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Dalloul Art Foundation

AHMED MATER, Saudi Arabia (1979)


“Art is performing a very important role in Saudi. It is as a mirror to ourselves, helping us imagine things from different angles and perspectives, so we might make better choices as a society”...


Art is performing a very important role in Saudi. It is as a mirror to ourselves, helping us imagine things from different angles and perspectives, so we might make better choices as a society”
Ahmed Mater, 2014[1]

Born in 1979 into a traditional Asiri family in the village of Tabuk, northern Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Mater’s early life was spent in a remote and relatively rural environment, a far cry from the bright lights and bustling cities of Mecca, Medina and Jeddah. He grew up being directly exposed to art, with his mother - a calligrapher and painter of traditional houses - proving to be a big creative influence in his life.[2] Speaking to Arab News in 2020, Mater commented that his mother’s paintings made “the home full of color and life”, making him feel as though they were always sitting in a lush garden.[3] With an increasing thirst for knowledge and a curiosity to understand what was happening in the rest of the world, Mater’s interest in media, technology and the arts grew with age.

At the age of 18, and whilst studying medicine, Mater became a founding member of Al-Miftaha Arts Village in Abha.[4] However, his interests in medicine and art were not mutually exclusive. His use of X-rays in his medical practice brought him to photography, a skill he then developed over time. The X-ray technique itself also found its way into his art, featuring heavily in some of his earliest work.[5] As a result of his scientific background and his creative consciousness, Mater interrogated a variety of aspects of the human body and thus the wider human condition, in both a physical and existential context. This constant search for knowledge and understanding led him to experiment further with his artwork and push boundaries in the Saudi art scene, with Mater becoming part of many notable contemporary art movements in Saudi Arabia in the early 21st Century.

One of these was Edge of Arabia, formed by Mater and Stephen Stapleton in 2003. Having met at Al-Miftaha Arts Village that year, both Mater and Stapleton – and later joined by Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem – conceived the idea of a “border-crossing collaboration and artistic movement”, which Mater himself emphasizes was an effort to give Arab artists a voice in a period of conflict and transformation.[6]

Five years later, they co-curated an exhibition of contemporary art from Saudi Arabia - the first of its kind internationally – in the Brunei Gallery at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Mater, Stapleton and Gharem were deeply committed to raising the profile of Saudi art across the world, and also to providing an avenue for artists, especially from Saudi Arabia, to offer their unique perspectives.[7] By this point, Mater had exhibited his work in new and exciting exhibitions across Saudi Arabia, the wider Middle East, and the British Museum and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London, all whilst continuing his medical training and finally graduating in 2006.[8] The next several years were extremely busy for Mater: in addition to the Edge of Arabia exhibition in 2008, Mater also participated in the Venice Biennale in 2009 (in what was the first-ever presentation of Gulf artists at the Biennale) and in the same year, spent time working as a doctor during the conflict on the Saudi-Yemeni border, a difficult experience which shifted his view of medicine as a purely scientific profession and instead provided him with a much more universal, holistic approach to his field.[9] Later that year, Mater had his first major solo exhibition in the Vinyl Factory in London.

In 2012, Mater moved to Mecca for one year and began a project entitled Desert of Pharan, a series of photographs and films, which documented the ever-changing landscapes of the city. All five artworks by Mater in the Dalloul Collection – all photographic images – are from this series: Makkah (2012), Human Highway (Mina) (2012), Human Highway (2012), Nature Morte (2012) and Artificial Light (2012). Mater saw history being destroyed and erased to make way for modern developments and wanted to provide a rare insight into this important, magnetic city through the eyes of an artist, becoming the only art photographer to use Mecca as his subject.[10] Many of the images show the battle between heritage and modernity, and between humans and infrastructure, with the crowds of pilgrims packed into roads leading into and out of the holy cities, circling the holy Ka’ba, and all in the shadows of cranes and heavy machinery.

Nature Morte provides a particularly creative and thoughtful insight into the juxtaposition of public vs private and poor vs wealthy, as we witness an intricately layered scene taken from the Fairmont Hotel in Mecca. Showing how private, luxury spaces are taking over public, sacred spaces, with the public space being “squeezed” according to Mater,[11] this photograph emphasizes not just the contrast of architecture and space, but also the privileged position (both literally and figuratively) of wealthy pilgrims. Mater’s photographs provide a critical, urban exploration into contemporary Saudi society from the heart of Mecca during a period of transformation, and most importantly, from a personal, Saudi perspective.

Aside from Edge of Arabia and Al-Miftaha Arts Village, Mater has been part of a number of art movements and initiatives within Saudi Arabia, most notably Shatta, Mostly Visible and Pharan Studio, based in Jeddah. In 2017, as part of a state-initiated focus on the arts, Misk Art Institute was launched, with Mater as Founder-Director. As part of this, he oversaw the first national pavilion for Saudi Arabia at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018.[12] Once his two-year tenure leading the Institute was completed, Mater returned to his art practice full-time, having already given up practicing medicine to focus on his artistic career.

Deeply passionate about Saudi’s current art scene, Mater looks to the future with optimism, having personally witnessed the swift growth in arts education and creative risks taken across the Kingdom.[13] Nevertheless, he has acknowledged – and continues to confront – the struggles faced by many artists within the country, especially women: “there are many women artists in Saudi and they are brave and deserve our support. They are challenging many things.”[14]

Mater continues to live and work from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


Selected Solo Exhibitions


Stand in the Pathway and See, Galleria Continua – Les Moulins, Paris, France
Drumroll, please, King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia


Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys, Brooklyn Museum, New York, United States of America
Mitochondria: Powerhouses, Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy


Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater, Sackler Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., United States of America


100 Found Objects, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


Ahmed Mater at Vinyl Factory, Vinyl Factory, London, United Kingdom

Selected Group Exhibitions


Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans, Years of Solitude, Frac Centre-Val de Loire, Orléans, France
Longing for Mecca, Tropen Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Through the Spectrum, Athr Gallery, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Cities of Conviction, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, United States of America
Continua Spheres Ensemble, Galleria Continua – Le Centquatre, Paris, France
Desert to Delta, Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America
Epicenter X, Arab American National Museum, Detroit, United States of America
Letters: Fragments of a Memory, Athr Gallery, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Songs of Cyanosis, Marrakech Biennale, Marrakech, Morocco
Phantom Punch, Bates College Museum of Art, Maine, United States of America
But a Storm is Blowing in From Paradise, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, United States of America; Galleria d’Arte Moderna Milano, Milan, Italy
Spheres of Influence: Codes of Conduct Across Structural Landscapes, Mohsen Gallery, Tehran, Iran
Hurufiyya: Art & Identity, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt
A History, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany


Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture, Kyoto, Japan
Too Early Too Late: Middle East and Modernity, Pinacoteca Naziolnale, Bologna, Italy


Never Never Land, Edge of Arabia Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Here and Elsewhere, New Museum, New York, USA
A Crisis of History, Framer Framed, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Arab Contemporary: Architecture, Culture and Identity, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleboek, Denmark


EOA Edition #01, Edge of Arabia Gallery, London, United Kingdom
Home Works 6, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon


Light from the Middle East, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
#COMETOGETHER, Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London, United Kingdom
Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, British Museum, London, United Kingdom
We Need to Talk, Al Furusiya Marina & Mall, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


The Future of a Promise: 54th Venice Biennale, Magazzini del Sale, Venice, Italy
Terminal (Edge of Arabia), DiFC, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Strike Oppose, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


TRANSiTION, Sanat Limani, Istanbul, Turkey
Grey Borders/Grey Frontiers, Torstrasse 1, Berlin, Germany


Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage (ADACH) Platform for Visual Arts: 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
Edge of Arabia – 53rd Venice Biennale, Palazzo Polignac, Venice, Italy


The Other: The 11th International Cairo Biennale, Cairo Egypt
Edge of Arabia, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, United Kingom


Still Life: Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates


Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, British Museum, London, United Kingdom


Shatta, Jeddah Atelier for Fine Arts, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia  


Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
British Museum, London, United Kingdom
Brooklyn Museum, New York, United States of America
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Guggenheim Collection (MAP Initiative), New York, United States of America
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, United States of America
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar
Ramzi & Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., United States of America
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom



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