Row upon row of canvases from Tagreed Albagshi’s I Can Dream series are stacked against one another inside the artist’s studio in Al Ahsa—a province situated in eastern Saudi Arabia. The artist’s I Can Dream paintings depict vibrantly rendered Saudi women either driving cars or attempting to. Their faces, portrayed in the artist’s signature naive style of painting, reveal excitement and awe. “A dream is coming,” Albagshi smiles affirmatively, referring to the historic news issued by the Saudi royal decree on 26 September 2017, which announced the lifting of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, effective June 2018. Albagshi’s renditions of women associated with cars in Saudi Arabia have propelled the artist into the international spotlight in a rather remarkable case of life imitating art. Albagshi gained immediate acclaim on social media channels when singer Rihanna shared an image of the artist’s Drive 111 painting on her Instagram account. “I am very happy about what happened,” Albagshi confides. Although she appreciates the recent rise in her profile, the artist insists how she continues to “focus on the deep things, not the surface.”
Albagshi’s compelling oeuvre often portrays her subject’s faces split in a duality of hues. The artist says the dichotomy conveys a persistent conflict between an individual’s socially accepted and unaccepted beliefs. The elongated necks and noses depicted throughout her portraits reflect the abundance of palm trees in abundance in Al Ahsa. “It is like a woman,” Albagshi says of the fertile power of a palm tree. The eyes of her subjects tend to be rendered in either a slanted, pensive gaze or remain peacefully shut—a meditative state which the artist has been progressively practicing in her own life. She refers to her painting method as cathartic, a process filled with movement. “I depend on my body’s energy when I paint,” Albagshi says. “I can’t sit. I use all of my body when I draw.”
Do You Love Me? 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 230x186cm.
A painting in progress crafted in sombre shades of grey and black anchors the artist’s studio. The canvas depicts child refugees weeping surrounded by a stream of women. A saint presides over the downtrodden with a gold halo beaming rays of light. To the left, Albagshi’s painting Do You Love Me? portrays a group of Saudi women watching television at home. The painting addresses the desire for cinemas in Saudi Arabia. “I think a change is coming in Saudi Arabia,” she says, referring to the Kingdom’s current ban on cinemas. A work displayed in the artist’s studio entitled Waiting portrays the protagonist anxiously reaching towards the sky as an airplane hovers above. “When I wait for something it is a very bad thing,” she explains. “But I think what is coming is very good.”
Not all of Albagshi’s paintings illustrate an anticipation for a brighter future. A portrait displayed in her studio manifested in serene shades of white and turquoise portray a bride and groom embracing. She says the portrait reflects her romantic nature and the healing effects of love and affection. Albagshi recounts how she was married at the age of 15. “It was a new life,” she recalls of her marriage. With the encouragement of her husband and her own perseverance, she cultivated her skills as an artist despite the limited resources in artistic training in Al Ahsa. “I wanted to be different than other women,” she asserts. “My thinking is different.” She gradually honed her artistry by taking courses in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and in Damascus, Syria. Alongside her vocation as an artist, Albagshi currently works as an education supervisor for the art curriculum in schools for the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia. As a founding member of the Saudi Society for Fine Arts, she continues to be an active member of the Saudi arts and culture scene. Albagshi recently completed a Master’s degree in curriculum and art teaching methods at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On developing career aspirations, she advises, “I think women need to be very strong and serious. They need to make a clear plan.”
Grow from my Heart Roses. 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 86x77cm.
A core element throughout Albagshi’s practice is to challenge misconceptions of the role of women within Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal society. “Everybody thinks that a woman is weak,” she proclaims. “That she needs a man to help her. I want to change this idea. Women are very strong and Saudi women are stronger. She [a woman] must prove herself to the world and in Saudi Arabia.” A series of paintings entitled Woman and Lion and Freedom conceived over the past year incorporate female protagonists alongside lions. Albagshi recounts how she started to illustrate lions on her canvases when she participated in Al Mansouria Foundation’s artist residency in Paris, France last year. “When I went to Paris, I saw lion sculptures everywhere and they inspired me,” Albagshi recounts. “The lion means more power. I decided to become stronger. It was a very important time in my life,” she reflects. “Because it was my dream to visit Paris.” Just over a year after the artist’s series of paintings displayed the powerful force of lions alongside her female subjects, women have begun to obtain more autonomy in Saudi Arabia. “I believe when you paint something it will happen,” Albagshi smiles as she reflects on the rights women are progressively gaining in Saudi Arabia.
Given the recent rise in her profile, Albagshi reflects on how her responsibilities as an artist have increased. The concepts she conveys across her canvases are more important to her than ever. All eyes are on Al Baghsi. Let’s see what she will do next.