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 explores collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The historical, geographical and topical breadth of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive actions of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic, and political influence.
Born in 1979, the intense conclusion to a decade of momentous economic and political upheaval, Mater witnessed a rapidly transforming society whose changes diverged into extraordinary social shifts and trenchant ideologies.
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 the tensions between religion and power. Part of the earliest contemporary art movements in the Kingdom, with Edge of Arabia, the seminal Shatta and Mostly Visible exhibitions and then with his Jeddah pharan studio, Ahmed’s creative career has been at the forefront of the transforming Saudi cultural sector.
His life has been lived poised at intersections, tracing fracturing fault lines of vying systems: 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.
Mater entwines expressive and politically engaged artistic aims with the scientific objectives of his medical training. His practice embraces the paradoxes of science and faith, exploring their connections and contradictions and their social reach. His employs broad investigative techniques to assess the Kingdom’s condition, reframing unofficial sociopolitical histories and realities with an observational and wide-ranging scope.
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 as co-founder of the Edge of Arabia collective, which has connected a new generation of Saudi artists with international audiences.
From 2017–18, for its inaugural year, he was the Founder Director of Misk Art Institute, where his tenure included overseeing the first Saudi National Pavilion at the Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia.
In 2016, Mater became the first Saudi artist to hold a solo exhibition in the United States with ‘Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater’ at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC. Since, he has had a major solo exhibition at Brooklyn Museum, New York.
He has also had solo exhibitions at King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia (2018); Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy (2017); Alserkal Avenue, Dubai (2017); Sharjah Art Foundation (2013); the Vinyl Factory, London (2010); Artspace, Dubai (2009); Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London (2006); and King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia (2004).
His work has been included in group exhibitions, including major exhibitions at the British Museum, London (2006 and 2012); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2011); Institut du Monde Arab, Paris (2012); Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013); Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar (2013); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humleaek, Denmark (2013); Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2013); Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, Lebanon (2013); Biennale Jogja (2013); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2014); and New Museum, New York (2014); and Guggenheim, New York (2016). He participated in theSharjah Biennial (2007 and 2013); Cairo Biennial (2008); Venice Biennale (2009 and 2011); and Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kerela India (2012).
His work is part of major international collections including The British Museum, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Mater lives and works in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Drumroll, Please, King Abdullah Economic City, SA
Stand in The Pathway and See, Galleria Continua, Les Moulins, Paris, FR
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.
Truc à Faire, curated by JR, Galleria Continua, Paris, FR
Biennale d'Architecture d'Orléans: Years of Solitude, Frac Centre-Val de Loire, Orléans, FR
Longing for Mecca, Tropen Museum, Amsterdam, NL
Saudi Contemporary Art, The Kennedy Center, Washington DC, USA
Letters to a Young Muslim, Warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi, UEA
Desert to Delta, Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Tennessee, 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
A History, curated by Christine Macel, Haus der Kunst, Munich, DE
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