Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene has witnessed a sea change with ongoing developments as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan. Among these efforts is generous engagement with the global and local creative community through initiatives like the latest edition of the Saudi Design Festival, which ran from 12 to 23 January 2023.
The festival introduced a new format, kicking off with an opening weekend and design forum, and sprawling across Riyadh through its three key Design Destinations—Oud Square, The Boulevard Riyadh, and Gallery Design, as well as activations held in over 40 locations around the capital.
The Saudi Design Festival also launched an online programme as part of its expansion strategy and commitment to creating an accessible platform for designers. This added educational arm allowed the event to reach a broader audience both locally and regionally, and secure a spot in the international design circuit.
At its helm is the trailblazing sister duo, Basma and Noura Bouzo, whose creative and cultural consultancy firm, &bouqu, harnesses the power of storytelling to build strategies and execute projects in the realms of art, design and innovation. They aim to foster Saudi and regional creativity, and position it on the global map.
Basma, the CEO of the Saudi Design Festival, pursued a Master of Public Health degree at the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Integrated Immunology at the University of Oxford before pivoting her career towards culture and community building. Noura, the Creative Director, is an award-winning artist and designer, who focuses on Islamic art history. “Our diverse backgrounds allow us to work well together and our varied perspectives enable us get the best of both worlds,” says Basma.
The idea behind the Saudi Design Festival has been to achieve organic and sustainable growth, with Basma and Noura placing the Kingdom’s creatives at the centre of the conversation. “When we first started, our goal was to empower the local creative community. It was crucial for us to initially build and support them, and as our efforts expanded, we felt it was time to strengthen their voices internationally,” Noura states.
“Since we launched the festival, we wanted to provide a platform to showcase designers and Saudi talent, amplify their voices, and elevate design conversations in the region,” adds Basma. “Our mission this year was to show how design connects society and develops meaningful opportunities that last even after the event.”
The citywide programme of the festival empowered local entrepreneurs, designers, and SMEs. Notable participants included the award-winning Azaz Architects, who opened their doors for a rare studio visit and in-house talk. Gallery Design hosted insightful architecture panel discussions with industry
leaders. Local haunts, such as Jareed Hotel, Sidrat Aldar, and Galerie D’Art, contributed in their own way to the festival’s message—design is everywhere.
The speaker lineup consisted of top local, regional and international changemakers, including Dr Sumayah Al- Solaiman, CEO of the Architecture and Design Commission, Ministry of Culture; Her Royal Highness Princess Nourah Al-Faisal, CEO and founder of Adhlal; David Henry, CEO of the Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City; Norah Alyusuf, Chief Business Planning Officer of the Vision 2030 Quality of Life Programme; and creative consultant and fashion influencer Nojoud Alrumaihi.
Dubai-based design advisor and consultant, Cyril Zammit, who was a speaker, moderator and mentor at the festival, notes, “The initiatives Basma and Noura have launched in Saudi Arabia have had a great impact. With an explosion of projects entitling young creatives to take a major part in the country’s development, the Bouzo sisters’ role has been pivotal—not only by amplifying their voices but also by allowing them to become direct actors in these unprecedented times.”
Basma and Noura’s first endeavour to support Saudi design and practitioners dates back to 2007 when they launched Oasis, a bilingual arts and culture magazine. The publication charted the Kingdom’s rich art history, surveying areas such as craftsmanship, typography and calligraphy. “Our next goal was to build platforms that weren’t prevalent in the country at the time, which is why we began curating pop-ups and exhibitions,” Basma explains.
They then established Saudi Design Week in 2014, which helped amplify the role of designers in the creative economy. Over the years, they’ve continued to champion Saudi design and curate exhibitions, projects and events in cities like London, Milan, New York, Istanbul, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Their firm, &bouqu, has enabled Saudi designers to showcase their works at renowned international events, such as Milan’s Salone del Mobile, London Design Biennale, and Design Days Dubai.
With Basma and Noura at the forefront of the local cultural scene, future iterations of the Saudi Design Festival promise to continue propelling the country’s creative talent in the right direction. Basma holds, “We’d love for the event to go beyond the city of Riyadh to be a true national celebration of design in all its forms.”
This article was originally published in Villa 88’s Spring 2023 edition. Subscribe here.