Symbolic Cities

19 Mar 2016 - 18 Sep 2016

Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, USA

Ahmed Mater Symbolic Cities
Ahmed Mater Symbolic Cities 3

Curated by

Carol Huh

Organised by


Against the backdrop of the US Presidential election, Ahmed presented his first U.S. solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The exhibition explored economic, cultural and urban change in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This major survey of Ahmed's work included works from Desert of Pharan and Ashab Al-Lal, alongside Evolution of Man, Antenna and The Empty Land.

Curatorial statement

Today, Saudi Arabia looms large in the collective American consciousness, eliciting effusive intrigue and occluded by misinformation in equal measure. These exterior narratives, often spun by media or politicians, are in flux; so too the perspective from the opposite end of the telescope – from inside looking out. By all accounts, it is a kingdom in rapid, irrepressible political, economic and social transformation.

As a young boy, the artist stood on the roof of his rural home, holding an antenna to the sky in search of music and dancing (banned on Saudi TV at that time, via a signal from Yemen or across the Red Sea to Egypt; now he has easy access to the thoughts and ephemera of other cultures via the internet; it is a very different world. Yet, this swollen access demands its own negotiations; truths are lain bare as unilaterally as untruths and it is left to the reader, viewer, listener, online seeker on both sides of the border to make their own judgments amidst an overload of conflicting information.

Mater brings the rigour of his training as a physician – as well as unparalleled access – to gather frank observations of his own time and place. The resulting imagery is straightforward and striking, while his newest research-based project presents another fascinating shift in his use of the photographic medium.

Carol Huh, Freer | Sackler Curator for Contemporary Art

Exhibited Artworks:

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