Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?
Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.
‘I was supposed to go to LA, but I came here to Riyadh to fix my visa and then the lockdown happened. So, I was far away from my kids, from everything. It taught me a lot of things. This was the first time I had been by myself. In the beginning it was tough, but then I started liking it. It gave me some time to reflect and to go through the stuff that I had been collecting.
I thought that this was a good time to push myself, to think outside the box. I wondered what I could do during this time to keep active and make things, so I thought of this idea while I was looking at things that I have, remembering the works that I did.
I wanted to capture this moment and with the lack of materials I decided to challenge myself by doing art works with whatever I had available in front of me. I did a series of collages that describes my diary as an artist in confinement/interesting times.
One image caught my attention while I was going through everything and at the exact same time the same image was shown live on TV: Mecca and the Kaaba completely empty. Thirty years ago, in 1979 the siege of Mecca happened.
I had thought and hoped that I would never see this image again – the sight of the Great Mosque completely empty as it was under siege by terrorists.
As an eight-year-old kid that image had always stuck in my mind, and I later made an artwork out of it. Ironically, or sadly, the same image, was repeated this year and for a longer period of time: but now the Great Mosque was empty because of Covid.
So, now we are seeing another form of terrorism: this pandemic. It’s something that we can’t really fight; even science couldn’t find anything to fight this virus.
In my other job, at the Ministry of Culture, we came up with a new initiative called “From Within”, which was an open call for all artists in Saudi to present works that they have been doing with whatever material they had for an exhibition later this year.
I liked the idea because I initiated it and I wanted to do the same, but of course I am not going participate as it wouldn’t be fair. So, I started to do this with whatever material I had at home.
I am a multimedia kind of person. I like to venture into everything. I used to paint a lot but for the past three years I decided I wanted to invent from things, so I am mainly looking for found objects, and telling the story of those objects. My main studio is in my house.
I had another studio because installations need space. When the pandemic started and I had time, I went to my old studio and, since I was in the process of moving to LA, I went to collect things that I might need for research. During the lockdown I started going to my painting studio and started to paint again. I wanted to do something intentionally with whatever I had.
I used fabric that I had in my studio, glue and a printer, and stuff that I printed on like transparent paper, paper, and scotch tape. This is exactly the material that I used, nothing else. So, it is images from my phone, printed on paper and then transferred with a transfer pen or scotch tape.
I did cut outs as collages and in a bigger size. So hopefully in the future, when this pandemic is over, I will be producing work properly with proper material and proper things but in the same line of work.
During the pandemic I started reading about the Works Progress Administration, an agency created in the USA during the great depression of the 1930s to support artists. Some major artists, like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock emerged from it.
This happened after the war, and what we have here is almost like a war against Covid. I wanted to find out how can we learn or do something that can take us out of this pandemic or war against Covid.
We have to get used to the new normal: everything we were used to, whether in art or in life in general, has definitely changed.
My note to myself or the world to be opened 15 years from now would be to never take things for granted in any way. Even if you have a problem and it gets resolved, don’t take life for granted. Be aware that life is not long, and life is not necessarily great.
This was an eye opener, you know. I am 48 and when I was eight this event happened and now after 40 years it happened again. The idea of the Great Mosque captured or under siege is something you can’t get off your mind, but having it repeated again for a longer period of time, in this case to protect people, so actually the other way around, is unbelievable. Nobody thought that this would happen.’
‘I don’t know if this is being optimistic or pessimistic. In brief, my note would say: 2020, please don’t ever come back.’
Born in 1971 in Riyadh, KSA, where he lives and works today, Sultan bin Fahad pursued atypical background studies in business administration, which set the tone for his distinctive practice. Bin Fahad considers art as a journey between intangible memories and tangible cultures. Throughout his abstract paintings, sculptures and installations Bin Fahad’s central theme and object of concern remains spirituality and the material culture of Mecca in his native Saudi Arabia.
Reinterpreting histories, stories and narratives with the use of material cultures, Bin Fahad transposes these narratives to contemporary cultures as a reassessment and personal take on Islamic Art. Themes central to his practice revolve around repetition, sound and movement, using symbols that derive from Islam. In his ongoing photographic series, Bin Fahad invites the viewer to reflect in unconventional ways on the space between human interaction, faith, and reconstructed memorabilia(s). Connecting past to present, his stories evoke multi-layered journey(s) between the latent relationship of what is remembered and what remains silently contained within the corporeal. Most recently, he has combined traditional metalwork with architecture by sculpting a series of minarets, invoking man’s relationship with Islamic cities. Bin Fahad has presented a solo exhibition, Qounot, at Alàan gallery in Riyadh, KSA (2016), The Red Palace in Riyadh, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi (2019), and participated in several group exhibitions including: Contemporary Art 014, Madina Art Centre, Madina, KSA (2018); Vantage Point, Sharjah Art Foundation (2018); Contemporary photography from the Arab world, American University Museum, Katzen Art Center, Washington DC (2018); Dreams and Memory, Athr Gallery, Jeddah, KSA (2016). Sultan bin Fahad’s work was acquired by the Palestine Museum in 2016.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.