As Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene rapidly expands, Saudi female creatives are looking to the future but also the past by preserving and showcasing Saudi craftsmanship in their work.
Hana Almilli, Abeer AlRabiah and Rawan Al-Sehli weave their country’s heritage into innovative works that reflect today’s rapidly changing contemporary society.
Hana Almilli : Riyadh-based multimedia artist, textile designer and poet Hana Almilli’s practice is research-based and explores the idea of resurrecting identities through the material culture of textiles and assemblages. Almilli, who has Turkish, Syrian, Kurdish and Saudi heritage, explores questions of identity and alienation in her work, particularly through the representation of the term Al-Ghorba, which means estrangement in a foreign land in Arabic.
Her artwork incorporates elements of photography, embroidery, dyeing and weaving.
“My work ranges from embroidered printed silks, handwoven and naturally dyed textiles, and, lastly, jacquard woven textiles. “I incorporate craft by using traditional, yet, in a way, modern techniques of weaving, natural dyeing and embroidery to produce my work.”
In Riyadh-based Lakum Artspace’s recent exhibition “Performing Bodies,” Almilli presented “If Voice Has a Memory (2022).”The work in a wood frame was made by weaving 100 percent naturally hand-dyed cotton threads, organic cotton, silk and stainless conductive thread.Through the incorporation of mixed media, the installation focused on acts of remembering, nostalgia, and feelings of alienation from ancestry and heritage.
The sound component of the work incorporates found imagery and sound frequencies that Almilli relates to her Kurdish, Syrian, Turkish and Saudi heritage. It not only explores sound as a medium for expression, but also investigates how different frequencies can act as a form of therapy, opening access to hidden memories, and building new avenues for recreating them.
Abeer AlRabiah: As an industrial designer, Abeer AlRabiah, who recently completed a residency at the Misk Art Institute in Riyadh, incorporates various materials from different manufacturers, while imbuing her creations with references to Saudi heritage and craftmanship in a manner that is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“In traditional Saudi crafts, people use materials that are available around them to create iconic traditional craftwork. “In a similar way, I picked existing used pieces of 7x7 cm wood that helped build multiple buildings in Saudi Arabia by holding concrete to be formed, and worked on them by hand to build my sculpture.” During her residency with Misk Art, AlRabiah created “Memory Apparent,” a light sculpture embodying what she calls the “evanescence of memories.” It was made from 7x7 cm white-painted reclaimed wood pieces of various heights to form a 1x1x1-meter cube with a pulsating light inside.
Rawan Al-Sehli: Jewelry designer Rawan Al-Sehli is on a mission to revive traditional Saudi jewelry through her hand-crafted contemporary designs. Al-Sehli completed a residency at Misk Art Institute from September to December 2022, her first experience as a resident artist.The collection she created during that time was titled “Memory Transformed. ”She often refers to her creations — a mix of jewelry techniques and research that revive and preserve Saudi architecture, history, culture and traditional jewelry — as “wearable art.”
In each of her jewelry collections, Al-Sehli aims to reflect elements that profess the richness of Saudi architecture and heritage, as well as the diversity of cultures in the Kingdom.
Each collection is produced after recorded research with historians and facts, some of which require approval from Saudi universities and registered studies, she said.