About The Work
When my grandfathers spoke to me as a child about their experience of Hajj, they told me of the physical attraction they felt towards the Ka‘ba, that they felt drawn to it by an almost magnetic pull. In the installation Mater has evoked that feeling by using tens of thousands of iron filings placed within the magnetic fields of two magnets, only the upper one of which is visible. For Mater, Magnetism also conveys one of the essential elements of Hajj, that all Muslims are considered the same in the eyes of God whether rich, poor, young or old. As such the iron filings represent a unified body of pilgrims all of whom are similarly attracted to the Ka‘ba as the centre of their world. The idea is simple and, like its central element, forcefully attractive. Ahmed Mater gives a twist to a magnet and sets in motion tens of thousands of particles of iron, a multitude of tiny satellites that forms a single swirling nimbus. Even if we have not taken part in it, we have all seen images of the Hajj, the great annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Makkah. Ahmed's black cuboid magnet is a small simulacrum of the blackdraped Ka'bah, the 'Cube', that central element of the Meccan rites. His circumambulating whirl of metallic filings mirrors in miniature the concentric tawaf of the pilgrims, their sevenfold circling of the Ka'bah. Al-Bayt al-'Atiq, the Ancient House, to give the Ka'bah another of its names, is ancient – indeed archetypal – in more than one way.
Physician turned artist, Ahmed Mater is one of the most significant cultural voices documenting and scrutinising the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Forging an ongoing, complex mapping of the Kingdom, his practice explores collective memories to uncover and record unofficial histories. The historical, geographical and topical breadth of his research-led inquiries are sharpened by the incisive actions of his conceptual works. With this scope, Mater imagines possible prognoses for a land of unprecedented religious, social, economic, and political influence.
Born in 1979, the intense conclusion to a decade of momentous economic and political upheaval, Mater witnessed a rapidly transforming society whose changes diverged into extraordinary social shifts and trenchant ideologies.
Growing up in Abha, a city in the fertile mountainous region close to the border with Yemen, his early years were geographically remote from the Kingdom’s dominant religious and administrative capitals. The perspective granted by his physical distance exposed him to the modernising world beyond the border. From this vantage, he witnessed the throes of the most seismic period in Saudi history – the Kingdom’s oil boom and the tensions between religion and power. Part of the earliest contemporary art movements in the Kingdom, with Edge of Arabia, the seminal Shatta and Mostly Visible exhibitions and then with his Jeddah pharan studio, Ahmed’s creative career has been at the forefront of the transforming Saudi cultural sector.
His life has been lived poised at intersections, tracing fracturing fault lines of vying systems: past, present and future; tradition and innovation; heritage and globalisation; religion, faith, economic prowess and modernisation.
Using photography, film, sculpture and performance, he maps, documents and analyses these changes, considering the psychological impact on the individual, the community, society, and the world.
Founded in 1990 in San Gimignano, Galleria Continua opened as the result of the initiative of three friends: Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo. Occupying a former cinema, Galleria Continua established itself and thrived in an entirely unexpected location, away from the big cities and the ultramodern urban centres, in a town – San Gimignano – steeped in history that is timeless and magnificent. In 2004, Galleria Continua began a new adventure in Beijing, China, showing contemporary Western artists in an area where they are still rarely seen. Three years later, in 2007, Galleria Continua inaugurated an intriguing new site for large-scale creations – Les Moulins – in the Parisian countryside. In 2015, Galleria Continua embarked on a new path, opening a space in La Habana, Cuba, which is devoted to cultural projects designed to overcome every frontier.