Visit to Arbab Al Heraf

Every expat I have ever met in Jeddah, artist or no, has always been absolutely certain of one fact: there is no room for the expat artist to grow in Jeddah’s local art scene. Yes, you can get a teaching job, yes, you can even visit art galleries superficially, but to be part of it all? Nope. Not happening.

And for the longest time I believed them.

After all, it IS daunting to step out of your comfort zone, to put yourself out there without even knowing the language, and try to find a space for yourself. But after the first Skype discussion, when Jonathan mentioned that he would be uploading details of all the events happening in London and that we should all try to do the same for wherever we lived, I got inspired to try harder. After all, it is neither fair nor smart to just take people’s word for something without doing any research whatsoever!

Going alone was too intimidating, so I reached out to a local expat community who call themselves ‘Arabian Jewel’ and decided to organize tours of a few interesting looking, art-based cafes and art galleries in my vicinity. This Thursday, we took a deep breath, made a public Facebook event and set off.

We chose a cafe for the very first visit since it would be easier to break the ice with strangers over a cup of coffee. We didn’t even know what we were expecting! But let’s just say Arbab Al Heraf turned out to be MORE than what we were hoping.

Nestled amidst giant stores, Arbab Al Heraf could easily have been overlooked. It was like the entrance to Diagon Alley, only those who were looking for it could find it. But once you did, it was like an other world. Art was, for lack of a better word, strewn all over the place: it was hanging off the walls, piled up in corners, displayed on shelves, hanging off the stairs. And what beautiful art it was. From giant hand painted eggs, to pencil portraits to vibrant abstracts, there was something to catch everyone’s eye.

Everything in that cafe exuded life; the hand painted furniture, the mismatched cushions, the giant vases full of fresh flowers, the smell of freshly made coffee in bohemian hand crafted mugs.

It was no wonder that what was planned as a short one hour visit turned into a three hour long conversation on art, poetry, the philosophies of Rumi, the unique properties of gemstones and Esoteric sciences, all under the lilting backdrop music of the Oud guitar.

Each of us even picked out a Rumi quote. I got:

“Seek to draw a lesson and wakefulness from God; not from books, speech, letters or the lips.”

It really hit home on a very personal level, too personal to share here almost!

It was one of those unique circumstances when people can find each other over the internet and discover they are truly kindred spirits, aiming for the same causes, searching for the same things.

I also spent a few minutes grilling the founder and owner, Abdullah, about how I could participate more actively in the goings-on at Arbab al Heraf. Imagine my joy when I heard that they consistently hold workshops, meet ups, and other events to bring like-minded artists together! Not to mention they take consignments too (next step!).

Anyway, it was a brilliant start to this tour series. We’re going to the Saudi Center for Fine Arts next! Upcoming Thursday to be exact. I’ve heard they hold a lot of events for budding artists too, so I really want to see what that is all about.

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