Seen above is the restored ruins of a mud-brick wall in the At-Turaif District in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The town of Diriyah is considered the birthplace of the kingdom, having served as the capital of the first Saudi state. It is also home to the newly developed cultural hub known as the JAX District, where the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale 2024 is running until May 24. Korea Times photo by Park Han-sol

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Upon arriving in the historic town of Diriyah, nestled in the northwestern edge of the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, one can easily sense the sweeping impact of the conservative Arab kingdom’s ongoing socioeconomic metamorphosis.Considered the birthplace of the kingdom as the capital of the first Saudi state, the town is now the focus of a $63 billion project, gradually evolving into a tourism hotspot with new museums, hotels and an array of cultural events aimed at attracting up to 27 million annual visitors from around the world by 2030.“Ambitious” alone is not enough of a descriptor here. For the record, Saudi Arabia only opened its borders to nonreligious foreign tourists in 2019 — the same year it ended the mandatory gender segregation imposed on every public space in the kingdom. And it was just a year earlier that the country granted women permission to drive and lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas. A significant part of Diriyah’s cultural transformation lies in the development of the JAX District. Originally a cluster of industrial warehouses and factories in the 1970s, the zone is transitioning into a new creative hub housing artist studios, museums and entertainment venues.

And it is here that the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, the first-ever art biennial put forth by the kingdom, returns for its second edition. The event is organized by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, which operates under the country’s Ministry of Culture.Helmed by German-born curator and educator Ute Meta Bauer, this multimedia biennale features 177 works by 100 artists from the wider Gulf region and around the globe. The title of the exhibition, “After Rain,” refers to a sense of renewal and revitalization — a fitting theme for the nation that is not only opening up to the outside world, but is striving to diversify its economy beyond oil under the banner of Vision 2030.“Every time I came to Saudi Arabia (since 2018), I had the feeling that I had come to another country because of how quickly things changed. It was like going through a time warp,” Bauer told The Korea Times, Feb. 19. “It’s amazing to see women enjoying life in public, to see men and women sharing space in the biennale.”

Much more so than other contemporary art biennials staged around the world, the Diriyah Biennale is deeply intertwined with its immediate local context, as the participating artists remain in dialogue with the landscape confronting a whirlwind of change — from women’s expanded role in the workforce to a string of multi-billion-dollar construction megaprojects currently underway.In their first-time collaboration, Italian photographer Armin Linke and Saudi physician-turned-artist Ahmed Mater unveil “Saudi Futurism,” where images representing the kingdom’s industrial past, present and future converge to form a multilayered portrait of its transformation.The changes in the nation’s infrastructure are documented through multi-sized photographs of various archaeological, commercial and scientific sites — from the remnants of the first Saudi cement factory and dairy farms, to the Shaheen supercomputers and the futuristic $500 billion desert city project known as NEOM.The two artists consciously present these images without a coherent order, thus 카지노사이트킹 visualizing an unsettling mix of idealism and apprehension experienced in a state of rapid yet uncertain transition.

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