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Culture Express > News Video

Saudi artists tackle social issues


04-02-2014 01:53 BJT

Pablo Picasso once said that "Art is not made to decorate rooms, it is an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy". Now contemporary artists from Saudi Arabia are finding fame by pushing boundaries and tackling serious social issues. And some of their work is travelling beyond the kingdom’s borders, with exhibitions currently being held at the annual Art Dubai.

During this year’s Art Dubai, the Ayyam Gallery is exhibiting work by Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem. Within minutes of the doors opening, his 12-piece collection was scooped up by one collector for a price tag of well over a million US Dollars.

It’s a sign of the dramatic rise of Saudi modern art on the global scene, but also of its artists tackling taboo topics like religion and women’s rights.

At the Dubai-based gallery "Cuadro", they’re exhibiting a collection by Saudi artist Manal Al Dowayan, named "Crash." This collection focuses on Saudi news clippings about the deaths of Saudi women teachers in car crashes, whose names are never mentioned in the articles - leaving them nameless and anonymous.

The burgeoning art scene in Saudi Arabia is centred in the western city of Jeddah, where several galleries have sprung up in recent years, showcasing the works of artists in a country where art is not taught in public schools.

Artist Manal Al Dowayan said, "It’s vibrant, it’s creative. It’s grassroots, it’s very interesting, it’s very young. Although we do have a history of modern art but contemporary art is the new movement that’s happening within youth. It’s centred in one region because of their history, which is the western region, Jeddah."

At The Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, Founder Khaled Samawi says he noticed a growing appetite for contemporary art out of Saudi Arabia.

Founder of Ayyam Gallery Khaled Samawi said, "We opened in Jeddah, about, in January a year ago, so it’s been a year and three months now. It’s definitely a challenging environment, but it’s very promising environment so it’s worth the challenge."

As Saudi artists become more internationally recognised, wealthy Saudis are helping back them financially.

Billionaire businessman Mohammad Abdul Jameel Latif has backed dozens of initiatives with the aim of highlighting artistic talent in his native Saudi Arabia, including providing grants and helping sponsor an upcoming US tour of modern Saudi art and artists.

"...Of course you have more and more young people they go abroad also to study. And arts exist everywhere so you have also in closed environments you always have art it’s just it’s not - you can’t see it - and I think that we helped a little bit not only to see the art that is there, but also to help the artists kind of to develop it and to promote it, to improve it," said Renata Papsch, arts manager of Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives.

According to Samawi, the kingdom’s cultural environment coupled with the lack of formal art training has given birth to a "peculiar" visual language that makes Saudi modern art unique and desirable.

But to Al Dowayan, it’s more important than commercial potential that her career and her work in the past 10 years illustrates that there is now open conversation about certain social issues in Saudi Arabia.

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