An Exhibition Of Saudi Contemporary Art Explores The Universal Elements Of Time And Space

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Aug 6 2019 / 15:34 PM

The exhibition, which takes place at Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, displays the work of some of Saudi Arabia’s most pivotal contemporary artists

An Exhibition Of Saudi Contemporary Art Explores The Universal Elements Of Time And Space
Courtesy of Ithra
Maha Malluh. Oil Candies. 2019. Compressed oil barrels. Variable dimensions

Three old wooden doors are inexplicably alluring. The first one is colored in a vibrant shade of turquoise yet numerous scratchings on its surface tell of years of use. The central one, unpainted and found in a light tan hue, is the most intact of all three and has a silver door handle while the third is the most battered, scratched and beaten—time has worn its originally soft surface into a battlefield of a wear and tear.

It’s become battered, discarded and devoured by the harsh desert and beaming with one last purpose through Saudi artist Moath Alofi’s work, The Doors of Thad (2019), part of the ongoing project The Last Tashahhud.

Moath Alofi. The  Doors of Thad. 2019. Wooden Doors. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of Ithra

Now on display at Zamakan, an exhibition currently on view at Ithra dedicated to an exploration of space and time, Alofi’s series documents the Holy City’s cultural heritage in order to spread awareness of its hidden treasures. The Last Tashahhud incorporates the hardly known villages and barren terrains surrounding the Holy City. As an avid explorer, Alofi, like with these doors, captures through his art the aura of past lives and societies that used to share such spaces and periods in time.

Ahmad Angawi. Flow #2. 2019. Transparent PVC tubes, liquid motor. Variable Dimensions. Courtesy of Ithra

Curated by Candida Pestana, Zamakan comprises 11 Saudi and Saudi-based artists working largely in multimedia installation. “Zamakan is a contemporary word for the Arabic language,” explains Pestana. “It combines two words: space and time. It has been used in the Arab world more in regards to science fiction or physics. Each artist’s work investigates these elements differently through use of the environment behind each material and the inherent stories within the materials that they use.

Included are works by Maha Malluh, Dana Awartani, Ahmad Angawi, Omar Abduljawad, Moath Alofi, Aziz Jamal, Muhannad Shono, Abdullah Al Othman, Sara Abdu, Ayman Zedani, and Zahra Al-Ghamdi, representing Saudi Arabia at the Venice Biennale, among others. “The idea is for the works to create a passage through time and examine notions of how space and time influence someone’s outlook,” adds Pestana. “The only thing that these artists have in common is their cultural background. The way that they respond to the elements of space and time is completely different.”

In Abdulla Al-Othman’s sound and video installation Sound of The Desert (2018) the desert landscape takes on a new meaning. Al-Othman recorded a performance while he was listening to the sound of the desert at various moments and from five different locations. The harsh beauty of the desert seems to continue infinitely without much variation and yet through this work Al-Othman shows how the formation of the desert, a natural space, transforms constantly.

Aziz Jamal. Playgound. 2019. Soap. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of Ithra

Listen closely, and the sound in the video changes punctuated by experience of the wind—one of the main catalysts for change in the desert.. A Saudi artist, he considers himself “a son of the desert.”

The desert, he relays through his work, presents the values of tolerance and homogeneity. It is a natural place to be enjoyed by all yet its spirituality and geographic terrain have suffered due to neglect. Here is an artwork using moving images and sound to prompt the viewer into re-appreciating the spirit and geographical beauty of the desert. Al-Othman’s work acts as a quest to preserve heritage and nature.

Zahra Al-Ghamdi. What Lies Behind the Sun. 2019. Dried branches on sponge and wood 300c, diameter. Courtesy of Ithra

In the adjacent opening space of the exhibition is Omar Abduljawad’s Thuluth (2018), a small temple-like structure made of sandstone, painted steel tube and paint on etched laser. It seems to provide a refuge like space where one can go inside, stop and contemplate time. The word “thuluth” is derived from a script variety of Islamic calligraphy invented by Ibn Muqlah Shirazi—there’s the notion of past and present in Abduljawad’s work and the need to stop time and reflect on the space that the visitor is in.

Zamakan Exhibition. 2019. Courtesy of Ithra

In a nearby space are the videos “Play” and “Playground” of a man washing red soap by Aziz Jamal, a fresh graduate and who was selected out of the 14 artists to exhibit in Zamakan. Here, as in other work, Jamal guides the spectator through his past memories that the artist likens to a “misshapen pebble.” It cracked and split itself and is a metaphor for the memories that are now unclear.

The artist tells how with time the pebble let go of its body until it was just its essence. Like Jamal’s man washing soap—an experience that will become a memory laden with meaning. “What was once vast can become miniscule and what was once detailed can become faded,” says the artist. With this work and others, Jamal shows how an individual’s physicality becomes nothing but an illustration of the passing of time—a time that we are simultaneously creating as much as we are experiencing.

Abdullah Al-Othman. Sound of the Desert. 2018. Sound and Video Installation. 8:20 minutes. Courtesy of Ithra

Jamal has also recently shown his work at ‘21’39 in Jeddah this June. He was selected from Ithra’s open call for contemporary artists in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province. Approximately 600 applied and 14 were selected out of which Jamal was chosen to exhibit his work in Zamakan.

“This exhibition shows how contemporary art is responding to the changes currently taking place in Saudi Arabia,” adds Pestana. “These are different perspectives from people coming from the same space.” Zamakan is pertinent to the Kingdom’s present and its quickly transforming future and how space and time can influence someone’s outlook. Moreover, the works give rise to the idea that the way reality is perceived is very much a singular, highly personal experience.

The exhibition runs until 26 October.

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