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 explores collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The historical, geographical and topical breadth of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive actions of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic, and political influence.
Born in 1979, the intense conclusion to a decade of momentous economic and political upheaval, Mater witnessed a rapidly transforming society whose changes diverged into extraordinary social shifts and trenchant ideologies. 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 the tensions between religion and power. Part of the earliest contemporary art movements in the Kingdom, with Edge of Arabia, the seminal Shatta and Mostly Visible exhibitions and then with his Jeddah pharan.studio, Ahmed’s creative career has been at the forefront of the transforming Saudi cultural sector.
His life has been lived poised at intersections, tracing fracturing fault lines of vying systems: 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.
Mater entwines expressive and politically engaged artistic aims with the scientific objectives of his medical training. His practice embraces the paradoxes of science and faith, exploring their connections and contradictions and their social reach. His employs broad investigative techniques to assess the Kingdom’s condition, reframing unofficial socio-political histories and realities with an observational and wide-ranging scope.
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; pharan.studio, Jeddah; and as co-founder of the Edge of Arabia collective, which has connected a new generation of Saudi artists with international audiences. From 2017–18, for its inaugural year, he was the Founder Director of Misk Art Institute, where his tenure included overseeing the first Saudi National Pavilion at the Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia.
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. Since, he has had a major solo exhibition at Brooklyn Museum, New York (2019). He has also had solo exhibitions at King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia (2018); Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy (2017); Alserkal Avenue, Dubai (2017); Sharjah Art Foundation (2013); the Vinyl Factory, London (2010); Artspace, Dubai (2009); Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London (2006); and King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia (2004).
His work has been included in group exhibitions, including major 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.
Mater lives and works in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is represented by Athr Gallery, Jeddah and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano.
Brooklyn Museum (2019)
King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia (2018)
Galleria Continua, Paris (2018)
Galleria Continua, San Gimignano (2017)
Alserkal Avenue, Dubai (2017)
Smithsonian, Washington DC (2016)
Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (2013)
The Vinyl Factory, London (2010)
Artspace, Dubai (2009)
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London (2006)
King Khalid University, Abha (2004).
Select group exhibitions
Tropen Museum, Amsterdam (2019)
Guggenheim, New York (2016)
Haus der Kunst, Munich (2016)
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2014)
New Museum, New York (2014)
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (2013)
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleaek, Denmark (2013)
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2013)
Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, Lebanon (2013)
Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013)
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar (2013)
Institut du Monde Arab, Paris (2012)
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2011)
British Museum, London (2006 and 2012)
Biennale d'Architecture d'Orléans (2019–2020)
FotoFest Biennial, Houston (2014)
Biennale Jogja (2013)
Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kerela India (2012)
Sharjah Biennial (2007 and 2013)
Cairo Biennial (2008)
Venice Biennale (2009 and 2011)