists and workers in the artistic fields and urges new generations to be more creative.
In this special interview, we explore these horizons with Yousif Al-Harbi, the Director of the Culture and Arts Association in Dammam, who is also an artist and an educator who is contributing to the continuous renaissance of Saudi art.

Would you tell us a little about yourself?

My specialty is as an art education teacher, passionate about researching the word, colour and melody in all aspects of art and culture. It can be said that a person is known by his activities, his impact and his efforts. What the experience of education and research in the arts and the Society of Culture and Arts offered me was the expansion of a great dream; the dream of a person who is passionate about culture and the arts in organization, supervision, education, briefing, cooperation and initiation, thanks to a team no less passionate than me. I'm a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education, and I regularly write about the visual arts and cultural and art festivals.

I have a weekly column in Alyoum newspaper, and provide creative and media consulting services. I have many memberships, including: a founding member of the Saudi Arabian Calligraphy Society, the Saudi Society for Fine Arts, and the Cinema Society, and one of the members of the advisory committee in the Haref Association, and some private entities. I have also established several festivals and cultural gatherings, including The Watariat Festival for Music and the International Video Art Forum, and I've participated in the establishment of local and Gulf cultural programs in the fields of theater, films, short story and visual arts.

I hold membership in many local and Gulf cultural and artistic associations and gatherings, and I've chaired more than 35 media committees in cultural festivals.I am a writer of articles and press investigations in Gulf and Arab newspapers and magazines in the field of visual arts. I have two books. The first one is Video Art, Impact and Influence on the Gulf and Arab Experience, which was published in two editions, and the second is entitled,  When Art Is Sold - Artistic Achievement and the World Stock Exchange. It talks about the culture of artistic acquisition and its relationship to creative achievement and the art market.

Mr. Yousif Al-Harbi, the Director of The Culture and Arts Association in Dammam.
What does art mean to you?


Art is its own world and a freeing space to absorb the self and be in communication with the awareness and realization of the value of beauty. Art is our image in which we present our reality, emulate our past, and anticipate our future. Through art, we express society and identity, and through art, we build the awareness of future generations on respect for the pioneering generations in art.


Tell us about the history of the Society, who headed it, and what is the purpose for which it was established. 

The Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts is a well-established society with a deep history of serving culture and arts. Founded in the 1970s, it has become very active, with multiple branches that research the arts, present Saudi culture in its various forms, and open its spaces to creators and amateurs in all regions of the Kingdom. The first board of the Society was chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Badr Bin Abdulmohsin, the poet and artist.

Its establishment had an important role in promoting culture, growing awareness, and spreading the aesthetic presence with its distinctive peculiarity to the Kingdom and society; all the while caring for writers, artists, and intellectuals, embracing their talents and creativity, and representing the Kingdom’s culture in all Arab and international cultural forums.

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.
Tell us why the Eastern Province branch is distinguished by its art?

It should be noted that all branches of the Society work diligently and actively, and have a prominent presence. The Dammam branch builds its activity on inclusiveness reflected at the level of categories and arts, meaning cooperation, proximity, communication, depth, and keeping up throughout the year.

We have activities that change monthly, and readings of cultural experiences and books, which are activities that provide interest, knowledge and pleasure. We also organize annual forums and festivals that focus on contemporary arts, video art, and Arabic calligraphy, as well as theater, cinema, folk arts, music and literature.

This is without neglecting our pursuit of organizational cooperation with art galleries, cultural spaces, cultural centers and universities, which guarantees continuity in artistic communication, and achieves the general goals of the Society and our own goals in making Saudi culture the enlightening origin in the world with its creators and intellectuals.

An example of this passion is that most of the programs, forums and honoring ceremonies put a verbal slogan for them, expressed in a brief and striking way. The numbers prove this distinction, praise be to Allah.

Our region is rich in its culture and arts as it is rich in its human, economic and social energies. Thanks be to God, with the interest of our wise leadership, and with the interest and care of the Prince of the Eastern Province, His Highness Prince Saud bin Nayef, and his Deputy, His Highness Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman, for their interest, care, and permanent standing in the cultural field.

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.
Who are some of the famous artists who participated in the Society?

The truth is that all our children are a source of pride, and their presence is noble and honest. We have many brilliant names that have been launched from the Society decades ago. The beginnings were events, programs, or discoveries that achieved success and development in all artistic, cultural and popular fields.  We do not forget many of the names that won international awards and spots in the arts or theater. Their names were not as famous as some, but the Society remains the house of experience and comprehensive embrace of all artistic groups. While we mention some of the names, some of the names may also be inadvertently omitted, and those who belong to and are registered with the Society are in the thousands, and many of them are distinguished and creative.

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.
What is the future of the Society in your opinion?

We are striving to have our presence based on the national culture because it is identity that imposes distinction. Therefore, our future is linked to our present, reality and what we currently offer to be at a high level, as well as being able to embrace our creative children of different artistic and expressive orientations and provide spaces for them and their interests. 
Our future is tied to them and their activity, in addition to the general movement and interest in culture in the Kingdom, which is supervised by the Ministry of Culture and its bodies that support the activities and advance them further in anticipating the future without separating from identity and the authentic presence that distinguishes us. The Society has many festivals and forums, and there are ideas for organizing different programs in which those belonging to these fields compete.

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.
The Society takes into account contemporary arts and new technical developments that have swept this world. How do you balance between leadership and development?

Contemporary arts are the technical and digital transformations that permeate all fields, even the field of art, and therefore it is our duty to keep pace with this era through innovation, talent and craftsmanship.

Future generations depend on us as a cultural society to cooperate together to define contemporary arts, and establish the imprint of technical and digital experimentation, so we were keen to organize the video art and pixel art forum, and we are focused on workshops and panel discussions on the development of the arts, in order to maintain the link between the original, the modern and the contemporary.

From the archives of The Culture and Arts Association.
Culture has turned into an investment capable of serving society and the economy. How is that?

Cultural work in its new spirit shifted from reception to investment, from participation to implementation, and from consumption to interaction in various fields and sectors.

Therefore, Vision 2030 foresaw the feasibility of culture, and experienced its good extent in serving the arts in terms of participation and integration between cultural, artistic and economic ideas, such as the parallelism of heritage and tourism with culture and creating new paths between crafts,  aesthetic identity, natural areas, and standard of living and folk arts.

There are also book fairs that are no longer limited to simply displaying a book, but rather causing publishing houses to have interest, urging participation and creating cultural communication on social, visual, and motivational levels capable of transforming the cultural product into a material and moral product, which we seek to intensify, stabilize and compose it together, with all levels of artistic and visual expression, in addition to some that serve creativity, such as intensifying and revitalizing the state of acquisition in works of art.

The Renaissance of Saudi Art
What advice would you give to young artists?

We have an elite group of artists, interested and creative people. Praise be to Allah, the Saudi cultural movement has become the real cradle for all artists emanating from their land and their homeland to the world. This constitutes a true foundation for creativity and excellence in ideas, performance and presence in all fields.

Therefore, my advice to every young artist is to listen to his reality and surroundings and to comprehend his identity and its depth that is embedded in the ground in all its details; to come out of himself and be inspired by the experiences of others and be unique and not to imitate; to search for a path that guarantees his excellence; to continue experimenting; to rush with confidence and daring; to be open to the experiences of others; and to be cooperative and ensure true communication.

The Renaissance of Saudi Art
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