1/24 archival print with a silkscreen glaze on 410gsm Somerset Tub paper
Each 50 × 70 cm
Ahmed's first major photographic series, 'The Empty Land' is inspired by nineteenth-century descriptions of the American West. Here, an image of an oasis is surrounded by aerial views of silent streets, military bases, abandoned public projects, and discarded oil barrels.
These are Saudi desertscapes scarred by departure and occupied by the lingering ghosts of a former way of life. We witness aerial perspectives on vacancy, lands abandoned by populations migrating to the Kingdom’s newly designated, growing centres of industry and commerce. Eerie stasis halts the Ferris wheel. The regimen of bald white lines in an unoccupied parking lot is flooded with silence, futile devices to order a void. Elsewhere, tanks and trailers are haphazard, as if ignition crunched treads into motion before being abruptly and permanently cut.
Though silence reigns, we can also discern the traces of a former way of life. A tumble of empty red barrels flash warning; since Mater conducted his surveillance of these empty lands, new visions and plans have been formulated. Far-reaching and ambitious they are founded on a tacit acknowledgement: the essential and pressing need to depart from the single-mindedness of the rentier economy. When black gold sprung from these places, flooding the Kingdom with petrodollars, Saudi established itself as a monumental economic force – a rentier state entirely dependent on its precious resource. Yet, like this flush of empty barrels, this abundance will, ultimately, run dry.
The drive for development and progress is leaving behind a scarred and empty land where not just material things like buildings and cars are abandoned, but also traditional values and a connection to the land. Ahmed Mater2012