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

This photo shows a magnetic field attraction that looks like Muslim's holy Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 July 2022

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

  • One of Mater’s most popular artworks was constructed using thousands of iron particles surrounding a magnetic cuboid
  • Work is contrast of color palette with black elements set on white canvas, all specs attracting simultaneously to center

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.


Saudi Arabia will now allow visitors holding tourist visas to perform Umrah – Hajj ministry

Updated 12 August 2022

Saudi Arabia will now allow visitors holding tourist visas to perform Umrah – Hajj ministry

  • 49 nations eligible under the new rules
  • Booking online or on arrival, says ministry

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that the Kingdom will now allow visitors holding tourist visas to perform Umrah.

Citizens of 49 countries will be able to do so by securing their visas online at Visit Saudi Arabia, or immediately on arrival at airports.

The decision has been taken to allow as many people as possible to perform the ritual.

Those who qualify include holders of visas to the US and the UK, as well as those who have Schengen visas.

The regulations allow visitors to obtain a tourist visa, valid for 12 months, to visit other cities in the Kingdom.

Those who have family visit visas are allowed to perform Umrah, by booking through the Eatmarna app.

To perform Umrah, visitors are required to obtain comprehensive health insurance, which includes covering the costs of COVID-19 treatment, accidents resulting in death or disability, and expenses arising from flight delays or cancellations.

Those wishing to perform Umrah from nations other than those who currently qualify, should apply for visas at the Kingdom’s embassies in their countries.

Documents required include proof of residence and employment, return ticket, bank statement proving financial stability, itinerary, and complete personal information.


Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage

Updated 12 August 2022

Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage

  • Ancient Thamudic and Sadu embroidery on display

HAIL: The Beit Hail 15-day festival was launched on Wednesday showcasing local heritage including incense burners, daggers, wicker baskets, and clothes with ancient Thamudic and Sadu embroidery.

Dep. Gov. of Hail Prince Faisal bin Fahd inaugurated the event at Aja Park with the undersecretary of the region, Adel bin Saleh Al-Sheikh, and other officials.

Prince Faisal toured the site and visited the exhibition of the late artist Youssef Al-Shagdali.

The festival also features classic cars and popular, colorful handicrafts created by the region’s artisans.

There were also stalls that showed how cloth is woven and transformed into clothing.

Visitors were entertained by a folklore troupe performing the Saudi Arda.

The event aims to support local talent and boost small businesses.

 

 


The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 

Updated 12 August 2022

The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 

  • Prince Khaled Al-Faisal visited the design expo at Jeddah Superdome
  • He was briefed on innovations to alleviate environmental challenges

JEDDAH: The architecture of the futuristic city, The Line, has impressed Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who says he will be the first to book an accommodation once it is complete.

Prince Khalid made the remarks in a tweet following his visit to the NEOM exhibition to see the designs on Wednesday at the Jeddah Superdome.

The governor toured the exhibition that showcases the architectural innovations of the city.

He was also briefed on how the city would help alleviate the critical environmental challenges facing humanity.

Last month, The Line’s designs were revealed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

They showed the most important features of The Line, which is 200 meters wide, 170 kilometers long, and 500 meters high. It will eventually house 9 million people and have a 34 square kilometer footprint.

It will take up less land than other cities of comparable capacity and help to conserve 95 percent of NEOM’s land.

The Line imagines a future without streets, cars or emissions. It will be powered entirely by renewable energy and prioritize health and well-being over transportation and infrastructure.

The exhibition showcases all these aspects of the city. It opened on Aug. 1 and will be taken to other locations from Aug. 14, including Riyadh and the Eastern Province.

It offers 50 guided tours a day in Arabic and English.


Hand-woven Japanese silk fabric artisans turn attention to Saudi Arabia

Updated 12 August 2022

Hand-woven Japanese silk fabric artisans turn attention to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Kyoto-based Okamoto Orimono Co., Ltd. (branded as Nishijin Okamoto) has worked to provide rare silk fabrics since the Meiji era, and have carried on the techniques and traditions of Nishijin textiles for over 100 years, across four generations.

Nishijin Okamoto is one of the few remaining weaving companies carrying on the historic culture of Nishijin and Kyoto, and the company is offering innovative silk fabrics that will impress the wearer.

Ema Okamoto, textile designer and managing director of Nishijin Okamoto, spoke to Arab News Japan, saying, “I grew up as a child amid the sounds of the machines, the winding threads, and the bustle of the craftsmen in the house and workshop. This atmosphere of the Nishijin workshop is my origin and my life.”

“The people of Saudi Arabia, like us, cherish their roots and as they live their lives. I got a lot of inspi- ration from the regional symbols they showed us wherever we went,” Okamoto said, expressing interest in creating “a traditional collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Japan.”

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Outgoing Danish ambassador reflects on his time in Saudi Arabia

Updated 12 August 2022

Outgoing Danish ambassador reflects on his time in Saudi Arabia

  • Ole Emil Moesby is leaving the Kingdom after five years as his country’s envoy to the region

RIYADH: Denmark’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Ole Emil Moesby, will bid the Kingdom farewell at the end of his tour of duty in Riyadh later this month.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you,” he told Arab News. “I’ve had a fantastic time here — you usually get more or less emotional when you have to change, but if you are a diplomat, you’re quite used to it changing from one place to the other.

“I can’t think of any time when I felt this — that I am leaving something behind here — which I will miss because the way I’ve been treated and inspired, and the way I’ve been communicating with people, has been extraordinary,” Moesby said.

“The experience I have had has been fantastic, so my message is: Thank you.”

Ambassador Ole Emil Moesby paying a courtesy call to King Salman. (Supplied)

Moesby has been the ambassador of Denmark to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen since Sept. 5, 2017, and his final day of service is Aug. 31.

Talking to Arab News, Moesby highlighted some of his fondest memories in the Kingdom, where he has spent five years, from interacting with the local community and traveling, to being enriched by the culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia.

“It’s been a fantastic time to experience the development and the changes which I have seen in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“AlUla of course has developed extremely (well) … But even places like Yanbu or Jeddah have actually changed a lot. Not to mention, of course, Riyadh.

Balancing on the "Edge of the World", the Jebel Fihrayn which features 300-meter-high cliffs. It is part of Riyadh's Tuwaiq escarpment. (Supplied)

“It’s actually been interesting to see also how the development has changed attitudes and culture in these places, but yet, at the other side, have actually maintained the heritage of these places,” Moesby explained.

The ambassador witnessed many changes, including the opening of movie theaters in the Kingdom and the lifting of the ban on women driving in 2018.

“I think it’s been fantastic to see that development,” said the envoy. “I have been (here) in a period where I have been for premiers of films in the cinemas, and before … my staff here, which is mainly women, were actually being brought to the embassy in the morning — now they actually drive themselves,” he added.

“So instead of having a problem of traffic, as we had before, we now have a parking problem,” the ambassador joked.

“That’s a fantastic development, and which I will take with me in my memories when I leave.”

The ambassador had also been to Ithra, Ithra, the iconic King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, which was built by Saudi Aramco. (Supplied)

Moebsy explained that he has also been a dedicated Arab News reader, making sure to pick up the newspaper every morning to catch up on events.

“Everything has actually changed since Sept. 5, 2017. So every day, Arab News has actually told me what is happening here. And it’s been a fantastic experience because of the changes that you have seen here,” he said.

The ambassador highlighted the ways his mission has strengthened bilateral relations between Denmark and Saudi Arabia through embassy-led initiatives and collaborations.

“As an ambassador, you have to understand what is happening in Saudi Arabia, and you have to convey that to people in Denmark, and you have to make people in Saudi Arabia understand what the thinking is in Denmark. That’s the way to develop a bilateral relationship,” he said.

Most of his efforts have been to put into trade, developing business partnerships, and promoting cultural exchanges.

One of these efforts was hosting a women’s football tournament in Saudi Arabia with 28 teams from all over the Kingdom, called the Global Goals World Cup.

“We’ve been very active in setting up football for females. The tournament that we had was a big success … because it also demonstrated the role that females can play in sports events,” he said.

In February, the embassy hosted celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the ambassador invited young female Saudi artists to paint a picture of the queen to mark the event.

“It’s an amazing development of cultural abilities and possibilities in Saudi Arabia that can happen. And for the queen in Denmark, she would see that as a good signal of the long-term good relations that we have between Saudi Arabia and Denmark,” Moesby said.

Ambassador Ole Emil Moesby has visited the ancient city of Al-'Ula, an archaeological wonder located in the northwestern region of Madinah. (Supplied)

He concluded his interview by leaving a message to his successor, Liselotte Kjaersgaard Plesner, who will be the next ambassador.

“My successor, she is one of our top diplomats in the Danish service,” Moesby said.

“I just hope she can just be half as happy as I am in being here, (then) I will be more than happy.

“An important message to say to her is that the perceptions that we sometimes all are under in Europe or Denmark, and in the US, you can’t get close to the reality unless you have seen it yourself,” he said.

The ambassador added that people should not form their opinions of a country without examining it and being a part of the culture first.

“You have to come here. You have to live here. You have to understand and communicate with people here, otherwise, it won’t happen,” he said.

 

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