Something Borrowed, Something New

I must confess my mind wasn’t really into art as I walked passed the booths at the MENASART FAIR in Beirut.

Just weeks before Ramadan, I was more focused on planning my last sessions of tanning than the bold social commentary made by Ammar Al Beik’s “Oil Leaks” (2005) collection.
In addition, the ceaseless bombardment of the same contemporary Saudi artists only further attributed to my lack of enthusiasm. Covering the MENAS regions, meaning Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, this year’s edition was heavily saturated with contemporary Saudi art. As a Saudi myself, I couldn’t have been prouder. But as a person in the art field, who regularly attends the region’s fairs, I couldn’t have been less thrilled.

And yes, the gallerists will all defensively chime they’ve commissioned new, unique pieces from these same talented individuals, but as much as I am in love with Abdulnasser Gharem’s “Concrete Block,” (2009), seeing 2-D variations of the same medium over and over again for the past two years has more than desensitized me. Don’t misunderstand me. What these artists and their patrons have accomplished is not only pioneering, but also highly visionary. The issue here is simply the pervasive presence of these artworks, in which we are over-exposed to through international galleries and regional fairs.

My holiday-induced indifference and this sense of contemporary Saudi art disillusionment had tainted any presumptions I may have had about MENASART.

I was hoping to be stimulated, but was expecting not to be. I am happy to admit I was wrong. Thankfully, I found the answer to my personal recession at the booth of Gallery Mark Hachem. There, I noticed these large black and white photographs. The subjects looked strangely familiar, yet much like a faded memory I couldn’t consciously identify them. Sure enough, they were snapshots of my homeland, but this wasn’t the Saudi Arabia I knew. No hip Tahlia Street, nor the typical downtown Al Balad shots. These were images of the countryside, or individuals so foreign that all overt indicators of their ethnicity still seemed so far removed from myself. They were deceivingly alien to me and yet I could feel an almost déjà vu affinity for the subject.

I followed the picture to a caption box that included an excerpt from the photographer’s book, “Assoudia” (2005): “When I was young and my grandmother was angry with someone, she would wish them to go to the Nejd. To her, this empty arid area at the center of Saudi Arabia was synonymous with hell.”
I was irreversibly hooked.
“It was to be years before I traveled to the area and discovered its families, female activists, pilgrims, expatriate workers, and ‘flower men.’”


The Lebanese photographer and visual artist, Samer Mohdad, had completed a comprehensive visual anthology of Saudi that was raw and hurtfully candid. Although, the images have made their rounds, including the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, during the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, and finally at the King Abdulaziz Pubic Library in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Mohdad’s work still possessed a rarity that seduced the passerby.





Article By Marriam Mossalli – Oasis Magazine