RIYADH: As visitors arrive at the end of the impressive first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale their attention is drawn by a gigantic yellow arrow nearly 20 meters long on the wall.

If they look closer at the artwork, titled “E Pluribus Unum – A Modern Fossil,” they can see the numerous cracks in the body of the arrow.

The artwork was created by Tunis-born, Berlin-based artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke, who this year won the fourth Ithra Art Prize. Each year the prize, which was set up in 2017, gives up to $100,000 for the creation of a new artwork that becomes part of Ithra’s permanent collection.

Kaabi-Linke’s massive work presents a contemplative way to look at the pandemic, notably, the decline in commercial air traffic during 2020, which, according to the artist, raises questions as to how humanity measures its progress and environmental awareness versus economic profit.

“The work is meant as a metaphor for modern times,” she told Arab News. “It is particularly relevant to 2020 because all of the airplanes in the world stopped flying.”

The artist relates it also to Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, which has been shut for around 13 years and is used as a camp accommodating up to 7,000 refugees. “I saw a parallel in this because we were all grounded, all of humanity and I think it is an exceptional moment in human history,” she added. “I also wanted to draw the parallel between the aviation industry and the economy. The symbol of economic growth is the rising arrow.”

The cracks, explains Kaabi-Linke, are there because it represents an abandoned airport. The work is a print made from an existing arrow that shows where the planes land and where they take off. “It brings you back to the earth as the cracks in the arrow also refer also to the idea of a cracked earth. The question that the work asks is: Do we want to stay in a world as we know it that has no future or do, we want to take the risk to go to something that is unknown but that probably has a future?”

“At Ithra, our commitment to contemporary art is embodied in this art prize,” Ashraf Fagih, head of programming at Ithra told Arab News. “This year is different for two reasons: First, we have opened up the prize to 22 Arab countries and not just artists in Saudi. Secondly, we are collaborating with the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale. To us this has special significance because it means the Ithra Art Prize came back home.”

The prize was previously unveiled during Art Dubai.

“As a distinctive landmark in the Saudi art scene, and in integration with its most prominent event ever, the prize’s artwork was unveiled during the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale,” said Fagih. After the biennale the artwork will travel back to Ithra in Dhahran in the Eastern Province to become part of the institution’s permanent collection.

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