Hamza Serafi is dipping his toes in the waters of self-expression in Saudi Arabia where criticizing authorities is unthinkable, and the censoring of art and media is considered the norm.
But the artist is pushing boundaries and is one of the 22 Saudis featured in an exhibit called “We need to talk”, a public exhibition of 50 contemporary pieces of art, organized by Edge of Arabia.
Nader, one of the organizers of the exhibition, explains how the artwork on display show prevailing conditions in the country.
“This painting by Serafi called ‘Bed of the World’ reflects how people use the globe in the wrong way. The more they use it in the wrong way, the more warnings show up. In Australia, for example, it shows us the way energy is excessively used. There are problems in Russia with the elections. In the Arab world, there are demonstrations and re-elections. In Saudi Arabia, it’s the need for positive dialogue without protests. In Africa, it’s about buried toxic waste. In South America, it’s about gangs and drugs.”
Artists in the kingdom are discovering creative loopholes to voice their opinions on a wide range of issues.
The exhibit has highlighted some developments that have been underway, as guide Jehan Mahmoud points out.
“I like the painting behind me because it represents women in general and shines the spotlight on the role of Saudi women in society. The artist has shown women in various roles in his photographs, as mothers, diplomats, film directors, photographers, artists and computer engineers.”
Another artist, Ahmad Angawi, created an atomic structure of microphones which he had placed in various parts of Jeddah, allowing people to record messages. Visitors could hear such messages through his installation, although not all made the cut, indicating the challenge of free expression in a society that is slowly opening up.
Nader – an organizer of the exhibit
Jehan Mahmoud – exhibition guide