OPENING: Thursday April 25, 2013 - 6 to 9 pm
A very recent fortuitous encounter with Abdulnasser Gharem and Stephen Stapleton in Sharjah (United Arab
Emirates) made me realize that my conviction that the western education many inhabitants of the Arabian
Peninsula received during the last 50 years would have by now fostered a highly interesting group of individuals, in
fact grossly underestimated the importance of the momentous grass-root artistic movement found in Saudi Arabia.
In considering the deep cultural changes occurring in the Greater Middle East, with the establishment of Dubai as a
major Asian hub and as a crossroad between east and west, and the very vibrant art-scene between Cairo, Beirut
and Istanbul on the Levantine side, Teheran, further east, and Sharjah and Doha to the south, one cannot escape
the fact that the Big Brother, the Uncle, the Father in some cases -is Saudi Arabia.
Until recently, there was a very limited art scene in Saudi Arabia. But between 2003-2004 a group of artists
came together in Abha's Al-Meftaha Arts Village to create a new movement including the formation of Edge of
Arabia and the groundbreaking 'Shattah' exhibition in Jeddah; this will remain in history as the breakthrough year:
‘Shattah’ means to be broken up or disembodied. This burgeoning movement is not a decade old, but its throb has
already been felt in the art world: the Venice Biennale, the Sharjah Biennale, the Berlin Biennale, the Pinault
Foundation, the Tokyo Mori Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British and Victoria & Albert
Museums, and of course the Institut du Monde Arabe have showcased the work –but only very recently.
The stunning work of these artists is coming-out, but what does this do for the next generation of artists in
Saudi Arabia, asks one of their most ardent ambassadors, Abdulnasser Gharem? There are a growing number of
galleries now in Saudi Arabia –and they take their role very responsibly it seems, and owing to their very function,
they are the conduits of art into the market. But does this suffice to nurture the infancy of the cultural fabric of the
heavyweight of the Middle East: Saudi Arabia? Abdulnasser Gharem is a fierce proponent of art education; he
recently made history when his installation ‘Message/Messenger’ sold for a world record price at auction in Dubai,
establishing him as the highest selling living artist from the Gulf. But in order to foster art education in his native
country, he donated the proceeds of this sale to the arts initiative Edge of Arabia, an independent not for profit
community interest company.
On the happy day of our meeting in Sharjah, Abdulnasser, Stephen and I sat in the comfortable shaded
embrace of Ernesto Neto’s installation for the Biennale, and Abdulnasser told me about his dream to establish an
artist run foundation in Riyadh, the very conservative capital of Saudi Arabia. The vision for the Foundation, he
explained, was inspired by an extraordinary new-generation of Saudi artists, film-makers, musicians and
comedians, like for example the Riyadh based internet television network calling themselves Telfaz11; Telfaz is the
Arabic word for television, and the number 11 is an homage to the year 2011, the year where great changes have
occurred in the middle eastern region; changes that have transformed not only the way the world looks at Arabs,
but also the way Arabs look at themselves. Since launching Telfaz11 have attracted over one million subscribers
and over 150 million views throughout its network.
Measuring the importance of their commitment, I spontaneously offered Abdulnasser to use my gallery as a
laboratory, as a public workshop, as a forum to present the idea, but also as a platform through which to develop
the project; I invited him to use my space to work out the necessary components to build a foundation, but also in
which to invite the people who can make the invaluable contributions needed to create a meeting point between
education and creativity in the heart of Saudi Arabia. This exhibition will of course feature some of Abdulnasser
Gharem’s iconic pieces, but it will also be a ‘work in progress’ where visitors with a special skill or knowledge of the
subject will be asked to contribute something. It is my intention that the headers I will present alongside
Abdulnasser’s work will be populated, by the end of the exhibition, with ideas and contacts to assist him in this
We will present a blueprint for the “AMEN ART FOUNDATION, RIYADH” at the end of the show. AM
Abdulnasser Gharem was born in 1973 in the Saudi Arabian city of Khamis Mushait. In 1992 Gharem
graduated from the King Abdulaziz Academy before attending The Leader Institute in Riyadh. In 2003 he studied
at the influential Al- Meftaha Arts Village in Abha and in 2004 Gharem and the Al-Meftaha artists staged a group
exhibition, Shattah, which challenged existing modes of art practice in Saudi Arabia. Abdulnasser Gharem cofounded
the Edge of Arabia project (with Stephen Stapleton and Ahmed Mater) as a platform to support Saudi
contemporary artist to reach an international audience.
Gharem has exhibited in Europe, the Gulf and the USA, including at the Victoria & Albert and British
Museums, Martin Gropius-Bau, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Palazzo Grassi (Francois Pinault Foundation)
and at the Venice, Sharjah & Berlin Biennales. He recently made history when his installation Message/Messenger
sold for a world record price at auction in Dubai, establishing Gharem as the highest selling living Gulf artist.
Gharem donated the proceeds of this sale to foster art education in his native country. His first monograph
‘Abdulnasser Gharem: Art of Survival’ was published in London in October 2011.