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Saudi art splashes out on ME canvas
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 27 - 03 - 2011

ART Dubai is the leading contemporary Art Fair in the region and this year features 82 art galleries from 34 countries, all bringing collections for exhibition and sale. Collectors, artists, other art professionals from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and many other countries converge on the fair to enjoy a program of events ranging from film screenings, exhibitions, talks, installations and performance tours.
When Mohammed Hafiz of the Athr Gallery in Jeddah attended the art fair four years ago, he was extremely disappointed to find that nobody was representing the art of Saudi Arabia. This was the catalyst that led him to opening the Athr Gallery with Hamza Serafi, and since then, the Athr Gallery have ensured that they take a body of work every year to Art Dubai. This is their third consecutive year at the event, and both Hafiz and Serafi are representing the Athr Gallery personally.
This year, there are eight artists represented in the Athr Gallery collection: Ayman Yossri Daydban, Haji Noor Deen, Eyad Maghazil, Maha Malluh, Raoouf Rifai, Nasser Al-Salem, Jowhara Al-Saud, Sami Al-Turki, and Saddiq Wasil. Most of these artists are Saudi and exhibited their work in the Young Saudi Artists Exhibition held at the Athr Gallery in January, generating a packed and enthusiastic opening night. Haji Noor Deen, however, is Chinese, from Yucheng in the Shandong Province of China.
The collection includes a powerful and diverse mix of paintings with acrylic on canvas, conceptual photographs, sculptures using a variety of materials, calligraphy using ink on paper, and silkscreen calligraphy, each one carrying a social, religious or political message. Artists Yossri, Wasil and Al-Salem will personally attend the Art Fair.
Diverse range of talents
Saddiq Wassil produces imaginative sculptures using discarded metallic objects, such as tin cans, and ‘dallahs' (traditional Arabic coffee pots). As well as having a contemporary and ‘fun' appeal, his sculptures usually convey social messages. For example, his series titled “The Dallah” uses dallahs that are all collected as discarded waste. The dallah is synonymous with hospitality and kindness, a typical element of welcoming hosts across the Middle East. It is used to prepare coffee to be shared between guests, around which conversations take place, ideas take root and relationships strengthen. According to Wassil, “These recycled dallahs are used to highlight the reality of our ways, having discarded our own sense of traditional communal values, making way for defining changes. The emphasis here is both a celebration of a time once lived and a call to regain it.” The old dallahs are reworked using welded iron, which adds to the weight physically as well as conceptually.
The sculptures of Eyad Maghazil are more cutting-edge with their sociopolitical messages and his work for the Art Fair adds to the powerful pieces that he exhibited at the Young Saudi Artists' Exhibition. He explores a culture that suffers from subservience and uniformity through mind compulsion. His varied sculptural installations present such concepts to their audience. For the Art Fair, he presents two sculptures: stylized wrought-iron frames of two heads: one has a ghuttra and shamagh over it, and the other has a hijab and niqab.
However, these are no ordinary head-dresses for they convey messages about the education system in Saudi Arabia. His piece is called “The Curriculum” and is an accusation: “Locally, the system was majorly criticized for being responsible for the high unemployment rates and the lack of delivering innovation and entrepreneurship skills to the students. A generation of copy-paste-spoon-fed information has been born.”
Nasser Al-Salem from Makkah has produced a piece of work entitled “Zamzam”. “This is a silkscreen-printed calligraphic representation of the word “zamzam”, a miraculously generated source of water from God. The composition is significant to the holistic symbolic meaning of the piece. The word is designed to be read from left to right, right to left, up to down and down to up, echoing universal ways of reading. Such flow in the direction also depicts Hajra pacing between Safa and Marwa in order to find the source of holy zamzam water. It also represents the angel Gabriel's large wingspan, who was responsible for indicating to Hajra where to stamp her foot in order to reveal the source. To the heart of the print lies an intricately designed and manipulated eight-point star.
This is where God is believed to rest upon his throne. According to Islamic sources, the eight-point stwar is also a sign of infinity, which coincidentally, is also the general shape this piece has formed, implying Islam's everlasting and unbreakable cycle.
Multi-media artist Ayman Yossri Daydban was born in 1966 in Palestine and has Jordanian nationality. As a young boy, he grew up in a village between two mountains in the south of Saudi Arabia, and he used elements of nature to build his toys and create his fantasies. As an adult, he resorted to building the dream he couldn't have: the dream of the homeland.
The “Flag Series” that he exhibits at the Art Fair is the building of such a dream. With his 1967/1948 flag, he uses stainless steel sheets, and the reflective nature of the medium used is essential to the delivery of the concept: the viewer's face is reflected, somewhat distorted, thus allowing identification with a distorted truth or reality. Would this viewer's interaction make him a witness, an accomplice or merely an observer?
For more information about Art Dubai, visit www.artdubai.ae

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