Art Jameel is pioneering the use of innovative technologies to preserve heritage and to support creative enterprises that are rooted in local heritage.
Documenting the unique heritage of Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia
Since 2018, Art Jameel has been building capacity for the digital documentation of heritage in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. The capacity-building programme reflects Art Jameel’s commitment to supporting the development of the Saudi heritage sector, including by helping to create job opportunities in an emerging technical field. In rural AlUla, Art Jameel’s programme is in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla, which is leading efforts to record and preserve the rich archaeological heritage of the region, especially the wealth of rock art and petroglyphs that abounds in the desert.
In 2019, Art Jameel, in collaboration with the Factum Foundation, delivered the initial phase of a training programme for Jawharah Albalawi and Abdulrahim Sugair, photographers from AlUla. The training – in advanced photogrammetry, a technique used for the digital documentation of objects in three dimensions – was hosted at the Factum Foundation headquarters in Madrid, Spain. Following the training in Madrid, Albalawi and Sugair returned to AlUla to deliver, with Art Jameel and the Factum Foundation, further training and capacity-building for local residents.
Albalawi and Sugair are alumni of the 2018 pilot programme by Art Jameel and the Royal Commission for AlUla that trained 15 men and women in AlUla in photogrammetry. The 2-week intensive training programme led by Art Jameel, in partnership with the Factum Foundation and supported by the Rothschild Foundation, was attended by local residents from in and around AlUla who gained the skills necessary to digitally record and document the unique heritage of the area. Participants trained in state-of-the-art technologies to create accurate 3-dimensional models of some of the most important archaeological sites in AlUla, allowing for detailed study by archaeologists and future preservation.
Documenting the destruction of Yazidi heritage in Iraq
In 2018, Art Jameel collaborated with the Victoria and Albert Museum and Forensic Architecture, an independent research agency, on a major project that used digital documentation techniques to record evidence of the destruction of Yazidi cultural heritage in Iraq.
Designed by Forensic Architecture’s interdisciplinary team of filmmakers, software developers, archaeologists, lawyers, journalists and architects, the exhibition showed how innovative methods of digital design and image capture can enable on-the-ground DIY cultural heritage documentation and preservation.
Working in the Sinjar area of Iraq, the team worked alongside the NGO Yazda to support and train their researchers in the collection, documentation and preservation of evidence of the destruction, genocide and enslavement perpetrated by Daesh (Islamic State) against the Yazidi people. 3D models of the sites destroyed by Daesh were constructed using aerial photography and photogrammetry and will serve as valuable pieces of evidence for future litigation.
The exhibition, co-curated by the V&A’s Natalie Kane and Brendan Cormier, presented the process by which these images were collected and reconstructed, alongside the objects used in the training of Yazda’s researchers such as rigs made from kites, plastic bottles and drones. In addition, it explored the role digital cultural preservation has played in communities who have recently experienced trauma.
The exhibition featured as the UK pavilion at the second London Design Biennale at Somerset House, from September 4-23, 2018, and was supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. For more information, see the London Design Biennale website.
Digital documentation of Saudi heritage
In a landmark project in 2017, Art Jameel partnered with the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation to record endangered heritage in two locations in Saudi Arabia: the old town of Jeddah, and the southern highlands of Asir.
With a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry, Art Jameel and the Factum Foundation recorded the delicate mangour woodwork of the window-frames in the old town of Jeddah, gypsum relief carvings, carved wooden doors, and whole buildings of coral-stone.
In Asir, the team worked in remote villages and abandoned houses close to collapse, recording mural paintings in the qut tradition, which display a complex language of geometry and colour, unique to Asir.
In addition to the recording work, Art Jameel offered a workshop, based at the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah, with theory and practical instruction for local Saudi artists in how to use these technologies and skills for recording heritage and in a contemporary setting.
Into the future, we see opportunities to apply these technologies in creative enterprises, empowering communities and preserving traditions and culture in a sustainable way.
This combination of innovative digital technology and the preservation of the past perfectly embodies Art Jameel’s approach to heritage work: past and future.
To view more models, visit Art Jameel's Sketchfab page