‘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.

Uzbek president performs Umrah during official visit to Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 August 2022

Uzbek president performs Umrah during official visit to Saudi Arabia

  • The Uzbek president had arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday
  • Was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

MAKKAH: The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev performed the Umrah pilgrimage on Thursday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The president was received by several officials from the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and from the Special Force for the Security of the Grand Mosque upon his arrival.

Mirziyoyev’s official press service shared photos from the president’s pilgrimage on Twitter.

The Uzbek president had arrived in Jeddah on Wednesday, where he was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The pair held a meeting and discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields, in addition to reviewing a number of issues of common interest.

Aussie minister receives Saudi consul in Sydney

Updated 19 August 2022

Aussie minister receives Saudi consul in Sydney

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's consul general in Sydney, Mashare Ben Naheet, was received by Mark Coure, Australia's minister for multiculturalism and seniors, in his office on Thursday. 

The pair discussed common interests of the consulate’s contribution to cultural events in Sydney.

Last month, the consul general hosted a luncheon at his residence for Ambassador Sergio Bath, newly appointed Ambassador of the Federative Republic of Brazil to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The consul general wished him success in all his mission.




IMF sees Saudi inflation contained at 2.8% as GDP growth hits decade-high

Updated 18 August 2022

IMF sees Saudi inflation contained at 2.8% as GDP growth hits decade-high

  • Increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy, says IMF
  • Saudi Arabia is taking impressive steps to improve the business environment - says global lending body

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow at the fastest rate in almost a decade at 7.6 percent with inflation likely to remain at 2.8 percent in 2022, the International Monetary Fund’s Article IV Consultation report has predicted.
Saudi Arabia is rebounding strongly from the pandemic-induced recession, driven by the Kingdom’s pro-business reforms and higher oil prices, it said. 
Despite higher prices for imported commodities, the inflation rate in the Kingdom will be contained at 2.8 percent in 2022, as the central bank tightens policy in line with the US Federal Reserve, the report added. 
“Liquidity and fiscal support, reform momentum under Vision 2030, and high oil prices and production helped the economy recover with robust growth, contained inflation and a resilient financial sector,” the IMF said in a press release.


The proportion of Saudi women in work has doubled in the past four years to 33% in the first quarter of 2022.

83 percent of the adult population now own a bank account as of 2021, up from 71 percent in 2019.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Amine Mati, assistant director of the IMF, predicted that Saudi Arabia is expected to attain a budget surplus of about 5.5 percent of its gross domestic product, as its surplus in the second quarter hit $21 billion.

Mati elaborated that effective utilization of the Kingdom’s growing surplus will be achieved by making sure that the budget allocations are respected. He added that social spending should remain in line with the increase in surplus, which would then be re-injected into the economy.

“Implementing a fiscal rule will help sustain a fiscal anchor over the medium term and integrated asset liability management framework will help the government assess Saudi Arabia’s fiscal stance and position,” said Mati.

The IMF report added that the increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy. 

When addressing the rising inflationary pressures, Mati stated that “the exchange rate peg to the US Dollar continues to serve Saudi Arabia.”

“Inflation is contained, despite increased international commodity prices, because of low pass through,” said Mati. “The external position is expected to strengthen substantially, with the current account surplus reaching levels not seen in a decade.”

The IMF report added that the increase in interest rates is expected to have only a limited impact on the Saudi economy. 
Mati explained that the increase of the value-added tax from 5 percent to 15 percent in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic was essential in promoting non-oil revenue growth, and noted that tax administration measures also help sustain and accelerate tax revenues.

According to the report, the Public Investment Fund should focus on high return projects with private involvement, as it continues to implement giga-projects. 
The report added that Saudi Arabia is taking impressive steps to improve the business environment, which will attract foreign investments. 
It further stated that the proportion of Saudi women in work has doubled in the past four years to 33 percent in the first quarter of 2022, exceeding the 30-percent target set under the Vision 2030 plan. 

Improvements in tax policy and revenue administration to raise more taxes from non-oil activities will help support fiscal consolidation in the Kingdom.


“Priorities to foster a more inclusive and green economy include increasing further women labor force participation, making sure PIF interventions play a catalytic role, strengthening governance, and rolling out the Saudi green initiative,” the IMF said in the report. 
The impressive pace of digitization in the Kingdom has the potential to boost productivity and overall growth, it added. 

“The surge in digital account openings and online mobile financial transactions during the pandemic has helped in improving financial inclusion — 83 percent of the adult population now own a bank account as of 2021, up from 71 percent in 2019,” it said. 

Speaking at the conference, Mati stated that the advancement of digitalization translates to a more educated workforce that is better equipped for following up on future developments, which positively impacts the future of FDI.

According to the IMF, the Saudi Green Initiative, which was launched in 2021, requires policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support greener growth. 
The report concluded that Saudi Arabia’s economic outlook is strong, and the Kingdom’s long-term prosperity strongly depends on sustaining the reform momentum.

Saudi-US military exercise ‘Native Fury 22’ continues in the Kingdom

Updated 18 August 2022

Saudi-US military exercise ‘Native Fury 22’ continues in the Kingdom

  • The exercise, involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps, began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu
  • It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations

RIYADH: Native Fury 22, a military exercise in the Kingdom involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps that began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu, continued on Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said.

It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations. It also includes communications, field medicine, a life-saving combat exercise, shooting with live ammunition, and supply and evacuation operations.

The exercise is hosted by the Kingdom with the participation and support of several ministries and other official organizations. The aim is to give personnel an opportunity to practice and train in the implementation of bilateral military, operational and logistical plans; strengthen Saudi and American military coordination and partnership; improve joint-working capabilities; and gain experience in the use of the Kingdom’s military bases and road networks, the ministry said.

“It also aims to train in the integrated government work to implement mixed military exercises,” it added.

Native Fury 22 is one of several military exercises conducted by the Saudi Armed Forces throughout the year with allies to raise levels of combat efficiency, gain field experience, and work on standardizing military concepts and terminology among the participants.


INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News

Updated 18 August 2022

INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News

  • Saudi Vision 2030 plan and ‘New Uzbekistan’ road map have many similarities, says Furqat Sidiqov
  • Sidiqov spoke to Arab News in Jeddah ahead of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s state visit to Saudi Arabia 

JEDDAH: There are striking parallels between Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms agenda and the Uzbek government’s bold transformation plan, New Uzbekistan, according to Furqat Sidiqov, the Uzbek deputy foreign minister.

Speaking a day before the arrival on Wednesday of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the Kingdom for a state visit — the first by a leader of the country since Islam Karimov’s visit in 1992 — he said that these shared visions augur well for the future of bilateral trade and cooperation.

“Saudi Arabia has the capabilities to achieve its Vision 2030 goals,” Sidiqov told Arab News ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the Saudi-Uzbek Business Council, hosted by the Uzbek consulate in Jeddah.

Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Furqat Sidiqov being interviewed by Arab News' Rawan Radwan in Jeddah. (Photo by Sultan Baajajah)

He added that the reforms and road maps the two nations have developed are similar, representing clear visions for progress, as are the young and dynamic populations of the countries.

“Both nations are working closely and moving forward in joint cooperation within the framework of our strategies,” Sidiqov said. “We are closely following the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategy and we support its bid for Expo 2030.”

Over the past five years, he explained, Uzbekistan has implemented a domestic development strategy aimed at easing its transition to a market economy, which has offered fertile ground for the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises and a more diversified economy.

An Uzbek chef prepares plov — a dish known around the world as pilaf — at a small cafe in Tashkent.  Eager to diversify its sources of revenue, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors. (AFP)

He said the strategy echoes that of Saudi Vision 2030, which has opened up the Kingdom’s economy to capitalize on new sectors beyond hydrocarbons and actively encourages entrepreneurism, along with the development of technical skills and creativity among its young population.

For decades, Uzbekistan relied heavily on just a handful of staple exports, including cotton, gold, oil and gas. Eager to diversify its sources of revenue, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors.

On Wednesday, in keeping with their complementary visions, Uzbekistan and the Kingdom signed more than 10 investment agreements worth SR45 billion ($12 billion).

The Saudi and Uzbek delegations signed a number of agreements between private sector institutions in the two countries on Aug. 17, 2022, in Jeddah.  
(Photo by Sultan Baajajah)

Among them was a 25-year deal, worth $2.4 billion, for Saudi utility developer ACWA Power to build a 1,500-megawatt wind-power project in Uzbekistan, to help the country achieve its goal of sourcing 40 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2031.

Uzbek officials said that in recent years, Saudi investments in various sectors of the Uzbek economy have increased significantly. There are now 38 joint ventures, 20 of which involve direct Saudi investors. Still, Sidiqov said, there is the potential for even closer business cooperation, particularly in food processing and distribution.

“The numbers don’t reflect the capabilities of the two countries,” he said. “We’re working with the Kingdom to raise the number of joint ventures. 

A woman works at a cotton plantation near Tashkent. Uzbekistan is diversifying its sources of revenue and has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture and other sectors. (AFP)

“Agriculture plays an important role in Uzbekistan’s economic development and we’re one of the top nations in food production, food security and we have the capabilities to export food products, organic fruits and vegetables to the Kingdom.

“The plan is to have the Kingdom become a midway station for food processing and packaging, to ready them for export to other countries.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Although they do not share a border, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have been linked by religion, knowledge and culture for hundreds of years. Among the historical figures who traveled and studied across the Arab and Muslim worlds are four who hailed from places that are part of modern-day Uzbekistan: physician Ibn Sina, mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, and Islamic scholars Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Al-Tirmidhi.

Among Uzbekistan tourism attractions is the historic architecture of Itchan Kala, a walled inner town of the city of Khiva, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock)

The exchange of ideas and cultures continues in the modern era thanks to the expansion of air travel between Uzbekistan and Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, and more flexible visa rules.

“To further boost the exchange of cultures, direct flights will begin in October, via Flynas and Uzbekistan Airways, and Saudis will be exempt from entry visas for a 30-day stay,” said Sidiqov.

A view of Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport. (Shutterstock photo)

Present-day Saudi-Uzbek cooperation extends far beyond trade and cultural exchange into the diplomatic sphere, guided by shared interests in security and humanitarian efforts across the wider region.

In the year since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal from the country, regional powers such as Uzbekistan have sought to engage with the new government in Kabul to assist the Afghan people in their time of hardship.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is among the highest priorities and our government has set up various initiatives and programs to support Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.

“In the spirit of neighborly solidarity, we ensured that our relationship is of continued support. By working closely with the government, we want not only to provide humanitarian assistance, but also help them provide job opportunities to their youth and to be a gateway for Central and South Asia.”

An Afghan businessman works on his aluminum cauldron workshop near Uzbekistan's southern city of Termez. Uzbekistan is playing a key role in helping deal with Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis. (AFP)

He added that in the southern Uzbek city of Termez, for example, the government has established centers to help young Afghans receive an education and develop their skills to prepare them for the job market.

“We’re working to help reconstruction programs and developing its economy to help turn it into a country of opportunities,” said Sidiqov. “Our allies are helping us and supporting us in this endeavor.”

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, took part in an international conference titled Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in July last year.

Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih leading a delegation on an official visit to Uzbekistan in 2021. (Reuters file photo)

In July this year, a Saudi delegation also attended the international Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development conference, also in Tashkent, during which the Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation.

In June, Saudi Arabia announced a $30 million grant to support the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund, which operates under the umbrella of the Islamic Development Bank in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which both the Kingdom and Uzbekistan are members.

“As a neighbor to Afghanistan, our main aim is to provide safe passage of aid to those in need in Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.

“We are working closely with the Afghan government to develop a food-security road map and to provide youth job opportunities. We serve as a broker between the world and the Taliban, and as ‘the voice of Central Asia’ we have encouraged the Afghan government to commit to their promises.”

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