Saudi artist holds first US solo exhibition at the Smithsonian

Ahmed Mater, the artist.

Ahmed Mater, the artist.

Remounted Saudi artist, Ahmed Mater, will present his first U.S. solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. ‘Symbolic Cities’ is being presented in collaboration with Culturunners in partnership with Art Jameel, a Community Jameel initiative, and Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), and will be on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery March 19–Sept. 18, 2016.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an immersive program of dialogues and discussions across Washington D.C.

Since the early 20th century, Saudi Arabia has experienced extraordinary political, economic and social transformation. Bringing together works by leading Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater (b. 1979), “Symbolic Cities” offers unique perspectives on the effects of such changes on this country. This is the first and only showing of this exhibition in the United States solely dedicated to works by this artist.

While Mater works in a variety of media, including painting, installations and performance, “Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater” will focus on his landscape photography as a means of exploring the tension between the traditional world and the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabian life. The exhibition will highlight three journeys through Saudi Arabia, with an eye toward the impact of urbanization—“Empty Land,” “Desert of Pharan” (2011-13) and “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage” (2015). Beginning with his aerial views of abandoned desert sites and continuing through the reconstruction of Mecca, a series of large-scale photographs and videos are organized as an experiential encounter, a progression from quiet emptiness to the physical and emotional intensity of the changes Mater is witnessing. The exhibition culminates with the installation “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage: A Thousand Lost Years,” the first chapter in Mater’s latest project examining the growth of Riyadh, the country’s administrative capital and largest city.

“Mater brings the rigor of his training as a physician—as well as unparalleled access—to gather frank observations of his own time and place,” said exhibition curator Carol Huh, the Freer|Sackler’s curator for contemporary art. “The resulting imagery is straightforward and striking, while his newest research-based project presents another fascinating shift in his use of the photographic medium.”

“Symbolic Cities” is the second in a series of exhibitions highlighting artists and works in Freer|Sackler’s growing collection of contemporary photography.

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