Biography |Ahmed Mater

© 2016 Copyright | Ahmed Mater | All Rights Reserved 

b. 1979, Tabuk, Saudi Arabia


Physician turned artist, Ahmed Mater is one of the most significant cultural voices documenting and scrutinising the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Forging an ongoing, complex mapping of the Kingdom, his practice synthesises and documents collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The temporal and physical breadths of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive gaze of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines and forecasts possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic and political influence.


Growing up in Abha, a city in the fertile mountainous region close to the border with Yemen, his early years were geographically remote from the Kingdom’s dominant religious and administrative capitals. The perspective granted by his physical distance exposed him to the modernising world beyond the border. From this vantage, he witnessed the throes of the most seismic period in Saudi history – the Kingdom’s oil boom and bust. Born
in 1979, the intense conclusion to a decade of momentous economic and political upheaval, Mater witnessed these changes diverge into extraordinary social shifts and trenchant ideologies. He is poised at intersections, tracing fracturing fault lines of vying systems: the past, present and future; tradition and innovation; heritage and globalisation; religion, faith, economic prowess and modernisation. Using photography, film, sculpture and performance, he maps, documents and analyses these changes, considering the psychological impact on the individual, the community, society and
the world.


His practice embraces the paradoxes of science and faith, enmeshing the two to explore their connections and contradictions. Like a general medical practitioner, he employs broad investigative techniques to assess the Kingdom’s condition, recapitulating the profusion of unofficial socio-political histories and realities with the observational, wide-ranging scope of diagnosis. Mater entwines expressive and politically engaged artistic aims with the scientific objectives of his medical training. Complementary historic, religious and social excavations mine and preserve disregarded and forgotten depths as he initiates expansive documentary ruminations and ambles. ‘Desert of Pharan’ (2011–2016) – is a five-year photographic encounter with Mecca, its inhabitants and histories. ‘100 Found Objects’ (2014) is a reverent collation of displaced artefacts and a significant contribution to ‘thing theory’, where reaped materials manifest a panoply of neglected stories. His surveillances are distilled into compacted conceptual scenarios, nodes that tug at the dense strands of the Kingdom’s past, present and future where modernisation and tradition, religion and globalisation are conjured and contemplated. In ‘Magnetism’ (2009) iron filings whorl and whirl around a black magnet, evoking the congregation of pilgrims that throng the Ka’aba, making manifest the immutable pull of Islam's holiest site. 'Evolution of Man' (2010) is a cautionary chiasmus where foreboding x-rays mutate from gas pump to suicidal figure and back again.


Mater’s socially engaged artistic practice is furthered through his involvement in cultural initiatives inside and beyond the Kingdom, including Al-Meftaha Arts Village, Abha;, Jeddah; and, in 2003, he co-founded the Edge of Arabia collective which has connected a new generation of Saudi artists with international audiences.


In 2016, Mater became the first Saudi artist to hold a solo exhibition in the United States with ‘Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater’ at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC. He has also had solo exhibitions at King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia (2004); Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London (2006); Artspace, Dubai (2009); the Vinyl Factory Gallery, London (2010); and Sharjah Art Foundation (2013). His work has been included in group exhibitions at the British Museum, London (2006 and 2012); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2011); Institut du Monde Arab, Paris (2012); Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013); Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar (2013); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleaek, Denmark (2013); Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2013); Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, Lebanon (2013); Biennale Jogja (2013); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2014); and New Museum, New York (2014); and Guggenheim, New York (2016). He participated in the Sharjah Biennial (2007 and 2013); Cairo Biennial (2008); Venice Biennale (2009 and 2011); and Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kerela India (2012). His work is part of major international collections including The British Museum, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.


He lives and works between Riyadh, Jeddah and Abha, Saudi Arabia.