Ahmed Mater’s first US solo exhibition opens at Smithsonian
Ahmed Mater’s first US solo exhibition opens at Smithsonian
The exhibition explores economic, cultural and urban change in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is the first and only showing of this exhibition in the United States solely dedicated to works by this artist.
Through his art, Mater captures the impact of rapid development, seeks lost landscapes, and maps the topography of the vast, empty deserts juxtaposed against overcrowded, thronging cities.
While Mater works in a variety of media, including painting, installations and performance, ‘Symbolic Cities’ will focus on his landscape photography as a means of exploring the tension between the traditional world and the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabian life.
The exhibition will highlight three journeys through Saudi Arabia, with an eye toward the impact of urbanization — “Empty Land,” “Desert of Pharan” (2011-13) and “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage” (2015). Beginning with his aerial views of abandoned desert sites and continuing through the reconstruction of Makkah, a series of large-scale photographs and videos are organized as an experiential encounter, a progression from quiet emptiness to the physical and emotional intensity of the changes Mater is witnessing. The exhibition culminates with the installation “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage: A Thousand Lost Years,” the first chapter in Mater’s latest project examining the growth of Riyadh, the country’s administrative capital and largest city.
He invites his audience to look at his country and people in a way that encourages open dialogue and breaks through ‘us’ and ‘them’ barriers.
“Mater brings the rigor of his training as a physician, as well as unparalleled access to gather frank observations of his own time and place,” said Carol Huh, the exhibition curator and Freer/Sackler’s curator for contemporary art. “The resulting imagery is straightforward and striking, while his newest research-based project presents another fascinating shift in his use of the photographic medium.”
Mater, who works as both artist and medical doctor, splits his time between Abha, Jeddah and Makkah. He explores the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of globalization, consumerism and transformation. His recent work increasingly uses images and video to explore local collective memory and unofficial histories behind contemporary Saudi Arabian socio-political life.
In addition to being one of the founders of the Al-Meftaha Arts Village in Abha, he is also well known as a co-founder of the Edge of Arabia collective which has connected a new generation of Saudi artists with international audiences.
The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. together comprise the nation’s museum of Asian art. Here you can find one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East.
The galleries also contain masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and South East Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler. (The Freer is currently closed for refurbishment and is due to open again in spring 2017).
Art Jameel fosters and promotes contemporary art and creative entrepreneurship across the MENAT region. In partnership with arts organizations worldwide, Art Jameel is developing two arts centers and cultural exchange programs to encourage networking and knowledge sharing.
Art Jameel is the founding partner of Edge of Arabia, the Crossway Foundation, Jeddah Art Week and The Archive. In partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, it awards the biannual Jameel Prize for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic traditions.
Additional projects include: Art Jameel Photography Award; Jeddah Sculpture Museum, a public park established in collaboration with Jeddah Municipality; Jameel Arts Education in schools; the House of Traditional Arts in Jeddah and the Art Jameel Programme for Traditional Arts and Crafts in Fustat, Cairo, both developed in partnership with the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.
Culturunners, developed in collaboration with an international network of artists and institutions from the Middle East, Europe and the United States, is an unconventional and independent model of cultural exchange and production. The concept combines the localized rituals of an artist road trip with the far reaching power of communications technology.
While on the road artists take part in exhibitions, talks and workshops with partner institutions. They have full use of a state-of-the-art studio featuring digital and traditional materials and equipment and broadcast artists’ ‘Dispatched’ from the road via Culturunners interactive website.
Since Culturunners launched in 2014, artists and curators from the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UK, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Syria and Morocco have participated in programs at The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas; Louisiana State University; The Middle East Institute in Washington DC; ISCP Residencies in Brooklyn; The Armory Show and Columbia University in New York, MIT in Boston, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
It’s been quite a journey to date; since setting out from Houston, Texas in a converted 34ft 1999 Gulf Stream RV, Culturunners have traveled over 13,000 miles, teaming up with over 50 artists in 25 states across America. Program leader, Stephen Stapleton observed: “You can never underestimate the importance of face to face contact, especially in our digital age. It’s essential to connect on an emotional level.”
Mater’s exhibition, taking place against the backdrop of the US Presidential election, includes a program of dialogues and discussions across Washington DC. The Middle East Institute Sr. Vice President, Kate Seelye moderated a panel discussion on the theme of ‘New Voices, New Visions: The Impact of the Arts in Saudi Arabia’, held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Speakers included Ahmed Mater and Culturunners director, Stephen Stapleton. The event was hosted by MEI in partnership with Art Jameel.
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