In the desert, the mirage is the traveller’s book

and without it, without the mirage

he won’t continue searching...

Mahmoud Darwish


This work takes in the farthest reaches of the Kingdom and its recent past – from its establishment in 1932, through the oil boom of the 1970s and 80s. Looking to the administrative metropolis of Riyadh, the fervent production of the oil fields in the East and the obscured and fading stories of life before the petrodollar flooded the desert with cars, concrete buildings and the trappings of the West. Each work is composed of an old slide, rescued from collections that would otherwise be forgotten and lost, and then modified through its mode of presentation – the doubling of the image and the addition of watercolour imaginings. These glimpses into the past represent significant moments from Saudi history and are layered with scenes of development and change – the monoliths of globalisation.


Like a mirage, seen clearly from a distance, but always an evasive ephemerality that is impossible to grasp or approach, the works and stories shift and mutate restlessly, asserting both the escapist and emancipatory dimensions of Mater’s practice. New memories are imagined and instigated, with each frame acting like a petri dish, a limited and bounded space where new and profuse narratives can grow. Within this micro-scale, he samples from urbanism and religious history to demonstrate the mutual influence that they have on each other and on life in the Kingdom. The works posit and interrogate how a relentless march towards development, as made manifest in strident, hopeful architecture and urban novelty, can, in fact, abort and compromise the flourishing currents of memory and social identity.


In the images selected, Mater maps the contours of the Wahhabi movement as a counterweight to the globalising influence of the petrodollar, demonstrating how these two vying forces are systems between which life in Saudi Arabia has been wrought. Ashrab Al-Lal, meaning ‘desert knight’, is a resonant term borrowed from the rich tradition of Arabic poetry and evokes a nomadic and traditional way of life; here, in Matar’s grasp, it is equally suggestive of the conquering Bedouin tribes, Wahhabis who supported the Saud family and were integral to the formation of the Kingdom. Assimilated here in imagined configurations, each work forms a visual mirage of past and present, depicting the unstable urban and religious structures that have subsumed a dynamic, aural heritage. In the tense meeting of these two systems, reconstructed and misinterpreted facts abound, charting possible causes for a crisis in Saudi identity. Imaginative fictions and gestures towards new methods of historiography, each act of doubling is an amplification which interleaves the work with friction, drawing in the past and present, life before the oil-boom and after.


Mater uses these found objects and their archiving as a performative action, challenging the way we interpret histiographic experiences. In this way, he intentionally blurs the boundaries and restrictions placed upon him by the laws within his community, delineating new parameters for an improvised script and novel ways of transcribing the unspoken truths of Saudi’s history.

Ashab Al-Lal / Fault Mirage

© 2016 Copyright | Ahmed Mater | All Rights Reserved.