After Rain. Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale 2024
February 20–May 24, 2024

The second iteration of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, titled After Rain, opened on February 20th and has welcomed more than 100,000 visitors in just the first three weeks of the show. Led by artistic director Ute Meta Bauer, the founding director of MIT’s Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) program and former Associate Professor at MIT, the exhibition showcases 177 artworks examining humanity’s relationship with the natural world, highlighting knowledge embedded in material, and paying attention to basic human needs such as food, water and shelter. The multisensory exhibition invites immersive journeying and cross-cultural listening, foregrounding touch, taste, and smell alongside sight and sound. It addresses themes such as the human-nature bond, built environments and landscapes of climate crisis, contested histories, and displacement.

After Rain was developed with a team of co-curators including Wejdan Reda, Rose Lejeune, Anca Rujoiu, Ana Salazar, and adjunct curator Rahul Gudipudi, featuring over 100 artists and 47 new commissions. The exhibition explores the role of a contemporary art biennial in a country undergoing rapid social change. Many works are rooted in research trips across the region, resulting in a multigenerational artistic conversation. ACT artists are prominently featured at the biennale, including ACT Director Azra Aksamija, Professor Emerita Joan Jonas, alumna Alia Farid (SMVisS ’08), former visiting Associate Professor Regina Maria Moeller, and CAVS Fellow Marjetica Potrč.

Integral to this year’s Biennale is a commissioned installation by current ACT Director Azra Aksamija titled Abundance and Scarcity. Produced with her interdisciplinary team at the Future Heritage Lab, including MIT graduate students Merve Akdoğan (SMArchS ’24), Yi-Ern Samuel Tan (SMArchS ’24), and Nadine Zaza (IDM ’24), as well as artist Lillian Kology, the project epitomizes an artistic and environmentally conscious approach to historic preservation. It comprises an outdoor shading canopy crafted from recycled textiles and a wearable Bishty cloak that reinterprets traditional nomadic garments.


Aksamija’s canopy, situated in an outdoor Biennale area, incorporates recycled felt from the previous Islamic Arts Biennale, thus symbolically recycling the cultural institution to form a social shelter. Based on the dimensions of the Saudi Arabian Bisht, a traditional cloak made from goat wool and camel hair, this modular textile system forms a shading structure that is both functional and visually captivating. The canopy’s design, featuring laser-cut patterns, plays with light and shadow to create a dynamic visual effect reminiscent of the regional Sadu weaving, enhanced by the gentle sway of the textiles in the desert wind. The canopy nods to nomadic shelter ingenuity while incorporating native desert plant sachets, adding scent to the sensory experience.

The second component, Bishty, extends the project’s reuse of textiles into wearables. Drawing from the same modular principle as the canopy, Bishty is a cocoon-like cloak that translates the traditional Bisht into a captivating unisex wearable lined with refugee blankets. Both the canopy and “Bishty” highlight the theme of “Abundance & Scarcity” through the selection of materials and the integration of environmental and social considerations. The use of recycled felt and refugee blankets underscores a commitment to environmental sustainability, reflecting on the broader implications of resource utilization and cultural resilience. Following the Biennale, the project aims to continue its social mission by donating surplus materials to refugee camps and selling wearable items to fund further implementation efforts within these communities.

For more about the Biennale:
Art Basel