RIYADH— Five Saudi artists were recently chosen as winners of the first Misk Art Grant, claiming prizes worth more than $25,000 each. The new grants come as artists are gaining new visibility and recognition in a kingdom experiencing social and cultural changes, and they signal significant new support for the creative arts.
The grants are a project of the Misk Art Institute, which is supported by the foundation of the kingdom’s crown prince, and which plans to award the grants annually.
Works by the artists who received the first grants went on display in early December during Misk Art Week, the institute’s flagship event. The exhibition is called “Mukooth,” meaning to stay, dwell and sojourn—a theme chosen in reference to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which put many artists’ work and careers on hold. (See a related article, “Arab Artists Respond to a World Disrupted by Covid-19.”)
Reem AlSultan, chief executive of the Misk Art Institute, explained: “The Covid-19 pandemic affected art production with the closure of studios due to limited resources and funding; research towards creative projects and the development of new ideas was also disrupted. Very simply, Misk Art Week felt compelled to support and continue the conversation.”
Changing Ideas About Careers in Art
Times are changing for artists in Saudi Arabia, AlSultan said. Misperceptions about the unprofitability of working as an artist in the past led many creative people to shy away from choosing an artistic career, she said. The Misk Art Grant, however, may help change attitudes and potentially foster a new generation of pioneers for the kingdom’s art scene.
The grant provides artists the opportunity to work closely with curators and mentors and offers them technical and financial support. Works by the recipients will become part of the Misk Art Institute collection that will be placed at the institute’s headquarters and may even be exhibited in other parts of the kingdom and abroad.
The winners of the inaugural prizes are Hmoud AlAttawi, Alaa AlGhufaili, Saad AlHowede, Muhannad Shono and Ayman Zedani, chosen from a field of more than 60 applicants.
Ayman Zedani, who says his work is better recognized abroad than at home, welcomes the grant, but says much more needs to be done to support art and artists. His exhibit is a nine-channel video installation with an audio component. Each of the videos are time-lapse views of how materials, organic and inorganic, evolve in their surroundings.
While the grant is not life changing, he says, its timing is crucial as a way to “keep the lights on” for artists. “It came at a time where things were either canceled or postponed or even ghosted in some cases,” he said. People were asking artists to participate in things like talks for free, he said, leaving many artists feeling more like vendors than creative individuals. “There are all of these different entities in terms of institutions and art and culture that are happening, but the artists are being left out.”