Saudi artist Ahmed Mater presents artwork at Christie’s auction house in London

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Contemporary Saudi artist Ahmed Mater will exhibit over 100 pieces of his artwork at Christie’s fine art and luxury auction house in London from July 17 to August 22.

The ‘Ahmed Mater: Chronicles’ exhibition – which guides the audience through Mater’s artistic journey from the beginning of his career to his latest endeavors – features paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, videos, and installations.

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Curated by Dr. Ridha Moumni, Chairman of Christie’s Middle East and Africa, the exhibition will highlight the major milestones of Mater’s career, from unseen early abstract paintings to the some of his most celebrated work, making it the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the artist to date.

The showcase also features a piece by Mater’s mother, who introduced him to art, alongside works by influential artists such Abdulhalim Radwi, Mohammed Al Saleem, and Shakir Hassan Al Said.

Christie’s will also show a preview of the Mater’s site-specific installation commission by Wadi AlFann in Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of AlUla – Ashab Al-Lal.

“It is our honor to have Mater’s masterpieces exhibited at Christie’s, where we have been presenting and raising awareness of Arab art since 2006. This summer, we look forward to promoting the art of the region again, with a focus on Saudi contemporary art to foster an educational and cross-cultural dialogue through Ahmed Mater’s extraordinary work,” Moumni told Al Arabiya English.

Documenting Saudi Arabia’s transformation

The exhibition showcasing the evolution of his artistic expression comes in tandem with societal changes taking place in Saudi Arabia and the region, the regional chairman of Christie’s said.

“Ahmed Mater is unique in his approach to documenting the changes he witnesses in the region and beyond, working with different mediums and adopting a distinctive critical perspective. This is why we jointly decided to name the exhibition ‘Chronicles’, to reflect Mater’s artistic journey in tandem with transformative changes taking place in contemporary Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The exhibition represents a unique moment to witness the transformations of the social and cultural landscapes of Saudi Arabia whilst reflecting on the region’s multifaceted identity.

These changes have inspired the Saudi artist to not only document and analyze them but also to imagine how they will shape the Kingdom, its people, and the rest of the world.

“The cultural transformations I have witnessed throughout my career have been both a muse and a challenge. They have inspired me by presenting a canvas of rapid change, where tradition and progress engage in a complex dance,” he said.

“These transformations raise profound questions about identity, authenticity, and the nature of progress itself. My work attempts to capture these moments of flux, to freeze-frame a world in the midst of reinvention,” Mater added.

An example of his depiction of Saudi Arabia’s development over the years is evident in his iconic piece ‘Evolution of Man’.

Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk). Evolution of Man Executed in 2010. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.
Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk). Evolution of Man Executed in 2010. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.

In this artwork, a gas pump morphs into a man with a gun to his head – what he says is a comment on the rapid evolution of Saudi Arabia since its discovery of oil in 1938, which transformed the Kingdom’s economic, political, social, and religious landscape.

The piece reflects on an ominous prognosis – the risks to the environment, social fabric, and ultimate threat of cycles of destruction, he said.

Another one of his pieces that highlights the tensions that may arise during a transformative journey is ‘Lightning Land.’

The artwork shows an enormous lightning bolt hitting the desert landscape with an oil field on the left and a Bedouin tent on the right.

Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk), Lightning Land   Executed in 2017. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.
Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk), Lightning Land Executed in 2017. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.

Through this erratic and unpredictable flash of force, the artist said he was highlighting the tensions in a land caught between past and future, tradition and innovation, heritage and globalization.

Distinct but connected

Each series in the exhibition is its own distinct exploration, yet they are all connected by an invisible thread – the pulse of Mater’s evolving artistic practice, the Saudi artist explained.

“They are like chapters in a book, each telling its own story but contributing to a larger narrative. What binds them is their quest to articulate the complex interplay between tradition and modernity, the sacred and the secular, the personal and the political in my work. Their differences lie in the specific facets of human experience they choose to illuminate,” Mater said.

Some of the exhibition’s highlights include the ‘Magnetism Book,’ a new work from Mater’s iconic ‘Magnetism’ series.

Drawing inspiration from the Holy Quran and religious texts, the artist uses magnets and iron filings to symbolize the sacred verses, highlighting the spiritual forces that uphold human faith.

Magnetism Book, a new work from the artist’s ‘Magnetism’ series revealed for the first time. Executed in 2024.  © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.
Magnetism Book, a new work from the artist’s ‘Magnetism’ series revealed for the first time. Executed in 2024. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.

In his piece ‘Boundary,’ which takes the shape of a mihrab – or the wall in the mosque that indicates the direction of prayer – the mihrab is used as an airport security scanner, reflecting on surveillance and security operations that have become part of daily life for Muslims.

Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk). Boundary. Executed in 2024.                  © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.
Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk). Boundary. Executed in 2024. © Ahmed Mater, Courtesy of the Artist.

Meanwhile, a preview of ‘Ashab Al-Lal’ explores the mythic space between subjective imagination and objective reality by generating a mirage within the desert landscape of AlUla.

A group of sculptures related to Ashab Al-Lal, a site-specific installation by Ahmed Mater commissioned by Wadi AlFann, Valley of the Arts, AlUla, a new cultural destination being developed by the Royal Commission for AlUla, © and Courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla.
A group of sculptures related to Ashab Al-Lal, a site-specific installation by Ahmed Mater commissioned by Wadi AlFann, Valley of the Arts, AlUla, a new cultural destination being developed by the Royal Commission for AlUla, © and Courtesy of the Royal Commission for AlUla.

Mater is one of the first five artists commissioned to create site-specific land art installations for Wadi AlFann, which will start welcoming visitors in 2025.

The Saudi artist has also become renowned for his use of X-rays in some of his artworks.

“The use of X-rays in my work stemmed from a moment of epiphany during my time as a medical doctor. I realized that these images, typically used to diagnose illness, could also diagnose the state of our human condition,” he told Al Arabiya English.

“X-rays reveal what’s beneath the surface, the hidden structures that shape our reality. In my art, they become a metaphor for seeing beyond appearances, for understanding the skeletal framework of our existence and beliefs.”

That is the case for his piece ‘Talisman X-ray Blue (Torso)’ which will also be displayed at Christie’s.

Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk) Talisman X-ray Blue (Torso). Executed in 2009.  © Ahmed Mater, Collection of Barjeel Art Foundation.
Ahmed Mater (B. 1979, Tabuk) Talisman X-ray Blue (Torso). Executed in 2009. © Ahmed Mater, Collection of Barjeel Art Foundation.

The artwork fuses past and present and bridges subjects often conceived as irreconcilable: faith and science.

Drawing inspiration from the Islamic arts found in the Quran, Mater employs gold leaf, tea, pomegranate, coffee, and other materials traditionally used on the pages of Islamic manuscripts.

Although typically a small and intimate art form, Mater expands the scale of his illuminated page and presents the art in a different, and more intimate way, by incorporating human X-rays.

Saudi Arabia’s art scene

In line with its Vision 2030 goals, Saudi Arabia has turned to the creative economy in recent years to alleviate its reliance on oil and gas. The Kingdom has a long history of practicing art; however, until only recently, the art scene has been underdeveloped and overlooked.

“Over the years, I have seen a remarkable evolution in the perception of the Saudi art scene and the contemporary art in general. Once viewed with suspicion or indifference in our local context, art is increasingly recognized as a vital form of cultural expression and a means of storytelling,” the Saudi artist told Al Arabiya English.

Saudi art and artists have also garnered worldwide attention in recent years, he said.

“Internationally, there is growing curiosity about the Saudi art and artists, though we often still battle against stereotypes and preconceptions. The challenge now is to foster a mature artistic dialogue that can engage globally while remaining true to our individual voices.”

With the country’s ongoing support and investment, Saudi Arabia has the potential to become a significant hub for art both locally and globally, Mater said.

“This potential lies in our unique perspectives, rich cultural heritage, and the energy of a young population eager to express itself,” the artist said.

“To foster local talent, we must invest not just in infrastructure and events, but in education, critical discourse, and the freedom to explore challenging ideas. True artistic growth requires not just support, but also the space for dissent and diversity of thought. The future of art from my part of the world lies not in emulation, but in finding our authentic voices in the global conversation.”

Following the largest exhibition of Arab art hosted in London last year, Christie’s hopes to celebrate and honor Mater and his artistic legacy with as much depth and reverence, Moumni explained.

The Saudi artist said: “The upcoming showcase in London fills me with a mixture of excitement and introspection… This exhibition is not just about displaying art; it is an invitation to dialogue, a chance to challenge assumptions and bridge understanding through my personal artistic vision.”

Read more:

Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan brings stories of AlUla’s people to life in Wadi AlFann

‘More than Meets the Eye’: Unveiling Saudi Arabia’s cross-generational art history

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