The Middle East Institute (MEI) in partnership with Art Jameel is pleased to host internationally acclaimed Saudi artist Ahmed Mater for a discussion about the impact of his art in presenting new perspectives of Saudi Arabia and its role in shaping fresh narratives reflecting the growing aspirations of the Kingdom's youth.
He will be joined in conversation by scholar Kristin Diwan, an expert on youth activism in the Gulf, and British artist Stephen Stapleton, director of the arts organization Culturunners, who founded the Saudi arts collective, Edge of Arabia, with Mater in 2003.
The panel launches a series of public events highlighting Mater's groundbreaking work in video and photography which will be shown in his first solo U.S. exhibition, Symbolic Cities, opening at the Freer|Sackler Gallery on Saturday, March 19.
Mater's work explores the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of globalization, consumerism, and transformation with a focus on the changes underway in cities like Mecca and Riyadh.
The conversation will be moderated by MEI Senior Vice President Kate Seelye.
This event is supported by Art Jameel. An initiative of Community Jameel, Art Jameel fosters and promotes contemporary art and creative entrepreneurship across the MENAT region. A light lunch will be served before the start of the event.
Saudi Arabian Contemporary Artist
Ahmed Mater, born and raised in southern Saudi Arabia and trained as a medical doctor, has been a practicing artist since the early 1990s. Mater's work grapples with the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of globalization, consumerism, and transformation. Using photography and video, Mater explores collective memory and unofficial histories behind contemporary Saudi Arabian sociopolitical life. In 2003, Mater founded Al- Meftaha Arts Village in Abha and co-founded Edge of Arabia, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to dialogue and exchange between the Middle East and the West through exhibitions, publications, and public programming. His Freer|Sackler exhibit, Symbolic Cities, presents the extraordinary transformation of Mecca and the artists’ visual and aural journeys observing economic and urban change in Saudi Arabia. Mater’s work has been widely exhibited around the world, including at The Mori Museum of Art in Japan, the Sharjah Biennale in UAE, Home Works 6 at Ashkal Alwan in Lebanon, and Galleria Continua’s Le Moulin in France, among others. Additionally, his work is in the collection of the British Museum in London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Most recently, Mater debuted his 100 Found Objects at the Sharjah Art Foundation.
Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute
Kristin Diwan is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute. She is an expert in comparative politics and international relations with a particular focus on Arab and Islamist politics. Her current projects concern Gulf political economy, the politics of sectarianism, generational change, and the evolution of Islamism in the GCC. Her analyses of Gulf affairs have appeared in many publications, among them the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy. Diwan was previously an assistant professor at the American University School of International Service where she teaches in an adjunct capacity. She has also been a visiting scholar at George Washington University and Georgetown University. From 2013-2014 she was a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Hariri Center for the Middle East where she published on youth movements and participated in the Strategic Dialogue for a New U.S.-Gulf Partnership. Diwan received her Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.
Director, Culturunners, and Co-Founder, Saudi Arts Collective, Edge of Arabia
Stephen Stapleton is a British artist and curator as well as the founding director of Edge of Arabia and CultureRunners, platforms for cultural dialogue between the Middle East and the West. After encountering the artistic community in Abha, Saudi Arabia during a trip across the Middle East in 2003, he founded Edge of Arabia, an initiative committed to improving understanding of Saudi art through exhibitions, publications, and educational programs. In 2014, he assisted with the launching of CultureRunners, an unconventional model of cultural exchange which empowers and mobilizes international artists to tell stories and create art across physical and psychological borders. Stapleton has a degree in fine art and philosophy from the University of Brighton, and has exhibited his work in Tehran, Amman, London, Oslo, and New York. He has published several books related to the Middle East, including Offscreen: Four Young Artists in the Middle East, and has won several awards for his work in the field of intercultural education.
Kate Seelye (Moderator)
Senior Vice President, Middle East Institute
Kate Seelye is senior vice president of the Middle East Institute (MEI), where she oversees communications, outreach, and programs, including the institution’s growing arts and culture program. She also serves on the board of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University. Prior to joining MEI in 2009, Seelye worked as a radio and television journalist covering the Arab world from 2000-2009 from her base in Beirut, Lebanon. She reported on the region for National Public Radio, the PRI/BBC show, “The World,” PBS TV’s “Frontline/World” documentary program, and the renowned Channel Four British investigative television news series, “Unreported World.” Prior to that she was a producer for the PBS “Newshour” based in Los Angeles, CA, and also worked at the award-winning business program, Marketplace Radio.