“The Saudi art movement has most definitely made its mark both locally and internationally” – Saudi curator, Hamza Serafi

Hamza Serafi, Saudi curator - Gems of Arabia

Meet the Saudi national breaking boundaries in the Middle Eastern art industry. Exclusive interview with Hamza Serafi about art, upcoming exhibitions and the Louvre Abu Dhabi…

Hamza Serafi is a visionary. A true pioneer of the arts, through Hamza’s vision many artist’s dreams have been realised. He’s opened many doors for those that follow in his footsteps and he’s unleashed many untapped opportunities for Saudi Arabian artists to display their works and shed light on their dreams and passions.

Hamza has pioneered the art gallery movement in Saudi Arabia as a Co-Founder of ATHR Gallery and one of the founders of the Saudi Art Council. The latter created the 21,39 initiative which brings an influx of regional and international contemporary artists to Saudi Arabia including Ahmed Mater, Manal Aldowayan, Nasser Assalem, Dana Awartani, Atel Adnan and Muna Hatoon.

Passionate about furthering the Kingdom’s talent (and subsequent reach), Hamza continues to support its art movement through his various roles. Here, he talks to Buro 24/7 Middle East about the future of art in the Saudi and beyond…

How does it feel to be among those responsible for showcasing the artistic side of Saudi Arabia?

I consider myself to be very lucky and I feel very blessed to be associated with the dynamic creative world of young and developed artists that inspired us with their art.

We are entering a more moderate and dynamic Saudi. Are you excited to see what artists will come up with given the changing times? Do you feel that the style and mood of artists will also change?

Spirits are lifted in a time of positive change, particularly those of the artist, so it is indeed an exciting time for Saudi Arabia but more so for the artists. More material is available for artists, which was not available before. Artists are normally spectators; they question and analyse and then express situations through their works and sometimes, good artists can actually foresee the future and that is what’s most exciting.

The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi signifies a dramatic shift in the Middle Eastern art scene. Do you see something of this magnitude also coming to KSA?

The narrative of the Louvre and the pieces that have been curated is very broad and dynamic — it gives us a wealth of information and raises questions that teach us that we are not the only civilians on Earth. This unifies us as humans and helps us to understand different civilisations and sends the younger generation, and future generations to come, a very positive message. I think this will inspire all the other countries in the region to come up with their own creative museums, hence we expect to see more museums in Saudi Arabia. In fact, KSA has already started establishing cultural centres focusing on culture which will no doubt support the art movement and museums.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is most definitely a milestone and not only in the art movement in the Gulf area or the middle east. I think it has changed the way people interact with museums.


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What’s in store for Athar and 21.39 in the coming years?

On December 6, we will hold one of the most important exhibitions that we work on every two years. It’s called Young Saudi Artists. There is a selection process — from which we choose the best Saudi talent — called Pulse, which is a symbolic measure whereby we read the pulse of Saudi youth, 70 percent of which is below the age of 30. We go through their vision of dreams and identity and how they envisage the future by visiting their past – taking us through their artistic journey.

As for 21,39, this coming year there will be an initiative by the Saudi Art Council. I am not at liberty to discuss it at the moment but rest assured something very special is in store to highlight the new progressive and exciting days we are now all living in Saudi Arabia.

At Athar, the show is going to be curated by Maya Khaleel and it’s going to discuss the quest for truth and how artists see the truth, how they perceive it and what is, in fact, true and what is not. This is just a small brief of what’s to come!

There will be a complete program by the Saudi Art Council for 21,39 whereby Jeddah becomes the facilitator for the arts. The most important part of this initiative is the education program that has been established. Last year we had over 6,000 students that visited the exhibition. This is one of the missions and goals of the Saudi Art Council:  to educate the coming generations on contemporary art and demonstrate to them how it’s all about ideas and statistics and to teach them creativity and self-expression.

As a pioneer of the KSA art movement, how far would you say the art scene has come since it was first recognised? 

The art scene in Saudi Arabia is relatively young — it dates back to the late ’50s, early ’60s so I think that in spite of its recent evolution, the Saudi art movement has most definitely made its mark both locally and internationally. There are Saudi artists in museums such as Tate Modern, Guggenheim, MoMA and most recently Louvre Abu Dhabi. I also believe the best is yet to come.

What makes an artist successful?

‏What you should learn is how to reflect your creativity and give back with your own personality — to give back to this gift of beauty that has been offered to you by the creator. And what you should learn is how to digest that and give back in the most humble way.

What is style to you?

I think style is the freedom to be what you want to be and the most important element is that the standard that you have created for yourself makes you happy.

Less is more or more is more?

I belong to the school of the old saying: “The one of knowledge is the one of minimalism.” Less is more fits my style more but then again that is a personal opinion.