‘Magnetic attraction’ of Makkah inspires work of Saudi visual artist Ahmed Mater | Arab News

2022-07-06 04:31:42 By : Mr. Daniel Nie


RIYADH: Contemporary artist Ahmed Mater’s first visit to Makkah sparked a magnetic attraction to the holy site that would shape his creative outlook on life.

Similar to many Saudis, his initial interaction with the city was as a child, but his most vivid memories of visiting Makkah came during his medical university years.

He told Arab News that on one trip, surrounded by construction cranes, he felt that his “imagination was more powerful than reality. Sometimes, we dream about change. And it happens because the power of imagination creates all of this movement.”

On his parents’ promise to take him to Makkah for the first time, he said: “They told me I would face something different when in front of the Kaaba, and that I would feel a magnet attraction.”

That moment stuck with him, and he continued building on it to inspire his work through his imagination.

One of Mater’s most popular artworks, “Magnetism,” was constructed using thousands of iron particles surrounding a magnetic cuboid, a symbol of the Kaaba, which becomes the center of attraction to the small particles. “I create most of my artwork based on attraction,” he added.

The viewer’s eye is drawn toward the contrast and simplicity of the color palette, with the black elements set on white canvas and all the specs attracting simultaneously to the center. The exhibit is surrounded by four glass screens, signifying the holiness and sanctity of the performance of Hajj that should not be disturbed by outsiders.

His work also plays with the idea of repulsion.

In an essay, British writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith, said: “The Kaaba is magnet and centrifuge: going away, going back home, is the last rite of pilgrimage.”

Mater said: “I think it’s very important after the coronavirus pandemic that things come back to life. I spent more than four to five years attending Hajj as a photographer and researcher, and really, it’s one of the most beautiful scenes when you hear all of the people with one sound. And you feel it. It really cannot be described by words.”

While entrance to the city of Makkah and the Hajj performance itself is reserved strictly for those of Islamic faith, Mater caters to the curiosity of outsiders within the context of community and urbanism.

In his 2017 to 2018 exhibition, “Ahmed Mater: Makkah Journeys,” staged at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, he presented a series of multimedia artworks centering on working conditions, construction, and urban redevelopment that have characterized recent Hajj seasons.

“Sometimes it’s really about memory and about the way that our culture teaches about spirituality, imagination. Because we are a very spiritual culture, a very emotional culture, in our songs and our intimacy and families. So, I think that’s part of our life, and it’s created a lot,” he added.

In his work, “Leaves Fall in All Seasons,” a documentative on-ground video compilation, he focuses on the workers that contributed to the mass expansion of the metropolis. He noted that Makkah, as a city, had been nourished and built by Muslim immigrants and pilgrims of all backgrounds, bringing a lively and perplexing feel to the holy city.

“Everyone dreams about this Islamic world. It’s their dream to do it once in their life,” he said.

His care for the social well-being of individuals and communities, attributed to his background as a medical doctor, shows through his work as he provides audiences with a glimpse of what a journey to Makkah would be like for those unable to go.

“My opinion is that our work now represents our time now. Every time represents its moment. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s there were great artists. They represent their time, and they built this kind of beautiful history. We are now building our time and history,” Mater added.

The physician-turned-artist is a powerhouse in documenting untold stories, and he has played a leading role in establishing the Saudi art scene and legitimizing it locally and internationally.

In 2016, Mater became the first Saudi artist to hold a solo show in the US with his symbolic cities display at the Smithsonian museum’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

While most artists leave their work open to audience interpretation, Mater said he hoped the research and perception behind his art reached the viewer in some way. “My artwork has personal context, it’s personal. It’s my life,” he said.

The more the visual artist has delved into Islamic collective identity, the more appealing his work has become to global audiences.

“​​I think globally but act locally. We are in our timeline now, and it represents Saudi Arabia now,” he added.

RIYADH: The Saudi hip-hop music scene was in the spotlight at the weekend when local talent took to the stage in Riyadh at BeatRoots, a special music event that took place on Friday at AlMashtal Creative Space, in collaboration with Bahraini record label Museland.

The event, inspired by New York-style block parties, featured live performances by six Saudi and Bahraini artists, plus graffiti artists, b-boy dancing, and a market selling sneakers, street fashion and vinyl records.

AlMashtal, a creative incubator, regularly hosts collaborations with creators of various kinds, including musicians, visual artists and fashion designers. Its goal is to provide a platform to help creative talents to develop their crafts, grow and showcase their work.

“We really like to focus on these local talents, these up-and-coming artists that need a space to express themselves, to have their own audience, a chance to showcase themselves in front of an intimate audience; the right type of audience, the right type of space,” Elham Ghanimah, AlMashtal’s creative labs curator, told Arab News.

The night began with a mellow performance by Bahraini musician and graffiti artist Du$t. His music is inspired by diverse elements such as B-boy dancing, graffiti and surrealist art. He explained that it is important for his craft that he thinks outside of the box when creating his music, and said that he is pleased to see his style of music building a following in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s amazing to see it growing here as well,” he told Arab News. “In Bahrain (we’ve done) the same event there, so to bring it here and to see that everyone is involved brings a nice feeling.”

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. It is already a regular event in Bahrain and now the label is expanding to other parts of the region.

“Everyone’s happy; the energy is really good, everything is positive, the crowd is really enjoying it,” Ghanimah said. “I think at the end, that’s really what matters.”

Many people assume the hip-hop scene is relatively new to Saudi Arabia but its origins can be traced back at least as far as the early 2000s, with interest in the genre fueled by the growth of the internet.

“In general, everyone focuses on hip-hop in English … It’s OK to get inspiration from the West but it’s also good to see what you have here, to connect with your own culture, with your roots,” Ghanimah said.

Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News: “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to either perform or connect with each other. That’s what I love about these kinds of events. I’ve met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have these spaces. The talent is already there; all we need is a chance to perform.”

In addition to Dattune and Du$t, the BeatRoots lineup included Fizzy, Septemba, Str8tup Rkls, and hip-hop artist, rapper, and crowd-favorite Albakri, who gave a hardcore yet heartfelt performance that included two as-yet-unreleased songs.

Albakri said his inspiration comes from looking inward, citing his culture and personal identity as huge influences on his work.

“I’m a guy of mixed identity: I’m Jordanian, I’m Palestinian and I’m Saudi. I’m all of these. So it’s just about how I can connect with those three cultures,” he told Arab News.

When it comes to his unique sound, he said his main inspirations come from around Riyadh, in particular his producers Leo, Mufasa and Dice, as well as DJs and friends such as Bucky Grooves, Vinylmode and Baloo. The rapper said he hopes to establish his own record label one day.

“I’m very happy that someone from Bahrain looked into (Riyadh) and was digging for artists … Seeing people open up to the genre, seeing collaborations between the hip-hop genre, the dance/house/minimal genre … and having a space, being a collective — all of that matters to the genre and the music in general,” he said.

AlMashtal’s stated aim with cultural events such as BeatRoots is to open the doors for discussions, cultural and artistic exchanges, and the promotion of creative ventures across the Arab region.

“We wanna do more collaborations just to put everything forward in a positive way,” Ghanimah said.

“Not everyone gets a chance and if people do get a chance, not everyone gets the right chance and the right type of support.

“So, you’re getting to showcase yourself not just at any space but at a creative incubator where the whole goal is to nurture these creatives and help them reach their goals.”

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services has been carrying out maintenance work in Makkah on roads leading to holy sites to help ensure the safety of pilgrims, improve travel to and from the holy sites, and help make Hajj experience easier, officials said.

The work includes installing protective barriers, fences, road signs and concrete curbs, and repainting road markings. Roads and buildings are also being repaired. The maintenance efforts have focused on improving the Hijrah route, along with the Jeddah and Makkah highways, but have also taken in parts of Makkah and the holy sites.

Some projects are already complete, including lighting along the Hijrah route and the extension of some Makkah highways.

The Ministry of Transport is responsible for planning and implementing air, land and sea transport in the Kingdom, including the maintenance of roads and coordination of the nation’s transportation system.

JEDDAH: A series of special exhibitions and enrichment initiatives will take place at the holy sites during Hajj to provide pilgrims with enhanced spiritual and cultural experiences as part of an unforgettable Hajj journey.

The program was launched on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, represented by the Kidana Development Company.

In a message posted on its official Twitter account, Kidana said: “To achieve the #Saudi_Vision_2030 through enriching the religious journey, the cultural experience and caring for the #Pilgrims, #Kidana launches seven initiatives to enrich the experience of the pilgrims with the participation of governmental and private sectors.”

The seven events include three exhibitions related to the holy sites and four religious and cultural initiatives.

The Covenant Exhibition in Arafat will introduce pilgrims to the most prominent characteristics of Makkah and its residents. The Water Story Exhibition, also in the Arafat area, highlights the history of water provision during Hajj and the honor of the mission. It is presented in cooperation with the Al-Zamazemah Company, which is responsible for supplying and distributing water at the holy sites during Hajj and Umrah, and throughout the year.

The third exhibition, in Mina, focuses on the Kiswa, the cloth that covers the Kaaba. It will tell the history of the Kiswa, explain how it is made, and highlight the efforts made by the Kingdom to provide and develop all Kaaba-related services. The exhibition is being organized by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the House of Islamic Arts, and The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research.

The other four initiatives cover various cultural, Islamic and social topics, and will be presented in a variety of locations in collaboration with a number of specialist associations.

Coffee represents a strong element of Saudi culture that is closely linked to the identity and traditions of the country. In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture’s Year of Saudi Coffee initiative, coffee will be served to pilgrims in Mina. As part of the Hajj initiative, the pilgrims will also have a chance to learn about the distinctive characteristics of Saudi coffee, along with ways of preparing and serving it.

The second initiative, which will take place beside the Aqaba Hill Mosque in collaboration with the Saudi Tour Guides Association, aims to share the history of the location and the events that took place there.

The Kidana Development Company is organizing an initiative called A Photo and a Memory to help pilgrims remember and treasure the highlights of their Hajj experience, as part of which visitors will be presented with gifts.

Finally, the Aroma of the Holy Sites, which will take place at Mina during Eid Al-Adha, is a unique initiative designed to capture and share the essence of the holy sites.

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia: As part of the latest efforts to promote AlUla as an increasingly popular summer vacation destination, new schedules have been announced for direct flights from within the Kingdom and the UAE.

Under the theme Live the World’s Masterpiece Summer Untold, the campaign also highlights the world-class tourism and entertainment offerings at AlUla, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with special activities and excursions in the coming months and accommodation options.

Beginning this month, Saudia will offer three weekly direct flights from Riyadh to AlUla, increasing to five a week from Aug 1. As of July 4, flights are operating from Jeddah to AlUla every day of the week except Fridays. And beginning on Aug. 1, visitors from Dammam can fly direct to AlUla on weekdays. Meanwhile, Flynas offers flights between Riyadh and AlUla every Sunday.

Flynas also offers flights to AlUla from the UAE. They depart from Dubai on Fridays and return flights depart every Sunday. The airline has said it plans to increase the frequency of the flights by September. In addition, Flydubai offers two flights a week to AlUla, on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the attractions of AlUla is its weather, which is is slightly cooler than many other parts of the country during the scorching Saudi summer. As a result, it is a popular location for visitors keen to enjoy outdoor activities such as cycling, camel riding, swimming or hiking during the day and stargazing at night.

Unique attractions include Jabal Al-Fil, or Elephant Rock, a stunning natural rock formation. Meanwhile fans of local culture and heritage can sign up for guided tours of historic locations such as Hegra, AlUla Old Town, and about half a dozen other options in and around around Dadan, Jabal Lkmah and other locations.

More adventurous or active visitors might consider having a go at ziplining, rock climbing, hiking on the hidden valley trail, or taking in the views from the air on a helicopter tour. For those who prefer to relax and enjoy a slower-paced vacation, stargazing remains a favorite activity for many, and there are also live concerts and other performances to enjoy in the Old Market Town.

In the Old Town of AlUla, visitors can chat and haggle with local vendors or tour the handicraft pavilions, where nature is the main component of traditional crafts.

When it is time to rest and recharge, visitors can sample the menus at many local restaurants, including Tama at Habitas, Suhail Old Town, Pink Camel Pastry Boutique and Circolo.

For businesses looking for an unforgettable location for a conference or team-building retreat, spaces at the majestic Maraya are available to rent. Recognized in 2020 by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest mirrored building, it offers capacity of up to 500 seats and stunning scenery all around.

The accommodation options include the popular Shaden, a four-star resort 32 minutes from the airport that offers 125 rooms and villas; and Habitas, a five-star resort 45 minutes from the airport that will reopen on July 25 after maintenance work. In addition, Caravan by Habitas offers 22 recreational vehicles.

“We will turn AlUla into a living museum, creating memories that visitors will share with the world,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman once said. “Heritage is the main asset of AlUla. We have to use this asset to offer visitors a unique journey through time where they can enjoy a living museum.”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday took part in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2022, which is concerned with the sustainable development goals and working to accelerate their progress. The forum, which is the main UN platform to follow up on the progress of the 17 SDGs and review its plans for 2030, is being held under the title: “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The Kingdom’s delegation is headed by the Ministry of Economy and Planning, with the participation of representatives from the ministries of education, finance, health, human resources and social development, environment, water and agriculture, communications and information technology, and the General Authority for Statistics.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is participating in the @UN #HLPF 2022 in New York from July 5-15 to work with the international community on a joint effort to achieve the #SDGshttps://t.co/2HX1LcAYeK pic.twitter.com/uO46l54syt — وزارة الاقتصاد والتخطيط (@MEPSaudi) July 5, 2022 The Kingdom’s delegation to the forum is led by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and Planning for Policies and Economic Planning Ayman bin Ishaq Afghani. The forum, which will continue until July 15, will address goals aimed at rebuilding better after the pandemic, and a global outlook on developing the full implementation of the 2030 SDG agenda. It will also focus on the goals of quality education, gender equality, life under water and on land, establishing partnerships to achieve the goals, and the importance of international cooperation and commitment to achieving the SDGs, taking into account low-income and least developed countries. Afghani stressed the critical importance of the forum, saying: “The world is currently going through an important phase that requires all of us to cooperate and know what we need right now, and where we should be in the next stage, so that efforts can yield real results that will benefit the local and global levels.” During the forum’s activities, the Kingdom’s representatives will highlight the roadmap plan developed by the country in coordination with stakeholders to achieve the SDGs, and the progress made through programs, initiatives and projects in line with the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030. The 17 SDGs center around a call for all countries to work to promote prosperity and economic growth, and these goals include a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and employment opportunities, while addressing climate change and environmental protection.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is participating in the @UN #HLPF 2022 in New York from July 5-15 to work with the international community on a joint effort to achieve the #SDGshttps://t.co/2HX1LcAYeK pic.twitter.com/uO46l54syt