Meet Ahmed Mater, the man transforming Saudi Arabia into an art haven

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Changing Positions, by Victor Vasarely. A vivid colorful sculpture is a play on various colors, and assembled in an infinite number of variations.
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Mater searched thoroughly to find original sketches of the sculptures. Here we have a sketch by Julio Lafuente for the Bicycle Roundabout, 1982.
Updated 18 March 2018

Meet Ahmed Mater, the man transforming Saudi Arabia into an art haven

RIYADH: Entering the Misk Institute is like visiting wonderland. New visitors can only marvel at the artwork that covers walls, ceilings and even staircases.
This creative hub is not afraid of color and has an energetic vibe. Ambitious young people work here and their energy is palpable.
The entrance hall declares “Our ambitions reach the sky,” quoting the words of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose portrait hangs alongside his words.
Color is a trademark of Misk Institute Director Ahmed Mater. Born in Tabuk in 1979 and raised in the city of Abha in the south of the Kingdom, Mater’s love of art came early. “I love color, I grew up around it,” he said.
He is referring to Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, the multi-colored wall decorations deeply rooted in the south of the Kingdom.
This ancient art form, exclusively practiced by women, has been declared part of the cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.
Mater’s own works give an unparalleled perspective on modern-day Saudi Arabia. He has regularly exhibited around the Kingdom, and in numerous international institutions such as New York’s Guggenheim and Brooklyn museums, Washington’s The Smithsonian, and in Lebanon, Bahrain, Denmark, France and many more. He is seen worldwide as the unofficial historian of Saudi socio-political life.
The Eye, by Cesar Baldaccini. A 500 cm Bronze statue, is one of three of Baldaccini’s sculptures (The Thumb and The Fist) that are in Jeddah. The traditional conceptions are based on parts of the human body.
Before becoming an artist, he was a medical physician. But far from it being a change in direction, Mater said both are “intertwined and go hand in hand.”
His “Illuminations” project showed his fascination for merging science and art. He created a fusion of x-rays and traditional Islamic arts using discarded hospital images and paints on paper prepared with tea and pomegranate to achieve a luminous effect.
He has attracted attention for his ground breaking displays. His work encompasses photography, video, installation, paintings and calligraphy, his style changing from project to project.
As director of the Misk Institute, he has had the full support of the crown prince. Mater said: “This is Saudi Arabia’s Renaissance age, and our crown prince is the Medici.”
Referring to his famous photograph “Magnetism” (2011), Mater said: “Anyone who has been to Makkah and specifically visited the Ka’aba can feel the spiritual pull. That’s where the idea came from.”
Mater’s eyes light up as he leafs through the pages of his latest work “Sculptures of Jeddah.” It documents the restoration and relocation of 26 major works that had been forgotten.
“Jeddah is the bride of the sea, always known for its beauty and being a haven for artists,” he said.
He said in 1972, the newly appointed mayor of Jeddah at the time, Mohammed Said Farsi, initiated the Jeddah Beautification Project and purchased more than 400 sculptures, including works by international artists.
Working for more than a year to collect all these treasures and document them in an almost 300-page book, Mater is something of a historian, documenting magnificent sculptures that are Jeddah’s landmarks.
His book explored and revived the work of many renowned artists who have contributed to Jeddah’s famous landmarks.
“Pick a favorite,” I said. Mater’s eyes lit up and he said: “They are all special.” He leafs through the book and shows me works by Cesar Baldaccini, Henry Moore and many others.
“Many people are astonished that Jeddah has works of art by many of these famous sculptors,” he said.
There is a light in his eyes as he marvels at the sculptures, as if looking at them for the first time. The book records the extreme care taken to bring the sculptures back to life.
Speaking of other Saudi cities, Mater said: “In less than five years, Riyadh will be transformed into an artist’s retreat with many art works.”
He is striving to ensure this goal is achieved, while also inspiring many all over the world through his work.


Qantas urges rapper will.i.am to withdraw racism accusation against staffer

Updated 18 November 2019

Qantas urges rapper will.i.am to withdraw racism accusation against staffer

  • Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am said on Twitter he was racially targeted by a Qantas airline attendant
  • Qantas, which called the incident a ‘misunderstanding,’ has requested the rapper to retract his statement

MELBOURNE: Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas, said on Monday it stood ready to offer legal assistance to a member of its flight crew named in a racism accusation by Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am on social media.
The US singer had taken a flight about 1-1/2-hours long to Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, from northeastern Brisbane to play at a concert on Saturday, but was met by Australian federal police at the arrival gate.
He said on Twitter he was racially targeted by an airline attendant, whom he identified by name, after failing to put away his laptop as the flight prepared to land, because he had put on noise-canceling headphones to “make beats.”
Qantas, which called the incident a “misunderstanding,” has requested the rapper to retract his statement.
“Absent a retraction, and if the crew member wanted to take the matter further, we’d certainly be willing to provide legal support for them to do this,” a spokesman told Reuters in a statement.
Police confirmed they spoke to crew and passengers at the airport, but said no further action was required. “The Australian Federal Police considers this matter finalized,” they said in a statement.
On Saturday, will.i.am said in a post on Twitter, “Is calling the police on a passenger for not hearing (the) P.A. due to wearing noise-canceling headphones appropriate?”
He added, “If didn’t put away my laptop ‘in a rapid 2min time’ I’d understand. I did comply quickly & politely, only to be greeted by police. I think I was targeted.”
As of Monday, will.i.am had not made any retraction on social media, even as other commenters pointed out that the crew member he identified had received threats on social media as a result.
He pointed out that if he were rude to a fan or journalist, he would be publicly named.
“This is what Twitter is for...we are supposed to call out wrongdoings so we can have a safer, more compassionate world,” will.i.am said.
Reuters was not able to contact the rapper through his agency, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment on social media.