“We Need to Talk” Saudi Arabian Contemporary Art

By Joshua Witchger 01-25-2012

Saudi Arabia’s first public display of contemporary art opened last weekend in Jeddah.

The National reports that the city was crowded as people visited the raw concrete building that features more than 50 pieces from 22 local artists, under the somewhat provocative title, “We Need to Talk About It.”

The exhibit displays a spectrum of the land’s story – past, present, future. But because the art is open-ended, multi-faceted, and Saudi Arabia is governed by powerful clerics under a version of Sharia law, this public test of authority proves to be a difficult subject.

One piece that is drawing attention across the globe is a floor display that depicts a map of the eastern world as a spilled mess. It then uses caution signs, strategically placed over certain regions, to make a comment. One over Egypt reads “Caution: revolution (take 2).” Another over the Islamic kingdom itself reads “Evolution not revolution.”

Reuters reports that “the Saudi artist is testing the boundaries of self-expression in a kingdom where direct criticism of the authorities is not tolerated, cinema and theatre are banned and art and media are censored.”

In light of the exhibit, artists are hopeful this first launch is the beginning of something that could endure.

See two pieces at Arab News.

Joshua Witchger is an online assistant at Sojourners. Follow him at Hail fellow well met.

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