JEDDAH — Athr Gallery, Jeddah’s leading contemporary art exhibition center that provides a platform for Saudi and international artists to showcase their works, launched its Ramadan arts program on Monday night with the inauguration of three simultaneous exhibitions: And it remains…, Journey of the Line and East & East. The exhibitions take visitors through the Middle East’s contemporary art scene by showing the creativity of the region’s calligraphers and the latest furniture designs.
The exhibitions’ opening night was filled with art lovers, journalists and various members of the Saudi and expatriate community walking through the gallery’s pavilions, meeting the artists and admiring the eclectic range of displayed artworks.
The gallery’s central pavilion is dedicated to the first solo exhibition, And it remains…, by young Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al Salem. Raised in in Makkah, Al Salem is deeply influenced by Islamic tradition. However, he considers himself a calligrapher exploring new and unconventional ways of producing calligraphy designs not based on mere inscription.
“I developed a tripartite approach to calligraphy that takes care of the word, the medium and the aesthetic. I like to mix different kinds of expressive means and stylistic devices in producing calligraphy designs. My aim is to develop a dynamic method enhancing the further conceptual possibilities and impactful role of this timeless art,” explained Al Salem who has extensively exhibited his artwork in the Kingdom and has witnessed increased international recognition after he took part in Istanbul’s 2010 Edge of Arabia exhibition.
Salem’s multi-faceted approach to calligraphy and choice of contemporary media to manufacture his artworks is particularly evident in his neon light installation where the word “Allah” is represented in a mirror.
Being a calligrapher, his work is mainly devotional and inspired by the Qur’an. He also explores more philosophical contents as those associated to the word “kul.” This expression, meaning “all,” “everything” or “infinite,” is represented repeatedly to create an endless ripple effect that is not merely associated to the abundance of God’s creation and suggests deeper interpretations.
Salem’s collection also includes a calligraphic drawing of the word Zamzam (a well located in the Grand Mosque in Makkah), a wooden barcode installation that is critical of a materialistic approach to life and a series of 7 silkscreen prints focusing around an abstract representation of the Ka’aba to depict the evolution of Islam.
Thanks to Athr Gallery’s supportive role in granting a platform to emerging Saudi artists, Al Salem also had the opportunity to exchange views on his artwork with Nja Mahdaoui, a renowned Tunisian artist who first visited Jeddah 20 years ago when he participated in the monumental decoration of King Abdulaziz International Airport and King Khalid International Airport in Jeddah and Riyadh respectively.
Mahdaoui is currently contributing 5 Indian ink and acrylic paintings on vellum to the gallery’s “Journey of the Line” group exhibition. The exhibit showcases the works of 8 artists and encompasses a broad spectrum of contemporary Arabic calligraphy.
Mahdaoui, who has exhibited his works worldwide and is a member of the International Jury of the Arts Prize of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), considers himself a visual artist and an explorer of signs.
“I’m not a calligrapher. I just study words from an aesthetic and plastic perspective freeing them from their meaning,” he explained.
Last but not least, Athr Gallery set up an entire pavilion dedicated to the East & East Furniture & Home Accessory Collection by Nada Debs, a Lebanese furniture designer who grew up in Japan and found, in her multi-cultural background, a creative and winning formula to create modern Middle Eastern furniture.
“I find inspiration from the craft itself. When I watch craftsmen working, I start coming up with new ideas and designs based on the process. My work expresses the vibrant medley of Eastern cultures that influenced my life. The East & East concept is based on the idea of applying the Far Easts’s minimalist approach to the Middle East’s characteristic Islamic geometry and Arabesque design,” explained Debs.
“At the same time, I aim at celebrating Eastern craftsmanship using Arab heritage as a platform into modernity. Customers are looking today for a modern vision of the Middle East tradition. Despite this consistent demand, modern Eastern furniture designs capable of appealing to the global market are almost non-existent,” she added.
Debs created her company in Lebanon in the year 2000. She has three retail outlets in Beirut and branches in New York, Paris, Dubai and Geneva.
The three exhibitions will run until Aug. 30 on the 5th floor of the Business Center, Wing B, at Serafi Mega Mall on Tahlia St.