- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi artists test limits of expression in rare show.
- Date: 2nd February 2012
- Summary: JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA (JANUARY 30, 2012) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF THE EXHIBITION: "EDGE OF JEDDAH" CANDLE LAMPS AT ENTRANCE OF THE "EDGE OF JEDDAH" EXHIBITION LCD SCREEN READING IN ENGLISH AND ARABIC: "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE PRESENT" PAINTING READING ARABIC: "THE COMMANDMENTS OF ISLAM IN THE WAR" MODEL OF LARGE WOODEN STAMP AND PICTURES OF THE STAMP ON WALL READING IN ARABIC: "GOD WILLS" STATUES LARGE PRAYER BEADS (8 METRES LONG) CARRYING THE NAMES OF THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THEM (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) NADER, ONE OF THE JEDDAH EDGE EXHIBITION ORGANISERS, SAYING: "The exhibition is held every year in a different country and this year it is being held in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah, from January 20 to February 18. The exhibition is displaying contemporary art under the title "We Need To Talk". Each artist is reflected on the panel by a particular method of communication and dialogue." WORLD MAP PAINTED ON THE FLOOR IN RED PAINT WITH CAUTION SIGNS SHOWING THE CONFLICT ZONES OF THE WORLD (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) NADER, ONE OF THE JEDDAH EDGE EXHIBITION ORGANISERS, SAYING: "The artist Hamza Serafi called this painting "Bed of the World", reflecting that there are people who use the globe in the wrong way. The more they use it in the wrong way, the more warnings show up. In Australia, it shows us the way energy is used in excess of necessity. There are problems in Russia, such as elections, for example. In the Arab world, there are demonstrations and re-elections which have happened because of demonstrations and problems. In Saudi Arabia we need to talk so that there is evolution in a positive way without protests and without problems, and with a useful dialogue. In Africa, it talks about toxic waste that is buried there. In South America, gangs and drugs and the problems there, such as the Mafia."
- Embargoed: 17th February 2012 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Arts
- Reuters ID: LVA669PMDP9FF7N4HDTH92X1ZAJU
- Story Text: Contemporary artists in Saudi Arabia test the boundaries of self expression in the conservative Islamic kingdom with an exhibition addressing - among other subjects - last year's political turmoil.
Standing on a large floor map in a Jeddah art gallery, Hamza Serafi places a yellow sign inscribed "Caution: revolution (take 2)" over Egypt and then turns to Saudi Arabia.
"Evolution not revolution" reads the sign he plans to place over the conservative Islamic kingdom, where an exhibition organisers call Saudi Arabia's first public show of contemporary art has opened this month, entitled "We need to talk".
In addressing last year's political turmoil through his work, the Saudi artist is testing the boundaries of self expression in a kingdom where direct criticism of the authorities is not tolerated, cinema and theatre are banned and art and media are censored.
One of the exhibition organisers described how the artwork highlights how there are problems all over the world.
"The artist Hamza Serafi called this painting "Bed of the World", reflecting that there are people who use the globe in the wrong way. The more they use it in the wrong way, the more warnings show up. In Australia, it shows us the way energy is in excess of necessity. There are problems in Russia, such as elections, for example. In the Arab world, there are demonstrations and re-elections which have happened because of demonstrations and problems. In Saudi Arabia we need to talk so that there is evolution in a positive way without protests and without problems, and with a useful dialogue," said exhibition organiser, Nader.
Saudi Arabia, a country ruled over by the al-Saud royal family in alliance with powerful conservative clerics, has no elected parliament or political parties and applies a rigid variation of Sharia law.
Although King Abdullah has slowly pushed for society to grow more open by encouraging dialogue and urging media to report on previously taboo social ills, a government-linked committee still had to vet all the artwork on show.
Saudi Arabia escaped virtually untouched when mass uprisings toppled Arab leaders last year, as a Facebook call for a "day of rage" went unheeded amid lavish government spending and shows of support for the royal family by religious and tribal leaders.
However, the Saudi authorities are sensitive to any suggestion that their people might emulate the uprisings, making it difficult for artists to address a subject that has engrossed the whole Arab world.
Other taboos include anything seen as blasphemous, criticism of the conservative nature of Saudi society, and sex or nudity.
Exhibition guide Jehan Mahmoud was impressed with one particular exhibit that examined women's role in modern society.
"I like the painting behind me because it represents women in general and it puts the spot light on the role of Saudi women in society. The artist represented the women as mothers and as a diplomatic employee and as a director and photographer, artist and computer engineer," she said.
However, a model of a baby with a video game controller attached to it convinced one visitor that Western influences were having a detrimental effect on their children.
"This device represents the West, and these are our children. They develop and are nurtured (by the West) by the technology that has come to us now through the PlayStation, through games, through cartoon films that indirectly corrupt their minds, learning sedition and murder, how to kill one's brother, learning things that are not the foundations and principles of Islam at all," said visitor Munerah al-Mugrabi Saudi artists say they have to find imaginative ways to manoeuvre around the censors to ensure the continuation of a local art scene that is still at an early stage of development.
One, in a piece called "Food for Thought", displays baking trays lined with hundreds of cassette tapes of religious lectures recorded and distributed in the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia experienced a wave of religious extremism.
As the viewer backs away, the words haram (forbidden) and batil (wrong) become legible in the arrangement of the cassettes.
Artist Ahmad Angawi brings the Saudi public into his work by installing microphones throughout various locations in Jeddah for his project, "Street Pulse".
Participants record messages into microphones and hear those left by others through headphones attached to his installation, hundreds of microphones bound together in the shape of an atom.
Angawi said he accepted that he might not be able to play some of the comments people recorded, and that finding the right balance between freedom of expression and the demands of a conservative society would be difficult.
Edge of Arabia, the group behind the exhibition, has showcased Saudi artists' work around the world since 2008, with displays in London, Dubai, Venice, Istanbul and Berlin, but this is its first public show inside the kingdom.
The exhibition, which opened last week, includes more than 50 works by 22 Saudi artists giving their views on the country.
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