Imagine a man wearing a thobe and‭ ‬shmagh‭ (‬traditional headdress‭) ‬covered with pomegranates‭. ‬The wallpaper behind him also has the same design‭. ‬Passersby stop at the Royal College of Arts in the UK to gaze at the uncanny installation called Self-Portrait as a Pomegranate‭.  ‬The man is depicted on‭ ‬a digital screen‭, ‬while a few pomegranates on the floor are still or are spinning in circles‭.  ‬The installation is a roaring success as it craftily brings together the digital and physical worlds to create a staged reality that addresses the topic of non-representation of females and their struggle for equality‭.‬

The artist who created the installation is Jeddah-based artist Ahaad Al-Amoudi‭. ‬A true blue Jeddawi at heart‭, ‬27-year-old Ahaad‭ ‬is part of a new wave of artists in Saudi Arabia that are transmitting ideas and values deeply inherent in Saudi Arabia’s culture to the world‭.‬

Her inspiration for the Self-Portrait as a Pomegranate installation is a song by Kuwaiti poet‭, ‬Abdulhameed Al-Sayed‭, ‬called‭ ‬“O Pomegranate‭,‬”‭ ‬which despite being over 50‭ ‬years old‭, ‬continues to be prevalent in modern Arab culture‭.‬

Ahaad’s artistic journey began since her childhood‭, ‬during which she was surrounded by art thanks to her mother who was also an artist‭ ‬and an art teacher‭. ‬As her mother continuously used to create‭, ‬Ahaad was never short on art supplies that fueled her ambition‭. ‬‭ ‬

“I started applying to competitions after graduating from school and ever since then I have been exhibiting both locally and internationally‭,‬”‭ ‬said Ahaad‭. ‬After school‭, ‬she went on to study graphic design at Dar Al Hekma University in Jeddah and then obtained a Masters‭ ‬in Fine Arts from the Royal College of Art in London‭. 

Constantly traveling between London and Saudi‭, ‬Ahaad translates her wanderings into her works‭. ‬Her multidisciplinary approach to‭ ‬art is something that a lot of Saudis can relate to as they have their culture on one hand and are at the same time being exposed to the wider global community online‭. ‬Her main inspirations‭, ‬Ahaad said‭, ‬are her life and the community and society that surrounds her‭.‬

While she does experiment with a wide variety of subjects‭, ‬she is renowned for her works that bring together traditional Saudi craftsmanship and visual installations‭. ‬At times she even uses comedy to address thoughtful topics‭.‬

One notable example of this is her installation‭, ‬Land of Dreams‭. ‬Ahaad posted images of location coordinates on her personal Instagram account‭, ‬urging people to follow the directions and check out her new work‭. ‬When people arrived at the Land of Dreams‭, ‬they discovered a barren desert land full of‭ ‬“dreams”‭ – ‬a plethora of massive blown-up cutouts of Emirati singer Ahlam Al-Shamsi‭, ‬whose first name in Arabic translates to dreams‭.‬

As during her childhood‭, ‬Ahaad continues to be surrounded by art today‭.  ‬She is now a lecturer at Dar Al-Hekma University’s visual communication department‭. ‬Her days are spent teaching and her nights are dedicated to working on her art‭.‬

Discussing the challenges that she has faced Ahaad said‭, ‬“When I started‭, ‬most of my challenges were personal‭. ‬Lack of confidence in my thoughts and in the production of my work‭. ‬The gaze and the reaction of the gaze is something that I still struggle with but have learned to appreciate‭.‬”

Her work‭, ‬though sometimes available only digitally‭, ‬is a result of a painstaking effort‭. ‬The process starts with her coming up‭ ‬with a concept‭, ‬from there it develops into researching both the concept and the materials needed‭. ‬Finally the production phase‭ ‬begins and the length of the process depends on the piece‭; ‬some take a couple of hours and others take up to months to create‭.‬

“The production part is my favorite‭. ‬It’s very exciting to see your ideas come to life and form entities in the world around you‭,‬”‭ ‬said Ahaad‭. ‬“I say this and most of my works are digital‭, ‬their reality and existence are debatable‭.‬”

When asked what we can expect from her in the future Ahaad explained that she isn’t really sure just yet‭. ‬“Most of my works speculate social futures‭. ‬I guess sometimes because you’re so close to it‭, ‬it’s hard to speculate your own future‭,‬”‭ ‬she said‭. ‬“More art‭; ‬that’s a civil answer grounded in a strong percentage of reality‭.‬”

Words‭ ‬by Mohammed Mirza

Images‭ ‬by Ahaad Al-Amoudi

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