Starting next month, a group of contemporary artists from the Middle East, collectively known as Edge of Arabia, will take a three-year-long road trip around the United States, using high-tech devices and the Internet to digitally archive and share what they see, discuss, and create in the process. The final outcome will effectively be the first collective portrait of the nation made by Middle Eastern voices.
At the core of this endeavor, titled “Culturunners,” is a pickup truck and trailer kitted out with broadcast equipment, prototype gadgets, and conceptual works by the artists, who will live and work aboard the “mobile studio.” Each stop on the tour will include a presentation and new collaborations with local communities and institutions, accompanied by rigorous documentation of Edge of Arabia’s journey-as-artistic-process.
One participant is Palestinian-born, Abraaj Capital Art Prize–winning artist Taysir Batniji, who perceives making art on the road as the ultimate expression of freedom. “I think travel and movement, voluntary or involuntary, is a guarantee of emancipation, despite difficulties that uprooting sometimes inflicts,” he says. “Displacement and cross-cultural exchange allow new horizons to open before us, provided that any movement is unhindered by physical and mental borders.”
“Culturunners” will launch at the Rothko Chapel in Houston on September 21, to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The event will feature contributions by Batniji; Saudi artist and Edge of Arabia cofounder Ahmed Mater, currently included in the New Museum’s survey of contemporary art from the Middle East, “Here and Elsewhere”; and 24-year-old rising star Sarah Abu Abdallah, whose video work was shown at last year’s Venice Biennale.
Other scheduled stops for “Culturunners” include Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York. In addition, Edge of Arabia is sponsoring an ongoing residency for Middle Eastern artists at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. Both projects have financial backing from Art Jameel, a philanthropic branch of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group, which is the sole distributor of Toyota and Lexus automobiles in Saudi Arabia.
“‘Culturunners’ reverses the way art is traditionally made and shown,” says Edge of Arabia cofounder Stephen Stapleton, a British national who has spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia. “The borders created by the artist’s studio and art gallery completely dissolve, and in their place work is made on the road—available online to be seen by anyone, at any time, potentially forever.”