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Saudi artists on show at German art festival for first time

Picture an idyllic landscape in the Uckermark region, a pristine Brandenburg lake district an hour north of the bustling metropolis of Berlin. 

Adjacent to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, created to protect an area rich in natural beauty, a group of like-minded artists, art enthusiasts and nature lovers have banded together to foster an exchange between town and country, art and nature.

Nonprofit association Friends of the Uckermark created the biennial UM Festival, which is held on the first weekend in September to showcase contemporary art, literature and music in several villages and natural sites.

Initially, the participants came from Berlin and Brandenburg but this year the sixth edition of the festival attracted an international crowd. Along with creators from Germany, Switzerland and Japan, Jeddah artists Lina Gazzaz and Bricklab were among the 22 selected contributors. Following on from the first German participation at Jeddah’s 21,39 art festival this year, this Saudi presence at UM18 is another milestone in the cultural exchange between the two countries.

Bricklab, brothers Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz, contributed an installation titled “Temporal Growth,” which recalls the artist/architect duo’s acclaimed work at this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. For the Kingdom’s first participation at the renowned architecture show, Bricklab designed and created the Saudi pavilion, which highlighted the rapid urban development the country has experienced over the past half-century.

Their Uckermark work — a three-sided structure made of cornstalks — invites the spectator to enter, sit and ponder the effects of modern agricultural practices on society in the region; development has many sides to it and needs careful curating.

Lina Gazzaz impressed viewers — adults and children alike — with a presentation based around her grand installation “Throne” on the borders of the serene lake Oberuckersee. Draped inside, leading up to a magnificent old tree, Gazzaz chose a long, red carpet to adorn a dramatic setting that could have been taken from a fairy tale. The tree not only remained alive after being split open by a lightning strike years ago, but it was transformed into what appears to be a natural throne.

Alluding to iconic red drapery featured in medieval art by using it to adorn this site of natural beauty, which has its own dramatic story to tell, the artist brilliantly fulfilled this festival’s Land Art objective in a most aesthetic way.