Physician turned artist, Ahmed Mater is one of the most significant cultural voices documenting and scrutinising the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Forging an ongoing, complex mapping of the Kingdom, his practice synthesises and documents collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The temporal and physical breadths of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive gaze of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines and forecasts possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic and political influence.
Growing up in Abha, a city in the fertile mountainous region close to the border with Yemen, his early years were geographically remote from the Kingdom’s dominant religious and administrative capitals. The perspective granted by his physical distance exposed him to the modernising world beyond the border. From this vantage, he witnessed the throes of the most seismic period in Saudi history – the Kingdom’s oil boom and bust. Born in 1979, the intense conclusion to a decade of momentous economic and political upheaval, Mater witnessed these changes diverge into extraordinary social shifts and trenchant ideologies. He is poised at intersections, tracing fracturing fault lines of vying systems: the past, present and future; tradition and innovation; heritage and globalisation; religion, faith, economic prowess and modernisation. Using photography, film, sculpture and performance, he maps, documents and analyses these changes, considering the psychological impact on the individual, the community, society and the world.
His practice embraces the paradoxes of science and faith, enmeshing the two to explore their connections and contradictions. Like a general medical practitioner, he employs broad investigative techniques to assess the Kingdom’s condition, recapitulating the profusion of unofficial socio-political histories and realities with the observational, wide-ranging scope of diagnosis. Mater entwines expressive and politically engaged artistic aims with the scientific objectives of his medical training. Complementary historic, religious and social excavations mine and preserve disregarded and forgotten depths as he initiates expansive documentary ruminations and ambles. ‘Desert of Pharan’ (2011–2016) – is a five-year photographic encounter with Mecca, its inhabitants and histories. ‘100 Found Objects’ (2014) is a reverent collation of displaced artefacts and a significant contribution to ‘thing theory’, where reaped materials manifest a panoply of neglected stories. His surveillances are distilled into compacted conceptual scenarios, nodes that tug at the dense strands of the Kingdom’s past, present and future where modernisation and tradition, religion and globalisation are conjured and contemplated.In ‘Magnetism’ (2009) iron filings whorl and whirl around a black magnet, evoking the congregation of pilgrims that throng the Ka’aba, making manifest the immutable pull of Islam's holiest site. 'Evolution of Man' (2010) is a cautionary chiasmus where foreboding x-rays mutate from gas pump to suicidal figure and back again.
Mater’s socially engaged artistic practice is furthered through his involvement in cultural initiatives inside and beyond the Kingdom, including Al-Meftaha Arts Village, Abha; pharan.studio, Jeddah; and, in 2003, he co-founded the Edge of Arabia collective which has connected a new generation of Saudi artists with international audiences.
Drumroll, Please, King Abdullah Economic City, KSA
Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys, Brooklyn Museum, USA
Mitochondria: Powerhouses, Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, IT
Desert of Pharan, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, UAE
Evolution of Man at Standing Rock, North Dakota, USA
Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater, Smithsonian Freer Sackler Galleries, Washington DC, USA
100 Found Objects, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Ahmed Mater, The Vinyl Factory Gallery, London, UK
Illumination, Artspace, Dubai, UAE
Son of Aseer, Al Meftaha Arts Village, Abha, KSA.
Ahmed Mater Al Ziad Aseeri, Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London, UK.
Saudi Contemporary Art: The Kennedy Center, Washington DC, USA
Cities of Conviction, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, USA
Epicenter X, Arab American National Museum, Detroit, USA
But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise, Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, Guggenheim, New York, USA
Phantom Punch, Bates Museum of Modern Art, Lewiston, USA
Too Early Too Late: Middle East and Modernity, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, IT
Common Grounds, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, DE
Here & Elsewhwere, New Museum, New York, USA
A-History, curated by Christine Macel, Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR
A Crisis of History, Framer Framed, Amsterdam, NL
Towards a New Cultural Cartography, Sharjah Biennale 11, Sharjah, UAE
Echoes: Islamic Art and Contemporary Practice, Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA
Arab Contemporary: Architecture, Culture and Identity, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, DK
View from Inside, Fotofest Biennale, Houston, USA
Homework 6, Ashkan Alwan, Beirut, LB
Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Q
Light from the Middle East, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Desert of Pharan, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, IND
#COMETOGETHER, Edge of Arabia, London, UK
25 years of Arab Creativity, Institute du Monde Arab, Paris, FR
Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, British Museum, London, UK
West End!, Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, IL
Arab Express: The Latest from the Arab World, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, J
The Future of a Promise, 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, IT
TRANSITION, Istanbul European Capital of Culture, Sanat Limanı, Istanbul, TR
Grey Borders/Grey Frontiers, Edge of Arabia Berlin, Berlin, DE
ADACH, Platform For Visual Arts, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, IT
Edge of Arabia, Palazzo Polignac, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice, IT
The Other, Cairo Biennale, Cairo, ET
Edge of Arabia, SOAS Brunei Gallery, London, UK
Still Life: Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change, Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah, UAE
Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East, The British Museum, London, UK
Shatta, Jeddah Atelier for Fine Arts, Jeddah, SA