For its debut participation at La Biennale di Venezia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the artists Raja and Shadia Alem. Raja Alem is a writer, Shadia Alem is a visual artist. For the exhibition, titled The Black Arch and curated by Mona Khazindar and Robin Start, the sisters worked closely together. The result is an installation that visually plays very much with darkness and light. It is about two visions of the world and about two cities, Mecca and Venice.
As the press release states: “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 fueled by the inspirational tales told by their aunts and grandmothers, and are anchored in Mecca, where the sisters grew up in the 1970s. The experience with the physical presence of Black is striking for the artists asRaja 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 supposedly 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.”
Raja and Shadia Alem: The Black Arch / Pavilion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Venice Biennale 2011. Preview, June 1, 2011.
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