First Published: 2017-05-04

Saudi artists seen 'pushing' boundaries
Artists in Saudi Arabia are pushing boundaries of conservative traditions as kingdom undergoes period of rapid change.
Middle East Online

Saudi artist Ahmed Mater

RIYADH - Artists in Saudi Arabia are pushing boundaries as the kingdom undergoes rapid change and tries to boost its cultural offerings, a Saudi artist who has exhibited worldwide said.

Conservative Islamic traditions run deep in the country which critics say lacks both an infrastructure for the arts, and the freedom of expression to allow art to flourish.

But Ahmed Mater, 37, calls the kingdom's artists "brave", although he says they need to show still more confidence and receive greater support.

"You know everything (is) changing now, life changing, artists pushing borders more and more", he said on the sidelines of the UNESCO NGO Forum which ended Thursday in Riyadh.

Under wide-ranging economic and social reforms that began last year, Saudi Arabia said it would develop a Royal Arts Complex, as well as a Media City.

A new General Entertainment Authority has already supported concerts, a Comic-Con pop culture festival and other events despite resistance from conservatives.

In January the kingdom's highest-ranking cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, warned of the "depravity" of cinemas and music concerts, partly because they represent a "call for mixing between sexes".

Saudi Arabia bans cinemas, although private film showings do take place and small art exhibitions have occurred.

Wahhabi Islamic thought on which the kingdom is founded forbids paintings of the human form and frowns upon music.

Mater, a former physician, runs a "creative hub" studio in the Red Sea city of Jeddah which is relatively more liberal than the capital Riyadh.

Last year he published a photographic essay, "Desert of Pharan", documenting Mecca, Islam's holiest site which has undergone rapid urbanisation.

The work has been published internationally and Mater said it "should be approved soon" in Saudi Arabia.

In 2012 London's Victoria and Albert Museum displayed his photogravure work "Magnetism", which recalls crowds of Muslim faithful circling the holy Kaaba, the cubic stone structure at the heart of Mecca's Grand Mosque toward which all Muslims pray.

The picture, which he also exhibited at the Riyadh forum, is actually a magnet surrounded by iron filings.

"Creating change through art is something marvellous," he told the forum organised with the MiSK Foundation, which Mater says has supported cultural projects in the kingdom.

MiSK was founded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is pushing the kingdom's economic and social change.

"It's really booming, the art and cultural movement," Mater said. "I think it's our time now"

 

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant