Welcome to Miami: Mideast artists head to Art Basel

'Untitled (Food For Thought series)' by Maha Malluh. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2018

Welcome to Miami: Mideast artists head to Art Basel

  • The 17th edition Art Basel Miami Beach is set to run from Dec. 6-9
  • It will feature a startling sampling of art from the Middle East

DUBAI: The 17th edition Art Basel Miami Beach is set to run from Dec. 6-9 and will feature a startling sampling of art from the Middle East.

According to organizers, this year’s edition will see 268 galleries and 29 new entrants from 35 countries across North and Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East take part.

The main section of the fair, which is considered one of the key art events on the international calendar, will focus on art from Latin America, with certain galleries paying tribute to the Middle East.

Beirut-based Sfeir-Semler Gallery is gearing up to showcase mixed media works by Lebanese artists Etel Adnan, Walid Raad and Rayyane Tabet, according to Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. The gallery will also show off work by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky and Moroccan creative talent Yto Barrada.

Meanwhile, the art fair’s Nova section will present new works from around the world, including a video installation by Iraqi artist Hiwa K, set to be showcased by Prometeogallery di Ida Pisani. Tunis’s Selma Feriani Gallery will present a series of works by Saudi artist Maha Malluh. The contemporary Saudi artist focuses her work on the impact of globalization and consumer culture in the Kingdom. Her sculptures often include bric-a-brac collected from junk shops and flea markets and she has been known to work with cassette tapes, dog-eared dishes and long-discarded cooking pots. A creation entitled “Al-Muallaqat” was one of the first pieces to be showcased in the contemporary section of the Louvre Abu Dhabi — an eyebrow-raising sculpture consisting of a set of hefty, black-bottomed pots hung on a white wall.

Another popular artist whose early work will be showcased at the fair — in the Survey section — is Monir Farmanfarmaian, who is known for her mirrored mosaics. At 94 years old, the Iranian artist has had her work featured in several of the world’s leading museums, including Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Guggenheim in New York and London’s Tate Modern.

It’s an event that attracts the who’s who of the art industry — an ideal platform to show off Middle Eastern creativity on the world stage.


Saudi potter has ceramic art industry cracked

Ceramic art is enjoying a revival with the Keramos studio of ceramic artist-entrepreneur Morouj Ahmed Alshatri gaining an international reputation for quality of its products. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 15 February 2019

Saudi potter has ceramic art industry cracked

  • Morouj Alshatri: “Pottery is something our ancestors practiced, so I was alarmed to discover that there were no centers dedicated to teaching it (in Saudi)
  • Keramos studio has won several awards in Saudi Arabia and abroad

RIYADH: An award-winning Saudi ceramics artist is proving to be a real trail-glazer in reviving the ancient craft in the Kingdom.
Enterprising business owner Morouj Ahmed Alshatri has gone from strength to strength since setting up her Keramos studio in Jeddah three years ago.
Her venture, the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia dedicated to teaching pottery and ceramics, is quickly gaining an international reputation for its quality products.
Alshatri developed her passion for arts at a young age, honed her skills at school, and eventually majored in Islamic arts at King Abdul Aziz University.
While studying, she took part in numerous exhibitions to gain industry experience, and after graduating worked for a Jeddah company in its art department. Alshatri said working in a professional environment taught her “how to turn a piece of art into something productive.”
She added: “It taught me to deal with clients and helped me to combine art and business aspects together. I decided to concentrate on the art of pottery and ceramics because it brings together many different crafts such as sculpting, drawing, formation and painting.
“Pottery is something our ancestors practiced, so I was alarmed to discover that there were no centers dedicated to teaching it (in Saudi). This is when I took the step of establishing something to bring pottery back into our lives.”
In March 2016, with the help of Torathuna, an organization that supports local entrepreneurs and craft businesses, Alshatri set up her Keramos enterprise.
Alshatri places an emphasis on quality in all aspects of her studio to ensure items are produced to the highest standards and imports all her raw materials and equipment from countries such as Italy and the US.
Inspired by Islamic art and miniature art, Alshatri said the main aim of Keramos was to highlight Islamic and Saudi cultural heritage, with many of her pieces showcasing unique regional identities.
“I’ve had many delegations from abroad visit the studio, including the consul general of the US. They were all very interested to see our culture and civilization represented in the pieces,” she added.
A recurring theme in Alshatri’s designs is Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, an ancient art form practiced in the region of Asir, which is now on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Her works mix modern, traditional and Islamic elements together, and she finds Arabesque to be significant, which is the use of Islamic geometric patterns in a rhythmic form. “I also like to add Arabic calligraphy as well as Qur’an verses to my work, because I feel that it holds a story; it will make people stop to ask about the meaning instead of just passing it by.”
Alshatri runs workshops at her studio for adults and children, partly aimed at fostering an understanding of how basic household products are made. “The kids get such a thrill when they eat and drink out of items they have created. It really gives them a sense of joy.”
According to Alshatri there are therapeutic advantages in being a potter. “Some psychologists and doctors suggest that to reduce stress one should go outdoors and walk barefoot on sand or soil. This process of ‘grounding’ allows the natural surfaces to absorb the negative charges from your body. Working with clay allows for the absorption of these charges too,” Alshatri said.
She pointed out that pottery had helped her to control her own energy and stress levels and noted that it can teach adults and children to be patient and stay focused.
Alshatri said that research had shown clay to exude high levels of positive energy and its use for making natural items such as water jugs can have major health benefits. “I’ve watched people who have come into my studio, and they have told me it has a calming and relaxing atmosphere.”
Since its creation, Keramos studio has won several awards in Saudi Arabia and abroad.
Alshatri said one of her biggest challenges has been sourcing good-quality clay, and she has approached Saudi Aramco with the idea of using special extraction techniques to produce it in the Kingdom. She said: “We live in a desert and we have an abundance of sand and mud. I know we have the potential to develop clay to the same standards as the imported products.”
Looking ahead, Alshatri hopes to grow her company to be the leading Saudi brand for developing ceramic art pieces.
She said interest in pottery was increasing all the time and feedback from people attending her workshops was positive.
“Some students continue to produce pottery pieces after completing the workshops, either for their own use or for commercial use. It’s always nice to know that I managed to get people interested in pottery,” she added.