Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Artists breaking down social barriers

An elaborate report in the UK Guardian illustrates how a section of contemporary Saudi artists is breaking down prevailing 'safety' barriers to come up with bold expressions in a country, which prefers ‘art to be rather safe and the creators safer.

Ahmed Mater was first noticed for combining Islamic illuminations with x-rays of skeletons. He wanted to utilize material related to his context in hospital and what they were doing earlier as a culture. Illumination was one the ways they expressed themselves in the Islamic era. And X-rays are about representing the inside of human  body and they are illuminated. Another of his most famous pieces, Magnetism, represented the pilgrimage to the holy Ka'ba.

Abdulnasser Gharem’s  work reflects his stint in the Saudi army as a lieutenant colonel, and incorporates Concrete, a chain of paintings of concrete blocks utilized for protecting buildings from terrorist attacks - put around embassies after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His other works include a massive replica of an official rubber stamp inscribed 'Have a Bit of Commitment' & 'Amen', suggesting how his art had been censored by the authorities previously.

In her photography and films Sarah Abu Abdallah, looks to explore gender roles as well as the act of covering up female bodies. One of her films evokes the frustration at the ban on women driving by painting a crashed car pink. According to the artist, the wishful gesture perhaps was the only manner in which she could get herself a car – a sort of cold comfort for the impossibility of a dream that she could drive herself to work some day.

Cultural exchanges with the west are clearly increasing. The British Council had its first ever show of modern & contemporary art, entitled ‘Out of Britain’, in the kingdom last year. It has been flooded with applications from upcoming Saudi artists for its programs. Andrea Rose, its director (visual arts), observed that the art scene in Saudi was gradually undergoing a phase of evolution.

There is a touch of guardedness regarding the western influences, and a rather careful negotiation of how to modernize sans westernizing, but there is more going on clearly than what it seems outwardly. Change is incremental and slow, rather than revolutionary and provocative. But it’s taking place from within, and with great subtlety.

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