Saudi Artists at OFID

Photography, sculpture and mixed media by Manal Al Dowayan, Noha Al-Sharif, and Seddiq Wasil: marking the 35th Anniversary

An exhibition highlighting three artists from Saudi Arabia inaugurated celebratory activities to mark the 35th Anniversary of the founding of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) in Vienna.

Hosted in OFID’s headquarters on the Parkring in the 1st District, Director General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish opened the vernissage Jan. 27, calling the Anniversary an opportunity to reaffirm the organization’s mission and to revitalize efforts against poverty and supporting development.

“The Exhibition represents a visionary way of thinking by a new breed of Saudi contemporary artists,” Al-Herbish said, “[artists] whose aspirations to take their country to the right destination find positive resonance with King Abdullah.”

The range of creative work from photography to sculptures and mixed media by Manal Al Dowayan, Noha Al-Sharif, and Seddiq Wasil is a well-curated juxtaposition of contemporary art from different regions of a diverse country. The stark brown and black and white objects have a primal feel, suffusing the space with archaic presences that compliment the spectral mood as one enters it from a huge main hall awash in OFID’s blue and orange corporate colors.

Challenging given assumptions, these works can stir emotions that invite a dialogue that goes beneath the surface of existing experience, beyond beliefs and feelings.

Manal Al Dowayan, articulated how “my photographs here are a sort of mini-retrospective, inviting the viewer to look beyond things like the veil into an emotional engagement.” They exemplify how her conceptual art developed as in the ‘I Am’ and ‘Choice’ collections where she identifies with women to whom roles and choices are given.

‘Satellite Hallucinations’ is Al Dowayan’s take on urban life where “people isolate themselves by various means, to live in solitude within shared spaces.” Winning international awards during residencies abroad may have given rise to her collection, ‘We Had No Shared Dreams’, the city’s reply to those wanting interaction. She laments, she said, the lack of critics and curators to diffuse clichés about Saudi art and artists in mass media around the world.

Seddiq Wasil passionately described his ‘Metamorphosis of a Chair’, a series of mini-sculptures made from scrap metal. Wasil’s artwork and the surreal clashes depicted are open to varied interpretations:

“People relate with chairs in different ways – a source of comfort and joy; stability or instability; or as symbols of power,” he said. For him, recycling trash into art not only protects the environment; he alludes to a cycle from original users and disposers to those who stepped on them until someone like him comes along: “I pick them up and transform them to relate with potential viewers.” This was clearly evident in the only framed object that carries colors in this Exhibition, labelled: ‘Neglected Faces of Neglected Humanity’.

The exhibition, through Feb. 25, 2011, continues an in-house programme aimed at bringing the art and culture of OFID member and partner countries to wider audiences in Vienna and Austria. Past exhibitions focused on Algeria, Iraq, Kenya, the Sudan, and Venezuela.

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