Tuesday, May 30, 2006

saudi artists at british museum

The work of the two Saudi artists participating in the “Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East” exhibition at the British Museum gives visitors some idea of the exciting creative work being produced by artists from Saudi Arabia.

Faisal Samra, born in Bahrain in 1956 to Saudi parents, is a world-renowned artist who has taken part in many international exhibitions.

Ahmed Mater al-Ziad is a relatively new artist, who was born in Tabuk in 1979 and combines his artistic pursuits with a career as a doctor. He studied medicine and surgery in Abha, and joined the Al-Miftaha Artists’ Village at the King Fahad Cultural Center in 1998. He founded Al-Miftaha cultural magazine in 2001 and has spearheaded various artistic initiatives.

Samra’s work in the exhibition, “Text-body”, is an 80-centimetre high sculptural shape of clay over wire mesh, on which oil, pigments, henna and gold leaf have been applied to produce letters on a weathered background.

The curator of the exhibition Venetia Porter says: “This wonderful piece by Faisal Samra is a very remarkable work. He’s covered it with individual letters and of course what’s interesting here is that this goes back to the magical tradition. In early magical texts and amulets you find individual letters written because they were much more powerful.”

In the exhibition catalogue Samra states: “In 1989 I burned the border between painting and sculpture by freeing the treated canvas from the frame and then I cut it to an organic shape and hang it from one side on the wall or in a space. This act enabled me to open a dialogue between the artwork and its context.”

In Ahmed Mater al-Ziad’s striking painting “X-ray”, the x-rayed human form is rendered in turquoise, while the dark border around it is marked with inscriptions and formulae.

In the catalogue Mater explains that the work “explores the confusion in the identity of mankind in the contemporary world. The x-ray, sitting on top of a deep, layered background of medical text and expressive paint, represents an objective view of the individual, chosen to provoke a familiar response.” He adds: “My approach as a practising doctor has been evidence-based and influenced by a direct experience of the world.”

Stephen Stapleton, founder of the Offscreen Education Programme and project coordinator for the British Museum’s artist-in-schools programme, says: “Ahmed Mater’s voice is unique and complex. His work in the exhibition features expressive layers of paint reminiscent of the abstract expressionists, as well as medical text and x-ray images from the hospital where he works as a doctor.”

Stapleton describes Mater as “an important new artist from the Arabian Peninsula, his work presenting both an objective and highly subjective view of the individual.”

An exhibition of Mater’s work opened at the Saudi Cultural Centre in London last week. During his trip to London he is also participating in collaborative workshops at the Royal Geographical Society and in schools.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, May 30 2006

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