Abdulnasser Gharem: Al Sahwa

Abdulnasser Gharem is one of the most significant Saudi artists of his generation, and the highest-selling living Arab artist. At the core of Gharem’s work is a negotiation between paving the way for progress, both artistically and socially and maintaining a connection with Saudi heritage.

Gharem’s first solo exhibition in the Gulf since 2010 looks to symbols, images and events related to the recent history of the Islamic world, in order to formulate possible visions of a harmonious future for the Muslim nation. In the exhibition the artist presents new large-scale stamp paintings alongside silkscreens from Men at Work and The Stamp series.

The title of the exhibition refers to the “Al Sahwa” movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s that gained great traction in public and university life both in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. Gharem himself was only in primary school when the “Al Sahwa” began to form within the school setting. At first, participation in the group was an extra-curricular activity but later “it began to shape the identity and growth of the students” to the point that Gharem felt the movement aimed at changing his “spiritual genes,” thus turning him into “an unintended victim.”

Gharem recounts terrifying moments from that impressionable time in his childhood—a change in dress code came into effect, girls were forbidden from attending school and television sets were thrown out of windows. The focus of the movement was a restrictive version of Islam as deemed appropriate by the “Sahwiin” and it promoted confrontation with anyone who disagreed with said beliefs, including Shi’aas and Sufis.

In a creative re-imagining years later, Gharem proposes a new kind of awakening for the contemporary Middle East. This awakening must be facilitated via creativity, dialogue, exchange of knowledge, discourse on art and education and an attitude of tolerance. In his own words the artist says, I am “hoping to launch a request for the restoration of the real Islam, which believes in pluralism and diversity, and together is committed against extremism.”

Special Event:

Mar 17, 7pm – 10pm: opening reception

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