JEDDAH – A group of young Saudi men and women have created an open cultural and artistic space in one of the busiest streets in Jeddah.
Beyond being a meeting place for craftsmen and artists in Jeddah, Arbab al-Heraf (Craft Masters) has evolved into an incubator for free and diverse artistic expression. The project was initiated by Saudi art expert Abdullah al-Hudhaif in early 2017 after his return from Australia, where he went to school.
He said he wanted to preserve the sense of openness and diversity of opinion he experienced in Australia to enrich art and culture in Saudi Arabia and stay tuned to all forms of artistic expression.
A visitor would experience the heated and extensive discussions in the art-filled hall hosting Arbab al-Heraf. Any topic is discussed — for hours at times — with a prominent artistic figure in attendance.
Hudhaif’s ambition quickly grew from creating an open gathering for young Saudis with diverse interests to a mature institutional project.
“The idea was born out of the need for a serious cultural incubator that carries with it the enlightenment message of culture and the arts, to deliver it to all segments of society by providing a platform with the ability to form cultural and artistic images of varying content and with clear features to accommodate everyone and contribute to the reorientation of the cultural compass in a way which is consistent with the current stage in order to achieve the Vision ,” Hudhaif said.
“At Arbab al-Heraf, we leave out all of our affiliations, get rid of our ideologies and free ourselves of our narrow loyalties. Our only affiliation is with the word and composition, with the string and melody, with colours and the brush, with light and the lens. Our lofty mission is to humanise life and our total bias is for our country.”
Arbab al-Heraf is keen not to confine that enthusiasm for art and life to the gathering site and opened its membership and for volunteering for various activities.
Guests from the cultural elites are attracted to the encouraging environment where they enjoy enriching debate while sharing their productions. Young people seem particularly enthusiastic about participating in the debates, which revitalise the art and culture scene in Jeddah.
Several initiatives have emerged from Arbab al-Heraf that reflect the core of what the group intended to settle in the dialogues of Jeddah and the hearts of its inhabitants.
Arbab al-Heraf wanted to transform eight neighbourhoods in the old city of Jeddah into spaces for art and beauty. In an unprecedented Ramadan event, teams of volunteers took to the narrow streets and alleys of old neighbourhoods and splashed the walls with vibrant colours and forms to spread happiness among inhabitants and brighten up alleys with artistic touches.
The group organises weekly cultural trips, giving members opportunities for discovery and meditation in the open desert, on charming coastal beaches or during hiking trips in Saudi Arabia’s mountains.
The group is renovating three historic buildings in old Jeddah, turning them into spaces dedicated to cultural and artistic activities. These are going to be the Al-Hudaif Museum, Ziryab House of Oriental Music and Al-Hudhaif House for Volunteer Work. The venues will open more opportunities for free cultural expression and creativity.
Arbab al-Heraf has organised several art exhibitions during cultural festivals, including an art exhibition at Emaar Square, a week-long exhibition during the Hakaya Misk Festival in historic Jeddah and the largest open-air exhibition on Jeddah beaches for five days during the Hawafiz Festival in King Abdullah Economics City.
The last exhibition saw the participation of more than 50 artists from across Saudi Arabia, with more than 100 works of art by each participating artist. Another exhibition took place during the Lives of Peoples Festival at Flamingo Mall in Jeddah.