On the face of it, it’s funny. A Middle Eastern man walks through the streets with a shop mannequin tucked under one arm. He is looking for a delivery company that will send it to Riyadh. However, no one will help him. No clerk will send a nude female to Saudi Arabia. So the man resorts to chopping his mannequin up into dozens of numbered chunks. These get past customs officers. The woman is rebuilt like a piece of flat-pack furniture and the video ends with a group of 22 Saudi artists solemnly sketching from the reconstituted
Using video, sculpture, painting, installation, and performance to explore the politics that shape modern life and culture inside the theocratic kingdom, the newly mounted group exhibition, Parallel Kingdom: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston Texas, gives a glimpse into life in the Persian Gulf. The survey features 12 established and emerging artists, including, Sarah Abu Abdullah, Ahaad Alamoudi, Njoud Alanbari, and the YouTube collective Telefaz 11.
“Outside of stereotypical Hollywood portrayals, investigative journalism exposés, and YouTube videos, very little is known in the United States about the people and culture of Saudi Arabia,” reads the exhibition's curatorial statement.
Abdulnasser Gharem’s paintings, Hemisphere and Camouflage, use stamps as a metaphor for the ways the artist feels the Saudi Arabian royal family uses Islam to govern and suppress individuality and democratic action. “What is happening on the ground is camouflage,” writes Gharem in the exhibition catalog. “These theocratic countries are using people’s values to tell them there will be a great future of Islam but in fact they are the victims. My motivation for the stamp painting series came from the realization that I myself was one of the victims.” The show also features Gharem’s Capitol Dome, an installation that recreates a miniature replica of the US Capitol Dome, tilted open to expose a mosque lying underneath. The installation symbolizes the uncertainty that engulfs the region in a post-Arab Spring world.
Saudi Arabia’s relationship to oil is also on display in artist Nugamshi’s Calligraphy Car, in which the artist writes in oil over the surface of a jeep. The artist asks, “What will happen when we run out of oil?” In using calligraphy to mark the vehicle, Nugamshi raises concerns about how Saudi Arabian traditions will manifest in the future. Sarah Abu Abdullah’s video work, Saudi Automobile, is also an exploration of the past. In the video, Abdullah can be seen in a traditional hijab painting a wrecked car pink. The gesture alludes to the fact that Saudi women are denied, among other things, the right to drive. “This wishful gesture was the only way I could get myself a car—cold comfort for the current impossibility of my dream that I, as an independent person, can drive myself to work one day,” states the artists about her performance piece.
Ajlan Gharem’s Paradise Has Many Gates image depicts a group of men praying in a mosque made from metal fencing adorned with neon lights. Gharem’s art illuminates the generational divisions that exist in the Saudi Arabian Kingdom. “The older generation has more beliefs than knowledge, and our generation has more knowledge than beliefs,” he writes in the exhibition catalog. “So we’re trying to find beliefs that can be harmonized with our knowledge.”
The exhibition’s curators say Parallel Kingdom, “seeks to use the visual language and firsthand accounts of these artists to lay a new foundation for discourse and understanding of Saudi society, cultures and politics.”
In the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Saudi youth are finding new ways to express themselves.
Twitter usage rates are amongst the highest in the world and the country has the most YouTube views per capita, according to research from 2013.
There are also developments in the arts.
One of the country's leading sculptors, Abdulnasser Gharem has set up a studio to showcase emerging talent.
It is fast becoming a hub for artists who are looking at fresh ways to explore aspects of religion and culture within the strict mores of the Saudi Kingdom.
Here is the work of four of those artists.
As anti-Muslim feeling in the US is stoked by Donald Trump, a group of young Saudi Arabian artists travel from Texas to California, exhibiting their work and confronting their audience’s fears, prejudices and stereotypes. They explain what it means to be an artist in Saudi Arabia
Ordinarily, Ajlan Gharem would be wearing Saudi Arabia’s traditional men’s clothing — the strictly white thobe that, like a graduation gown, covers the body from neck to ankle.
But on a recent evening when he met with SF Weekly, Gharem dressed like the working artist that he is: a purple jacket with rolled-up sleeves, a blue shirt with spots across its fabric, brown pants with a colorful pattern, and green sneakers. Not the green of lawns, either, but the fun, bright green of a Jell-O mold. Gharem and his older brother, Abdulnasser — Saudi Arabia’s best-known contemporary artist — run Gharem Studio in Riyadh, the country’s capital, where they are leading a movement to change their nation’s acceptance of modern art.
Saudi Arabia’s conservatism, and its traditional religious strictures, have hindered the birth of a widespread art scene. Like African-American dancers and jazz musicians who went to France in the 1920s, Saudi artists are finding success outside the country at the same time they are — slowly but surely — broadening the audience for their work inside its borders. Ajlan and Abdulnasser are two of 15 artists in “GENERA#ION: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia,” which opened Aug. 11 at Minnesota Street Project.
“Discussion between the artwork — not just the artists — and the audience is kind of a new idea in Saudi Arabia,” Ajlan Gharem says. “This is the dialogue that we need. Not just someone who stands there and says, ‘This is good,’ and that’s it. This is another part of the artwork — the dialogue between the audience and the artwork and the artists. It’s creating a space of knowledge.”
“We have our studio, but we don’t do shows,” he adds. “We do education. We do residencies. We help other artists produce their artwork in show, like here in America and London. We’re trying to create a platform in Saudi Arabia for our [artists]. Education is missing in Saudi. There’s nothing. If you’re in school, you only have one art class in each week. We started this not just for us but every artist in Saudi Arabia.”
“GENERA#ION: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia” is everything contemporary art can be: funny, damning, esoteric, poetic, provocative. Not every work resonates at a high level — especially if an art-goer approaches the work without context — but among the pieces that connect instantly, even without initial explanation, is Sarab (Mirage), a black-and-white video work by the “calligraffiti” artist named Nugamshi that shows him splashing reams of crude oil in lieu of paint against a glass wall in the Riyadh desert. The outlining of thick and sparse letters is both a rhythmic performance piece and a visual triumph, where the tall shapes — almost as tall at Nugamshi — are like the creations of Robert Motherwell or Franz Kline.
A little information goes a long way, though. Nugamshi is critiquing the world’s — and Saudi Arabia’s — historical dependence on oil, and the environmental price that people pay for that reliance. His underlying message is both local and universal, and in another era — say that of 1970s or even ’80s — Saudi Arabia would have undoubtedly prohibited his work. But this is 2016, and a well-connected agency, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, is sponsoring “GENERA#ION: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia” on a tour across the United States as a way to create what the center’s program director is calling “a platform for alternative dialogue and cultural empathy between communities.”
Empathy can be generated through humor, as with the work of the collective called Telfaz11, whose videos at Minnesota Street Project include one with actors in their 20s and 30s portraying Saudis visiting a U.S. bar. Islam prohibits the drinking of alcohol, but one of the Saudi characters — trying badly to fit in — toasts his American cohorts with a shot of booze. As everyone drinks, he sneakily throws the liquor over his shoulders. When a busty blonde woman passes out, he uses his hands to pump her chest (through a pillow). A Saudi friend arrives onto the scene and says aloud, “Goddamn Saudis. You can’t be left alone with anybody.” On the exhibit’s opening night, alcohol was served on the second floor, and it made for a slightly surreal scene: Open drinking of beer and wine amid artwork from the birthplace of Islam, with some pieces critiquing the way people follow the rituals and outlines of organized religion.
Ajlan Gharem’s Paradise Has Many Gates is centered around a small mosque made of the exact kind of steel that also produces cages and fences, like the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay or the European border fortifications that are designed to prevent Middle East migrants from crossing over. People freely enter Gharem’s mosque, a 33-by-21-foot structure complete with steel dome; steel minaret that lights up in green; and a sound system that, five times a day, issues a call to prayer made of voices from different Muslim-majority countries. Minnesota Street Project has images of the piece, but not the piece itself, which does appear at a parallel exhibit that opened this summer at Houston’s Station Museum of Contemporary Art. Inside Gharem’s Texas iteration, which is in the museum’s parking lot, visiting Muslims are using it as a practicing mosque, even as secular art-goers crowd inside, too. Some visitors, Gharem says, have done yoga inside his art mosque. Times are changing: In Saudi Arabia, about 70 percent of its citizens are under the age of 30; Gharem himself is 30.
“It’s global, and it’s not just about Islam,” he says about his art mosque. “It doesn’t represent the religion — it represents religiosity. There are so many young people, and when we look back to the older generation, we see them as so good in worshipping — but we don’t belong to these types of things. There should be something that we need to get to. For us, we’re trying to find those beliefs — [something] that matches our level of knowledge. With knowledge, everything is open. Books, the internet, everything. The issue now is that we are stuck in between these two things: Getting free of that old, traditional mentality, and trying to create a new level of beliefs and level of speech.”
Asked about specifically using a mosque to make his artistic point, Gharem laughs: “I’m Muslim, and I can’t use a church.”
In his Depersonalization photo and video series, Dhafer Al Shehri captures the beauty, freneticism, and movement of mass praying in Saudi Arabia, where individual expression is sublimated into an orchestrated expression of faith. From Al Shehri’s use of distance and cropping, the prayers resemble an expanse of synchronized movement — pointillism that comes alive every few frames. In a room across the way from Al Shehri’s work, Abdulnasser Gharem has a haunting video work called The Path that requires an understanding of a tragic Saudi event. A few decades ago, in an arid southwestern area that borders the Red Sea, a large group of people sought shelter from a severe rainstorm on a bridge that subsequently collapsed and killed them. In The Path, Abdulnasser Gharem revisits the remains of the structure and paints it with the Arabic word for path: Al Siraat.
The exhibit features four female artists whose work is anything but timid. In her video piece called Elementary 240, Njoud Alanbari re-creates murals — placed near Saudi schools for girls — which use stern wording and images of swords to warn the students never to take drugs, emulate Jews, travel abroad by themselves, or listen to forbidden music. (According to Alanbari, who filmed young Saudi girls playing and socializing around her re-created wall, it is private citizens and not the Saudi government who put them up.)
In her video Saudi Automobile, Sarah Abu Abdallah paints a wrecked car in a brilliant pink — a commentary on the fact that women still aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Just last year, Saudi women got the right to vote in elections. Change is happening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, though maybe not at the pace preferred by those who attended the opening night of “GENERA#ION: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia.” The night featured music and male dancers who moved around in traditional outfits that had untraditional images of Bob Marley and Coca Cola bottles on them — a reference to artist Ahaad Alamoudi’s art-video critique of consumer culture in Saudi Arabia.
Abdulnasser Gharem, 42, went to high school with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center. At a time when Islam and the Middle East have become woven into the U.S. presidential elections, and when Saudi Arabia is widely associated with 9/11, Wahhabism, and what could be called “backwardness,” “GENERA#ION: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia” is an island of reflection where dancing, drinking, and commingling are encouraged — and where a different side of the country is evident from the moment you walk into the building.
A chain-link mosque has temporarily consumed the parking lot at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
A non-Muslim can only imagine how Ajlan Gharem's art installation "Paradise Has Many Gates," which measures 32 by 98 feet, might appeal to modern believers: It reduces iconic mosque elements - a dome, a minaret and ornate windows - to clean, perfect lines and transparency. A base of prayer rugs underscores the sacred inspiration.
On the other hand, one might see the piece as a protest against conservative ideology, which can be a kind of cage. The installation also recalls a prison cell at Guantánamo Bay. And during the opening-night party, when Houstonians first saw it, Gharem's art simply offered an inviting experience. Women and men mingled freely in it, wearing shorts.
This is America, after all, and Houston, and it's hot, and anything goes at the Station, where the shows often push radical buttons.
Gharem's installation is one of the highlights of "Parallel Kingdom: Contemporary Art From Saudi Arabia."
The real showstopper is a more intense variation on a mosque: Abdulnasser Gharem's "Capitol Dome," a 13-foot replica of the U.S. Capitol dome that sits on an oily-looking sea of reflective black material in the middle of the museum, where walls have been removed to accommodate it.
The structure is precariously tilted, like a trap about to spring, so that you can see the intricate, backlit metalwork inside - a sleek blend of Western neoclassical design and Islamic geometry, democracy and religion. A quotation from the Quran is stamped into a shiny ring near the base, in English and Arabic: "Guide us to the straight path."
Gharem's treatment of Thomas Crawford's 19th-century goddess "Freedom," the statue atop the real capitol, makes "Capitol Dome" more provocative: She stands on the ground, with a long rope around her neck.
Read into it what you will. Your take will likely depend on your politics, but "Capitol Dome" welcomes all comers equally.
You might remember this Gharem - the older brother of Ajlan - from FotoFest's 2014 biennial, which presented art from across the Middle East. An unlikely international art star who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Saudi Arabian Armed Forces, he knew two of the 9/11 hijackers in high school. He wondered how they could have emerged with such different world views, and discovered art late, diving in seriously about 15 years ago.
Gharem co-founded Edge of Arabia, which promotes contemporary art from Saudi Arabia in the outside world; and three years ago founded Gharem Studio in Riyadh to help guide and inspire young talent within the kingdom.
It looks like the ultra-conservative Saudi government, which still exercises strict censorship controls, is tolerating this new, outspoken generation, which is globally connected and tech-savvy.
But there's more to it than that. These artists also have become useful cultural ambassadors.
"Parallel Kingdom" is sponsored by the Saudi government through the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, an organization that grew out of the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco.
Gharem Studio and the independent, London-based group Culturunners collaborated to produce the show as one element of a multi-city art blitz that aims to change perceptions about Saudi Arabia, long an uneasy U.S. ally. In the catalog, the organizers write that they want to provide "a peer-to-peer platform for alternative discourse and cultural empathy between nations."
The Gharems also believe art can help combat jihadism, giving young people positive ways to express themselves.
"I want them to look around and develop their humanity," Abdulnasser Gharem told the Guardian last year.
So, there's context. But is the art any good?
"Parallel Kingdom" features seductively beautiful and sophisticated works by 12 artists - four of whom are female.
The elder Gharem dominates the walls as well as the floor, with a series of beautifully executed and complex "rubber stamp paintings" that superimpose ornately detailed images onto "canvases" made with thousands of bureaucratic stamps. All riffing on the dome motif - as an ancient warrior's helmet, a mosque doorway where an artillery tank is firing and a flying warplane - they are the show's thematic glue.
Ahmad Angawi's zig-zaggy lenticular photograph "Wijha 2:148 - And everyone has a direction to which they should turn" juxtaposes views of the Masjid Al-Harram (the Grand Mosque of Mecca) from the 19th and 21st centuries. Stand to one side, and you see the old; move a few inches, and you see the new. Stand directly in front of it, and you see abstract, parallel lines.
Humor turns out to be the show's most surprising and perhaps most insightful element.
Comedy sketches air in a lounge featuring the Riyadh-based internet TV network Telfaz 11. (The "11" in the name refers to the year of the Arab Spring uprising.)
The video I watched uses gentle slapstick: A group of slight daffy young men introduces a naive, eager American to Saudi culture and - oops! - accidentally kills him after he asks to meet women.
There's also sly fun in the Photoshopped images of Shaweesh, who inserts Western pop-culture figures into historical Saudi photographs. For instance, Darth Vader appears among the dignitaries in a group portrait from the Versailles Peace Treaty.
The show's female artists project a more potent sense of protest.
In the quiet 2011 video "Saudi Automobile," up-and-comer Sarah Abu Abdallah paints a wrecked car pink, struggling to keep her abaya out of the way. It reminds us that women aren't allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia - unthinkable to a Westerner. Is it really any consolation that female artists are allowed to show their frustration, within reason?
Slightly more alarming is a video showing young Saudi girls doodling on Njoud Alanbari's "Elementary 240," a mural that depicts a host of no-no's, written in Arabic script over ominous-looking sabers: no drugs, idle time, porn, traveling abroad, forbidden music, bad company, embodying infidels - and a central tenet, "Do not embody the Jews."
You marvel at the irony of it and fear for the artist, who is also a teacher. Although maybe in the Middle East, people read it differently.
"We think of Saudi Arabia in black-and-white terms," said Sean Foley, an expert on contemporary affairs in the Middle East who teaches at Middle Tennessee State University.
Americans often want to "synthesize" ideas about Islam and modernism, but Saudi Arabia's young artists want to "harmonize" their globally savvy outlook with the ultra-conservative beliefs of their elders, Foley explained. "That's a different thing."
Did I understand that approach any better after seeing "Parallel Kingdom"? Not really. But I am still pondering the complexity of the art, and admiring its spirit.
Mathematician by day, artist by night—it seems that double lives run in the Gharem family. Works by Ajlan Gharem, the brother of the internationally renowned artist Abdulnasser Gharem who was once a lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Arabian army, have been included in two exhibitions in London since October 2015. The latest, In Search of Lost Time (until 19 March) at the School of Oriental and African Studies’ Brunei Gallery, is a show that examines the rapid growth and development of the Gulf in the past 60 years. Ajlan also seems to have inherited a taste for the politically provocative—his contribution to the Brunei Gallery show features a cage shaped like a minaret. The work is part of a larger cage piece that measures 10m by 30m and represents a whole mosque. Titled Paradise Has Many Gates (2015), it symbolises the “power wielded by all those above the unwitting individual, from elder brother to father, neighbourly imam and, eventually, the state”.
“We need to invest in these young people before Isis does,” says Abdulnasser Gharem, a former lieutenant colonel in the Saudi Arabian army, sipping a glass of water in the Tate during a flying visit to London. “They have energy and have little to do in their own country – so what would you expect them to do?”
Gharem, who was in the same class at school as two of the 9/11 hijackers, is one of the Middle East’s biggest-selling artists. At Christie’s in 2011, he sold Message, Messenger – a sculpture symbolising the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem – for more than $800,000, a record-breaking price for contemporary Middle Eastern art at the time.
He’s now on a mission to lure the young away from terrorism – by encouraging them to become artists instead. With his younger brother Aljan, he has set up a foundation at his studio in Riyadh to mentor people accordingly. So far, the studio has 11 students, aged 18 to 22, whose works will be on display in London next month. He refuses to identify the jihadists he knew as a teenager, but says the only way to conquer the wave of terrorism sweeping the Middle East – and with it the world – is to encourage people to think “individually”.
At school, he was a star pupil but was threatened with coming bottom of the class unless he attended sermons in the mosque. “The teachers started to play with the exam marks,” he says. “I was going crazy because I was a good student and suddenly I was the worst guy in the school because I was not participating in their activities. To get my marks, I had to go along and hang out with them.”
His former classmates were “young and good”, he says. “But something happened to them – they changed. They went from saying, ‘Why not let us go along and see what is happening?’ to talking about jihad and fighting.” He adds: “Nothing has changed that much. It is the same education system, the same speeches in the mosque.”
Entertainment is thin on the ground in Saudi Arabia, let alone fine-art education. Cinemas and music concerts are banned, there are fewer than a dozen contemporary galleries and no art schools. “My idea is to help them find their path and not introduce themselves as a sacrifice in jihad. I want them to look around and develop their humanity.”
Many of those working in his studio have been educated in America or Europe: they are some of the 200,000 young people who benefit every year from an international scholarship programme established by King Abdullah 10 years ago. Their experience had a huge impact, he says. “You can see it in their work – they are acquiring fresh ideas.”
With more than 70% of the Saudi population under 40, the effect of this education will, he believes, transform the country. “There is a group of people in Saudi who want to go back into the past and freeze history. But I hope the studio will be the space where people can share their new ideas, come up with their own vision and be connected with society – not just an artist. I am trying to give them something long-term. Intellectuals in Saudi are lazy.”
In what may be an oblique criticism of Britain and America, the exhibition is called Ricochet, inspired by the idea that every country’s actions may cause “direct and indirect chain reactions”. One of the most haunting images, by Gharem himself, pictures a stealth bomber descending from the tessellated ceiling of the mosque at Isfahan in Iran, smoke bellowing out behind it like some terrifying Fury.
“Usually people look skywards for inspiration,” says Gharem, “but now they look up and see a bomber coming towards them.” The piece is constructed out of the kind of rubber stamps used by Saudi officialdom to keep people under control, he says. “With these stamps and systems, they are killing humanity and dreams. They keep you in a cage.”
Aljan has created a piece that is an actual cage configured into a 30ft-long mosque made of steel pipes and wire netting. “The idea is that ideology is a cage,” says Gharem. Another work by Gharem senior is Traditional Pain Treatment: a film of a fellow artist called Shaweesh enduring bloodletting through “cupping”, a treatment still practised in Saudi Arabia. The cups form a cross on a map of the Middle East inked across the man’s back.
“I was trying to find something that symbolised the detoxification of a bad ideology,” says Gharem. The cups, which are removed to allow the “doctor” to hasten the bloodletting by scoring the raised rings of flesh with a scalpel, form a cross to shame all the countries that exploited the region for oil. “They have wealth,” says Gharem, “and didn’t use it for the benefit of the people or for any humanitarian good, but to cause fire and heat for the ideology of the tribes.”
After this, a bizarre photo of the students painting and drawing a nude female model comes as light relief. Life drawing is banned in Saudi Arabia so the male artists, dressed in flowing robes and traditional cotton headdresses are not focusing on a real woman, but a plastic mannequin. It was bought in Dubai and had to be sliced into sections to get it through Saudi Arabian customs, then reassembled. “I was told it is idolatry to have a human figure with a head,” says Gharem.
The one woman exhibiting in this show works as a teacher in a girls’ school in Riyadh. Njoud Alanbari took a photograph of a picture painted on a wall in her school intended to promote good behaviour among its pupils, by showing how they should dress. A picture of a woman sporting long hair has been marked with a big red cross, while the black silhouette of a woman whose face and hair are blacked out has been given a large tick. Threatening scimitars encircle the women.
In a country with no free press or media, only time will tell whether art can bring about the change Gharem wants. “The image is playing a great role in this war thanks to the evolution of communication and information,” he says. “We need to be positive.”
People are sitting in a little room watching some films; for many of the viewers what they are seeing is quite a revelation. The highly creative short videos show a picture of the Gulf from a thought-provoking, fantastical and often very funny perspective. A message that shines through from a film called Pixels is how prejudice is universal and how doors can be slammed in the face of anyone whose appearance or views do not conform to mainstream norms. The films are enjoyable to watch because they hold up a mirror to the frailties and conceits of our shared humanity.
The makeshift cinema is in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London. The films being screened are part of an exhibition called ‘In Search of Lost Time’ presented in association with the Brunei Gallery by the British Council and curated by Abed Al-Kadiri, Amal Khalaf and Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem. The exhibition is the culmination of four years of cultural exchange between artists in the UK and the Gulf.
The leading Saudi contemporary artist, Abdulnasser Gharem, founder of Gharem Studio, Riyadh, curated the Gharem Studio Installation for the exhibition.
Arab News caught up with Gharem at the private preview. He spoke about his pleasure in working with talented young artists at his Studio and the vision behind his own work.
“My inspiration comes from my daily life — what is happening around me. That includes the wars in the region and the ideologies promoted by people who are just repeating what they learn without thinking. Some of these people have become like ‘Guards of the Idea’ — they are just guarding the idea. They are killing creativity and avoiding any new speech or any new ideas. I think art is the only way you can spread new ideas from a humanitarian perspective,” he said.
With regard to the collaboration with the British Council he commented: “One of the missions of the British Council is to promote culture, and it is an honor to work with this organization.”
Gharem is passionate about developing young, upcoming talent and hopes one day to set up a foundation in Saudi Arabia.
“They (the artists) are smart and have a passion for what they do. It is my dream to create a foundation and become a model for others across Saudi Arabia. Now, for an artist to create his own studio is a new thing. Usually, in the past, the artist was self-sufficient. I am enjoying my studio working with these young, smart kids — exchanging ideas. I am learning from them also.”
He is generous with his time and resources and sees it as important to support the next generation of artists.
“My Ghrarem Studio in Riyadh is non-profit. Not everything should be for profit; you need to donate at least some of your time and some of your efforts to others. I put the artists together so they can produce ideas together — we don’t know who the ideas belong to because there are a lot of people working on the ideas. They work collaboratively,” he explained.
Present at the exhibition showing his work ‘Paradise has many gates’ was Ajlan Gharem. He built an art installation in the shape of a mosque in the desert outside Riyadh and told a story through film and photographs. He said that he wanted to show how in a fast changing society a gulf has developed between the older generations who follow certain traditions and beliefs unquestioningly and the younger generations, who with their exposure to so much new information and knowledge, want to sift through, examine and evaluate ideas and beliefs.
“As the younger generation, when we look at the older generation — they had more beliefs than knowledge. Today, we young people have more knowledge than beliefs. We are still looking for our beliefs. We are stuck in the traditional mentality whereby you have to believe in everything without searching. It is totally different now — with the Internet everything is available. So that is what is in my mind — we are in a cage but we can see out. You need beliefs, but if you want to build a new future you have to build a new past. You have to search the past and then build a new future,” he said.
Director of SOAS, Baroness Amos, spoke to Arab News about her perspective on the exhibition. “This exhibition is really multi-media — a lot of different artists from different parts of the Gulf region have contributed. It is about finding a way of bringing together a whole range of talent and messages from different voices about what is going on in the region.
“We are a university with a particular specialism in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that prides itself on being global. We are thinking about the issues that are currently facing the world; our students come to SOAS because they want to challenge conventional thinking — they want to change the world,” she said.
Sean Williams, Director of Operations for the Arts in the UK, British Council, explained that the exhibition is the culmination of several years of collaborative art projects and programs throughout the Gulf region.
He observed: “We see so much negative press about the Arab world and Islam but the day to day experience is not about that; one of the safe spaces and areas where people feel more comfortable about having a conversation where they feel more open is in the cultural area. Hopefully, we can challenge some of the stereotypical views that many people have about the Arab world and particularly the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.”
The artworks in the exhibition cover a time span from the 60s to the present day. The earliest work on show is Sami Mohammad’s 1966 bronze sculpture ‘Water Carrier’. The sculpture of a pregnant woman with her face covered by a niqab and her body with an abaya addresses a period in Kuwait’s history before the discovery of oil. While it represents the suffering women went through while their husbands were away at sea, the figure of the expectant woman also anticipates change.
Raja’a Khalid’s Fortune/Golf, Desert Golf I, III, IV, a series of found images, examines the introduction of golf in the Middle East. A description from the back of a press photograph of a desert golf course reads: ‘These desert divot diggers are playing on a golf course built by the Arabian American Oil Co. for its employees. The players use red balls which stand out against the blankness of the sand fairways and the blackness of the greens. There is no roll on the sand.’
Lantian Xie, an artist based in Dubai, explores through his video installation the complex relationship that some non-UAE nationals have with their adopted country where they are not citizens and have the feeling of being guests beholden to their host. The video is an excerpt taken from the film ‘Days of being Wild’ by Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar Wai. The soundtrack is the Hardees/KFC home-delivery hotline holding music. We see a young man dancing alone in his apartment and get a glimpse of the private loneliness and vulnerability of people who are somehow culturally lost.
Curator Amal Khalaf spoke about the way new media is changing the way young people view art. With reference to the innovative short films being shown she said: “The cinema in this exhibition deserves its own space. Humor is so important, especially in the Gulf, because we are in a space where we not only have restrictions from the government but in society there are many taboos of what we can say and what we cannot say. The younger generation is able to cut through those taboos. They communicate not in exhibition spaces but through YouTube and on phones. My Dad, who is 65, watches the videos; videos produced by 19-year-olds in Saudi.”
“Look at the power that this kind of art form has; it doesn’t need the walls of a gallery — it doesn’t need to come to London to be important. It’s global and it really reaches people. There is something about these videos that I can just see on my Instagram that is challenging everything about how you make images and how you make social commentary today in the region. “
Speaking of the theme for the exhibition which is based on the idea of speed and movement and time and how different people in the Gulf deal with this movement, she observed: “How do you describe a place that has transformed so quickly in just a few decades? I was born in the 80s and the place I come from, Bahrain, is almost unrecognizable — culturally and in so many ways.
“The title for the exhibition comes from volumes by Marcel Proust which talk philosophically about the idea of nostalgia. But we wanted to step away from this idea of nostalgia which is so often characterized by descriptions of the Gulf from the pre-oil era to hyper contemporary cities of glass in the desert. We want to bring to London works that interrogate this movement through time in a different way.”
In Search of Lost Time, Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London runs from Jan. 21 to March 19, 2016.
Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem does it again. This time with ‘Ricochet’. Implying that every action by any government may cause direct and indirect chain reactions.
In what exemplifies a dark destructive fantasy, he creates a striking image of a stealth bomber that is descending from the mosque at Isfahan in Iran, with bellowing smoke just hanging in the air.
“Usually people look skywards for inspiration, but now they look up and see a bomber coming towards them,” Gharem said. He explained the pieces were constructed out of the materials used by Saudi bureaucracy for stamps. “With these stamps and systems, they are killing humanity and dreams. They keep you in a cage.” But his real message relies not just on taking a stand, but to educate the youth before “Isis does.” A former lieutenant colonel in the Saudi army,
Abdulnasser believes the youth should choose arts and education over terrorism. They have energy and have little to do in their own country – so what would you expect them to do?”
His new body of work runs in an exhibition from October 12 to 18 in London.
Ricochet is the first international exhibition organised by The Abdulnasser Gharem Foundation in Riyadh.
The exhibition presents work from Gharem himself, alongside works by four other younger artists from the foundation: Aljan Gharem, Shaweesh, Dhafer Alshehr and Njoud Alanbari.
The artists tackle self-contradictory and taboo issues that impact everyday lives in Saudi Arabia through different mediums of art including sculpting, photography, video art, installations and performances.
Abdulnasser Gharem is showcasing a new sculpture and a painting, titled Ricochet reflecting ideologies at war in the Muslim world. He also conducts Hejama, an Islamic ritual intended to cleanse bad blood from the body, that involves wet cupping to draw blood by vacuum. The cups form a cross on a map of the Middle East inked across the Shaweesh’s back. “I was trying to find something that symbolised the detoxification of a bad ideology. They have wealth and didn’t use it for the benefit of the people or for any humanitarian good, but to cause fire and heat for the ideology of the tribes.”
Then there is Aniconsim, a mannequin that Abdulnasser bought in Dubai but could not bring home because of its nude form. Him and his friends had to deconstruct and divide it among different cars to bring it back to Saudi Arabia for it to be resurrected. Of course the idea is to demonstrate the nature of the challenges Saudi artists face which in turn creates a lack of opportunities for them. This is also an example of the strength of Saudi artists and how they can overcome barriers to engage with core aesthetics of the art world.
Abdulnasser’s younger brother, Aljan Gharem is showcasing a video work from an installation in Saudi depicting a 10 x 30m cage that has been turned into a mosque with performances drawn from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It is a screenshot of perhaps how caged ideology can look and feel. “The idea is that ideology is a cage,” Abdulnasser said. Ajlan looks at mosques as a channel used by the system or individual that assumes authority to dictate desirable verdicts and laws. This could be a father, neighborly imam or even the state.
A mixed media artist and teacher in an all girls’ school in Riyadh, Njoud Alanbari, portray the contradictory and confusing times we live in. Her work shows that younger girls are presented themes that are haram (forbidden) for them but are ironically also introduced to the very feelings they aim to counter at the same time.
In the video clip, young school girls play around a wall with inscribed messages under the patronage of pointed swords– representing they are already at a daily war with the exotic other.
Street artist Shaweesh sculpted a Sheikh’s head attached to a bomb trigger behind representing a hypocritical holy alliance. The installation shows a sharp contrast with the ironic structure that prefers self-detonation with an audience.
Dhafer Al Shehri collages and splits the masses including pilgrims, football fans and the general public while measuring individualism in a society that chooses to belong to an ideology or cult, semi-consciously rather than themselves.
The installation Paradise Has Many Gates by artist Ajlan Gharem is an impressive 10 x 6.5 m cage transformed into the shape of a mosque and installed in the desert outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The mosque is a conduit for the symbolic power wielded by all those above the unwitting individual, from elder brother to father, neighbourly imam and, eventually, the state. The mosque is the public square reincarnate but with attendance mandatory, at least socially.
Ajlan Gharem will exhibit Paradise Has Many Gates (2015), a video documenting the installation, at Asia House Gallery in London from 12 to 18 October 2015. This exhibition will be showcasing the latest developments in contemporary art from Saudi Arabia. Videos of performances that took place in the mosque, influenced by the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, will also form part of Gharem’s presentation.
Born in 1985 in Khamis Mushayt in the South of Saudi Arabia, Ajlan Gharem moved to Abha to pursue an undergraduate degree in Mathematics at King Khalid University. Now a maths teacher in Alsahabah Public School in Riyadh, Ajlan is a co-founder of Gharem Studio, which supports artists from the Middle East.
Photos courtesy of the artist
I met Abdulnasser Gharem three years ago when working at Edge of Arabia, the nonprofit cultural initiative he co-founded with Stephen Stapleton and Ahmed Mater.
This year we sat down during Frieze to discuss his latest exhibition, Ricochet and his latest adventure: the Riyadh based Gharem Studio.
His brother Ajlan Gharem, artist and co-founder of the studio, also joined us to discuss his work Paradise Has Many Gates.
Elena Scarpa: The first thing I wanted to ask you is what is the message behind Ricochet, your latest show.
Abdulnasser Gharem: I think the most important thing about this show is actually the timing. With what’s going on right now is the Arab World, with these politics and propaganda that want to stop the public’s voice. I think that we’re trying to give a chance to the young artists to show their ideas. This generation wants to share their thoughts, they want to engage with other people and they want to get feedback without any middle man. The reason why I founded Gharem Studio in Riyadh is because the city is conservative and there’s no chance to practice your art, to raise your voice. The studio became a place where the kids come to share their ideas and talk together freely. After two years of living together in the studio we realized we had something to show to the people so we came up with this exhibition in London, I think it’s the right time and also I really like the space at the Asia House.
ES: Was it difficult to find the actual space to open the studio in Riyadh?
ANG: It took me one year to find it. I was afraid of the neighborhood’s reaction to be honest, it’s a little bit hard, I thought they might kick us out. But finally we found a place that was a little bit away from the city centre. The reaction was ok.
ES: Do you go to the studio everyday? Is this your full time life now?
ANG: Myself and the artists are there everyday living there: we work, we share ideas and we meet new people. We have a lot of visitors especially from Europe. The Studio is not open to the public yet, but they can get in touch with us and we can arrange to meet them there. As for artists that want to come and work with us, we have to make sure that they’re talented and that they are passionate about their work. It’s a place to produce the artworks, not to show them. We help them with the production by giving them the space and the equipment.
ES: Do you think you’ll be able to do a Gharem Studio show in Saudi at one point?
ANG: At the show’s opening yesterday at Asia House you could see that Njoud Alanbari (Ed. Note. one of the artists of the Gharem Studio), came with her parents. If we get the support from the parents and from the people that share our ideas I’m sure we will be able to do it. We have different reaction now, people are happy about what we are doing. Since we started together to work with Edge of Arabia a lot of time has passed and the work has affected people, they support us now. The mentality changed, people understand that art is important, it can bring a message not only for them but also for their kids. There is some art eduction in Saudi Arabia but it’s not enough.
ES: Going back to Ricochet, could you tell me a bit more about the big stamp painting that is part of the show?
ANG: The painting itself is called Ricochet and with it I am trying to represent what is going on in the Middle East, there are a lot of wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen. That painting comes from what I am seeing everyday, the fact that politics try to divide the society everyday between Shia and Sunni, as an artist I am looking at this from an humanitarian perspective. I’m trying to protect the heritage and the culture, put the people together. I’m trying to say that if you shoot someone it might get back to you. I’m encouraging people to see things from another perspective, don’t just listen and follow. You have to come up with your own idea, your own conclusion about what you hear. Especially for the young people who maybe don’t have the chance to travel a lot, it’s really important for them to make their own idea, they can’t just follow what they hear.
ES: Your brother Ajlan is the co-founder of Gharem Studio, that your family is involved in this project.
ANG: Ajlan is also the middle man between me and all these young people, he understands them much better and, as you know, he has been working with us since the beginning so he knows everything and he has real experience. He is also one of the artists in this Ricochet show.
ES: The last thing I wanted to ask you about is the use of Social Media. Both your and the Studio’s accounts on Instagram are really active.
ANG: People follow us from all over the world but it’s more active and effective in Saudi Arabia. Social Media are the only way to communicate with people, if you want to see their work you go on their Instagram. If you want to know them you get in touch with them through these media. People see your works, you start chatting with them. There are not a lot of social activities like openings, exhibitions where you can meet people so that is most of the time the only way to meet people. Our contacts all start online from Social Media and then the artists send us portfolios, we don’t have standard procedures to get to know people, we are not a commercial gallery so people can just get in touch with us to show their works.
ES: Ajlan, could you tell me how your work was produced?
AJLAN GHAREM: First of all I designed the cage and then we went to the desert in Saudi to build it. I used the same steel that is now being used by some European countries to build fences to stop the refugees coming in. What I built is not a proper cage. Sometimes I don’t know if I should say that I built a cage that looks like a Mosque or a Mosque that looks like a cage. I had to do it quickly because I had to take it down as soon as we were done with filming the video. We did it in the desert in the middle of nowhere. Filming the video took me a full day, but all together the build up, the shooting and the deinstall took me two weeks. The message behind this work is something that everyone I know feels, that’s why when they saw it they didn’t reject the idea, they all said that they feel what I am trying to express. The old generation has beliefs more than knowledge but this generation has more knowledge than beliefs. The old generation is ok with everything, they believe in what they were taught and they’re fine with it but this generation is trying to balance the knowledge and the beliefs so they’re trying to find something reasonable to believe in. As you saw in the video there are kids. How are they going to be? They’re going to be better than us with more knowledge.
ES: Who else is performing in the video?
AG: There are actors, artists and some of my friends. There were some real actors, they did a real performance, I needed people that knew how to act. Then there was my brother Abdulnasser and also Shaweesh. The whole Gharem Studio worked on the making of this video and this is what the Studio is about: being together, sharing ideas and everyone contributing in each other’s works. They all contributed in my work with their own thoughts. We’re a community and we all share idea, this is the main aim of the Gharem Studio, we live together, we travel together.
LONDON - Forget about images of quaint mosques, picturesque sand dunes, palm trees and Arabs in traditional costumes: Saudi Arabia’s contemporary young artists specialise in controversial, thought-provoking, unique photographs, sculptures, video art and installations.
The concept of “ricochet” was the central theme of a week-long exhibition in London’s Asia House that showcased the work of contemporary Saudi artists Abdulnasser Gharem, Shaweesh, Dhafer al-Shehri, Ajlan Gharem and Njoud al-Anbari. The artists investigated how actions taken by a country’s authorities can cause direct or indirect chain reactions.
The dedicated, unassuming curator of Ricochet, who did not wish to be named, said he fell in love with the Abdulnasser Gharem’s art and organised the London exhibition, which he sees as the first step to introducing Saudi artists to Europe.
“They are a voice from inside the kingdom which needs to be heard,” he said.
Ricochet, the massive digital print and industrial lacquer paint on aluminium work by Abdulnasser Gharem from which the exhibition takes its name, features an image of a richly ornamented mosque ceiling slowly and shockingly metamorphosing into an armed fighter jet that resembles a malevolent insect. The message is that religion can be used as pretext for war but the beauty of the Islamic design prevails, suggesting that war is transient and ultimately peace and unity will prevail.
Aniconism is a 5-minute video by Abdulnasser Gharem showing Saudi artists in traditional dress using a plastic model of naked woman for an art drawing class. Gharem took the mannequin from Dubai earlier in 2015. It was dismantled and the pieces transported into Saudi Arabia in different cars as all depictions of naked women, even in the form of mannequins, are forbidden. The video shows the will of artists to overcome barriers and engage with aesthetics at the core of art history.
The artists taking part in the exhibition were nurtured by Gharem Studio (GS) in Riyadh, established in 2010 to teach people aged 18-25 about contemporary art. Due to an absence of art schools in the country, the studio is one of the only places in Saudi Arabia where artists can talk freely and learn about contemporary art.
The studio has staged exhibitions at the US ambassador’s residence in Riyadh and worked closely with the British Council on a series of workshops with Professor David Rayson, head of painting at the Royal College of Art in London.
Abdulnasser Gharem, one of the Gulf’s most influential artists, was a lieutenant-colonel in the Saudi Army. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were in his class at school. He says the only way to conquer the wave of terrorism sweeping the Middle East, and with it the world, is to encourage people to think individually.
“My idea is to help them find their path and not introduce themselves as a sacrifice in jihad,” he said. “I want them to look around and develop their humanity.”
On his part, Ajlan Gharem, a maths teacher in Riyadh and co-founder of GS, exhibited Paradise Has Many Gates, a video documenting the installation of a 10×30 cm cage transformed into the shape of a mosque and installed in the desert outside Riyadh.
There are images of figures coming to pray in the mosque, including children who ask many questions and raise issues about identity and the desire to break free from the shackles imposed by tradition.
Tradition is also challenged by Shaweesh in Iconoclasm, a water clay sculpture of the bust of a sheikh and Anbari, an interior designer hired by the Saudi government to restructure all-girls schools.
A C4 plastic explosive is attached to the bust of the sheikh in classical Roman style, drawing attention to some Muslims who use religion to propagate messages of hatred. But the serene expression on the sheikh’s face forces those looking at the sculpture to conclude that peace will prevail.
In her video and pigment print on photo rag paper, Anbari reflects the interaction between visually starved children and a typical display of cautionary art that is unique to Saudi Arabia and common in educational settings.
In a series of untitled works, all pigment print on photo rag paper, Shehri creates a collage of crowd-reverent pilgrims, overconfident football fans and bare graves. These images illustrate how collective cultures can cause the value of an individual to be compromised.
Proud of his studio’s first international exhibition, Abdulnasser Gharem speaks eloquently about his aim: “I don’t just want to create artists. I want to create real players who are good at everything, working with society and also successful in the art market.”
When Christie’s Dubai sold his sculptural installation Message/ Messenger symbolising the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem for $842,500 in 2011, a record-breaking price for contemporary Middle Eastern art, he donated the money to Edge of Arabia, a gallery in south-western London that he helped set up.
The gallery has since become an internationally recognised platform for dialogue and exchange between the Middle East and the Western world.
In cooperation with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Gharem Studio and Culturunners inaugurated an exhibition at the Station Museum in Houston. “Parallel Kingdom: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia” is the first exhibition of a multi-city tour across the US. The exhibition explores issues and experiences faced by a generation of young Saudi artists, and is an attempt to challenge the misconceptions about modern Saudi culture perpetuated by mainstream media. The artists confront issues of Saudi identity, mainly posing and answering the question “is this really us?”
This tour positions artists as cultural influencers and instigators of constructive dialogue around global issues. These conversations are framed within a context of empathy and understanding between communities in the US and Saudi Arabia.
Gharem Studio aims to create a new visual language to directly engage the audience as active participants, rather than passive spectators. By utilizing multifaceted disciplines, the artists take on the role of activist; instigating change rather than talking about change and building cultural capital rather than financial capital.
“Parallel Kingdom” also aims to improve relations between the people of Saudi Arabia and the global community, by generating organic dialogue through art and participation. The tour was initiated by Riyadh-based Gharem Studio in partnership with Culturunners and will launch in Houston, TX, which is considered one of the most important cities for art, education and cultural innovation.
“The artists present a new intellectual paradigm that utilizes unique concepts and terminology to define the artists’ role within society. Rather than analyzing art and society separately, the artists confront art as a reflection of society, positioning themselves as its mirrors,” Abdulnasser Gharem said.
Dr. Khalid Al-Yahya, Programs Director at the King Abdelaziz Centre for World Cultures -spearheads the tour. It will incorporate exhibitions and events at cultural institutions and universities across the United States.
“We at the Centre are very excited to connect these young Saudi artists with US audiences, at this crucial time. The tour aims to provide a peer-to-peer platform for alternative discourse and cultural empathy between communities,” Dr. Al-Yahya said.
Participating Artists include Ahmad Angawi, Abdulnasser Gharem, Nugamshi, Ajlan Gharem, Basmeh Felemban, Telefaz 11, Ahaad Alamoudi, Sarah Abu Abdullah, Njoud Alanbari, Rashed Al Shashai, Shaweesh nd Dhafer Al Shehri.
انطلقت مطلع الأسبوع الماضي، أولى جولات المعرض الفني «المملكة الموازية» في هيوستن بالولايات المتحدة، الذي يستعرض الفن المعاصر عبر الأجيال في شبه الجزيرة العربية، ويقدمه جيل جديد من الفنانين السعوديين هم : عهد العمودي، نجود العنبري، أحمد عنقاوي، بسمة فلمبان، عبدالناصر غارم، عجلان غارم، نغيمشي، راشد الشعشي، شاويش، ظافر الشهري، وتستمر حتى ٢ من أكتوبر ٢٠١٦.
قدموا خطاباً ثقافياً من خلال أعمال تساعد على أرضية مشتركة للحوار والتفاهم
المعرض ﺑرعاية وإشراف مركز الملك عبدالعزيز الثقافي العالمي، وبالتعاون مع متحف ستيشن في هيوستن (station museum ) يقوم ستوديو غارم ومؤسسة CULTURE RUNNERS بتنظيم المعرض الأول لبداية جولة متنقلة في الولايات المتحدة، يطرح من خلالها قضايا معقدة من قبل الجيل الجديد في المملكة، خاصة تلك التي شكلها الغلو والتناقضات التي نحتت صورة نمطية عن المملكة، وكوّنت تصورات ذهنية لدى الغرب أدت إلى حقائق مغلوطة وزائفة عن المجتمع السعودي ً دولياً، وكان للإعلام دور كبير في ذلك.
د. خالد اليحيى: تهدف الجولة إلى توفير منصة لخلق خطاب بديل للتعاطف الثقافي بين المجتمعات
أرضية مشتركة للحوار
يسلط المعرض الضوء على الثقافة السعودية من خلال إبداع ورؤية الفنانين السعوديين، مع التركيز بشكل خاص على الأصوات الشابة في مجالات الفن والكوميديا والأفلام، ويأتي دور الفنانات والفنانين السعوديين من خلال هذه الجولة بتقديم خطاب ثقافي من خلال أعمالهم يحتوي على أدوات وعدة معرفية معاصرة كونية تساعد على خلق أرضية مشتركة للحوار والتفاهم بين الثقافات من خلال منظور إنساني.
أمين متحف استيشن ميوزيم بهيوستن: الأعمال ذات قيم ثقافية عن السعودية نحن بحاجة لمشاهدتها
سعى الفنانون في هذا المعرض لاستخدام لغة بصرية ورؤية مباشرة من الفنانين تسهم في عملية جعل المتلقي يساهم بدراية ومعرفة في إنتاج العمل الفني بعيداً عن الهيمنة والخضوع للحس العام من خلال الممارسة الثقافية، بحيث تكوّن طريقة ً فنية مختلفة تقوم بتحويل عملية التلقي إلى عملية إنتاج ترتبط بفترة مست حياة كل إنسان عاصرها، تحاور المتلقي ومبتدئة بفهم آخر أكثر تفاعلا وقربا، من إنسان تلك المرحلة. حيث يعتبر الفن طاقة فطرية بأساليب متعددة من الاجتهادات العقلية المحضة التي تتوسط بين الإنسان وفكره لوضع أسس جديدة تنسج حواراً مباشراً بين أمة و أمة، بعيداً عن سسيولوجيا الوساطة حيث يتمثل دور الفنان الحقيقي بالقيام مباشرة ً بالتغيير، وليس بالتحدث عن ضرورة التغيير وتكوين رأس مال ثقافي أكثر من امتلاك رأس مال اقتصادي.
عبدالناصر غارم: هذه المعارض ضرورية لتوفير منصة تعزز الهوية والارتقاء بمستوى الوعي
الارتقاء بمستوى الوعي
يقول الفنان عبدالناصر غارم : « تقوم هذه المعارض بدور محوري وضروري للمجتمعات عبر توفير منصة تعزز الهوية والحوار والتكامل الاجتماعي والارتقاء بمستوى الوعي وجودة الحياة، ويصادف إطلاق معرض «المملكة الموازية «من مدينة هيوستن الأمريكية بداية جولة في عدة مدن من الولايات المتحدة لتوليد حوار الناس إلى الناس ، وتحسين الفهم بين المملكة العربية السعودية والولايات المتحدة» .
ويضيف:» الفنانون المشاركون قاموا بتقديم نموذج فكري وإدراكي جديد( بارادايم)من خلال عرض مفاهيم ومصطلحات تعتبر أدوات عمل الفكر المستقل التي تتعامل مع الفن ليس من زاوية الفن والمجتمع ولا من زاوية الفن في المجتمع بل من زاوية الفن كمجتمع حيث يأتي الفنان بدوره كمرآة للمجتمع ومستبصر جيد للمستقبل».
وتأتي هذه الجولة بريادة وقيادة د. خالد اليحيى، مدير البرامج في مركز الملك عبدالعزيز الثقافي حيث تتضمن الجولة عددا من الفعاليات في المؤسسات الثقافية الشريكة والجامعات في جميع أنحاء الولايات المتحدة، ويعلق د. اليحيى بقوله : «هذه المعارض تساعد في خلق ثقافة ميالة إلى التقدم وتساعد الحكومات في إحراز التقدم والتطور لمجتمعاتها من خلال تكوين بيئة فكرية تحقق التنمية المستدامة. نحن في المركز متحمسون جدا لربط هؤلاء الفنانين السعويين بطريقة عضوية لدى الجمهور الأمريكي، في هذا الوقت الحاسم. وتهدف الجولة إلى توفير منصة لخلق خطاب بديل للتعاطف الثقافي بين المجتمعات».
كسر صورة هوليوود النمطية
هذا وقال أمين متحف استيشن ميوزيم بهيوستن جاشوى خلال زيارته للمعرض:»كانت الولايات المتحدة والمملكة العربية السعودية حلفاء من ذروة الحرب الباردة إلى التوسع في عصر النفط، بينما في كثير من الأحيان تبقى متناغمة في المجالات الثقافية الفنية والفكرية. ويعتبر الاقتصاد العالمي المتمركز على عنصر النفط عنصرا أساسيا يساهم في التنمية الاقتصادية ونحاول من خلال هذا المعرض دعم الاقتصاد الإبداعي والثقافي مما يوفر الارتياح بين البلدين والسماح لتحقيق الازدهار المشترك وكذلك خلق أرضية ثقافية مشتركة. ومن أهم الكاسب من حضوري هذا المعرض هو كسر صورة هوليوود النمطية عن المملكة والمواد والوسائط المستخدمة في عرض الأعمال تجيب عن ما يقدمه الإعلام الغربي، هذه الأعمال تقدم قيماً ومواد ثقافية عن السعودية نحن بحاجة لمشاهدتها».
أساسيات جديدة للحوارات
وختاماً قال الفنان ديون لاورنت أحد فناني هيوستن، عن رؤيته تجاه المعرض وما يقدم من فكر وفن :» يعتبر المعرض الحالي استبيانا بين الأجيال لعرض الفن المثل لمجتمع المملكة العربية السعودية تحديدا عن طريق الفنانات والفنانين من الفئة الشابة، لتقديمهم لمحة داخلية للمجتمعات السعودية بطريقة مبتكرة ومعاصرة تمثل نظرة الفنانين الأكثر تأثيراً في القرن الواحد والعشرين، من خلال هذا المعرض نلجأ أيضاً إلى استخدام اللغة البصرية والنظرة الأولية للفنانين لوضع أساسيات جديدة لحوارات تساهم في فهم، عادات، وسياسات المجتمع السعودي».
ﺑرعاية وإشراف مركز الملك عبدالعزيز الثقافي العالمي، وبالتعاون مع «متحف ستيشن» في هيوستن يقوم «ستوديو غارم» و«مؤسسة CULTURE RUNNERS» بتنظيم المعرض الأول لبداية جولة متنقلة في الولايات المتحدة تحت عنوان (المملكة الموازية) الذي يطرح قضايا معقدة من قبل الجيل الجديد في المملكة العربية السعودية، خاصة تلك التي شكلها الغلو والتناقضات التي نحتت صورة نمطية عن المملكة، وكوّنت تصورات ذهنية لدى الغرب أدت إلى حقائق مغلوطة وزائفة عن المجتمع السعودي دولياً، وكان للإعلام دور كبير فيها.
ومن خلال هذه الجولة يأتي دور الفنانات والفنانين السعوديين بتقديم خطاب ثقافي من خلال أعمالهم يحتوي على أدوات معرفية معاصرة كونية تساعد على خلق أرضية مشتركة للحوار والتفاهم بين الثقافات من خلال منظور إنساني.
ويسعى «ستوديو غارم» لاستخدام لغة بصرية ورؤية مباشرة من الفنانين تسهم في عملية جعل المتلقي يساهم بدراية ومعرفة في إنتاج العمل الفني بعيدا عن الهيمنة والخضوع للحس العام من خلال الممارسة الثقافية بحيث تكوّن طريقة ً فنية مختلفة تقوم بتحويل عملية التلقي إلى عملية إنتاج ترتبط بفترة مست حياة كل إنسان عاصرها، وتحاور المتلقي مبتدئة بفهم آخر أكثر تفاعلا وقربا، من إنسان تلك المرحلة، حيث يعتبر الفن طاقة فطرية بأساليب متعددة من الاجتهادات العقلية المحضة التي تتوسط بين الإنسان وفكره لوضع أسس جديدة تنسج حواراً مباشراً بين أمة وأمة، بعيدا عن سسيولوجيا الوساطة حيث يتمثل دور الفنان الحقيقي بالقيام مباشرة بالتغيير، وليس بالتحدث عن ضرورة التغيير وتكوين رأس مال ثقافي أكثر من امتلاك رأس مال اقتصادي.
ويصادف إطلاق معرض «المملكة الموازية» من مدينة هيوستن الإمريكية بداية جولة في عدة مدن من الولايات المتحدة لتوليد حوار الناس إلى الناس، وتقوم هذه المعارض بدور محوري وضروري للمجتمعات عبر توفير منصة تعزز الهوية والحوار والتكامل الاجتماعي والارتقاء بمستوى الوعي وجودة الحياة.
الجولة التي بدأها ستوديو غارم ومقره الرياض ونيويورك، ستبدأ في هيوستن حيث تعتبر واحدة من أهم المدن في أمريكا للفن والتعليم والابتكار الثقافي.
يعلق عبدالناصر غارم بقوله: يقوم الفنانون المشاركون بتقديم نموذج فكري وإدراكي جديد (بارادايم) من خلال عرض مفاهيم ومصطلحات تعتبر أدوات عمل الفكر المستقل التي تتعامل مع الفن ليس من زاوية «الفن والمجتمع» ولا من زاوية «الفن في المجتمع» بل من زاوية «الفن كمجتمع» حيث يأتي الفنان بدوره كمرآة للمجتمع ومستبصر جيد للمستقبل.
هذه الجولة بريادة وقيادة الدكتور خالد اليحيى، مدير البرامج في مركز الملك عبدالعزيز الثقافي وسوف تتضمن المعارض عددا من الفعاليات في المؤسسات الثقافية الشريكة والجامعات في جميع أنحاء الولايات المتحدة.
من جهته يعلق الدكتور خالد اليحيى بقوله: «هذه المعارض تساعد في خلق ثقافة ميالة إلى التقدم وتساعد الحكومات في إحراز التقدم والتطور لمجتمعاتها من خلال تكوين بيئة فكرية تحقق التنمية المستدامة، ونحن في المركز متحمسون جدا لربط هؤلاء الفنانين السعويين بطريقة عضوية لدى الجمهور الأمريكي، في هذا الوقت الحاسم، كما تهدف الجولة إلى توفير منصة لخلق خطاب بديل للتعاطف الثقافي بين المجتمعات».