On this episode of the Gallery Girl Podcast, I’m joined by Wejdan Reda, a Saudi contemporary art curator and the founder of Sahaba; a consultancy agency and research hub in Jeddah dedicated to serve the art community through providing specialised services to artists, galleries and institutions.
Wejdan didn’t know she wanted to study art initially, and began her university studies in architecture. “In Saudi growing up I wasn’t exposed to any formal art education within the schooling system, I also wasn’t aware of formal art degrees in universities”, says Wejdan. She spent her first semester studying architecture at AUS in Sharjah, but realised that despite her interest in spaces, architecture was not the major for her. She moved to the UK to study for a foundation diploma in Art and Design, eventually going to the University of Westminster and studying contemporary media practices, where she discovered her love for curation. Following this, she returned to Saudi where she worked at Athr Gallery in Jeddah. “Athr was my first home”, says Wejdan, “It’s where I learnt about the Saudi art scene, about curation and the needs of the art community.” so she returned to London to complete her masters degree at the Royal College of Art where the idea for Sahaba was born. “I realised the needs of what the art community could be”, she explains.
Following her time in London, Wejdan returned to Jeddah, and she said she went at the perfect time. “I came back to see all the great changes that were happening”, she explains, “Women driving, the massive interest in art and culture…I’m happy I came back at the time that I did.” She describes the art scene as new and exciting, especially for emerging artists and the art community, citing Athr and Hafez galleries as two of the best galleries in the Saudi Arabia. She also mentions Filwa Nazer, Mohammed Al Faraj, Daniah Al Saleh, Sarah Brahim, Ayman Zedani and Muhannad Shono as the Saudi artists to watch.
But what about Sahaba? It’s a consultancy and research hub, providing curatorial services to galleries, institutions, initiatives and governmental agencies. In terms of consultancy, Sahaba mainly works with emerging artists, supporting their individual journeys. There is also an additional part to Sahaba, a public programme that Wejdan views as community outreach. “Our aim is to take participants through a journey of learning and discovery”, says Wejdan, “We try to encourage cultural dialogue and exchange through our space.” Sahaba arranges workshops, talks, critical reflection sessions, book club meetings and more.
Of her favourite projects, Wejdan cites an exhibition called Intimate Dimensions with Hafez Gallery exploring the notion of constructed spaces and how we engage with these environments. Sahaba’s next project was called Spatial Exploration, an Instagram open-call that opened during the months of the Saudi lockdown. “Automatically everyone went online”, says Wejdan, “We diverted our attention. We wanted to focus on the spaces that we live in. we used it to dig deeper into what is familiar.” In addition, Sahaba created an “Alternative Collection”, an online catalogue of recommendations from people in the art community to select possible readings and online content to ensure that the conversation around art continued.
And what about the future? “We’re hoping by mid-next year things will get more back to normal”, says Wejdan, “We’re excited to be meeting with people one-to-one, hosting gatherings and visiting exhibitions. But for now we’re doing that as cautiously as possible.”