This week, another Saudi Arabian woman achieved a commendable milestone, this time in the field of arts and culture. Danieh Alsaleh, a Saudi artist based in London, was awarded the Ithra Art Prize. Now in its second edition, the prize was launched in 2017 by Ithra, also known as the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, in partnership with Art Dubai, with the aim of offering support to emerging Saudi contemporary artists.
In an official press release, Ithra and Art Dubai stated that this year’s edition of the prize received twice as many applications from Saudi artists and collectives as its inaugural edition. Alsaleh’s proposal was selected by a committee consisting of Ithra’s curatorial team, along with international art experts Mona Khazindar and Anna Seaman.
Born and raised in Riyadh, Alsaleh, 49, is currently completing a Masters in Fine Art in Computational Art at Goldsmiths University of London. Described by the selection committee as “powerful and thoroughly captivating”, Alsaleh’s proposal explores the structure and complexities of language, deconstructing it to its smaller unit of sound, the phoneme, and lends the large-scale multimedia artwork its name: Sawtam, the Arabic translation of “phoneme.”
According to the organization’s website, all Saudi and Saudi-based artists were invited to take part in the 2019 edition of the Ithra Art Prize. Being this year’s winner, Alsaleh was given financial support, around $100,000, to realize her proposed work, which will be unveiled at Art Dubai 2019 taking place from March 20 to March 23 at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. In addition, the final work will go on to become a part of Ithra’s growing art collection. Last year’s winner was Sharjah-based conceptual artist Ayman Zedani whose commission, Meem, was exhibited at Art Dubai in 2018.
Nominated by TIME Magazine in 2018 as one of the world’s 100 best places to visit, Ithra was under construction for 10 years and finally opened its doors to the general public in 2018. It comprises 100,000 square meters of cultural facilities, including: a 200,000-book library; a 930-seat auditorium; a smaller auditorium for a cinema; the Idea Lab offering design exhibitions and workshops; Knowledge Tower, a multi-room venue; a museum; and archives.