The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) yesterday launched the major solo exhibition The Red Palace, by celebrated Saudi Arabian artist Prince Sultan bin Fahad bin Nasser Al-Saud at the Cultural Foundation.
The opening was attended by HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, HE Saood Al Hosani, Acting Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, and a group of ambassadors, diplomats, artists and media personalities.
Following its well-received presentations in Riyadh and Jeddah, this multifaceted exhibition will be on view at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi from 26 January to 28 March 2020. The exhibition is part of the Foundation’s visual arts programme, which features established and emerging artists from the UAE, the Middle East and beyond.
Curated by Reem Fadda, Director of the Cultural Foundation, The Red Palace presents a series of investigations into Saudi Arabia’s history through multimedia interventions including video, sculpture, photograms and installations. Named after the Red Palace in Riyadh, where the exhibition was first presented, the piece is inspired by the rise and fall of this iconic building, which was an important site during the height of Saudi Arabia’s modernisation.
“We are excited to bring this significant and critically acclaimed work to the Cultural Foundation, where new audiences in the UAE can experience Sultan bin Fahad’s important interpretations of Saudi history and culture,” said Reem Fadda.
“This piece is in line with Cultural Foundation’s legacy and continued vision to provide a platform for artists and the public to engage in cultural dialogues that challenge the status quo. We look forward to Bin Fahad’s transformation of the Cultural Foundation through his multifaceted installations that offer new perspectives on historical narratives, and we are excited to share his work with the Abu Dhabi community.”
The Red Palace was completed in 1944 for the then Crown Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz, who reigned from 1953 to 1964, and became his royal residence for many years. After King Saud’s move to Al-Nasriya Palace in 1953, the Red Palace became the Saudi Council of Ministers office and subsequently the Board of Grievances until 1987, when it was abandoned. The site now lies in ruins awaiting renovation plans.
“The Red Palace has intrigued and inspired me for many years. In placing contemporary art in such a historic space, I aim to present a new kind of history that reinterprets and reflects on past events and imbues them with new meaning for today’s audiences,” said Bin Fahad.
“I believe that art is not just about hanging pieces on a wall but can and should be used as an educational tool and to push boundaries. I am so pleased to be presenting this work at the Cultural Foundation – a beacon for cultural dialogues in this region – and for the opportunity to engage with new audiences from the UAE.”
Bin Fahad’s first presentation of this work took place inside the abandoned Red Palace, marking the first use of the building since the late 1980s. The piece is the result of the artist’s ongoing practice of collecting memorabilia, historical relics and discarded objects from various sites across Saudi Arabia. Bin Fahad then creates sculptures and installations that investigate the transformation of these sites and their symbolic place within history and culture, focusing on pivotal moments – both political and personal – that are synonymous with the social metamorphosis of the country. The artist translates intangible concepts, such as language and memory, into physical interpretations that recreate these historic moments for today’s audiences and capture their impact on the collective consciousness of Saudi Arabia.
The exhibition is divided into seven chapters throughout the ground and first levels of the Cultural Foundation. The works in these chapters, which include photos, videos and installations, are framed within the historical and political events that took place during the palace’s operation. The chapters are:
Chapter 1 – ‘The Red Palace’, which features a site-specific installation made up of disused chandeliers sourced from the palace. Placed inside the rusty cages of the palace’s old air conditioning units, the chandeliers present a stark contrast between wealth and decay.
Chapter 2 – ‘1979’, references an event from this year when militant extremists besieged the Grand Mosque in Mecca, holding 10,000 people hostage and causing extreme bloodshed. Bin Fahad recalls this painful moment in Saudi history through displaying the physical remnants of the siege, including one of the remaining red prayer carpets used in Mecca prior to 1979 and photographs of the Kabaa, the holy site of Mecca, superimposed with images of gunfire rising from the Grand Mosque.
Chapter 3 – ‘Labour’, is an intimate video portrait of servants who would have worked at the Red Palace. The lens focuses on the servants’ hands as they get ready to assist at a dinner, dressing themselves in elaborate costumes recreated from historical source images.
Chapter 4 – ‘Desert Storm (Gulf War)’, is a semi-autobiographical piece reflecting on Bin Fahad’s experience as a soldier in Saudi’s army during this war. Intimate memorabilia including the artist’s military cap and Desert Storm trading cards are placed alongside gasmasks, distributed heavily in the region during the war, found by Bin Fahad in the Red Palace.
Chapter 5 – ‘Holy Economy’, comments on the commodification of holy sites and religious practices. The section features plastic toys from China that make absurd references to Mecca, ornately decorated water bottles used in Hajj by various pilgrims and beaded tapestries of scenes from Mecca created by African craftsmen.
Chapter 6 – In ‘Prayer Room’, Bin Fahad references prayer mats, a staple of Saudi life. For this installation, he lines up several prayer mats in the shape of a traditional prayer room and uses neon to write a prayer using only diacritics –-accents placed above or below letters to denote pronunciation. The installation draws clear lines between the spoken word, the absent letters and the collective of bodies, creating a physical rendering of elements that we do not always perceive.
Chapter 7 – ‘Dinner at the Palace’, where Bin Fahad recreates a hypothetical dinner for the labourers and servants of the Red Palace, using actual tableware from the palace that the artist has been collecting for years. A second room in this chapter is dedicated to King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern nation of Saudi Arabia. The room displays an archival image of the King inspecting oil fields in 1947 sourced from the Aramco records, as well as other personal objects related to the late king.
Common Ground Exhibition
Inspired by and showing alongside The Red Palace at the Cultural Foundation is Common Ground, a group exhibition that reflects on the common ground between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The exhibition is presented in a contemporary manner to appeal to the younger generation from social, cultural and economic aspects. It features the works of 13 artists: Ahmad Saeed Al Areef Al Dhaheri, Amna Al Memari, Ghanem Younes, Khalid Al Tamimi, Maha Al Hammadi, Maryam Al Suwaidi, Mattia Gambardella, Renad Hussein, Roudha Al Shamsi, Saoud Al Dhaheri, Sarah Aladayleh, Shamsa Al Omaira and Wafa Al Qasaimi.
This exhibition is on show from 26 January 2020 – 28 March 2020.
The Cultural Foundation Art Residency Programme
Thirteen UAE-based artists have been selected for the 2020 cycle of the Cultural Foundation Art Residency Programme by a jury following an open call process. The art residency programme supports and advances the careers of professional artists, providing them with dedicated studio spaces and resources, enabling these artists to produce and exhibit work with unparalleled visibility and endorsement. The selected artists are: Abdelghani Al Nahawi, Afra Alsuwaidi, Amna Almemari, Diaa Allam, Ghanim Mubarak, Jonathan Farrow, Khalid Mezaina, Meera Alhameli, Rawdha Al Ketbi, Sara Hamed, Shamsa Al Dhaheri, Simrin Agarwahl and Tala Worell.