Switched on: Artist explores global beauty through light in Riyadh



Grimanesa Amoros Amplexus Light Installation at Noor Festival | Cultural Palace Riyadh Saudi Arabia

The front entrance of the Cultural Palace displays the red hot LED light beams of Amoros’ ‘Amplexus’ showing various cultural elements. (Supplied)


  • Noor Riyadh festival installation ‘bridges past and future,’ says Grimanesa Amoros

RIYADH: Peruvian-American artist Grimanesa Amoros reveals the unseen beauty of everyday spaces and objects through that most ephemeral and fleeting of mediums — light.

Her “Golden Waters” installation in Scottsdale, Arizona, explored the human response to bodies of water, while “Golden Array” in India focused on cable lines in Mumbai’s upmarket retail district.

Now Amoros has brought her light touch to the Kingdom through the Noor Riyadh festival, the world’s largest annual light exhibition, which runs until Feb. 4, 2023.

Grimanesa Amoros Amplexus Light Installation at Noor Festival close up

Detail of AMPLEXUS light sculpture

At the center of Amoros’ ‘Amplexus’ is a nucleus, an embodiment of the escalation of Islamic Art in the era of digital boom.

Positioned at the front entrance of the Cultural Palace, “Amplexus” mixes cultural motifs in a fiery red tangle of LED light.

“I feel that you must know your past to embrace the future. You have to be aware of your own history. History is storytelling to teach future generations why they are who they are and how the past has affected their present,” Amoros told Arab News.

The artist is visiting Saudi Arabia at a time of rapid cultural and social change, and said that she sees light “as a means of connection.”

She added: “I was quite excited to work with the Noor Riyadh festival because it was an opportunity to bridge the gap between people and light.”  

The artist’s creative journey began with a map. As a child she dreamt of becoming a traveler, and memorized the location of countries and their capitals.  

A formative moment came when she received a postcard from her mother. “Grimanesa, I wish you could be here and see all these beautiful lights in New York City,” it read.

Amoros has kept the postcard to this day as a reminder of the spark that lit the flame.

Light is ephemeral. The light activates a city and makes its residents aware of their environment.

Grimanesa Amoros, Peruvian American artist

After moving to New York City in 1994, she began joining programs such as the Art Students League and received several grants.

The city’s lights were an inspiration. “You are constantly surrounded by this light from above, almost to the clouds. Light is also conducted — there is this electric feeling,” she said.

Amoros often gets ideas from nature, and the sight of Iceland’s northern lights left her mesmerized and determined to share her experiences with others.

And she has. After appearing at the 54th Venice Biennale and the Christmas display in Times Square, her work has traveled across the globe, settling into the multicultural Diplomatic Quarter of the Saudi capital.

The location is a metaphor for how she lives her life, the artist said.

“Through all my travels, you face new challenges and opportunities, and (they) allow you to see new architecture, which I love. I enjoy making parallels — seeing how cultural landscapes and history interconnect. That, to me, is very interesting and never ceases to fascinate me. That’s why I always say, ‘my life is a romance with the unknown’.”

Riyadh has rarely seen public art presented in common spaces. Commissioning an international artist to display their work in a multicultural neighborhood highlights the Kingdom’s embrace of different perspectives.

In the age of digital media, Amoros emphasizes the importance of being well-informed. “For younger artists, I think it’s essential to try to know yourself, and that’s a journey that never ends.

“You always have to consider how your work will affect the state of mind of the person looking at it. For me, it’s essential for my viewers to look at not only the scale and monumentality of the piece but also to consider their personal relationship with the light of my piece.”

After witnessing sunrises and sunsets in the Saudi desert, she now hopes to spotlight the natural beauty of Riyadh and its surrounds.

“Light is ephemeral. The light activates a city and makes its residents aware of their environment. At the end, I think we are light ourselves — we are all associated with the energy that radiates from light.”

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