Ahmed Mater: An Artist's Lens on Mecca

Jan 01, 2019

Columbia University

A talk looking at historic and contemporary depictions of Mecca with renowned Saudi artist Ahmed Mater and Professor Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam at Columbia University. Part of a year-long program of talks taking place at city-wide universities, amplifying the messaging and mission of the initiative and connecting faculty, students, and the public with contemporary cultural ideas and practitioners from the Arab world.

Mater will talk about his documentation of a changing Mecca through his photography and video work. His art explores apparent contradictions between the holy and the profane, historicity and eternal time, spaces of worship and sites of real estate speculation. Forging an ongoing, complex mapping of the Kingdom, Mater's practice synthesises and documents collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The temporal and physical breadths of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive gaze of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines and forecasts possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic and political influence.

The event is in partnership with Columbia University's series, "Disrupting Unity and Discerning Ruptures," organized by Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam in the Department of Art History and Archeology. Shalem's main field of interest concerns artistic interactions in the Mediterranean basin, migration of objects, and medieval aesthetics. He has published extensively on medieval Islamic, as well as Jewish and Christian art.

Physician turned artist, Ahmed Mater is one of the most significant cultural voices documenting and scrutinising the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. His practice embraces the paradoxes of science and faith. Entwining expressive and politically engaged artistic aims with the scientific objectives of his medical training, he fuses the two realms to explore their connections and contradictions. Employing broad research-based investigative techniques, Mater assesses the Kingdom’s social, economic and religious condition, mining and preserving disregarded and forgotten narratives through expansive documentary ambles.

He lives and works between Riyadh, Jeddah and Abha, Saudi Arabia.