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In a quiet Venice backwater, away from the frantic energy of the Biennale, Misk Art Institute welcomed old friends and new acquaintances to a special Iftar. Built in the 15th century by Nicolò Soranzo as a home, the private palazzo is a little-known Venetian sanctuary, occasionally opened for notable gatherings and exhibitions. An intimate gathering of guests from across Saudi Arabia, the Arab region, and the world congregated in the courtyard before climbing the grand, open gothic staircase to enjoy a relaxed dinner together. Coming before the main pavilion openings, the evening provided space to reflect on and celebrate Saudi's first participation at the International Architecture Exhibition and to exchange ideas and excitement about the forthcoming Biennale. A moment for friends and collaborators to meet, to catch up and make new connections, the dinner was made all the more special by the biennale's uniquely international spirit – with artists, curators, cultural producers and media from all over the world discussing current projects and ambitions for the future. 

Amid friends old and new, the team were delighted to be joined by special guests from both the worlds of architecture and art, including H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister for Culture and Knowledge Development, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of the Sharjah Art Foundation as well as curators and architects from across the other international pavilions. 

Taking a moment to thank all who had been involved in the first pavilion, Ahmed Mater also reflected on the conversations and exchange that he hoped for, remarking: 

As commissioners, Misk Art Institute were met with a big challenge and a huge opportunity. The overarching theme of ‘Freespace’ was a gift. The pavilion comes at a momentous time – not only is the first participation historic, it also comes during great change. The world’s attention is fixated on our country – Saudi Arabia is being reimagined, its urban and social landscape redrawn. This year’s theme presents a framework within which these re-imaginings could take place, a theme that invites new ideas and new encounters. Misk Art Institute exists to make space for creative exchange – eventually, it will take the form of physical spaces in Riyadh and Abha, but, for now, it is an idea, an experimentation and an ambition to imagine what a space for art, culture, and creativity can be in the 21st century – a space where grassroots energy meets top-down support, where artists can lead innovation and can be supported to make change. I am excited to see what this pavilion will add to that conversation, becoming a forum for imagining on a civic, social and international scale, inviting encounters and explorations of our cityscapes and our social spaces – you’re all invited to be part of this conversation. 

The Iftar dinner was part of a series of events in Venice, marking Misk Art Institute's first commissioning of The National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia and the kingdom's inaugural participation in the international architecture exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia

  • The exhibition: Spaces in Between
  • Guests were also given the first copies of the Spaces in Between publication

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