“Saudi art is trending”… perhaps it is on Twitter or glossy art magazines. Self-identified ‘Saudi art’ has indeed been increasing in popularity both in production and reception. Galleries are multiplying to support young ‘Saudi artists’ that are creating a “flourishing art scene”. It is undeniable that the young generation has been increasingly aesthetically conscious and exploring modern and contemporary art. While I disagree that art is something that trends, I can’t argue with the claims that the self-identified movement or ‘Saudi art’ phenomenon is trending. That this occurrence is“pushing boundaries” and “challenging taboos”, no it is not. There may be a degree of challenging socially-accepted norms or provoking thought on a cultural or social problem in one work or another, and for particular audiences. But the most controversial works provoking drastic reactions from certain audiences still remain kosher enough to be exhibited, and of course well-received internationally. So in my honest opinion, so-called ‘contemporary art’ in Saudi has done more PR than art. Which is why I have reservations for defining ‘Saudi art’.
There are certain individuals within these contemporary art spaces, however, that have genuinely demonstrated the qualities of an artist. One such artist is Abdullah Al-Othman. Actively experimenting, inquiring, and engaging his audience in the process, Abdullah interrupts the everyday life requiring thought and sight beyond the ordinary routine. This to me is the most pure form of art. It’s disruptive, dynamic, spirited, and doesn’t fall into a particular artistic style or category.
It’s a sort of philosophical interrogation of the present. When the individualistic expression of the artist enters the public realm, it becomes part of the collective production of culture. Saudi culture is difficult to read and touch because it is private or lies within isolated spaces. These are the boundaries that need to be pushed. Having designated places for sharing our thoughts and experiences creates a limitation not only in our creativity and imagination, but more importantly our consciousness.
The Internet and social media do not offer a solution to this problem, for they can never shape our collective identity, attitudes, and ideals the same way as human activities and interactions in the everyday life. I can blog about Abdullah Al-Othman, tweet about shubook, and share photos of graffiti on Instagram. But none of that can substitute anexperience.