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la Biennale di Venezia
Visual Top Art EN (new)


Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Pavilion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Title of the exhibition: The Black Arch
Exhibitors: Raja and Shadia Alem
Commissioners: Dr. Abdulaziz Alsebail
Curators: Mona Khazindar and Robin Start
Venue: Arsenale
Raja and Shadia Alem will represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its debut participation at la Biennale di Venezia.
Dr. Abdulaziz Alsebail, Commissioner, is pleased to announce that Shadia and Raja Alem will represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its inaugural pavilion - 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. Mona Khazindar[1] and Robin Start[2] will curate The Black Arch, an installation by the two artists.
The work of Shadia and Raja Alem can be read as a double narrative. Raja the writer, and Shadia the visual artist, have a unique and non-traditional artist’s background. While having had a classical and literary education the sisters acquired knowledge through their encounters with pilgrims visiting Mecca. Their family has welcomed pilgrims into their home during the Hadj for generations. Since the mid 1980s, the sisters have travelled the world for exhibitions, lectures, and for the general exploration and appreciation of art and literature, and in some way seeking the origins of cultures and civilizations that sparked their imagination through the stories of the visitors to Mecca throughout their childhood.
The Black Arch has been created through a profound collaboration between Shadia and Raja Alem. It is very much about a meeting point of the two artists; of two visions of the world; from darkness to light, and of two cities – Mecca and Venice. The work is a stage, set to project the artists’ collective memory of Black - the monumental absence of colour - and physical representation of Black, referring to their past. The narrative is fueled by the inspirational tales told by their aunts and grandmothers, and are anchored in Mecca, where the sisters grew up in the 1970s. The experience with the physical presence of Black is striking for the artists asRaja explains, “I grew up aware of the physical presence of Black all around, the black silhouettes of Saudi women, the black cloth of the Al ka'ba[3] and the black stone[4] which supposedly is said to have enhanced our knowledge.”As a counter point, the second part of the installation is a mirror image, reflecting the present. These are the aesthetic parameters of the work.
The Black Arch is also about a journey, about transition; inspired by Marco Polo and fellow thirteenth-century traveler Ibn Battuta – both examples of how cultures were bridged together through travel. Shadia explains how she felt a desire to follow Marco Polo’s example and “to bring my city of Mecca to Venice, through objects brought from there: a Black Arch; a cubic city, and a handful of Muzdalifah pebbles.[5] The artists focus on the similarities between the two cosmopolitan cities and their inspirational powers.
Info: Brunswick Arts: Amy de Leusse T. + 33 1 53 96 83 91 / e-mail :

[1] Curator of the department of contemporary art and photography at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris
[2] Art advisor, curator and modern and contemporary Arab art expert
[3]The Ka'ba is a cubic building located within the courtyard of al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Ka'ba is the holiest site in Islam; the qibla, the direction Muslims face during prayer, is the direction facing the Ka'ba.
[4]The Ka'ba houses the Black Stone, a Muslim relic in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and pilgrims to Mecca try to stop and kiss it while circumambulating the Ka'ba during the hajj.
[5]Muzdalifah is a valley between Mina and Mount Arafat in which pilgrims on Hajj spend the night in the open. It is here they gather pebbles to hurl at the pillars of Mina.
The artists selected for the main exhibition, VIVA ARTE VIVA
National Participations
Countries exhibited in their own pavilions at the 57th Intl. Art Exhibition
Collateral Events
Additional exhibitions and initiatives in Venice during the 57th Biennale