COVID-19: Saudi artist Alaa Tarabzouni selected for UK-GCC digital residency

Abu Dhabi: Saudi artist Alaa Tarabzouni has been selected to take part in a prestigious international digital arts residency this month, Saudi media reported.

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Tarabzouni, 30, will participate in Making Marks: Connect ME Digital Residency – a joint initiative by the British Council and the Arab British Centre that aims at connecting the Gulf and the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The programme pairs artists based in the UK with artists in the GCC countries to create collaborative work that considers how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders.

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Throughout August, Tarabzouni will be paired with Northern Ireland artist Ellie Niblock, 18, and together they will virtually develop new connections.

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They will take part in online workshops and critique sessions and will have access to visiting artists and mentors over the four weeks.

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Tarabzouni, who is based in Riyadh, specialises in urbanity and the built environment, with her work influenced by her academic background and training in architecture.

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Extremely thoughtful

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“Being a part of the Making Marks digital residency is so exciting. The residency comes at a time when it isn’t purely reactive to the physical limitations brought about by the pandemic. Rather, the format for the residency is extremely thoughtful and fits so well with the conscious use of technology to transcend borders and allow for cultural exchange,” she said.

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Tarabzouni added, “My practice is not digitally driven, but is very much in relation to context and places/place making.”

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Talking about her artistic roots, Tarabzouni said that she has always been interested in arts and culture. “I got the chance to explore in multiple disciplines, especially while I was pursuing my master’s degree at Pratt Institute in New York, which is an amazing liberal arts school with great facilities for experimentation.”

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Tarabzouni said that she often thinks of context in its literal and abstract meanings as the main thread in the body of work.

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The artist said that she was delighted to be selected and even more excited to work with Ellie Niblock.

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“I’m thrilled at the opportunity to challenge myself and also to be paired with a UK-based artist. It allows for us both to expand our horizons and to explore different mediums in our collaboration.

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“I think that the format of the residency is extremely compelling and the size is appropriate because it is a pilot residency program,” she said.

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The distance between the two countries is reduced by different means as the pair will meet with a mentor every week and use many online tools to keep in touch, such as video calls, text messages, and Instagram.

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Advice to aspiring artists

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“We also have used physical models to stay connected. I recently sent Ellie a package that contains found objects from Saudi Arabia that will be incorporated into the piece of work we are developing together,” said Tarabzouni.

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Her advice to young, aspiring artists is “be daring and experiment with different things, but truly the most important thing is to be collaborative and humble.

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Eilidh Kennedy McLean, director at the British Council in Saudi Arabia, said: “It is really valuable to have Saudi artists engage with those in the UK and have the opportunity to work together on innovative projects. I am hopeful that this initiative will further strengthen ties between the countries of the Gulf and the UK, and I look forward to seeing the end result.”

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Tarabzouni is one of two artists to be selected from the Gulf for this first Connect Me Residency call. She is joined by Omani artist, Rawan AlMahrouqi, who is paired up with Liverpudlian artist Alexis Maxwell. There will be another call for artists in the Gulf later in the year.

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Trained as an architect, Tarabzouni has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture from Newcastle University in England.

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Her most recent work, Bait Al Wurud, was showcased at Durational Portrait at Athr Gallery in Jeddah and The Quest for Our Next Concern in Riyadh. It was a meditation on longing manifested in the recontextualisation of architectural elements to the gallery space.

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In 2019, alongside Afia Bin Taleb, she co-curated the group show POACHED, a progressive exhibition of emerging artists alongside established practitioners, many of whom were presented for the first time in the Saudi capital.

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