Having illuminated Saudi Arabia’s capital this month, Noor Riyadh brought the city into the spotlight for a second, expanded edition of this citywide annual festival of art and light, curated by Hervé Mikaeloff, Dorothy Di Stefano and Jumana Ghouth. Over two million visitors have enjoyed the festival to date, Noor Riyadh is now officially the world’s largest annual festival of light and art. From November 3rd to November 19th, the city’s spaces hosted a number of contemporary artists, all working under one theme: “We Dream of New Horizons’”. While this thematic approach remained broad as the festival was curated, many works addressed the environment, both in terms of a global future, and the local intricacies of Riyadh itself. Featuring a highly international cast of artists, including some of Saudi Arabia’s most promising emerging talents, Noor Riyadh cemented the city’s role in the contemporary art world, establishing it as a creative hub in the Middle East.
The festival’s forward-looking theme supported a number of site-specific commissions designed to speak to the unique physical and conceptual space of Riyadh, a technologically innovative capital with a long, diverse history of migration and growth. Artists called upon to create site-specific works included Alicja Kwade, Sabine Marcelis, Zineb Sedira and Joël Andrianomearisoa. Representing Poland, Denmark, Algeria, France and Madagascar, this group provides insight into the international scope of the event, with artists from 40 countries bringing varying cultural experiences into new, uncharted urban zones.
Home to a growing technological industry, Riyadh’s own recent history played a crucial role in the festival’s fascination with urban community, especially through the lens of light as metaphor. Putting what is known as “light art” at its forefront, the event saw artists subverting the elusive nature of the medium through sculptural, immersive and interactive work.
Questioning the materiality of light (or the lack thereof,) artists worked to not only illuminate parts of Riyadh by night, but also to use light as an analogy and metaphor for hope, prospect and anticipation. As if examining Noor Riyadh through a looking glass, the overall event explored glass as a medium, allowing the material to re-define the notion of light through reflection, ideas of exterior and interior, and the act of gazing through, or gazing past.
Calling attention to environmental issues was one of the major focal points of the festival, and artists working with environmental concepts used Riyadh’s landscape as their substrate, grounding their messages in the moment while looking ahead to a global future. Hailing from Saudi Arabia, artist Zahrah Al Ghamdi presented Soliloquy, a work personifying the planet through the use of found natural materials. Her piece, along with the works of 30 other artists, will be displayed in Riyadh until the 4th of February 2023 as part of the From Spark to Spirit exhibit, which accompanies Noor Riyadh.
Emphasizing its role as a community-driven initiative, Noor Riyadh also offered a number of events throughout November, meant to draw visitors of all ages. Visual workshops joined guided art walks and family-friendly activities to promote the exhibit’s message while inviting guests to interact with the work temporarily altering their city’s spaces.
Having re-imagined 40 locations throughout the Saudi capital, this year’s Noor Riyadh festivities highlighted the fluid nature of public space while inviting contemporary artists to turn the city into an interactive, boundless gallery. With over 500 events taking place alongside the festival, the exhibit expanded its reach to international visitors and locals alike, filling Riyadh with the very potential alluded to in the interpretative phrase “We Dream of New Horizons.”