Local talent appreciating modernity and tradition. Read more…

The Facebook event led me to expect an art exhibition, so I was a little confused when I arrived the venue and the man at the door gave me directions to the “bazaar”.  As it turned out, the event at Riyadh’s Mercure Hotel this September 3-5 was equally a marketplace and a showcase of creative talent – and something more besides.

“Being here is work, but it feels like going out!” Wadha of Boho Mode told me.  Decked out in colourful elegance, as she and many of the others were, the business owners seemed as eager to socialise as to sell their products.  This was in line with the intentions of the organisers, Noor and Danah of Maiz Exhibitions. They wanted to give a boost to other young businesses run by local women – and what better way to do it than by bringing them together under one roof, in an attractive setting where everyone could enjoy themselves on many levels?

What they created was not the experience of going to a shopping mall or even a souq.  You were free to shop, to wander the stalls just looking and talking to people, or you could relax with coffee and sweets in the lounge area.  Not only that, but the exhibition created a safe space where women could let their hair down (literally) and just be themselves – a space that offered a sense of privacy but liveliness.  It had the atmosphere of a party for women who appreciate creative and beautiful things.

As you left off your 'abaya (if desired) at the entrance, you were greeted by the aroma of bokhoor mingled with Arabic coffee. This was just the beginning of a sensory feast.  There was certainly plenty to taste, from tried-and-true traditional sweets to novel flavour combinations (like za’tar-filled chocolate, which was actually quite delicious). But above all, there was much to see – such a profusion of colours and textures, both in the crowd and the displays.  Fashion designers seemed to dominate the scene, but plenty of creative genres were represented: painters, photographers, cartoonists, culinary artists, jewellery-makers, and other craftspeople besides.

A few things in particular caught my eye: the delicate brushwork of ceramics-painter Abeer Al-Shuaibi, and the sassy fusion of traditional elements into modern clothing styles by designer Shada Al Dahash. One stall had purses made from unusual materials woven together, like candy-wrappers and magazine pages. Across several stalls I saw some especially unique ‘abayat – some with embossed silver jewellery sewn in, or made up of creative cuts of fabric.

Not all of the items for sale were made by their sellers, but there was still a certain artistry in the displays, or even in just the choices of items that had been brought together. For instance, the women of Boho Mode make frequent trips to the bazaars of Istanbul and Cairo to bring back treasures; the centrepiece of their display were necklaces of semiprecious stones in beautiful but very unusual settings of brass and silk. What jumped out at me was the realisation that nothing at any of the stalls could easily be found elsewhere – surely not elsewhere in Riyadh.

The overall message I took away from the exhibition is this: There is plenty of creative talent here among the women of Riyadh, as well as an appreciation for both modernity and tradition. As the old-style souqs become increasingly scarce, replaced by large shopping malls whose stores promote mostly imported goods, these women have taken a stand to show that local flair still exists. And by banding together, they are choosing to make it thrive – and creating a good time for both businesswomen and their customers along the way. Now that is a beautiful bargain!

– Raya Wolfsun

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like