Epicenter X: Challenging Societal Perceptions with U.S. Display of Saudi Art

A Michigan museum is offering the city of Dearborn a fresh look into the Kingdom’s culture.

From July through Oct. 2017, Michigan’s Arab American National Museum will host Epicenter X, a new art exhibit showcasing Saudi art through a variety of mediums by both established and emerging artists.

The exhibition is the first of its kind to appear in the Midwest and intends to initiate meaningful dialogue between Saudi artists and U.S. audiences. Both Dearborn, Mich., and Saudi Arabia serve as cultural epicenters for Arab communities. Saudi Arabia remains home to the holiest sites of Islam, while Dearborn currently has the largest concentration of Arab American diaspora in the U.S, a religiously diverse Arab population, hailing from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen.

The exhibit will feature 17 artists representing artwork in a wide array of media — paintings, drawings, collages, calligraphy, photography, videos and filmstrips.

Opening a Window into Saudi Society

“Most Americans really know nothing about the people of Saudi Arabia or what goes in day-to-day life,” says Devon Akmon, director of the museum.  “For us, this show wasn’t so much about changing perceptions of Saudi Arabia, but about opening a window… on the diversity of ideas and philosophies within that society,” he said.

Epicenter X marks the sixth stop on a multi-city tour of the U.S., and is supported by The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. Following Dearborn, the tour will continue to Salt Lake City, Memphis, Washington, D.C. and New York, as part of its objective to generate people-to-people dialogue and better understanding between nations.

It is by no means the only cultural partnership in the works between the Kingdom and U.S. museums. In April 2017, Art Jameel, a Saudi-based non-profit that works across the GCC and Middle East to share modern and contemporary works with the world, announced a new partnership with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Saudi Arabia’s Artistic Diversity

Epicenter X sheds light on the vast diversity of contemporary artistic practice in Saudi Arabia and, in addition to the 17 artists in residence, features 20 female artisans who painted three large murals in the age-old style that adorns traditional Saudi homes.

As the Kingdom strives to achieve its ambitious national development goals, such initiatives reflect important steps in bridging connecting cultures while cultivating a creative and innovative community in Saudi Arabia

Ayman Yossri Daydban, a Jordanian national born in the Palestinian territories and a prominent figure on the Saudi art scene, has three pieces in Epicenter X. Daydban is currently finishing three and a half months as the museum’s artist-in-residence. He noted that among his many residencies, this one felt different.

“This is the first time when I feel like I becoming younger, and I find it very refreshing. This residency makes me feel brave to ask questions,” he said.

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