Evolution of Man at Standing Rock


Five black flags raised at Standing Rock
Film and photographic documentation

A silhouetted gas pump mutates into a human x-ray, a gun to its head, before morphing back again. Unlike the progression of evolution, this foreboding form is caught in a relentless and destructive cycle without reprieve.

Here a succinct, urgent warning against an over-reliance on the petrodollar, a destructive addiction Mater witnessed in Saudi Arabia as it embraced and feted its fortune as a rentier state.

These 2010 x-rays were a diagnosing doctor’s perspective – at that time, an apparently inexorable prognosis – that the environmental and social risks of oil were so vast that they threatened to throw the irrepressible march of evolution into a spiral of destruction.

This cautionary chiasmus has proven itself a potent premonition of the changing fate of the Kingdom. Today, it imagines a diversified future, a post-rentier state where new socio-economic ambitions wean the Kingdom off its oil dependence.

In 2016, the work’s range unfurled with a new, global urgency. As the planet wends its way with alarming rapacity towards a climate emergency, we find ourselves at a precipice. As the Paris accord disintegrated, the world reached a decisive fork in the road. Protesters at Standing Rock became a powerful reminder of the urgency of our present decisions and their future consequences.

In November 2016, Mater joined them in solidarity, hoisting flags emblazoned with his suicidal figures above their resolute opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will decimate their reservation. In doing so, he harnessed together two apparently disparate worlds in one essential fight.

This was a chance to focus the world’s attention on a number of urgent global issues – of environmental protection and the rights of indigenous peoples and cultures worldwide. We urgently need to work together, across nations and religions, to find alternatives to unregulated capitalism and imperialism.
Ahmed Mater


Ahmed began these works when working as a doctor as Aseer Central Hospital, where he would deal with X Rays every day. Taking the visual language of medicine, Evolution of Man becomes a diagnosis for Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil.

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