The open call for one of the Arab world’s most significant art awards – the sixth edition of the Ithra Art Prize, which wins one artist $100,000 plus a build budget – has a deadline of 30 September.
The Ithra Art Prize is an annual art initiative launched in 2017 by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) to “enable talent and provide a high-level platform for contemporary artists” and in support of the Center’s efforts to foster cross-cultural engagement. It is intended to help artists develop career-making work; originally limited to Saudi applicants only, the current edition is open to established contemporary artists from or residing in the Arab world (specifically, 22 named countries – applicants need to demonstrate a connection of at least 10 years with one or more of them). Individuals or collectives may apply.
The prize is one element in a partnership between the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) that aims to boost the creative economy generally across Saudi’s western and eastern regions. AlUla is being developed as a year-round arts and culture hub with a full programme of events and exhibits as well as February’s Arts Festival; Ithra has specialised culture-sector expertise in curating, training and other activities that can usefully be taken beyond its campus.
The open call invites proposals for a site-specific work that reflect the Arab world’s cultural and natural heritage; the overall theme is Art in the Landscape, which presumably references AlUla’s situation – the vertical sandstone cliffs surrounding the city, the abundance of petroglyphs in the region, the storied history of its past as a key stop on the Incense Road that link the south of Arabia (and trade routes around the Gulf and to India) with the Levant, Byzantium, and Europe. That should provide some rich inspiration.
There are no restrictions on medium or content, though there are a few practicalities to observe. The proposed work must be new and original, created exclusively for Ithra (so it can’t have been exhibited elsewhere, and it can’t be part of an ongoing series); it should demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and to localism in its design, development and fabrication; and since it’s intended for outdoor exhibition in Arabia, it must be able to withstand the kind of climatic and environmental issues that it will inevitably encounter. After exhibition in AlUla, it will be transported to a long-term site elsewhere; so it must be capable of being dismantled, transported and reassembled easily.
Otherwise there are some height and weight limitations; initially it will live on a 25×30m plot in AlUla, it cannot be more than five metres high (plus a dig allowance of 50 cm), and it should not exceed 500 kg per square metre.
That allows for a lot of flexibility, and there’s a generous build budget. Ithra will cover costs for production, shipping, installation, project management and insurance up to $400,000.
The winner will be announced on 19 October 2023. Thereafter the winning artwork should be delivered to AlUla early in January and it will be unveiled at the AlUla Arts Festival (16 to 28 February 2024). After six weeks it will join Ithra’s permanent collection; it may also be considered for exhibitions elsewhere.
Ithra and RCU are already collaborating on the latest edition of the AlUla Design Award, the winners of which are being announced on 7 September. Ithra’s Creative Director Robert Frith is on the jury panel for this award, which honours exceptional design inspired by the heritage, landscapes and artistic legacies of AlUla.
Meanwhile the work that won this year’s fifth edition of the Ithra Art Prize will also be unveiled early in September – the prize was awarded to the Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin (right) for a wall-sized installation titled ON which will explores the relationship between history, memory, and identity. In studying the Zanj rebellion, a major revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate in what is now Iraq at the end of the 9th century CE, he found the history to be shrouded in ambiguity, allowing for a range of interpretations and augmentations. His installation will highlight the fragility of factual records and the organic nature of memory, “offering a glimpse into what remains of this ancient event in a unique and compelling way”.