A doctor by day, Ahmed Mater, 32, started taking his creative streak seriously when he joined Saudi’s Al-Meftaha Arts Village in 1999. Since then he’s had numerous exhibitions, won the Abha Cultural Prize for Fine Art and Photography and created a fresh visual language in his work, which falls within the boundaries of his Muslim faith, scientific background and culture in the Arab world.
Now, for the first time, Mater’s collections are available in hardback and can be bought in Dubai, giving people who have never experienced Saudi art a chance to see it in print. We caught up with the artist during his recent visit to Dubai to discover more about his fascinating work.
Why did you decide to release your art in print format? This is my first monograph. For me, it was important to publish my four main bodies of work in a book that can forever be documented and referred to. I want to show the world there is art being produced from my country that is universal and can be understood by people of all cultures. I would especially like to inspire a new generation of young creatives in the Middle East to follow a creative path.
What’s the most important message in your work? That’s not an easy question. Each work has a different message and each person will take different messages from my work. One theme that runs through a number of my works is to communicate something of my culture and faith in a contemporary way that is neither expected nor obvious. I hope to change people’s stereotypes of Saudi Arabia.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when exhibiting your work? I don’t face many challenges in the controversial sense. I suppose production is my biggest challenge – Saudi Arabia doesn’t offer the same levels of producing art as the West does. So I work with people in London, Istanbul and Morocco to produce my work.
Tell us about the process of producing your X-ray-themed work. How did you come up with the idea? Do you have your own X-ray machine? I’m a doctor by profession, so my X-ray works started when I began to combine my passions – that of a medical doctor and that of an artist and a Muslim. If you visit my studio, it doesn’t look like a studio – it looks like a hospital. My earliest X-ray works were raw canvases – I would stick an X-ray on to the canvas and paint medical codes and religious symbols. I’m a scientist, which is a very objective world, yet I am a Muslim and have faith and spirituality, which is subjective. To combine these worlds and show that they’re not actually so far away from each other is important for me. And no, unfortunately I don’t have my own X-ray machine, but I have the ones in the hospital, which are as good as mine.
What’s your advice for people who want to develop creative concepts? All my ideas come from my life, my context and my surroundings. My advice to a young artist would be to look at their own life and own context, then try to let ideas find them, rather than looking for them. The best ideas and concepts in art grow organically. When this happens, it is genuine and people can connect with it.
Do you believe literature and art can change perceptions? Absolutely. It is so important. I wish there was more – the Middle East and Saudi need more books published about art and culture. The new Edge of Arabia book [which features Mater’s work] is a step forward for Saudi’s contemporary art scene and will hopefully change international perceptions of our country.