Imagine a man wearing a thobe and shmagh (traditional headdress) covered with pomegranates. The wallpaper behind him also has the same design. Passersby stop at the Royal College of Arts in the UK to gaze at the uncanny installation called Self-Portrait as a Pomegranate. The man is depicted on a digital screen, while a few pomegranates on the floor are still or are spinning in circles. The installation is a roaring success as it craftily brings together the digital and physical worlds to create a staged reality that addresses the topic of non-representation of females and their struggle for equality.
The artist who created the installation is Jeddah-based artist Ahaad Al-Amoudi. A true blue Jeddawi at heart, 27-year-old Ahaad is part of a new wave of artists in Saudi Arabia that are transmitting ideas and values deeply inherent in Saudi Arabia’s culture to the world.
Her inspiration for the Self-Portrait as a Pomegranate installation is a song by Kuwaiti poet, Abdulhameed Al-Sayed, called “O Pomegranate,” which despite being over 50 years old, continues to be prevalent in modern Arab culture.
Ahaad’s artistic journey began since her childhood, during which she was surrounded by art thanks to her mother who was also an artist and an art teacher. As her mother continuously used to create, Ahaad was never short on art supplies that fueled her ambition.
“I started applying to competitions after graduating from school and ever since then I have been exhibiting both locally and internationally,” said Ahaad. After school, she went on to study graphic design at Dar Al Hekma University in Jeddah and then obtained a Masters in Fine Arts from the Royal College of Art in London.
Constantly traveling between London and Saudi, Ahaad translates her wanderings into her works. Her multidisciplinary approach to art is something that a lot of Saudis can relate to as they have their culture on one hand and are at the same time being exposed to the wider global community online. Her main inspirations, Ahaad said, are her life and the community and society that surrounds her.
While she does experiment with a wide variety of subjects, she is renowned for her works that bring together traditional Saudi craftsmanship and visual installations. At times she even uses comedy to address thoughtful topics.
One notable example of this is her installation, Land of Dreams. Ahaad posted images of location coordinates on her personal Instagram account, urging people to follow the directions and check out her new work. When people arrived at the Land of Dreams, they discovered a barren desert land full of “dreams” – a plethora of massive blown-up cutouts of Emirati singer Ahlam Al-Shamsi, whose first name in Arabic translates to dreams.
As during her childhood, Ahaad continues to be surrounded by art today. She is now a lecturer at Dar Al-Hekma University’s visual communication department. Her days are spent teaching and her nights are dedicated to working on her art.
Discussing the challenges that she has faced Ahaad said, “When I started, most of my challenges were personal. Lack of confidence in my thoughts and in the production of my work. The gaze and the reaction of the gaze is something that I still struggle with but have learned to appreciate.”
Her work, though sometimes available only digitally, is a result of a painstaking effort. The process starts with her coming up with a concept, from there it develops into researching both the concept and the materials needed. Finally the production phase begins and the length of the process depends on the piece; some take a couple of hours and others take up to months to create.
“The production part is my favorite. It’s very exciting to see your ideas come to life and form entities in the world around you,” said Ahaad. “I say this and most of my works are digital, their reality and existence are debatable.”
When asked what we can expect from her in the future Ahaad explained that she isn’t really sure just yet. “Most of my works speculate social futures. I guess sometimes because you’re so close to it, it’s hard to speculate your own future,” she said. “More art; that’s a civil answer grounded in a strong percentage of reality.”
Words by Mohammed Mirza
Images by Ahaad Al-Amoudi