Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater 

Against the backdrop of the US Presidential election, renowned Saudi artist, Ahmed Mater 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. 


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 Ahmed Mater 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 laid 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 judgements amidst an overload of conflicting information.


For the first time in the U.S. capital, the works of Ahmed Mater (b. 1979) were presented with a solo exhibition of his sculptural works, photographs and videos. These perceptive documentary journeys opened a new window to the geographical heart of Islam. ‘Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater’ presents unbiased visions from these unfamiliar territories. These are taut terrains riven by tension as traditional foundations confront and elide with contemporary life. Inside the frame, Mater captures the trauma of rapid development, seeks lost landscapes once familiarly navigated and maps the strange topography of vast empty deserts set obliquely against overcrowded, thronging cities. Unapologetic and honest, these representations of life in the Kingdom are exposed for American viewers.

Mater is not only a leading artist in Saudi Arabia, but also a pioneer of exchange. In this exhibition, he invited the American public to approach with open minds. ‘Symbolic Cities’ demands a deeper respect and a more nuanced engagement through immersive, experiential works which generously encourage us to move away from a divisive sense of ‘them’ towards a richer and truer understanding of ‘us’.


“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,” said exhibition curator Carol Huh, the Freer|Sackler’s curator of contemporary art. “The resulting imagery is straightforward and striking, while his newest research-based project presents another fascinating shift in his use of the photographic medium.”

© 2016 Copyright | Ahmed Mater | All Rights Reserved 

March 19 - September 18, 2016 | Smithonian, Arthur M.Sackler Gallery Washington, USA


Presented in collaboration with Culturunners in partnership with Art Jameel

“Masterpieces that offer unparalleled perspectives on contemporary life in Saudi Arabia.” –[Her Campus]

“The viewer enters Mater’s world and embarks on a dreamlike journey from past to present.” –[Washington Diplomat]