Jeddah Atelier for Fine Arts, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Ashraf Fayadh, Ahmed Mater, Abdulkarim Qassim, Abdulnasser Gharem, and Muhammad Khidr
This was an exhibition unlike anything that had ever been seen before in Saudi Arabia, it broke with every convention of art-making and viewing and set the course for contemporary practice in the kingdom.
Organised by the radical Shatta group, 'The End' opened to great public intrigue, attracting some 400 people on the first night, despite no official opening ceremony, royal fanfare or traditional marketing. The artists had used digital means to spread the word about the exhibition amongst friends and colleagues, subverting the compromising official channels. The exhibition challenged every existing parameter of art practice and presentation in the Kingdom.
Then, as now, each work in each exhibition in Saudi Arabia must first pass through ministerial approvals, the images vetted by a bureaucrat in an office with no knowledge or interest. This process is fraught with misunderstanding: those tasked with this first pass at the works are often unacquainted with the idiosyncrasies of art, especially art like this. There were no camels and falcons, instead, they were staring at internet screengrabs, glass jars containing strange relics like chewed gum, Palestinian identity cards.
These frequently slow and arbitrary sanctions might've been made all the more complicated by the increasingly conceptual work Ahmed and the collective were producing. But it was the strange ambiguity that gave the works their mercurial potential, they could provoke and intrigue all while flying under the radar of those tasked with approvals. The works were passed, but this ministerial backing did not save disapproval; the company printing the catalogue were alarmed and initially refused to go ahead. Unclear on what the alien forms might mean, they were afraid of what the association could imply. They simply weren't willing to risk this bizarre departure from the steady fare of paintings, the familiar vistas of hackneyed Arabian landscapes.