Artist Sarah Al Abdali originates from the Hejaz region in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Her work reflects Arab culture and Islamic philosophy, and centers around her love for the region’s land, architecture, and heritage. 

She is also one of Saudi’s first street artists and works with various innovative mediums, which include illustration, painting, ceramics, wood work, drawing, and painting. 

Her work is internationally recognized and she has participated in prestigious shows abroad including, RHIZOMA at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013), #COMETOGETHER with Edge of Arabia in London (2012), START Art Fair at Saatchi Gallery in London (2014), the Islamic Art Festival in Sharjah (2017), and Art Paris at Grand Palais (2018).

Artist Sarah Al Abdali
© Abdullah Al Shehri

Saira Malik (SM): Talk to us about your deep connection with the Hejazi culture and how it inspires you to create work that reflects its land, architecture, and heritage?

Sarah Al Abdali (SA): Since I first started creating art, Hejaz has been my main inspiration. Not only because I have deeply looked into my identity as a Hejazi, but also my interest in understanding Islamic and Arab histories and traditions. It has set the path to an artistic language that has been growing with me. 

SM: You are one of Saudi’s first street artists, how did you get involved in that and how is that journey evolving since you first started?

SA: I really do not recognize myself as such, as I have experimented with street art for a very limited time in my life. It started with one artwork that caught unexpected recognition: Makkah street sign. I was aiming to spark some needed conversation about the vast change in Makkah’s urban and economic infrastructure, and it gladly did. It was also my first artwork, and to my luck it made it to the British Museum at the time! 

SM: You are an expert in the different mediums; illustration, painting, ceramics, wood work, drawing and painting. What style are you most drawn to and why?

SA: To continue my last answer, Makkah’s street sign’s recognition forced me to explore different mediums and seek different artistic expressions as I felt unworthy of such recognition at a young age. I have grown so much painting traditional miniatures with natural pigments and handmade paper, I later created my own contemporary take on that style and I believe my style will yet change and mature as I am, but I will always use my background in miniature painting and illumination. 

SM: What is your creative process from start to finish?

SA: Each artwork has its own process. But I generally see the painting in my head before the whole process, and everything that happens from that point is about delivering that image into the real world. There’s so much research that happens along the way, either theoretical to get some accurate elements in the painting, or artistic which involves many sketches and experimentations.

SM: What is the one piece of work that you are most proud of and why?

SA: I can’t think of a specific one. Two that come into mind could be Al Tabariyat and Hisar. The first due to the challenges faced while producing it, starting from manifesting the research I’ve been conducting on female scholars in historic Hejaz and ending with finding the perfect craftsmen to collaborate with. I’m pleased that the artwork has been shown in two cities so far and has introduced the world to empowered female figures from Makkah, countering the popular belief that women had no space in social development. The other artwork Hisar is a very close one to my heart, as I have manifested my experience visiting refugee camps and meeting some refugees in Jordan back in 2018. It is a large painting in scale that took a whole month of daily work to complete. 

SM: Tell us about the work you are doing to support local upcoming Saudi artists?

SA: I’ve been doing educational work to help understand the lost artistic traditions that were practiced in the Hejaz, as I believe for any promising artist there has to be a good understanding of the practiced artistic traditions where they come from.

SM: What are you currently working on?

SA: I’m taking a break for a short while from the art scene to fathom motherhood. But I am exploring different painting techniques while I can. 

SM: What are your future aspirations for the next few years?

SA: To keep reflecting on life as I experience it through art.

Words: Saira Malik
Images: Courtesy of Sarah Al Abdali

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