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An exhibition of contemporary Saudi artists addressing questions of individual, national and cultural identity within tense global contexts. This collaboration between UNESCO and Misk Art Institute presented the work of a new wave of artists, exploring how individual geographies are shaped by globally shared concerns of intolerance and cultural erosion.

Opening new perspectives on an often-misunderstood kingdom, Incense Route considered heritage within rapidly shifting social conditions. The artists featured represent a generation who are finding new cultural positions between tradition and the influence of globalization, commercialization and technological freedom. The relatively open horizons enjoyed by these artists contrast sharply with that of previous generations. This shift allows for new imaginative potential, yet comes with the threat of cultural homogenization.

The exhibition also considered forums for cultural exchange in the 21st century – just as the sprawling incense routes that crisscrossed ancient Arabia facilitated a fascinating trade of traditions, cultural exchange now takes place elsewhere, in digital spaces or through international platforms. Yet, despite the openness of these cultural spaces, the expansive geographic possibilities represented by historical incense routes are becoming barred as misunderstanding and prejudice closes borders.

“It’s not why we decided to come to Paris, it’s also why we decided to go out, into the world, beyond geographical borders. The idea is to create a new sense of collaboration and cultural sharing. It is about art that can travel, can share, can collaborate.

Art will not be isolated from society – art is a basic human need. Art in society can make change and the power of imagination is change.”

-CEO Misk Art Institute


9 October 2017


UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France

Featured artists

  • Abdullah Al Othman
  • Fahad AlGethami
  • Maisa Shaldan
  • Marwah AlMugait
  • Musaed AlHulis
  • Nasser AlSalem
  • Nojoud AlSudairi
  • Nora AlIssa
  • Rashid AlShashai
  • Talal AlZaid
  • Tarfa Fahad



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