Take a look at the artwork of graffiti artist Klakh, ‘Saudi Arabia’s own Banksy’
Graffiti artist “Klakh,” dubbed “Saudi Arabia’s own Banksy,” has been receiving renewed attention in recent days surrounding his work in the Kingdom’s Taif.
Klakh – identified as Ali al-Nafaei by Arab News as well as past works showing his former tag bearing his real name on Instagram – has gone viral in recent weeks with many sharing videos and photos of his graffiti work of celebrities, sports stars and the Kingdom’s leadership.
Little is known about the artist and his identity in past years, garnering him the label of “Saudi Arabia’s Banksy” as a result.
British street artist Banksy – whose identity is not publicly known and remains a mystery for global art watchers – made a name for himself over the years with works often drawing on social issues.
In one of his rare on-the-record interviews, Klakh told pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat back in 2015 that he began his artistic hobby by focusing his graffiti artwork on sports stars and cartoon characters.
“During the early years of my drawings, my thinking did not exceed the love of sports stars and celebrities, and before that, it was drawings of cartoon characters like SpongeBob, which made up the largest part of my works in Taif. I then began drawing different characters such as footballers Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, as well as Neymar and Zinedine Zidane,” he told Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published October 23, 2015.
“The residents of the city, especially in the simple and quiet neighborhood, were waking up to drawings they were not used to seeing in such a way. Creative art was and still is, unfortunately, practice practiced with some shame as our society is still reserved to the label of an artist,” Klakh said nearly five years ago.
Since then, however, the importance of art and culture has landed a prominent role especially after it was given significant weight under the Saudi Vision 2030 shepherded by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since 2015.
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan himself tweeted at Klakh, who boasts more than 120,000 followers, saying that the ministry appreciated his work and that they would stay in touch with the young artist.
“Creative work Klakh, we’re all supporting you. My colleagues at [the Ministry of Culture] will be in contact with you,” Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan tweeted the artist last December after Klakh showed one of his artwork defaced before he had a chance to complete it.
Artists across Saudi Arabia have seen a resurgence in attention being paid to their craft in recent months as the Kingdom places more efforts in recognizing and highlighting artistic achievements.
In a more recent interview with Independent Arabia, Klakh said he was aware of people labeling him as “Saudi Arabia’s Banksy,” but added that it was “an honor I do not claim.”
“It is true and his [Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan] encouragement is a testament that I cherish. The Ministry of Culture did contact me, and they confirmed his support. The truth is that the Minister of Culture's tweet was to me an honor and a testimony that I remain proud of,” Klakh told Independent Arabia.
Last November, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture confirmed that music, theater, and the arts will now be included in the curriculum of both public and private schools in the Kingdom. The announcement at the time comes amid recent changes in Saudi Arabia that are transforming the Kingdom into a hub for concerts, art shows, and cultural and entertainment eve vts in the region.
Klakh said he stopped drawing graffiti for several years before 2015 when he moved to Jeddah but was encouraged by his older brother to draw again.
“I heard the voice of my older brother who supported me with great advice and gave me great confidence. After the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, may God have mercy on him, I was greatly affected and these feelings shook me, especially the sadness of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz on the loss of his brother. So, I went to the Jeddah Corniche and on a wall, I drew a picture of King Salman, may God protect him, and named the artwork ‘Tear of the homeland’,” the artist said at the time.
In recent days, many on social media have been showing Klakh’s latest installment of graffiti murals of different women painted on the walls of an abandoned house in Taif city.