The Venice Biennale is months away — it opens on June 4 — but the other day there was some somewhat startling news about it: Not only is Saudi Arabia putting forward its inaugural entry, but also it has chosen two women artists to represent the Kingdom. This in a country where women mostly may not drive, among other constrictions.

The artist Shadia Alem and writer Raja Alem — sisters, shown [above] — are creating an installation called The Black Arch. Here´s the description:

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. The first part of the installation relates to the physical representation of Black, referring to their past. The narrative is fuelled by the inspirational tales told by their aunts and grandmothers, and are anchored in Mecca, where the sisters grew up in the 1970s. As a counter point, the second part of the installation is a mirror image, an illumination, 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 traveller Ibn Battuta – both examples of how cultures were bridged together through travel. The artists explain their intention: “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.”, and to focus on the similarities between the two cosmopolitan cities and their inspirational powers.


Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts