A new generation of young Saudi artists is emerging, showing that momentum for change is possible even in a conservative country such as this. When it comes to exhibiting their work however, they have only been able to do that abroad. Werner Bloch reports
A small miracle: In Saudi Arabia, there are practically no galleries, no museums, and no art books; yet the contemporary art scene is surprisingly vibrant, critical and innovative | Saudi Arabia is not exactly regarded as a haven for human rights. Between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, any criticism of King Abdullah can easily lead to torture, prison or even a death sentence. Women are not even allowed to take a driving test here. And of the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, 15 came from Saudi Arabia, among them Osama bin Laden. Arts and culture also have a hard time of it here.
But small miracles do occur, and one particular wave of artistic activity that appears to be flourishing well can be appreciated at present at the Soho House Gallery in Berlin’s Mitte district. The work of these artists is characterised by an original language, critical statements and a creative imagination that can hold its own with that of driving artists in any other country.
The arts and moderate Islam
Six years ago, British artist Steven Stapleton took a bumpy bus ride across the Arabian Peninsula and made an astonishing discovery: That even in Saudi Arabia there are artists – people, most of whom have never left the country, but who have developed their very own kind of artistic style in the towns and villages. It was a journey that resulted in the initiative “Edge of Arabia” – an artists’ group which now even counts a princess from the royal household among its members.