AMEN ART FOUNDATION, RIYADH
55th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia
“We want to thank EDGE OF ARABIA for giving us this opportunity to fulfill our mission to support the young generation by participating in the exhibition RHIZOMA (Generation in Waiting).”
Abdulnasser Gharem, Amen Art Foundation
A very recent fortuitous encounter with Abdulnasser Gharem and Stephen Stapleton in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) made me realize that my conviction that the western education many inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula received during the last 50 years would have by now fostered a highly interesting group of individuals, in fact grossly underestimated the importance of the momentous grass-root artistic movement found in Saudi Arabia. In considering the deep cultural changes occurring in the Greater Middle East, with the establishment of Dubai as a major Asian hub and as a crossroad between east and west, and the very vibrant art-scene between Cairo, Beirut and Istanbul on the Levantine side, Teheran, further east, and Sharjah and Doha to the south, one cannot escape the fact that the Big Brother, the Uncle, the Father in some cases -is Saudi Arabia.
Until recently, there was a very limited art scene in Saudi Arabia. But between 2003-2004 a group of artists came together in Abha’s Al-Meftaha Arts Village to create a new movement including the formation of Edge of Arabia and the groundbreaking ‘Shattah’ exhibition in Jeddah; this will remain in history as the breakthrough year: ‘Shattah’ means to be broken up or disembodied. This burgeoning movement is not a decade old, but its throb has already been felt in the art world: the Venice Biennale, the Sharjah Biennale, the Berlin Biennale, the Pinault Foundation, the Tokyo Mori Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British and Victoria & Albert Museums, and of course the Institut du Monde Arabe have showcased the work –but only very recently.
The stunning work of these artists is coming-out, but what does this do for the next generation of artists in Saudi Arabia, asks one of their most ardent ambassadors, Abdulnasser Gharem? There are a growing number of galleries now in Saudi Arabia –and they take their role very responsibly it seems, and owing to their very function, they are the conduits of art into the market. But does this suffice to nurture the infancy of the cultural fabric of the heavyweight of the Middle East: Saudi Arabia? Abdulnasser Gharem is a fierce proponent of art education; he recently made history when his installation ‘Message/Messenger’ sold for a world record price at auction in Dubai, establishing him as the highest selling living artist from the Gulf. But in order to foster art education in his native country, he donated the proceeds of this sale to the arts initiative Edge of Arabia, an independent not for profit community interest company.
On the happy day of our meeting in Sharjah, Abdulnasser, Stephen and I sat in the comfortable shaded embrace of Ernesto Neto’s installation for the Biennale, and Abdulnasser told me about his dream to establish an artist run foundation in Riyadh, the very conservative capital of Saudi Arabia. The vision for the Foundation, he explained, was inspired by an extraordinary new-generation of Saudi artists, film-makers, musicians and comedians, like for example the Riyadh based internet television network calling themselves Telfaz11; Telfaz is the Arabic word for television, and the number 11 is an homage to the year 2011, the year where great changes have occurred in the middle eastern region; changes that have transformed not only the way the world looks at Arabs, but also the way Arabs look at themselves. Since launching Telfaz11 have attracted over one million subscribers and over 150 million views throughout its network.
Measuring the importance of their commitment, I spontaneously offered Abdulnasser to use my gallery as a laboratory, as a public workshop, as a forum to present the idea, but also as a platform through which to develop the project; I invited him to use my space to work out the necessary components to build a foundation, but also in which to invite the people who can make the invaluable contributions needed to create a meeting point between education and creativity in the heart of Saudi Arabia.
Berlin, April 2013