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MAWD’s co-founder James White speaks to Zahrah Alghamdi about her artistic expression and inspiration drawn from traditional architecture and natural landscapes.

As MAWD continues to grow across regions, one in particular has been especially pivotal for us in the past year, the Middle East. With the demand of ultra luxe branded residences and immersive hospitality experiences at the forefront of its development, it is also a hub of cultural ingenuity, where local artists and institutions are thriving into world class talent.

Some of the globe's foremost art institutions, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Art Foundation, Qatar Museums, Jameel Art Centre in Dubai, and Hayy Jameel in Jeddah, find their home in the Middle East. These establishments play a pivotal role in elevating the region's artists, such as Zahrah Alghamdi who is recognised as one of the leading women artists in Saudi Arabia and named as one of the most prominent Middle Eastern artists by Architectural Digest.

Zahrah’s work is also part of the permanent collections of institutions across the world, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the British Museum, London, and Art Jameel Foundation, Dubai.

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Image courtesy of Zahrah

With many artists, they seek inspiration from multiple sources; we understand that much of yours have been driven by the dynamic changes happening in the region. Could you speak about the meaning and perspective on this?

The transformative currents sweeping through Saudi Arabia are a profound source of inspiration for my art. This landscape, where ancient traditions intersect with the pulse of modernity, offers a fertile ground for creative exploration. My work seeks to capture this flux, portraying the resilience of cultural identity amidst rapid changes. It's a dialogue between the enduring legacy of the past and the unfolding narrative of the future.

Could you tell us more about some of the cultural traditions of Saudi Arabia, and how you integrate a key focus on Saudi crafts throughout your unique industrial-esque art.

Saudi Arabia's cultural heritage, with its rich tapestry of crafts such as the intricate Al-Qatt Al-Asiri paintings and the traditional art of Sadu weaving, provides a deep well of inspiration for my work. By blending these age-old practices with a modern, industrial aesthetic, I aim to forge a connection between the kingdom's rich past and its dynamic present. This synthesis not only pays homage to traditional Saudi crafts but also reinterprets them, offering a contemporary perspective that resonates with today's audiences.

How does the intersection of various cultures, languages, and religions in Middle Eastern art contribute to the diverse and dynamic art scene across the region?

The Middle East's rich mosaic of cultures, languages, and religions creates a vibrant tapestry of artistic expression, with Saudi Arabia playing a pivotal role in this cultural confluence. My art draws upon this diversity, aiming to reflect the complex interplay of influences that shape the region's identity. This celebration of diversity underscores the unity in variety, showcasing how different cultural strands can weave together to create a compelling narrative of coexistence and creativity.

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After Illusion at The National Pavilion of Saudi Arabia, Venice

Your artwork is not only distinctive but some of your installations are of considerable size, could you walk us through the process and timelines for some of your pieces.

Creating large-scale installations is a journey of transformation—from concept to physical reality. It begins with a vision, nurtured and refined through sketches and models, before moving into the planning stage, where considerations of material, scale, and interaction with space are paramount. Fabrication can extend from several months to over a year, a period in which the piece slowly comes to life, inviting viewers into a constructed world that merges imagination with tangible form.

What do you think is driving young artists to develop more grassroots initiatives in the region, and do you think there has been an increase in the incubation for new talent?

In Saudi Arabia, a renaissance of cultural and artistic expression is underway, driven by young artists eager to explore and express their unique voices. This burgeoning movement is supported by an ecosystem that values and cultivates creativity, from art hubs to government initiatives like Vision 2030, which emphasizes cultural development. This environment not only fosters artistic innovation but also ensures that emerging talents have the platforms and support they need to thrive.

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Birth of a Place (2021)

What do you believe is unique about Saudi Arabia's art scene? How does the young creativity there compare to other global art center's around the world?

Saudi Arabia's art scene is unique in its synthesis of deep-rooted cultural heritage and a forward-looking vision. This blend creates a dynamic platform for young creatives, who are not only embracing traditional motifs and techniques but are also experimenting with contemporary forms and themes. Compared to other global art center's, Saudi Arabia offers a distinct narrative—one that is deeply intertwined with its cultural reawakening, making it a fertile ground for artistic exploration and innovation.

How do you view art as a tool to better understand our rapidly evolving world? What are the bigger life questions that you aim to explore through your work?

Art serves as a mirror, reflecting the complexities and nuances of our evolving world. Through my work, I aim to delve into questions of identity, belonging, and transformation, exploring how we navigate the space between tradition and modernity. Art invites us to contemplate our place within this continuum, offering insights into not only who we are but also who we aspire to be.