Mounira Musalli: The modern Saudi artist’s artist

Mounira Musalli: The modern Saudi artist’s artist
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Updated 14 January 2019

Mounira Musalli: The modern Saudi artist’s artist

Mounira Musalli: The modern Saudi artist’s artist
  • Munira Musalli is considered one of the most important creative minds in Saudi history

RIYADH: A Saudi art gallery will be renamed in honor of the late modern artist Mounira Musalli, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the minister of culture, has announced. Musalli, a pioneer of art in Saudi Arabia, passed away on Friday at the age of 64, after a long struggle with kidney disease.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was among those to pay tribute, praising the artist’s work on Twitter for its richness in culture, humanity, and Arabic themes.

Dr. Ahmed Mater, director of the Misk Art Institute, was a close friend of Musalli. “She was one of the bravest artists I ever met. We had a friendship. I met her in Jeddah and she visited us here, in Riyadh. Misk honored her work and achievements.”

Mater was keen to highlight how Musalli never let her gender prevent her taking on challenges. “She was a pioneer. A brave modern artist during that time. Her work documented her difficulties, but her art was exemplary. A modern artist ahead of her time, and a trailblazer for women in art,” he said.

Raneen Bukhari, the manager of Desert Designs, has fond memories of Musalli. “Mounira was there when Desert Designs just started showing art,” Bukhari told Arab News. “She supported us, brought all her friends, and activated the space as if it was hers. Her valuable insight and advice was integral to our humble beginnings in the art scene, and since then she has always been a great family friend.

“Her interest in Saudi and Arabian heritage blended with ours, and we created wonderful work together. She really was a pioneer and continued to be in everything that she did. Her bravery was inspiring to me.

“Her unabashed way of being totally herself, and speaking her mind paved the way for many women that met her.

“She is a pioneer of art. She held the first art exhibition in Saudi before any man ever did, with Safia Ben Zaqer. Gender separation is a man-made perception, Humans should be judged by what they give and contribute to their society,” Co-founder of Athr Gallery, Hamza Serafi told Arab News.

“This is the way it should be. She was a true example of that in her life and even after her passing. She was a mother; a leader to a lot of artists. She never stopped and kept giving introducing art continuously. She is a part of an upcoming exhibition that is shedding light on the Contribution of women in the art movement Of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Musalli was one of the most important modern artists in Saudi history. She contributed to the development of the artistic movement, especially among women, and held dozens of exhibitions, starting with a show at the School of Modern Education in Jeddah, in 1968.

She also collaborated with artists such as Yousef Ahmed and Ahmad Bahrani in major exhibitions across the region. She established an art festival in Alkhobar in 2007, and won dozens of awards during her life, from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai and elsewhere. 

Before her death, Musalli had been preparing a new exhibition of her work in Madinah. Qaswara Hafez, founder of Hafez Gallery: “She is a legend and her works will always have a place in our cultural movement. Mounira Musalli was a strong woman when it wasn’t alright to be strong for women. She lived her life by her rules, produced and loved art as if it were one of her children.” Hafez, who has worked closely with Mounira in the past, said.

“She was a legend and her work shall remain as a cultural movement.”

Born in 1954 in Makkah, Musalli studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo. She received a diploma in design in the US in 1979, and worked for a time at Saudi Aramco as director of publications before turning full-time to art.