“And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ,”
(chapter 11, verse 118, The Holy Quran).
Praise the Lord they didn’t. For then, I’d probably just be visually goaded on to chewing on some more inane “bubble gum pop art” or some “experimental” installation that shouldn’t be anywhere near a space erected for educated reflection, let alone a gallery.
But — said with much delight — Saddek Wasil’s metallic creations are a breath of fresh air, welded, sand papered, and polished to human perfection.
His works made rounds earlier this year at “Art Dubai” and at “Edge of Arabia: Jeddah, We Need To Talk”. The theme for this long awaited solo exhibition “And They Will Not Cease To Differ” at Athr Gallery in Jeddah, borrows inspiration from verses of the Holy Qur’an. Wasil bears an enthusiastic religious inclination, evident both in personal interaction and in the underlying foundation of his works.
The entrance of the gallery offered a teasing glimpse of what could perhaps be indicated as the base elements of Wasil’s creations: The cross-culture of East meets West, modernity and antiquity. Four rather amusingly prepared dallahs (traditional Saudi coffee pots) fitted with gas masks and headphones, enrobed in fragile travel baggage stickers and draped with a local map. This was to lay the appetizing intro into a body of works at whose core lies the urge of reconciling mixed identities with one’s true self in a world of fast-moving globalization. There is a need to recapture time for tradition, culture, and most importantly for spirituality.
As I enter, works of overwhelming size and interest surrounds me. I’m tempted to glimpse into an area isolated in unappealing harsh values, trashed with a neatly juxtaposed climb of metallic junk in contrast with its more aesthetic surroundings. But just then, the artist buoyantly emerges from the unbecoming space to greet me, encouraging me to explore what bears more resemblance to a junkyard than the working space of an artist — save some decent seating arrangements!
He then allows me to enter his private space. A book tucked inconspicuously amid the truckload of junk, full of lazy doodling and grand schemes: A busy retreat of his mind.
“We decided to create the installation after visiting Saddek’s workshop in Makkah. It really is a mechanic’s shed, the very same his father worked in when Saddek was a child and was first taught to weld and manipulate metal,” said Aya Alireza, art coordinator at Athr gallery.
“We noticed a massive pile of junk that contained some perfectly good works thrown in the trash. He confessed that it was the only way to camouflage these from people who often stole some of his creations. The place is so full of sentimental significance to him that he refuses to move and we insisted he bring a section of it to the gallery as an installation”, she added further.
“Iron is in you, it’s a part of you. Allah mentioned it in the Qur’an many times. It was a gift from God to Prophet David (peace be upon him). My father used to fix cars as a mechanic and I grew up around metals. My parents always tried to encourage my habit of creating things with my hands as a way of living,” said Wasil.
His father’s encouragement provided enough impetus to direct the self-taught sculptor’s creativity into renewing and recycling coarse, cold and hard-yielding junk material from his garage. Wasil, who has been welding metal into works of aesthetic beauty for more than 23 years of his life, said that he derives inspiration from the diversity of people, colors and cultures he most often witnessed at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Works like Moallakat, a series of hanging installations that refer to the poetry festival, heralded yearly around the Holy Kaaba in pre-Islamic Arabia, and the Metamorphosis of a Chair, reflect a personal and spiritual contemplation deeply rooted in religious discourse. Just as some of the verses in the Holy Qur’an begin with letters whose meanings are not fully absorbed by the limitations of human intellectualism, a similar inscription of the letters and the depiction of men in poses of thought and observation in Moallakat inspire the same feeling.
“I want to remind people of similar wisdom from the holy book. The Qur’an always talks to people who think and thus metamorphosis — a basic instinct in a human being can result,” he said.
Some other new works completely curve off into the romantic premise- like the grandiose creations titled “Shirin and Khosrow”, and “Antar and Abla”, that pay tribute to the love and devotion of the star-crossed lovers.
“Although I always used to find Saddek’s work to be very dark, gloomy and intense, I’m happy to see him making happier works lately, as with his ‘Celebrated Sweethearts’ series. This celebrates man’s capacity for love, and I hope that he finds many more positive things to celebrate,” Alireza said.
While his creations may express the cold impassivity of power, loneliness, and the desolate inclinations of the human psyche, Wasil’s work in essence is the fight for individuality. He is the metal-man in whose creations human figures of the highest emotional value come alive.
The exhibition is open to the public until May 30.
Art From Recycled Materials, a workshop by Saddek Wasil for children between 8 —14 years will be held on Thursday, May 24 at 10 a.m. at Athr Gallery in Jeddah. To register, contact [email protected]