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United Nations celebrates female Arab muralists
November 20, 2015 | The Art Newspaper
Centuries-old Saudi tradition of house painting is in danger of dying out
The leading Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater is working with his mother, his sister and a host of other artists and cultural historians to draw attention to a centuries-old Saudi tradition of house painting by women that is at risk of dying out.
This week, a group of female Asiri artisans from the village of Rijal Alma, where Mater was raised, painted two large-scale murals for an exhibition at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York (until 27 November). The project, entitled Our Mother’s House, is being organised by the arts groups Edge of Arabia and Art Jameel, in collaboration with the Saudi government, which is lobbying Unesco to add Rijal Alma to its list of World Heritage sites. Mater, who helped his mother to decorate the interior of their house as a child, says: “This tradition means a lot to me because it was my first exposure to art.”
The UK artist Stephen Stapleton, who co-founded Edge of Arabia with Mater and the Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem,
says that the non-profit group is planning to organise a Middle Eastern tour of the exhibition about the tradition, which involves painting colourful patterns directly onto the wall or onto wood panels and is generally passed down from mother to daughter. The Asiri painter Fatimah Jaber and the cultural historian Ali Moghawi are due to speak in New York today (20 November) at a conference on Asiri house-painting, organised by the Middle East Institute.