From left: Abdulnasser Gharem, Muhammad Khidr, Ashraf Fayadh,
Ahmed Mater and Abdelkarim Qassim

Shatta was an artist collective established at the Al Meftaha Arts Village in 2002 by Ashraf Fayadh, Ahmed Mater, Abdulkarim Qassim, Abdulnasser Gharem and the poet, Muhammad Khidr.

They presented exhibitions and associated content that challenged ideas about what art in Saudi could be.

Ever community-minded, Ahmed's first studio at Al Meftaha Arts Village also meant forging ahead with a collective approach to art-making. Not content with the space to develop his own practice, he saw in the village opportunities for collaboration, disruption and transformation. With one eye on his increasingly innovative collage, painting and sculptural aesthetic, his mind was occupied with ideas of what art in Saudi Arabia could be.

Through the studios, he found both new modes of self-expression and like-minded people. These were creative sparring partners equally preoccupied with the possibilities and shortcomings of the burgeoning cultural scene in the unlikely town of Abha.

Ahmed's paintings were increasingly experimental

Ahmed's paintings were increasingly experimental

The group came together through adversity – each of the members experiencing resistance within their community, from other artists as well as people from the Ministry of Information Abha branch.

The name was suggested by Ashraf Fayadh, from "Haram Shattah" meaning “to be broken up” or “disembodied.” And so, the renegade group was born – defiant and daring in their bold attempt to deconstruct traditional Saudi art practice, they sought to forge something new from the remnants of what had come before.

Next came a manifesto and exhibitions, each subject to the same scrutiny and reluctance that had informed the group's founding.

Shatta Ahmed Mater 2002 saudi artist

Image from Shatta Exhibition Catalogue, Atelier Gallery, Jeddah 2004

Their first breakthrough comes in 2003 when their radical works are included in an exhibition in the gardens at Al Meftaha arts village.

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 and the capricious subjectivity of whim: 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.

Ahmed Mater Shatta

Shattah Exhibition Catalogue, Atelier Gallery, Jeddah 2004

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.

'The End' opened to great public intrigue at Atelier Gallery in Jeddah. It was unlike anything seen before in the Kingdom and attracted 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.

Following 'The End', Shattah present another exhibition in Abha, with the group continuing to work together officially and unofficially over the coming years. Eventually, each leaves the town to pursue their own studies.

The End, Ahmed Mater

The End, Ahmed Mater

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