Abdulaziz Alsebail, Commissioner, is pleased to announce that Shadia and Raja Alem will represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its inaugural pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia Mona Khazindar and Robin Start will curate The Black Arch, an installation by the two artists.

“If the doors of perception were cleared, everything would appear to man as it really is, infinite.”

William Blake

The work of Raja and Shadia Alem can be read as a double narrative. Raja the writer, and Shadia the visual artist, have a non-traditional artist’s background. While having had a classical education the sisters acquired knowledge through their encounters with pilgrims visiting Mecca that were welcomed into their home. 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 double vision of the two sisters unfolds in a world of ritual and tradition that confronts the day-to-day reality of human behaviour with simplicity.

The Black Arch comes from a profound collaboration between Shadia and Raja Alem. It is about a meeting point of two artists; of two visions of the world; from darkness to light, and of two cities – Mecca and Venice, two cosmopolitan cities and their inspirational powers. 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 fuelled by the inspirational tales told by their aunts and grandmothers, and is anchored in Mecca, where the sisters grew up in the 1970s. The experience with the physical presence of Black, the first part of the installation, is striking for the artists; Raja 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 and the black stone which 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.

Ministry of Culture and Information The King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority Saudi Research & Marketing Group

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