Greenbox dictionary of Saudi Arabian artists

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Safeya Binzagr (1940) is an artist who presents her work in her own museum. The 'Darat Safeya Binzagr' which opened in Jiddah in 2000 celebrates both the Saudi and Hijaz heritage.

'It is important for Saudis to remember, and for the West to learn. This book will be a record for the new generation,' is how Binzagr introduces Saudi Arabia, an artist's view of the past (1979). She then writes: 'I don't think that I can live without painting.' She may never have tried. The many colour illustrations of her oil paintings, watercolours, pastels, drawings and etchings are grouped around the themes: marriage, traditional dress, old architecture, religion, daily life and desert life. Illustrated here from the book is a ceremony in which a groom is shaved while his mother places a gold coin on the barber's forehead and wedding musicians entertain him. A scene from the religion chapter, which the artist will not have witnessed herself, is named Al-Mahmal after a decorated camel litter which was used to ceremoniously carry the Kaaba covering for the Hajj into Mecca. The covering used to be presented by Egypt and arrived by ship through the Suez canal accompanied by a 'Prince of the Hajj,' she writes. Binzagr may have used old photographs to reconstruct this scene as she is reported to have spent much effort to research and collect photographic material from such collections as the Royal Geographic Society in London. She also uses her family as a source and sometimes as a model as she did with her sister for her trademark picture Zabun. The'Safeya's Mona Lisa' is a portrait of a Saudi lady in a traditional and unvieled dress that was still common in the 1960's in the western province of Hijaz.

Binzagr was born to a well known merchant family in Jiddah and attended school in Sussex, England. In the mid 1960's she started her career as a professional artist with a program of full time art studies in Cairo. 


Safeya Binzagr, Saudi Arabia, an artist's view of the past, Jiddah and Lausanne 1979.

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From top to bottom: Shaving Ceremony (1975), Al-Mahmal (1972), Peasant Girl from Medina (1969), King Faisal at a Najdi dance (1969), oils on canvas, different sizes.