ithra art saubi arabia Adel Abidin Ithra Art Prize The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) unveils the winning artwork of the 5th Ithra Art Prize, ON (عن) by Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin, selected from over 10,000 submissions by an esteemed jury of international academics, gallerists, curators and artists. ON (عن) will be unveiled at Ithra before joining Ithra’s prestigious permanent collection.

The Ithra Art Prize awards the winning artist $100,000 in addition to the full funding required to bring their project to fruition, making this the largest art grant in the region. Open to submissions from all Arab countries, the Ithra Art Prize celebrates and propels the growing creative landscape of the Arab region, providing support and a global platform to artists shaping this landscape.

Winner of the 5th Ithra Art Prize Adel Abidin

“ON” explores the intricate relationship between history, memory, and identity. The artist delves into intangible aspects of history, confronted with the challenge of scarce reliable archival sources in the context of Arab history, where much remains shrouded in ambiguity, a broad range of interpretations and augmentations. In studying the Zanj rebellion of 869 AD in Iraq, he finds a captivating example.

A rebellion persisted for fourteen years, aimed at the freedom of slaves and granting them land ownership rights as others. While reading through the chain of oral accounts that survived over time, the rebellion’s reality has been interrupted, modified, and changed depending on perspectives of those writing history.

ON, the Ithra Art Prize winning artwork by Adel Abidin 2023
Cotton Canvas, Japanese paper, and ink
400×250 cm

In response, Abidin developed a unique stamping process using the word “ON” in Arabic to differentiate between reliable and less reliable accounts. Creating a vivid representation and offering a fresh perspective on this significant event. The installation highlights the fragility of history and the organic nature of memory. Through stamping, Abidin creates a dancing form capturing the complexity of the past. Carefully chosen unstamped spots enhance the anamorphic illusion, offering a glimpse into remains of this ancient event in a unique and compelling way.

Abidin said: “This process creates a vivid representation of the 14-year rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate and offers a fresh perspective on this significant event in Arab history. The resulting wall installation highlights the ultimate fragility of history and the organic, but unreliable, nature of memory.”

Adel Abidin

Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museum at Ithra, said: “We are delighted to unveil Adel Abidin’s work alongside the previous Ithra Art Prize winners, to showcase the leading contemporary artists who have been recognised by the Ithra Art Prize and reflect on its increasing influence since its inception in 2017. The unveiling provides an excellent opportunity to take a retrospective view over the Prize’s evolution and to look towards our exciting partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla to collaborate with Arts AlUla on the next edition of the Prize, which is currently open for submissions.”

The open call for the 6th edition of the Ithra Art Prize, Art in the Landscape, launched on August 2, 2023 in collaboration with Arts AlUla, as part of a wider strategic partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), calling for submissions of public artwork proposals that are site-specific to AlUla and that present interpretations of the region’s unique landscapes and outstanding natural heritage. The open call will close on September 30, 2023 and the winning artwork will be selected by a jury panel of industry experts and creatives: Farah Abushullaih (Head of Museum at Ithra), Nora Aldabal (Executive Director, Arts and Creative Industries at RCU), Mohamed Ibrahim (artist), Sophie Makariou (Scientific Director of The French Agency for AlUla Development, AFALULA) and Aric Chen (General and Artistic Director of Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam). The winning piece will then be unveiled as a part of the Arts AlUla Festival, on February 8, 2024, to be exhibited in the AlUla Oasis for six weeks before joining Ithra’s permanent collection.

Noura Alzamil, Manager of Programs at Ithra

Noura Alzamil, Manager of Programs at Ithra, said: “Both Ithra and RCU have a longstanding commitment to providing enriching opportunities to artists in the region in order to propel our growing creative economy. We are truly honored to launch the 6th Ithra Art Prize in collaboration with RCU, encouraging artists to reflect Saudi Arabia’s outstanding natural heritage in their work and we look forward to uniting our efforts to support culture, art, and creativity across the Kingdom and beyond, as part of our wider strategic partnership with RCU.”

About Ithra

Photo by our contributor Nataliya Goncharova

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is a beacon of change in Saudi Arabia, and symbolic of KSA’s shift towards human energy based in culture, creativity and innovation. Saudi at heart and multicultural by nature, Ithra is a gateway to the Kingdom and a connection to the world. The Center creates new opportunities while preparing the next generation of original thinkers to lead in the creative and cultural industries. Ithra enriches lives and unlocks talent through a focus on cross-cultural experiences while encouraging the development of original content. The heart of the creative economy, Ithra offers purpose-driven programs and initiatives that support the Kingdom’s ongoing cultural transformation across the arts, sciences, culture and innovation.

About the Ithra Art Prize

Ithra is committed to igniting cultural curiosity, stimulating knowledge exploration and inspiring creativity, while encouraging and supporting the development of original content. The Ithra Art Prize is proof of this undertaking to empower the creative landscape in the Kingdom and beyond.

The Ithra Art Prize celebrates contemporary art and artists and aims to fund and promote them, and to offer them a global platform. Launched in 2017, the Art Prize was awarded to Saudi and Saudi-based contemporary artists in collaboration with Art Dubai for its first three editions. In its 4th edition the prize was unveiled with the Diriyah Biennale Foundation at the Kingdom’s inaugural biennale, and featured an expanded geographical footprint that included established contemporary artists from or based in one of the 22 Arab countries.

The Ithra Art Prize is one of the most prominent art grants in the world, with the winner receiving $100,000 to bring their proposal to life.

The prize invites artists to submit proposals via an annual open call, and a global panel of experts – including artists, curators, academics and art historians – picks the top proposal, and the winner then gets to create the piece. The 2023 winning artwork will be unveiled at Ithra over the summer, and will join Ithra’s permanent art collection.

Previous winners of the Ithra Art Prize are Ayman Zedani (2018), Daniah Al Saleh (2019), Fahad bin Naif (2020) and Nadia Kaabi-Linke (2021).

About the 5th Ithra Art Prize Winner, Adel Abidin

Winning artist Adel Abidin

Adel Abidin is an Iraqi-Finnish artist living in Helsinki. He holds a BA in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and an MFA in Time and Space Art from Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts. Abidin works across mediums to explore contemporary issues.

Abidin’s intention is always to investigate the complex relationship between visual art, politics, memory and identity. He uses sarcasm and humor to gravitate towards different social situations dealing with elusive experiences and cultural alienation.

Abidin’s cross-cultural background allows him to create a distinct visual language often laced with sarcasm and paradox while maintaining an ultimately humanistic approach.

5th Edition of the Ithra Art Prize Jury Bios

Dr. Andrée Sfeir-Semler (born in Beirut, Lebanon) is an art historian and gallery owner who founded her eponymous gallery in 1985 in Germany.

Since 2003, the Sfeir-Semler Gallery has focused on contemporary art from the Arab world, opening its doors in Beirut in 2005 in a 1400m2 factory space in the harbor area. The gallery represents artists with highly relevant works, often expressing a sense of urgency, that record realities of regions that have been in turmoil for the best part of the last century, and that have been on the outskirts of the traditional art centers.

Andrée Sfeir-Semler studied fine art and film at the American University of Beirut. In 1975 she was awarded the DAAD German Academic Exchange Service scholarship, continuing her studies in art history at the Sorbonne with Pierre Bourdieu and at the universities of Munich, Bielefeld with Wolfgang Mager & Juergen Kocka, where she earned her PhD with a thesis titled The Painter at the Paris Salon: 1791-1880.

Sfeir-Semler can be credited with opening the first white cube exhibition space in the Middle East (Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut) and for launching internationally the careers of several highly regarded artists such as Etel Adnan, Mounira Al Solh, Yto Barrada, Walid Raad, Marwan Rechmaoui, Rabih Mroué, Wael Shawky and Akram Zaatari.

Balqees Fakhro graduated from the University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain College in the US with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and art history in 1975.

One of Bahrain’s most prominent artists, Fakhro has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions locally, regionally and internationally since 1976. She has been recognized and awarded internationally, and her work has been acquired by such notable institutions such as the Bahrain National Museum; the Modern Art Museum of Jordan; the Arabic Modern Art Museum in Doha, Qatar; the Kinda Foundation of Saudi Arabia, which exhibited her works at the World Arab Institute in Paris; the Hamburg State House in Berlin, Germany; the Dubai Financial Center, UAE; the Abu Dhabi Investment House, UAE; and the Sheikh Ibrahim Center for Culture, Bahrain.

Farah Abushullaih is the Head of Museum at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra).

She holds an MA in museum anthropology from New York’s Columbia University, and a BA in international business and intercultural communications from Aston University in Birmingham, UK.

Abushullaih joined the Ithra team in 2012 as Lead Curator of the Great Hall exhibition space. During her time at Ithra, she has launched several programs and initiatives that greatly support the development of the Kingdom’s creative sector and provide a platform for cross-cultural engagement. She has curated and developed several local and international exhibitions in collaboration and partnership with distinguished institutions. Abushullaih has led bringing global art to the Kingdom, exhibiting works of art by renowned Norwegian artist Edvard Munch for the first time in the Middle East, as well as exhibiting the works of Leonardo da Vinci in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

In 2021, she introduced the first immersive art exhibition in the Kingdom that addresses the topic of sustainability. Abushullaih also led the development of the local art scene and artists by working with a pioneering team to create the Ithra Bridges program, a series of creative and impactful programs that provided a platform for more than 50 Saudi artists participating in international exhibitions, including shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.

Murtaza Vali is a critic, curator and art historian based in Sharjah and Brooklyn.

His ongoing research interests include materialist art histories, ex-centric minimalisms, ghosts and other figures of liminal subjectivities and repressed histories, the weight of color and contemporary art of the Indian Ocean littoral. A recipient of a 2011 Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for Short-Form Writing, he publishes regularly in various international art periodicals and in exhibition catalogues for non-profit institutions and commercial galleries around the world, including essays in forthcoming monographs on the work of Fahd Burki (Jameel Arts Centre/Mousse Publishing, 2023) and Seher Shah (Rizzoli, 2023).

Vali is an Adjunct Curator at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, where he curated the widely acclaimed inaugural group exhibition Crude (2018), which explored the relationship between oil and modernity across South West Asia. Other recent curatorial projects include: Proposals for a Memorial to Partition (2022-23), Jameel Arts Centre; Curator-at-large of Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, FRONT International 2022: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art (2022); (with Uzma Rizvi) Accommodations, the National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale (2021); and Substructures: Excavating the Everyday (2020-22), a series of exhibitions about “intimate infrastructures” in the Gulf at Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Ridha Moumni is an art and archaeology historian, currently Deputy Chair of Middle East and North Africa at Christie’s.

He earned his PhD at Sorbonne University on Roman art, and was the first Tunisian fellow at the French Academy in Rome, the Villa Medici. Moumni has an academic and professional specialization in antiquity, early and modern art. He curated photographs and early modern and modern exhibitions and has published on collecting practice, art and nation building, and postcolonial cultural history in North Africa. Prior to joining Christie’s, he was an Aga Khan Fellow at Harvard University’s Department of Art History.

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