Contemporary Artists of the Arab World: Saudi Arabia

While researching the contemporary arts community in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I quickly found myself absolutely spoilt for choice; it was difficult to settle on just a few to feature!  The kingdom is home to a healthy community of contemporary artists which have recently been receiving a good deal of much-deserved nourishment and exposure thanks to some incredible initiatives such as Edge of Arabia.  The Saudi artists who are currently shaping the market as well as the up-and-comers are definitely a group the art world should be keeping its eye on.


Ahmed Mater al-Ziad Aseeri
1979 - 
Ahmed Mater al-Ziad Aseeri  /  from the “Illuminations” series
Born in and still a resident of Aseer’s capital of Abha, Ahmed Mater divides his time between careers in the medical field and the arts, where today he is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent contemporary artists.  After studying medicine at King Khalid University, he turned to studying art at the Al-Miftaha Art Village at the King Fahad Cultural Centre. Committed to his cultural heritage of Aseer, Ahmed Mater started a collective of like-minded young artists from the region called Ibn Aseer (Sons of Aseer).
A co-founder of Edge of Arabia, a program and traveling exhibition which showcases outstanding contemporary artists from Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Mater is an integral member of the kingdom’s contemporary art community.  He is most widely known for his Illuminations collection, which was created using discarded x-rays from the hospital he works at and is combined with imagery of local artifacts and religious texts.  His works have been featured in exhibitions around the world and have been added to collections in museums around the Middle East and Europe.
Abdulnasser Gharem
1973 - 
Abdulnasser Gharem  /  “The Path”  /  2007
Living and working in Khamis Mushait, where he was also born, Gharem did not begin studying the arts until 2003 at the Al-Miftaha Art Village in Abha.  It was at this point that he began exhibiting work and, in collaboration with other artists from the village, formed the group exhibition called Shattah, which was seen as a significant step in Saudi’s contemporary art scene.  He later co-founded Edge of Arabia with his friend Ahmed Mater, to which he contributed a large rubber stamp with the Arabic text (roughly translated) “show more commitment” and “amen”, which is commentary on the reformation of behavior.
Gharem takes his inspiration from the people and world around him and does not work from a studio, saying  “I have no studio so my studio is where I can find people. When I see the opportunity I go. That is my way of thinking about art.”

In addition to his career as an artist, Gharem is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Saudi Arabian Army.

Reem Al Faisal
1968 - 
Reem Al Faisal  /  from the “Hajj” series
Born in Jeddah, and the granddaughter of the late Saudi King Faisal, Reem originally attended King Abdul Aziz University to study Arabic Literature, but later moved to Paris to study photography.  No stranger to firsts, in 1994, in Jeddah, she held Saudi Arabia’s first black and white photography exhibition and was also one of the first women to be granted permission to photograph in the holy cities of Makkah and Al-Medinah.
Reem continues to favor black and white photography in an age where color photographs have become the norm and, deeply committed to her religion, has said that she believes her photographs are “a way to praise God’s glory in the universe”.
Bassem Al Sharqi
1976 - 
Bassem Al Sharqi  /  portrait of Soad Hosny
A renowned Saudi pop artist, Bassem’s works often features iconic western imagery, which he feels has transcended western appeal to have become universal, making them relevant to the Arab world.  The vivid imagery and style, reminiscent of AndyWarhol’s works, is created through the use of materials that Bassem considers “vintage”; acrylics, silk screening and collages depict widely-recognizable themes such as the Mona Lisa and the Volkswagon Buggy.  Not exclusive to western icons, he has also featured Egyptian actresses, including Soad Hosny, in his art.
Bassem feels that many of the symbols associated with Saudi culture, such as the dalla, are outdated and hopes his art helps to create a more relateable set of modern symbols for the existing generation of Arabs.

Manal Al-Dowayan
1973 - 
Manal Al-Dowayan  /  “I am a Film Maker”  /  2001
Manal was born and raised in Dhahran in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and continues to work and receive inspiration from her hometown location.  She received a non-structured eduction in photography from locations around the Middle East as well as London, with her work being internationally exhibited as well.
Her pieces focus on women from the Eastern Province who are working in careers that are vital to Islamic society and their identities and positions within that.  The women are photographed with items relating to their profession and a piece of traditional jewelry to obstruct their faces, which represents the barriers they must face as Arab women pursuing and holding careers typically dominated by men.

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Previously blogged Established Artists of the Arab World:

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