Conceived by Neama and Mohammed Al-Sudairy, a young and vibrant brother-sister team, in collaboration with writer, educator and curator Sara Raza, Riyadh’s highly anticipated gallery Alaan Artspace couldn’t have been opening at a better time.

With all eyes focused on the fledging contemporary art scene of Saudi Arabia, Al?an Artspace, which joins the ranks of established galleries in the Kingdom, is a multi-platform space incorporating a gallery, library, a shop and restaurant. Set to be home to key art and design conversations and workshops, we speak to the people behind Alaan Artspace to find our more about their concept and debut exhibition “SoftPower”, which features an all-female artist cast.

Can you brief us about the backgrounds of each, why you are involved in the arts and how Al?an Artspace came about?
Neama Al-Sudairy (NS): I am the founding director of Alaan Artspace; the idea began back in 2010, in response to the lack of significant contemporary art institutions in Riyadh and a feeling that so much more could happen with a little additional support for Saudi’s young artists. On a personal level, I am an artist and a collector of contemporary Middle Eastern art and design, and I studied Cultural Anthropology at George Washington University and fine arts in New York, Boston, and Paris. So, this project is both a passion and a profession for me.
Sara Raza (SR): I am involved in several different facets of the arts – as a writer, educator, and as a curator. And I believe this diverse background serves me well as Alaan Artspace’s head of curatorial programs and education. My focus as a curator has been on the broader region – including the Arab world and spreading as far as the Caucuses. I am an associate curator at the Maraya Art Center, Sharjah and was previously a curator at Tate Modern, South London Gallery and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. I also bring with me a unique perspective, having studied and written about the region in other ways, for example as an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and, and as a visiting lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London.

Who else joins you both to make up the main team behind Alaan?
NS: I am so glad you asked this question. Al?an really has been a team effort, so this feels appropriate to answer ‘in conversation’. We are a small team, and so really work collaboratively.
SR: I’d say almost everything we do is in conversation. Our directorial team also includes Mohammed A. Al-Sudairy, the co-founder of Alaan Artspace and our head of business development. A real entrepreneur at heart, along with business and marketing strategies, he also has the fun of selecting the merchandise for Alaan’s art and design gift shop, including our own commissioned limited edition design pieces. And last but not least, our creative director, Jamal Tayara Baroudy, who is responsible for all facets of our design and branding.

This is such a pivotal time to be opening an art space in Saudi Arabia, with only a handful of galleries and art institutions, especially in the Saudi capital, and an increasing number of talented emerging Saudi and regional artists. How do you hope to fill the gap?
NS: And precisely because there are so few local arts institutions, it was all the more important for us that we design Alaan Artspace in a way that is responsive to the community — and that it operates on a number of levels. Alaan Artspace developed through conversations with people in Riyadh and across Saudi to truly take the local audience into consideration, while also looking to what is happening regionally and internationally to inform our work.
SR: It is true; our contemporary art scene has relatively few institutions. However, there is a tremendous amount of energy around the arts in Saudi, and while we feel we have a great responsibility to address these gaps, it is also very exciting to dream about what could be, what is really needed… and then to create it. Especially as Saudi art and Middle Eastern art in general attracts more attention internationally, it is all the more important for homegrown institutions like Alaan Artspace to present Saudi perspectives on contemporary art and to really invest in nurturing our emerging and mid-career artists.

What differentiates Alaan Artspace from other galleries in the region?
NS: Alaan Artspace was inspired by a wide range of arts institutions both in the Middle East and internationally, but I think what sets us apart is this real grounding in Saudi art and Saudi perspectives and of course, our education program. As a true arts hub, along with a schedule of exhibitions, our ongoing educational arts programming is integral to Alaan Artspace’s core focus and it is integrated into everything we do. This includes a library education center and hosting events such as conversations around design, arts workshops, and panel discussions.
SR: As Neama said, I think Alaan Artspace’s position as a multi-function space is really what makes us unique. Our shop, restaurant, and café not only add different ways that the community can interact with the arts and the space, but they also give us the flexibility to take risks with non-commercial exhibitions, new commissions, stocking an arts research library and non-profit educational arts programming. This allows us to have both commercial and non-commercial exhibitions. Our format also gives us the freedom to collaborate with both commercial galleries as well as non-profit arts organizations in the future.

Can you tell us more about the Majlis, the library, and the shop at Alaan?

NS: We wanted Alaan Artspace to be a place that would bring in a diverse audience – from artists and collectors to families and people who are new to the arts to young people who perhaps want to be artists some day. So Alaan Artspace strives to be a truly multi-platform space. Our shop features items ranging from Lomography and photography accessories to designed objects for the home or office, as one might find in museum gift shops. We will also feature printed works such as artist designed posters and postcards. Our first commissioned project will come shortly after our launch…so you’ll have to stay tuned to find out.
SR: The Majlis includes a research library, a café, and a shop, which combined are able to address a number of needs within the community and also integrate art into all facets of the experience. The library and shop also allow us to emphasize possibilities of intersection between art and design and hopefully nurture curiosity and learning.

What can we expect to see in the coming year at Alaan Artspace? Tell us about how you chose “SoftPower” for the opening exhibition and what this exhibition says about Alaan Artspace.
NS: The goal of our inaugural exhibition “SoftPower” is to set the tone of Alaan Artspace for the years to come. And so we are starting in Saudi but our second exhibition will look towards the larger MENA region. It’s not yet announced, but as a teaser for Oasis readers I can say that it will be a group show, this time including artists from the broader region.
SR: It was also critical for us that this first show really make both our philosophy and focus clear by integrating a comprehensive educational program of events around the show. From the very beginning, we wanted to emphasize our commitment to supporting dialogue and education. All our exhibitions will be paired with programming. This show in particular is interesting because it presents two emerging Saudi artists, Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali and Sarah AbuAbdallah, along with a more established Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan.
Each of the works is very different: Al-Abdali will be presenting several paintings and works on paper, along with a very unique new commission installation. AbuAbdallah will be exhibiting a video and several works from a photographic series, and AlDowayan will show a large loaned installation piece. Yet despite their many differences in terms of medium, approach, and form, together these works present a complicated and even humorous approach towards questions of the position of women within contemporary society. Like our artists, we seek to turn the narrative on its head but to do so with solidarity, ambiguity, and a heavy dose of irony. We wanted something that would be relevant locally, regionally, and universally.

What might we expect from Alaan’s Restaurant?

SR: Good food and great atmosphere!
NS: Our chef has been working for months now to design the best menu that is set up to really wow the palate. Reflecting the overall space’s principles of creativity and innovation, Alaan restaurant will combine diverse flavors in order to provide unique twists on traditional favorites. You can expect a seasonal menu that incorporates a global cuisine, while paying homage to its roots. This is coupled with a dessert menu that is to die for as well as brunch on the weekends. What’s not to love?

What are some of the exciting details we should look out for?

NS: We are excited about everything about the space – from the exhibition and the programs to the restaurant and shop to the simple fact of what it means to Riyadh to open such a space. As our name points out, a curated contemporary art platform like this is long overdue …it’s about time! We can’t wait to welcome everyone to the space when we open to the public.

Alaan Artspace, 280 Ourouba Road, Riyadh, KSA
Saturday – Thursday: 10 am – 11 pm | Friday: 1 pm – 11 pm | T: +966 (0)1 4159550 |

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