In the year 1940, the heart of the old city of Jeddah witnessed the birth of an artist who was destined to keep its memory alive in the hearts and minds of future posterity. Harat Al-Sham, where her family house was located, seems to have merged with Safeya Binzagr’s soul as she took her first gulp of air, and the bond between the place and the artist got stronger as time went by.
When Safeya Binzagr moved to Egypt with her family in 1947, she was not totally separated from her birthplace. The scent of the old allies lingered with her, its images dwelled in her memory, and a strong sense of nostalgia pulled her back to a special place enriched by the warmth of its people, their valuable customs and traditions..
In the meantime, fate was planning another meeting between the place and the artist, a meeting that will link the old features of the city with its present and future through the strokes of the artist’s brush that will capture its past with love and appreciation.
In 1963 Safeya returned to her hometown where she realized that the wind of change was blowing around the city she had known, and the hand of progress started to push Jeddah outside the boundaries of its old walls.
Jeddah was spreading in every direction leaving behind the narrow allies where skillfully ornamented houses come close to one another allowing warmth and friendly relationships between its residents. The people who resided in those houses started to move out and they exchanged cemented relationships with cemented modern villas. The modernization process entailed that they give up their old habits and their old dress code.
Coming back to Jeddah, Safeya’s longing for the old place was not fulfilled. The more she yearned for the place she had left behind, the more eager she became to relive the beautiful yet short time she had once experienced in that place.
Safeya’s only means of recapturing the past was her brush, but her focused purpose and strong resolve gave her the invocation needed to embark on her arduous and laborious mission to recreate the past and celebrate its beauty. The artist held her brush with determination and began in earnest to reconstruct the old city as she had known it, complete with its buildings and those who had lived in them; men, women and children appear dressed up in their old costumes and seriously involved in their old activities.
Who said that good old times never come back?
Here is Old Jeddah looking over the Jeddah of today, as it will look over the Jeddah of tomorrow. Safeya’s imposing paintings transport the viewer to a time that had passed, it depicts meticulously what took place in Harat al-Sham and the other neighboring allies, inside those cold stony houses, and behind those festooned wooden windows. The rich paintings of Safeya Binzagr will remain a living testimony to a heritage that will never dissipate, and a reminder of a past era that she took pains to restructure and keep intact for generations to come.
When she first arrived to Cairo in 1947, Safeya joined school until she received her secondary certificate in 1957. She graduated from High School (Art Diploma) in 1960, and then left Cairo to London where she enrolled in Finishing School for three years.
Coming back to Egypt in 1965, Safeya took private lessons to develop her artistic talent. She went back to London to join Saint Martins College for two years and graduated with a degree in Drawing and Graphics.
Stages of development
Safeya Binzagr is considered one of the pioneers in the movement of fine arts in Saudi Arabia. Her long career as an artist began with her first exhibition in 1968 which she held in Jeddah at Dar al-Tarbiya high school. Safeya had herself planned and organized the successful event. Since there were no specialized galleries at the time, she had to set up the classrooms of this girls’ high school and furnish them as much as needed to make them adequate enough to host that event.
The response to her first exhibition was overwhelming, but that was only the beginning. Her local exhibitions followed one another and she held them in the major cities of the kingdom: Riyadh, Jeddah, Dhahran, Al-Jubail, Al-Medina, Yanbu, and Abha. Her other exhibitions took place in Paris, Geneva, and London for a total of 18 personal and six group exhibitions through which Safeya was established as the artist of Saudi culture on the local and international scale.
Since her early association with painting, Safeya had noticed the big change that affected the style of life around her which prompted her to start documenting a fading legacy through her art. Her artistic intuition cautioned her that she was racing with time, so she hastily put her camera to use and captured on film most of the sites before they disappeared completely, then she reproduce them with the aid of the stock of her memory. Safya took it upon herself to rely on documented materials and pursued its primary sources to ensure the authenticity of her work which she aimed to present in a precise and accurate manner. Her paintings though are not simple copies of reality, they also reflect the artist’s vision and feelings; love transpire from every drawing, her reminiscence fills up all angels, and her admiration for the old practices is revealed in her distinctive choice of space, composition and color.
After thirty years of hard work in the field of fine art, Safeya’s ardent, lifelong wish materialized. The grand opening of her private gallery, she called al-Dara, was an impressive event that crowned her efforts over the years. In January 2000, the Dara was officially opened under the patronage of his Royal Highness Prince Majed bin Abdulaziz, and to commemorate this special day, Safeya issued her second book, “ A Three-Decade Journey with Saudi Heritage”, in which she clearly stated the goals and aims of her Dara.
Dr. Hamdi Khamis once said: “Art is always for the people, and people are the past, present and future.” This was my point of departure in the world of Art. – Safeya Binzagr
This is the way Safeya charts her route in the world of art. She sets out with the intention of drawing from the past of the people in order to imbue their present and future with its wealth. The artist chose her path as carefully as she chose an appropriate style to reach her goal. Genuine Impressionism helped Safeya’s presentation of her subject and contributed to her ability to show with great accuracy and detail all the facets of the social life in her local environment. This subject matter, which is central to all of her paintings, is adequately illustrated to reveal an intimacy and genuineness through warm and vibrant colors, through spaces and compositions that come together in a harmonious and attractive manner.
If we study Safeya’s works in its totality, we can trace the stages through which her art has developed. In the early stages she was under the influence of the great Impressionists, such as Gitto, Fra Angelico, and Cézanne. At a later stage she came into contact with the oriental style of coloring which is apparent in her painting titled, “The Bedouin woman”, where the Japanese or Chinese brush strokes are clear in the woman’s bust.
Eventually, Safeya managed to escape these influences and cultivated a style of her own in sync with her subject matter. This independent fashion is what subtly and singularly distinguishes her paintings; her original method enabled her to surpass the familiar and assert her difference in a new artistic vocabulary derived from her own imagination.
Characteristic of her paintings are simple structures, powerful formations and imposing shapes. She diversifies her artistic tools to suit the subject of each painting achieving uniformity and consistence. Since Safeya’s main goal is to capture the cultural habits of old times accurately, she relied on fast sketches based on photographic images of places, people and events. She worked diligently consulting references, books, and oral narrative in order to ensure the credibility of her art.
• In the early stages of her life, Safeya Binzagr wrote about art in the local newspapers.
• She gave many lectures in Jeddah and Riyadh.
• She gave a lecture at the Women Club in Egypt.
• She serves on the judging panel to many competitions in art for children and young talents.
• She holds a monthly artistic, cultural and educational gathering.
• Her first book was issued in English and French under the title: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: an Artist’s look to the past”.
• She titled her second book: “A Three-Decade Journey with Saudi Heritage”.
• In her Private Atelier she offers a workshop in the basics of Art.
• She supports the UNESCO and other charitable organizations through selling her paintings as post cards and posters for their benefit.
• As part of the activities of The Jeddah festival, (Jeddah Ghair 21), She organized in the name of her Dara a contest for young artists who painted a mural elucidating the theme of “ Jeddah in the eyes of its youth.
• In May 2002, Safeya organized the annual contest for young artists and chose the achievement of the King as a topic. The sketches were drawn on kites that flew in the sky of Jeddah. Suntop and Chakey Cheese sponsored the event.
• In May 2003, Safeya organized a contest for children to draw on clay to elucidate the theme: Jeddah through the fingertips of its children.In April 2003, the Dara organized the second annual contest for young artists who sketched their drawings on masks. Evian and Le Mall sponsored the event.
• In April 2004, the Dara organized the third annual contest for young artists who were asked to produce 3-d drawings. The characters sketched were set against a stage as a background. Son top and Le Mall sponsored the event.
• Since 2003 the Dara has launched its annual poetry competition. The purpose of the event is not simply to choose a winner, but to keep the ancient tradition of poetry recitation alive and practiced. Scholars and lovers of Arabic poetry take part in this dynamic occasion.
Awards & Exhibitions
- Art collection of Al Mansouria exhibition on Bahrain national museum
- Participating as guest of honor on Jeddah Art 21,39
- Honoring Mrs. Safeya from Saudi art Council
- Cooperation council for the arab states of the gulf Award
- Dar Alhekma College plaque
- Participating as guest of honor on Jeddah Art 21,39
The collection of antique fan exhibition.
Private Exhibit “Traditional costume art collection”.at Darat Safeya Binzagr.
- Plaque of Appreciation from Chinese women’s delegation in the Chamber of Commerce
- Effat University 6th The Work Day Award
- A plaque of cooperation with Aramco
Plaque of Acknowledgement, appreciation and loyalty from Al Janadriyah – “National Festival for heritage and culture”
- Plaque of Appreciation from British youth group
- King Abdulaziz & His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) Award
- Tradition and Modernity: Three generations of Saudi contemporary artists in Neuilly-sur-Seine
- A plaque from Jeddah Dar al-Hikma college
- Dar Alhekma College Award
- Plaque of Appreciation from British youth group
- Certificate of recognition from Al-Birr charitable society
- Recognition Award from the General Presidency for Youth Welfare-The Saudi Arabian, in the name of HRH Pricne Faisal Bin Fahad
- Al-Moftaha Award from HRH Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the Prince of Assir
- A plaque from Jeddah Effat College
- The Medinah Monawarah Award for the patronage of honoring young talents
- Recognition Award from the Faysaliyyah Charitable Society
- A plaque from the teachers of Art in the Holy capitol
Inauguration of Darat Safeya Binzagr under the patronage of prince Abdul majeed Bin Abdul Aziz Prince of makkah region.
- Certificate of recognition form the Arab Society for Arts and Culture. Riyadh
- Certificate of recognition from Jeddah Chamber of Commerce
- A plaque from The Dammam Women Charitable Society
- A plaque from The Department of Home Economics and Art Education, Women College of Education
- A plaque of appreciation for the Artist: Abdullah Nawawi, Awad Abu Salah, and Omar Taha
- A plaque from King Abdulaziz Library, female section
- A plaque from Braaim al-Watan school in Jeddah
- Recognition Award from The House of Photographers
- Recognition Award from the UNEP for works contributing to the protection of national heritage
- Private Exhibit at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Abha
Recognition Award from The National Commercial Bank for valued participation
Safeya opened “Darat Safeya Binzagr” which is a private Gallery displaying all her paintings to the public.
Certificate and Award of Recognition from ‘Saudi’ – The Saudi Arabian Airlines
- A medal from the women artists Society at Janadryia festival
- Private Exhibit at ar-Roshan, in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit at ‘Ibda’ Hall, in Madinah
• Private Exhibit at the Plastic Arts Hall of the Capital’s Institute, in Riyadh
• Private Exhibit at ar-Roshan Hall, in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit at RDC Plaza, in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit at the Invitation of the Royal Commission of Jubail and Yunbu’,Yunbu Industrial City
• Group Exhibit for Saudi women artists; invited as a guest of honor, Jeddah
• Group Exhibit in the ‘Riyadh: Yesterday and Today’ roving exhibit
- Diploma Di Eccelenza- Grolla D’Ora, Italy
- Recognition Award from the General Presidency for Youth Welfare-The Saudi Arabian
- Group Exhibit (50 Artists); invited to participate as guest of honor, RDC Art Hall, in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit at the Invitation of Riyadh (currently King Saud University), Men’s section
• Private Exhibit at the Invitation of Riyadh (currently King Saud University),Women’s section.
• Private Exhibit at the Invitation of the Royal Commission of Jubail and Yunbu’, Jubail Industrial City
• Private Exhibit at the Invitation of RDC Art Hall in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit in Patrick Seal Gallery in London
• Private Exhibit in Gallerie Duron in Paris
• Private Exhibit in Geneva-Switzerland
Participation as guest of honor in a group exhibit held at “Jeddah Dome”
• Private Exhibit held by the Saudi Arabia Society for Arts and Culture in Jeddah
• Private Exhibit at the invitation of Aramco in Dhahran
Private Exhibit at Woodstock Gallery in London
Private Exhibit at Dar al-Hanan School in Jeddah
Group Exhibit at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah
Joint Exhibition at Dar at-Tarbiyah al-Haditha School in Jeddah
What other’s say
HRH Prince Faysal bin Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz AL Saud (who was President General of Youth Welfare) (may God rest his soul), “A serious approach, originality, and representation of Saudi traditions and social customs have characterized her work.”
Wahib Binzagr (Safeya Binzagr’s brother) (may God rest his soul) “These paintings tell the story of our heritage and social life in all its rich details, from A to Z”.
Dr. Eng. Muhammad Sa’id Farsi commented on Safeya’s creativity by saying, “Safeya Binzagr enjoys the honor of being the first Saudi impressionist artist to have created the art of recording history in colour, standing out alone among her Saudi contemporaries, for she chose her own unique style as a genuine impressionist”.
Artist Mounirah A. Mosly (artist and friend) “I salute her sense of responsibility as a fellow citizen and artist who has contributed through public and private institutions to support the cultural and artistic movement in our country. One can only admire her ceaseless ambition to revive our heritage and preserve it, and to make her art serve the cause of such heritage.”
Dr. Mohammad Abd Al-Majid Fadhl (Dept of Art Education, College of Education King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) “ ….The artist who created them(her work) did not only apply herself to exploit all its artistic gifts to express her emotions and feelings, but also went further more to make her art a register for a very important period of the history for her country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the early part of this century that came with all its machinery, fast rhythm , industrialization, and its overwhelming and sweeping manifestations, like a violent flood that covers, inundates, sweeps away all that comes in its way. There is by no means a room for resistance or confrontation because in addition to its power, it is replete with temptation, attraction, and charming external beauty.”
Dr. Muhammad bin Salih Ar-Rusayys (Department of Art Education, College of Education, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) “ … Such an art museum can be defined as a private museum, small in size but big in its goals and aspirations….This Darah (Gallery) crowns the efforts and art experience of the Artist Safeya Binzagr over three decades, with her being a leading pioneer of the art movement in Saudi Arabia.”
H.E. Abdel Aziz Al Rifai (Vice-Minister) “The work of Ms Safeya Binzagr answers the wishes of numerous writers, thinkers, historians, and those interested in folklore. She enables us to become familiar with many scenes from traditional daily life, a number of which no longer exists or have nearly disappeared.”