As commissioner of Saudi Arabia’s first National Pavilion at the International Architecture Biennale, it couldn’t escape our notice that the global media has spent much of the last 18 months curiously fixated on a kingdom in the midst of seismic change. Staging an exhibition during this moment of transformation has been equal parts privilege and pressure. As with all presentations at a national level, it came with certain expectations – to capture a zeitgeist, to consider and encapsulate ‘a moment.’ There were also the usual pitfalls – becoming too embroiled with ideas of ‘identity,’ diminishing rigor in pursuit of an elusive ‘collective’ perspective.
These concerns felt even more present in the midst of unprecedented change. Saudi Arabia is being reimagined, its urban and social landscape redrawn. It feels almost too fortuitous that this year’s theme would present a framework within which these re-imaginings could take place. Within Freespace, we find an opportunity to break down and make anew. Resisting the urge to present an overly-tidy assessment of the change that has so piqued the world’s attention, a team of immense insight, energy and innovation – curators Jawaher Al-Sudairy and Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, and architects Abdulrahman Gazzaz and Turki Gazzaz (founders of Bricklab) – have instead unlocked expansive spaces in between. Finding them ‘a source of inspiration and exploration – an opportunity… spaces to rediscover what it means to be part of society in Saudi Arabia.’
There are no ‘zeitgeists’ to be found in our pavilion. Instead, we have sought something quieter, more unpredictable, a place open for personal thought and incidental exchange. Within the context of a survey that looks to our recent past, we trace the configurations of our urban and social landscapes, seeking to find spaces of isolation and inclusion, stories of sprawl and forums of exchange where all the potent potential of change can be explored at a human scale.
Beyond the thematic, curatorial and architectural investigations, the first space in between was opened by the act of mounting a pavilion. Here, outside perspectives encounter inside experiences and a forum for encounter is established. It is with immense excitement that I look forward to conversations, to free-flowing exchanges, as preconceived ideas are redrawn and reimagined. And it is with immeasurable gratitude to all those who have crafted these spaces of thought and encounter that we can look forward – to the amazing, inspiring curators and architects for their insight and ambition; to every contributor in this publication for the expansive, unprecedented story that they tell; to a team of tireless collaborators, without whom we would not be here; and to our leadership, the visionaries who have supported Misk Art Institute since its inception, for giving us space to think, experiment and imagine every day.
Dr. Ahmed Mater
Director of Misk Art Institute and Artist
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