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Vassilis Oikonomopoulos: “Saudi art is in bloom”


21,39 Jeddah Arts exhibition started on the 7th of February. KAWA met its curator Vassilis Oikonomopoulos to talk about the contemporary art scene in Saudi Arabia.

KAWA: What is Jeddah 21,39?

Vassilis Oikonomopoulos: Jeddah 21,39 is an exhibition which takes place once a year in Jeddah, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is an exhibition that focuses on presenting the work of young and emerging Saudi artists, but also international artists, in an attempt to advance dialogue and conversation between contemporary practices in the Kingdom.

What does 21,39 mean?

21,39 is representing the geographical coordinates of Jeddah. It is a way of signifying and marking the city as a center for artistic production and for the presentation of artists in Saudi Arabia.

Why did you choose Jeddah?

Jeddah has always been a rather progressive, dynamic, and diverse place. Throughout history, it has been a place that was at the crossroads of many civilizations and also many cultures, trade roads and commerce.

Tell us more about the young artists of Jeddah

The younger artists in Jeddah are mainly concerned with issues around their own heritage and their own history. A number of practices are looking into ways of rethinking traditions. Islamic tradition, architecture, calligraphy are part of their concerns, and how to move forward with this. In addition, artists are looking into the wider scheme of things, and looking at what’s happening internationally, so they are experimenting a lot with media: video, photography, sound and performance, and they try to find ways of talking about how society functions and how people associate with each other, and how interaction is taking place in different kinds of environment.

Does France play a role in Jeddah 21,39?

France is a constant inspiration and destination for young artists from Saudi Arabia. The extensive amount of cultural spaces here, the very different type of practices, the number of residencies and museum is a constant attraction to artists that want to see the kind of development of new practices, or older and more historical practices. The way that France is approaching and welcoming artists from around the world is for them obviously a very interesting reason and purpose to be here.