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MAY 22, 2017  | THE ARTNEWSPAPER  

The Saudi Arabian government presented two exhibitions of contemporary art especially for Donald Trump and his wife Melania during their current official state visit. Both exhibitions coincided with the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh where Trump delivered a speech on Saturday (20 May), which focused on fighting terrorism. The General Entertainment Authority, Saudi’s government agency responsible for entertainment and leisure activities, is behind both exhibitions.
 
The Art Newspaper understands that the first exhibition was supported by officials at the King Abdulaziz Centre in Dhahran, eastern Saudi Arabia, the cultural institution funded by the Aramco oil conglomerate which is scheduled to open later this year.
 
The show, held in Riyadh’s Royal Protocol Palace (Diwan al-Malaki), includes works by 17 mainly male artists, including Abdullah Al-Othman, and the high-profile Jeddah-based practitioner Ahmed Mater, known for his controversial photographic series Desert of Pharan (2011-13). Women artists featured include Dana Awartani and Nouf Semari. Some of the works were shown in the US last year as part of the Bridges initiative.
 
A source close to the Saudi art scene says: “The artists understand the importance, and risks, in presenting their work. It’s a very significant thing for the Saudi government to push art—contemporary Islamic art at the front—on Trump at this time.” 
 
Al-Othman is showing a photograph of a site-specific work located in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic downtown district which featured in the 21,39 contemporary art festival earlier this year. For the piece, entitled Suspended, Al-Othman wrapped an entire building, originally used as shelter for widows and divorced women, in tin foil.
 
Trump liked the piece, according to the artist. “We’re offering Saudi art to the world. Art opens doors to the social and political life of people. Presenting our art at the beginning of such an important event shows how art can play a powerful and influential part," Al-Othman says. 
 
Meanwhile, a second exhibition of contemporary art, organised by the independent curators Aya Alireza and Raneem Farsi, opened at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. According to a statement: “Aya and Raneem tracked down iconic work of contemporary Saudi art from past exhibitions that took place over the course of the past ten years or so, some of which have never been exhibited in Saudi before; many more are seen in Riyadh for the first time.” Works on show in the Retroactive exhibition include Maha Malluh’s Abwab (2012) and Abdulnasser Gharem’s stamp painting In-Transit (2011). Ahmad Angawi is showing two versions of his lenticular photograph Wijha 2:148 in both exhibitions.
 
During the state visit, Donald Trump says he has signed deals worth more than $350bn with the Saudi government, including a $110bn arms deal. Trump has called for Muslims travelling from six countries to be banned from entering the US over security concerns (the list does not include Saudi Arabia). 

The art Donald Trump saw during his state visit to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd R) Shows U.S. President Donald Trump (C) A Depiction Of The Kaaba In Mecca Titled ‘Magnetism’ By Artist Ahmed Mater, During A Tour Of Pieces In The King’s Art Collection At The Royal Court In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia