RIYADH- On December 8th of last year, Lakum Artspace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, opened its doors to the public with its inaugural exhibition Prognosis: 1979-2019 by multidisciplinary artist Ahmed Mater. The exhibition was curated by world-renowned, and prominent New York-based writer and curator, Sara Raza.

Saudi artist Ahmed Mater at the opening of Prognosis: 1979-2019 at Lakum Artspace in Riyadh City, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

Mater started his career in the medical field as a physician. He later switched to an artistic practice, where he documents observations of the cultural and social shifts witnessed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the past decades. Mater connects his artistic observations with traces of his years in medicine, drawing a distinguishable pattern in his approach to both fields through research-led practices and aesthetic creativity. With an extensive application of research-based methods and a multitude of aesthetic tools, Mater binds his memories with the drastic change of his homeland and universalizes his experience with the audience. 

Visitor at Prognosis: 1979-2019 viewing Evolution of Man by Mater, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

In his latest exhibition Prognosis: 1979-2019, Mater showcases the story of Saudi Arabia’s development from the year 1979 to date; measuring it against his own life’s timeline. His work channels an unorthodox take on Saudi Arabia specifically, and the Gulf region in general; delving into the country’s history in the oil industry, religion and societal change. With 40 years of disputes and alterations in the Kingdom, the Riyadh-based creative visualizes the metamorphosis of the country and its influence on his childhood, upbringing and shaping as an artist. Through four curatorial pillars, Mater’s collective personal archive in Prognosis meshes with the major historical changes prominent in the Kingdom over the last four decades. 


Ahmed Mater, Allah O Akbar II, 2012, Plastic toy gun caps glued together into sheets, 150×150cm, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

A collection of Mater’s work falls under the subheading of Coding, these pieces present a framework combining cultural influences from the East and West. In Allahu Akbar (2012), Mater’s wall artwork uses toy gun caps which are considered one of the most popular elements linked to growing up in 20th-century Saudi Arabia. Mater’s previous work on Cowboy Code (2012) follows the same method, highlighting the Western cowboy movie rhetoric Mater grew up with. The adaptation of an Eastern approach to a widely spread Western phenomenon emphasises Mater’s bridging between colonial footprints left behind, and a Saudi Arabian claim of the desert. With this dynamic in mind, Mater proceeds to envision the Bedouin journey setting heritage into stone. 


Ahmed Mater, Desert Meeting, 2021, Motion photographs on cathode-ray TV’s, 130x60x43cm, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

Later into the Prognosis compilation, we move to Proxies, a set of artwork in the exhibition highlighting the complex roles proxies played, such as wars and political and historical events, in shaping modern Saudi Arabia. Desert Meeting is a photographic film-based installation using cathode-ray television technology as a marker of the 1980’s period in the Kingdom. The title of this artwork section refers to the third-party political conflicts and “proxy wars” that occurred between the 1970s and the 1990s, such as the Soviet-Afghan conflict, which later presented a domino set of diplomatic changes in the Arab world. The interaction of polarized participants in such disagreements inspired Mater to develop Desert Meeting; a series of 5 CRTs each displaying a monumental moment in history. We see the first discovery of oil wells and the foundation of Aramco before our eyes, unearthing within a few minutes a point in time that started the economic development of Saudi Arabia. Mater’s choice of display format touches on the media’s contribution to the scale of these events and their influence on the public witnessing them. 


Ahmed Mater, Mihrab, 2021, Walnut wood, Islamic carving, and security gate, 260x96x50cm, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace. 

Coming to the 1990s and early 2000s, Surveillance uses architecture to relay the societal impact on the Muslim community starting in the early 21st century and its ramifications in security policies. Mihrab utilizes intricate wood carvings of Islamic patterns and covers it on the outside of a technologically advanced security gate, speaking for the increased monitoring measures targeting the Middle East after 2001. The installation represents what the start of a data and cybersecurity revolution appeared to be, looking at an individual as an object of inspection and a possible threat; blurring the line between invasive activities and implementations of a previous foreign policy. Here, the persona is seen to “walk” in through barriers, implying a version of free movement with a disguise of deceitful data acquisition.


Ahmed Mater, Mehrab and Illumination (Sattelite and Radar), 2021, Lithography print, gold leaf and mixed media on archival Arche paper, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

Lastly, Prognosis closes with the final chapter, Whistleblowing. With the exhibition entirely walking viewers through subtle and explicit “truths”, the act of whistleblowing is redefined past its meaning of exposure and diverts into a subjective area where a multitude of facts could be possible. In Illuminations, Mater collaborates with a Tazhib art expert and ties the Ottoman influence of its nature with traces of Persian design from the ancient fables of Kalila wa Dimna. The original animal graphics are then replaced with Mater’s rendering of medical X-rays and machines such as satellites and cameras from preceding works. With an interplay of various mediums from different eras, Mater celebrates the equipment of the present with an appreciation of past scriptures and techniques where myth meets reality. 

Visitors viewing Traces by Ahmed Mater at Prognosis opening, image courtesy of Lakum Artspace.

Lakum Artspace’s inauguration with Ahmed Mater first solo exhibition in the Kingdom invites its spectators to a journey that taps into personalized memories and encounters of Saudi Arabia. The exhibition lays out a relatable story on how history is seen and remembered through a generational scope. Mater’s exposition presents a revolutionary step into archival artwork and coaxes the significance of historical documentation with a contemporary eye. The series visualizes a relatable shared experience with residents in Saudi Arabia, resurfacing various versions of memory across a 40-year timespan. Prognosis: 1979-2019 is ongoing at Lakum Artspace through February 8th.

Catch artmejo’s special tour of the exhibition on the Prognosis highlight on Instagram.

Lakum Artspace | Ahmed Mater | Sara Raza