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RIYADH: Technology and traditional practices are being combined to help raise the profile of Saudi art on the global stage.
With the assistance of an immersive experience design company, artists taking part in major events being held in the Kingdom are using augmented, virtual, and mixed reality techniques to display their works.
Jeddah-based Midwam has been working to promote public- and private-sector brands at festivals including Noor Riyadh, MDLBEAST, and the AlUla Dates Festival.
Khalid Al-Muawad, co-founder and chief executive officer of Midwam, told Arab News: “We basically look at the entire scene and take it from a human-centric approach, and look at what can attract and engage a person toward that industry.”
In its collaboration with Noor Riyadh, the company worked with four Saudi artists to apply a hi-tech perspective to their creations.
Mohammed Al-Sanie, a contributing artist and senior member of Midwam’s production department, told Arab News: “In our line of business, or even when working with artists, we usually consider technology as an enabler or as a tool. It shouldn’t be the star of what we’re doing, it should be a tool that we utilize.”
A new-media artist, Al-Sanie’s work is mainly influenced by the 1980s, retro science fiction, and the synthwave electronic music genre, and aims to explain the present and future through the past.
One of his pieces, “Dreams in Color,” is an outdoor LED installation presenting an alternative version of Riyadh via video loops displayed on a screen framed by wood, cladding, and Styrofoam scaffolding.
He said: “It’s retro style aesthetics, so what immediately came to my mind was CRT (cathode-ray tube) TV, which many people may remember their grandparents having. I came up with the idea of building a sculpture of a TV, with the screens of the TV being from the modern era, blending new technology with the old.”
His idea was based on the black-and-white television sets of the 1950s and 1960s, with a reimagination of the future in a rendered 3-D world composed of warm hues and neon accents.
“The title for the piece, ‘Dreams in Color,’ is me attempting to influence people’s dreams in a positive, happy, surreal, and imaginative way, based on that info,” Al-Sanie added.
Under the theme, “We Dream of New Horizons,” the Noor Riyadh festival looked to champion the innovation of light through various mediums.
Al-Sanie said his work was designed to create a balance between the digital and physical, comparing the old and new Riyadh through a retro-futurist depiction.
Midwam has also linked up with other artists on developing content and storyboarding the experience.
As part of the Saudi Art Council’s 21,39 initiative, the firm worked with Marwah Al-Mugait on creating a performance of 3-D video-projection mapping.
Al-Muawad said: “You need to keep the guidelines of that art into perspective when you’re creating that experience. They’re extremely precise and detailed about how the journey of that experience is going to be.”
For multimedia artist Daniah Al-Saleh’s Noor Riyadh work, Midwam sketched, visualized, and helped map her video pieces. It explored the resistance to public displays of love and affection in conservative societies through social commentary.
Multiple AI-generated fake figures were projected onto pillars, lip syncing to 26 famous Arab love songs in declaration of their love in a public space.
Al-Saleh told Arab News: “Midwam was responsible for the production of my work, ‘Love Stories,’ in Oud Square. They were assigned to me because my work had a little bit of mapping, and they were really hands-on. We had many meetings until they understood exactly what I wanted.”
The company also worked with artists Mohammed Al-Faraj, whose “With Light I Create a Hand of Love and Extend it to You” piece required audience participation using mobile phones, and Mohammed Al-Hamdan on presenting his “Walking Lights” interactive streetlight installation activated by pedestrian movements.
Tapping into the art scene through their work was key for the company to build on public art initiatives, impact communities, and humanize environmental issues, in an effort to place Saudi Arabia on a global platform.
“All of these are considered soft power elements. When there’s a specific perspective on a population or country that’s completely limited to a certain area, art comes in and that completely changes,” Al-Muawad added.
Al-Sanie said: “The artist brings their narrative to the art piece. Additionally, the visitor or the observer brings their own perception; it’s an invisible conversation between the creator and the viewer.”