© 2016 Copyright | Ahmed Mater | All Rights Reserved 


1979 | Ahmed Mater is born in Tabuk, a largely military city in the north west of Saudi Arabia on the Jordanian border. He is the first child of Mater Ahmed Al-Ziad, a Sergeant in the Saudi Arabian army, and Fatimah Hassan Abdullah Aseeri, a painter of traditional Aseeri houses and a calligrapher. Ahmed will eventually have two brothers, Bandar and Mohammed, and four sisters, Aisha, Jawaher, Jamila and Reem. This is the year Saddam Hussein becomes president of Iraq, and Ahmed’s father is stationed at a large military base located at Saudi’s closest border to Israel.


1981 | Ahmed and his family move to Rejal Alma, his father’s village in the mountainous Aseer region of south-western Saudi Arabia. They live in a small, traditional stone house perched on a steep-terraced hillside. The house’s interior is decorated by Ahmed’s mother in vividly-coloured geometric designs, which she paints in the traditional Aseeri style. Ahmed’s daily life is dominated by his involvement with a Qur’anic study group, helping his parents on the farm and traditional village activities.


1985 | Ahmed is photographed for the first time for his primary school enrolment. He later reflected, “I don’t have many pictures of myself as a child nor of my parents - nothing that can remind me of my childhood. To take a picture was considered against religion or haraam.“


1994 | Ahmed and his family move to a modern house in Abha, the regional capital of Aseer, where Ahmed completes his school studies. This move from the village to the city has a substantial impact on Ahmed’s view of the world, and he begins to question the traditional beliefs of his childhood.


1998 | Ahmed enrols as a medical student at King Saud University, Abha College of Medicine, to study medicine and surgery.


1999 | Ahmed joins the Al-Meftaha Arts Village, part of the King Fahd Cultural Centre, under the patronage of HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal. Prince Khalid offers Ahmed a studio and supports all the artists working there by providing materials, workshops in photography and painting, and helping to organise their first exhibitions. Ahmed studies under a number of teachers, including pioneering Saudi artists Dr Abdul Halim Radawi and Dr Hassan Obaid, as well as Dr Ahmed Baqer from Bahrain, Dr Rashid Diab from Sudan and Dr Mustafa Abdel-Moti from Egypt.


2000-2002 | Ahmed participates in a series of traditional and contemporary painting exhibitions including Landing on the Earth's Surface at Al-Maseef Cultural Club in Abha. He wins a series of prizes including the Abha Cultural Prize for Fine Art and Photography. In 2000 Ahmed meets HRH The Prince of Wales, who takes up residence in Al-Meftaha while painting watercolors of the surrounding landscape. His studio at no. 9 is opposite Ahmed’s at no. 7.


2003 | Ahmed creates and exhibits his first X-ray paintings at Al-Meftaha. They are chosen for the 6th Saudi Malwan Contest and exhibited in Jeddah, Beirut, Sidon and Manama. Ahmed meets British artist Stephen Stapleton in Abha and they begin a friendship and creative collaboration which will eventually lead to the founding of Edge of Arabia.


2004 | Ahmed shows his X-ray paintings at a radical exhibition in Jeddah, organised by the newly-formed Shatta group of artists. The exhibition challenges existing parameters of art practice in the Kingdom, and is widely discussed and reported on in the media. Ahmed exhibits increasingly conceptual work and performances including The End, Chewing, Standing in Front of You, and So far you are from the Earth. A portrait of Ahmed in front of X-ray 2003 (Genetically Modified Emotions) features in the book Offscreen: Four Young Artists in the Middle East, published internationally by Booth-Clibborn Editions.


2005 | Ahmed works in the emergency room of Aseer Central Hospital throughout the final year of his medical training. Group exhibitions include the Al Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial (UAE), the 3rd Shatta group exhibition (Jeddah) and a Saudi Arts Delegation to Tunisia. Ahmed wins the Al-Meftaha Photography Prize for Aseer from the Air, a book of aerial photographs of the Aseer region commissioned by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal. Stephen Stapleton brings X-Ray 2003 to London and shows it to Venetia Porter, Curator of Islamic and Middle Eastern Art at the British Museum.


2006 | Ahmed graduates with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of surgery (M.B.B.S) from King Khalid University, Abha College of Medicine, and works as a resident doctor at Aseer Central Hospital. His X-Ray 2003 painting is bought by the British Museum and included in Word into Art, the most comprehensive survey exhibition of contemporary Middle Eastern artists ever held in Europe. Ahmed travels to London for the opening and is invited by the Saudi Ambassador to exhibit paintings and photographs at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. On the back of Mater’s inclusion in Word into Art comes a burst of publicity and upon his return to Saudi, HRH King Abdullah flies to Abha to meet the artists of Al-Meftaha. While there, he publicly praises Ahmed as an important cultural role model for young Saudis. Ahmed also takes part in a delegation of Saudi photographers to Japan and Singapore and founds Ibn Aseer (Son of Aseer), a collective of Abha-based artists and designers.


2007 | Ahmed is invited by the US State Department to take part in the International Visitor Leadership Program in Washington DC. The programme takes him across America and includes courses on politics, the media, education and the arts. X-Ray 2003 is exhibited in Word into Art in Dubai and Ahmed is invited to present his Yellow Cow project for the first time at the 8th Sharjah Biennale: Still Life; Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change. He meets pioneering Emirate artist, Hassan Sharif, who has a major influence on his conceptual approach. Ahmed becomes the face of Mobily, Saudi’s largest mobile phone company, appearing in a TV commercial celebrating his life as an artist and doctor living in Aseer.


2008 | Ahmed co-curates and exhibits new works in Edge of Arabia: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia, at the SOAS Brunei Gallery in London. The show coincides with the launch of an accompanying book and website, the first ever comprehensive guides to contemporary art from the Kingdom. Ahmed exhibits his first Illumination Diptych and Talismanic Illumination and his work is widely discussed in the British and Arabic media. Illumination I is used to promote Edge of Arabia in a city-wide, London Underground advertising campaign, and he gives a talk about his work at the University of London alongside Venetia Porter, Dr Geoffrey King and Peter Sanders. Ahmed exhibits Evolution of Man for the first time at the 11th Cairo Biennale. Back in Saudi Arabia, he continues to work as a GP and marries fellow artist Arwa Yahya Al Neami. He moves out of his family’s home and leaves the Al-Meftaha Arts Village. For the first time, he has his own house and studio.  


2009 | Ahmed is invited by Catherine David to participate in the 53rd Venice Biennale as part of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) Platform for Visual Arts. David presents an interview with Ahmed in a historic exhibition at the Arsenale, the first ever presentation of Gulf artists at the official Venice Biennale. Ahmed also co-curates Edge of Arabia as a collateral event in the Palazzo Polignac on the Grand Canal, where he exhibits Magnetism for the first time. He has his first solo show, Illuminations, at ArtSpace Gallery in Dubai, and is voted number 62 in the ‘Power 100’ ranking of the world’s most influential Arabs by Arabian Business magazine.


2010 | In January Ahmed gives a keynote lecture about his life and work at the Louvre in Paris, as part of Catherine David’s Gulf Artists’ Programme. He spends much of the first part of the year working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the militarised border between Yemen and Saudi, treating injured soldiers from both sides of the conflict. In June he presents Evolution of Man and new works, Antenna and CCTV at Grey Borders/Grey Frontiers, the new Edge of Arabia show in Berlin, curated by Rami Farook. Ahmed speaks in conversation with Greenbox Museum Founder Aarnout Helb at a Symposium on Saudi Art at the Berlin Akademie der Künste, and features on the cover of several German newspapers holding his hand to his head like a gun in front of Evolution of Man. In October he presents his first major solo show and launches this book at the Vinyl Factory Gallery in Soho.


2011 | Ahmed becomes the subject of an online campaign in Saudi Arabia for the inclusion of his work Evolution of Man in an exhibition in Jerusalem entitled “West End” at the Museum on the Seam. Names began to gather petition against Mater that was presented to the Saudi Arabian Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Association of Fine Arts, and ultimately HRH King Faisal. Ahmed was not personally responsible for the inclusion of his work in the West End show, and was sent by a private collector in the United States. Another important exhibition Ahmed participated in was The Future of a Promise: 54th Venice Biennale. The exhibition was the largest Pan-Arab show of contemporary art the 54th International Art Exhibition-la Biennale di Venezia that brought together 25 recent works by some of the most influential artists from the Arab world. The Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA) acquires Ahmed’s Illumination Diptych (“Ottoman Waqf”), which was the first acquisition by an American museum of an artwork by a Saudi Arabian artist.


2012 | “Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam”, was the first major exhibition dedicated to the Hajj curated by Venetia Porter. Ahmed’s work Magnetism was included in the exhibition as part of the contemporary section, where he showed his installation with magnets and iron fillings to symbolize hundreds of thousands of pilgrims circumambulating the Ka’bah. In collaboration with curator Robert Kluijver, Ahmed participated in the Kochi Muziris Biennale with five photographs from his Desert of Pharan series, documenting the movements of crowds and individual experiences during the 2012 Hajj pilgrimage. In February 2012, Ahmed was part of a radical exhibition entitled We Need to talk by Edge of Arabia.


2013 | Ahmed shows photograph from Desert of Pharan at the Sharjah Biennale 11, which was under the direction of the Sharjah Art Foundation with guest curator Yuko Hasegawa. In parallel, Athr Gallery was also showing photographs from the series in Art Dubai 2013. Ahmed’s film Leaves Fall in All Seasons (2013) was featured in the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam in October.


2014 | Ahmed shows in the New Museum as part of “Here and Elsewhere”, a major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab world. For his 100 Found Objects, a solo exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation which lasted for three months, Ahmed collected a rich archive of conversations which drew on the wider political and familiar histories of communities that once lived in the Makkah’s proximity. In December 2014, Hyperallergic rated 100 Found Objects as number 8 of the top 10 exhibitions around the world.


In September Ahmed’s work was included in “Never Never Land”, curated by Amal Khalaf and Stephen Stapleton at the Edge of Arabia Projects Gallery in London. Ahmed’s Magnetism was included as part of the FotoFest 2014 Biennial in Houston, Texas.


Ahmed’s specially commissioned Mecca journey film which was screened on the façade of the Rothko Chapel in Houston Texas on 21 September (United National International Day of Peace) to mark the launch of CULTURUNNERS multi-year artist’s road trip across the United States.


Ashraf Fayadh, a co-founder of the Shattah collective and a key member of Edge of Arabia and an artist, curator and poet was arrested in January 2014 for violating the anti-cyber crime law by taking and storing photos of women on his mobile phone.


2015 | Ahmed shows in an exhibition in Italy entitled “Too Early Too Late: Middle East and Modernity” in Pinacoteca Naziolnale, Bologna. Ahmed sues Swatch Company for plagiarising his iconic Magnetism by using it in an advertisement. The artist files the infringement suit in Paris’s civil Grand Instance Court against the Swatch Group, parent company to Omega watches, for violation of intellectual property. Ahmed also participated in the Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015 (March – May ) in Kyoto, Japan. 


Ashraf Fayadh is sentenced to death for renouncing Islam. Ahmed was very active in the case and reached out to many journalists, head of Art institutions to speak up against this sentence.



2016 | Ahmed has a solo exhibition at the Smithonian’s Sackler Gallery, the first Saudi Arabian artist to have a solo in the United States of America.  The exhibition, “ Symbolic Cities”, offers unique perspectives on Saudi Arabia’s political, economic and social transformations.


In January 2016 hundreds of writers took part in a worldwide reading of selected poems and other texts in support of Fayadh; the international literature Festival Berlin called on the US and UK governments to intervene on Mr Fayadh’s behalf and also demanded that the UN suspend Saudi Arabia form the Human Rights Council until their record on upholding civil liberties improves. In March 2016, a court in Abha reduces Fayadh’s sentence to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. The case continues to be appealed.

Ahmed is featured in “But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa at the Guggenheim Museum in New York” alongside a broad selection of artists that illuminate contemporary creative practice in the region and its diaspora.


Ahmed and his wife Arwa Al Naemi show works in Iran in an exhibition entitled Spheres of Influence: Codes and Conduct across Structural Landscapes curated by Lila Nazemian at Mohsen Gallery.



2017 | Ahmed’s book “Desert of Pharan: Unofficial Histories Behind the Mass Expansion of Mecca” is launched with a special exhibition during Dubai Art Week. He also addresses audiences at Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum


In May, Ahmed presents his work to audiences at the UNESCO NGO Forum in Riyadh.


Ahmed’s first solo exhibition in Italy 'Mitochondira: Powerhouses' opened at Galleria Continua San Gimignano in September 2017

Life and Work | Ahmed Mater