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“Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia”
Ever Gold [Projects], San Francisco, California
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng

Abdulnasser Gharem, "Al Siraat" (The Path), 2007, silkscreen, 50 x 71"

Continuing through September 3, 2016

The protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s "Wise Blood" said no man with a good car has to worry about salvation. The global triumph of ubiquitous American consumerism — not liberal democracy, as formerly advertised — conflicts with traditional culture in developing countries, providing opportunities for self-reflection and change — not to mention ironic juxtapositions and paradoxes. "Generation: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia” is a large multimedia group show that depicts the ongoing cultural clash between new and old, each of which has pluses and minuses.

The title makes explicit that these thirteen young artists and two video collectives are thoroughly conversant with worldwide digital culture, including, of course, contemporary art. The show was organized by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dharan, and is touring the U.S., with stop in Houston as Aspen preceding the San Francisco stop. Some of the artists are traveling with the show; this cultural exchange will promote understanding and respect, one hopes, in this hysterical (if not hysterically funny) election year.

Two sculptures dominate the foyer. Amad Angawi’s "Street Pulse” is a huge sphere composed of 3,060 microphone. Resembling a giant blackberry, the artist used it to record the reactions of ordinary citizens of the city of Jeddah to the 2011 Arab Spring. Manal Aldowayan’s "Tree of Guardians" is an installation composed of 2,000 brass leaves suspended from the ceiling, as if falling, and two arrays of drawings by non-artists depicting maternal family trees that go back “only" nine generations (while paternal trees are more deeply rooted in the past). A calligraphic wall painting by Nugamishi, painted onsite during the opening party, is flanked by a video of the artist painting on glass in a landscape — in oil, not oil paint.

In the galleries are smaller artworks, with videos given their own space, not quite dark enough for optimal effect, but safety first. Ayman Yossri Dayban relives his adolescent years in “Maharem,” a series of assemblages, silkscreened movie posters of favorite movies laminated to tissue boxes that function as minimalist rectangles with slots, unlike the gold and velvet ones favored by Saudis; maharem denotes not only tissues, but also close relatives. Ahaad Alamoudi’s MTV-ish video "teens warwar" expresses the changing values of the younger generation, with its young male protagonist dancing in Sufi style and singing about material goods (to a repurposed Bob Marley "No Woman No Cry”). Images of cars and boats descend. It’s a far cry from the artist's stately, romantic colorized photo of the Arab tribal chieftain, Auda Ibu Tayib, whom Westerners know through Anthony Quinn’s depiction in the film, "Lawrence of Arabia.”

Nuanced examinations of Arab culture can be found in Njoud Alambari’s video of schoolgirls playing beneath a wall mural of religious proscriptions. Abdulnasser Gharem’s conceptual art uses the rubber stamp as metaphor. Aljan Gharem’s video and photos of a mosque, replete with dome and minaret, fabricated from steel fencing, read as both shelter and confinement. Rashed al Shashai’s Swiss Roll dessert made from rolled-up rugs is witty, and his stunning faux-Gothic arched windows, with their hallucinogenic patterning, is not stained glass at all but plastic colanders. Shafer al Shehri presents god’s-eye-view color photographs of massed worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Riyadh. And Dana Awartiani’s beautiful and meditative abstractions are embodiments of dhekir, remembrance of god, in which minimalism meets mysticism.

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