The first edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale, themed ‘Awwal Bait’, held at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah from January 23 to April 23, 2023, features over 60 established and emerging artists from around the globe, including over 60 new commissions, 280 artefacts, and over 15 never-before-exhibited works of art. The event also features a unique multi-sensorial experience, under the artistic direction of Sumayya Vally.


Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1981 and recipient of the 1983 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the prestigious Hajj Terminal is now home to the world’s first Islamic Arts Biennale.
The architectural concept is inspired by the existing tent canopy structures and the traditional courtyard houses of the past.

Paper licenses – a collection of historical paper licenses that were issued to individuals who applied to be water carriers around the Haram Mosque.


Awwal Bait 

The theme of ‘Awwal Bait’ refers to the Holy Ka’bah in Makkah, the most sacred site in Islam and the direction all Muslims face in their daily prayers. The theme aims to explore how the Ka’aba and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah inspire Muslims worldwide on both cultural and metaphysical levels to create a sense of belonging in their own homes, their own “bait,” wherever that may be.

The theme of Awwal Bait looks to how the source has traveled, reflecting on the migration of the first Muslims from the Awwal Bait to the city of Madinah and how rituals are carried in the construction of home and belonging. The Biennale draws on these themes, presenting experiences that surround these expressions and forms of belonging, reflecting on the role of rituals in creating connections and constructing belonging.

The biennale has 4 different zones. However, the experience encompases two complementary sections, with galleries and outdoor installations creating a dialogue between sacred sites and rituals. The principal theme of the indoor galleries is that of Qiblah, or Sacred Direction, with Makkah as the focus. The installations reflect on multiple senses of Hijrah, or Migration, from the initiation of the Muslim era to reflections on contemporary displacement and how, despite the loss of a physical home, Muslims retain their spiritual home in the Awwal Bait.



The first part of the Biennale, Qiblah, includes a linear sequence of four galleries that explore key rituals in the Islamic faith, and the meaning of being a Muslim today. It integrates historical artefacts with contemporary artistic expressions, features large-scale installations and uses digital elements and modulated lighting to heighten the visitors’ sensorial experience.

“Qiblah” is a term in Islam that refers to the direction of the Ka’aba in Makkah, which is the holiest site in Islam. Muslims face towards the Qiblah during their daily prayers, no matter where they are in the world. The Qiblah is a unifying element for Muslims, symbolising their shared faith and common direction of worship. It is believed to have been established by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during his lifetime as a way to unify the Muslim community in their worship. The Qiblah direction can be determined using a compass or by following the direction of the sun.

The indoor galleries of the Biennale present a juxtaposition of historical artifacts and modern art installations, aiming to explore the practices and traditions of Muslim life. These exhibits follow a journey tracing the invisible line of the Qiblah, from the initial call to prayer to reaching the Ka’aba, which is the most sacred site in Islam: Adhan: The Call, Wudu: Purificaton, Salah: Prayer, Salat al-jama‘ah: Congregational Prayer, Ajal: The Allotted Span, Shawahid: Witnesses, Bait: House of God.



The Adhan is the call to prayer in Islam. It is a musical and soulful experience that echoes through the hearts of millions of Muslims worldwide. Like the melodies of nature that surround us, it connects the faithful to a higher power, drawing them closer to the divine.



In Islam, “Hudu” or “Wudu” refers to the ritual washing of specific body parts before prayer. It is a purification process that symbolises spiritual cleansing and readiness for worship.

M’Barek Bouhchichi, Kolona min Torab (2023) Fired clay, 1288 units, each 35.5 x 21.5 x 3.5 cm Commissioned by Diriyah Biennale Foundation, Gallery 2a
The Gravel Mosque by Beya Othmani , Ziad Jamaleddine and Iheb Guermazi. Image Courtesy of Diriyah Biennale Foundation


Salat al-jama‘ah

Salat is an Islamic prayer ritual, and within the space, there is a gallery showcasing oil paintings depicting the human body in various postures of prayer. The gallery offers an immersive atmosphere, allowing visitors to embark on a visual journey that emphasises the different qualities of light at the five daily prayer times. This exhibit invites visitors to reflect upon illumination, movement, and spiritual devotion. Moving forward, the experience of individual prayer is enhanced as visitors advance to the next gallery to join the congregational prayer.

Salat al-Jumu’ah, also known as Friday Prayer, is a congregational prayer that Muslims perform on Fridays, typically during the noon hour.

Igshaan Adams, Salat al-jama‘ah (2023) Cotton thread, dye, wire, beads (glass, wood, stone, plastic), semi-precious stones, 3.3 x 9.84 m (wall) Courtesy of the artist and blank projects, Cape Town, Gallery 3a



After a person dies, their soul moves on to the afterlife, while the body is washed and wrapped in a simple shroud. Mourners come to visit and pay their respects to the deceased, and funeral prayers are offered. The body is buried in the ground, facing the direction of the qiblah, the sacred direction of the Ka’bah in Makkah.

Haroon Gunn-Salie, Amongst Men (2014/23)
I,000 Material One sculptures, dimensions variable, audio, 12′, Gallery 3b



he Ka’bah, located in Makkah, holds a central place of spiritual and physical significance for Muslims worldwide. Known as the Awwal Bait, which means the First House of Allah, it is considered the most sacred place on earth and serves as the focal point for daily prayers and pilgrimage. Muslims from all over the world journey to this site to seek blessings and offer their devotion.

Ka’ba Door Curtain. Courtesy of Diriyah Biennale Foundation



Hijrah is an Arabic word that means migration. In Islamic history, it refers specifically to the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 CE. This event marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar and is considered one of the most significant events in Islamic history.

Hijrah, the second part of the Biennale, is spread across a wider open space under the award-winning canopy of the Hajj Terminal. Literally translating to ‘migration’, a key moment in Islam, Hijirah reflects on how rituals help build a sense of universal belonging for Muslims around the world, and the creation and evolution of a shared culture. The migration of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Makkah to Medinah, where they sought refuge from persecution, is considered the start of the Islamic lunar calendar and is known as Hijrah. When we contemplate the journey of the first Muslims from their initial home to the city of Medinah, we reflect on the role of rituals in building a sense of belonging and home. In many modern migration situations, which are often associated with dislocation and hardship, rituals can serve as a means of establishing connections between the past and present, and between one place and another.


Holy Land, Sultan bin Fahad 

Sultan bin Fahad was born in 1971 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and is currently based between there and New York. His art practice focuses on mediating between intangible memories and tangible cultures. In abstract paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations he reinterprets historical narratives through found objects and memorabilia, transposing these stories to the contemporary scene.

Sultan bin Fahad’s artwork in Holy Land is a celebration of the cultural and religious significance of the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah. Through his use of found objects and memorabilia, he invites viewers to reflect on the history and economy of the pilgrimage, as well as its enduring spiritual significance for Muslims worldwide.

The use of mirror tiles and lights in the installation creates an immersive and otherworldly environment that invites visitors to lose themselves in the garden of love and joy that Bin Fahad has created. By experiencing these objects in this new way, viewers are invited to see them as precious and significant artifacts of a unique cultural tradition.

Overall, Holy Land is a powerful tribute to the enduring significance of the Hajj in Islamic culture, and to the power of art to transform ordinary objects into something extraordinary and meaningful. It is a testament to the enduring appeal of the pilgrimage and the deep connection that Muslims around the world feel to the city of Makkah.



Artist List 

Igshaan Adams (South Africa)

Leen Ajlan (Saudi Arabia)

Reem Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia)

Adel Al Quraishi (Saudi Arabia)

Nasser Al Salem (Saudi Arabia)

Noura Al Sayeh-Holtrop (Palestine)

Sarah Alabdali (Saudi Arabia)

Rund Alarabi (Sudan)

Nora Alissa (Saudi Arabia)

Moath Alofi (Saudi Arabia)

Farah Behbahani (Kuwait)

Sultan Bin Fahad (Saudi Arabia)

M’barek Bouhchichi (Morocco)

Sarah Brahim (Saudi Arabia)

Bricklab (Saudi Arabia)

Lubna Chowdhary (Tanzania/United Kingdom)

Civil Architecture (Bahrain – Kuwait)

DAL – Digital Arts Lab (Saudi Arabia)

Abdelrahman Elshahed (Egypt)

Alia Farid (Kuwait/Puerto Rico)

Basmah Felemban (Saudi Arabia)

Iheb Guermazi (Tunisia)

Haroon Gunn-Salie (South Africa)

Ziad Jamaleddine / L.E FT Architects (Lebanon)

Idris Khan (United Kingdom)

Yasmeen Lari (Pakistan)

Huda Lutfi (Egypt)

Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia)

Haroon Mirza (United Kingdom)

Joseph Namy (United States/Lebanon)

Moataz Nasr (Egypt)

Beya Othmani (Tunisia)

Yazid Oulab (Algeria)

Shahpour Pouyan (Iran)

Kamruzamman Shadin (Bangladesh)

Wael Shawky (Egypt)

Muhannad Shono (Saudi Arabia)

Dima Srouji (Palestine)

Studio Bound (Saudi Arabia)

SYN Architects (Saudi Arabia)

James Webb (South Africa)

Ayman Yossri Daydban (Saudi Arabia)

Ayman Zedani (Saudi Arabia)

Fatiha Zemmouri (Morocco)

Soukaina Aboulaoula (Morocco)



Location: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Duration: 9th February – 23rd April 2023



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