VIDEO: Brooklyn Museum showcases Saudi traditions
A space enhanced with geometrical patterns and improvised melodies of Arabic Maqam music, assorted baskets of dates, women in hijabs and men wearing thobes and kafiyyehs pace back and forth. The scent of vanilla and cinnamon fills the air.
It looks like a bazaar in Mecca, but it’s not.
It’s the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum, which last Wednesday and Thursday hosted “Kingdom and Culture: An Evening of the Experiences of Saudi Arabia.”
Sponsored by the Saudi cultural organization Ithra, the event immersed attendees in the rich cultural diversity, deep-rooted legacy and traditions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the second-largest state in the Arab world after Algeria.
A colorful temporary market stand with several types of dates — the country’s national fruit — marked the entrance to this mini-Saudi world. Stand manager Khaled Al Ramadan explained to the curious public that there are 200 types of dates in Saudi Arabia. The stand featured the six most famous.
Dates were also predominant in the menu offered by Saudi chef Rakan Al Uraifi, who delighted dozens of attendees with date salad, salted dates with buttermilk pannacotta, shrimp with dates dressed in balsamic vinegar and date pudding.
Al Uraifi said they were trying to present traditional Saudi food in a “modern fusion way.”
“Traditional but modern” was the slogan of most exhibitors.
“A lot of the garments that you can see today… [are] not the original one[s], [they are] modified into a more fashionable way,” said Mona Al Haddad, who co-founded the Saudi fashion house Lomar with Loai Naseem.
The couple designed the Saudi clothes that some of the volunteers and hosts wore.
“It is very important to show the richness of our culture … Our culture is very big and very authentic … different colors, different themes, different feelings,” said Naseem. “Many people didn’t know what we have … and someday these [clothes] will be an international outfit.”
In the museum’s hall, a tent made of traditional fabrics exhibited bright, broad bands of color and patterns. Inside, Saudi women painted intricate henna designs on the hands and feet of a diverse group of visitors.
In one of the corners, three men wearing traditional textiles of Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital, supplied the assistants with a small cup of blonde Arabic coffee, a light, bitter beverage with cardamom and saffron.
Additionally, the museum is currently showing “Mecca Journeys,” an exhibit showcasing the work of Ahmed Mater, one of today’s most influential Saudi artists. The exhibit brings viewers to experience the changing face of the holiest city in the Islamic world and to reflect on the impacts of the city’s expansion on its residents.
The exhibit will be on display until June 17.
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