“After Illusion” Saudi Arabia Pavilion, Eiman Elgibreen, Curator, Zahrah Al Ghamdi, Artist
The pavilion curator Eiman Elgibreen, the assistant professor at the Princess Nourah University in Riyadh, says: “[Al Ghamdi] starts from a medium that recalls abandoned spaces from her childhood, and reshapes it to give it a new life by making it part of her present space, and thus her future memory… The other reason for choosing Al Ghamdi is her brilliant ability to turn traditional crafts into contemporary art without compromising on any aspect.”
“May You Live in Interesting Times”, the title of the 58th Venice Biennale brought for the first time in its 124 year history an exhibition representing 53% women solo artists. Of that historic change, the Saudi Arabia Pavilion returned to the Venice Biennale after an eight year hiatus with artist Zahrah Al Ghamdi and curator Eiman Elgibreen “After Illusion”. The country was last represented at the 2011 Biennale.
Zahrah Al Ghamdi represented her new work in the Pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the Venice Biennale 2019. She is known for her site-specific installations that are assembled using natural materials such as sand, rocks and leather. For the exhibition “After Illusion”, Al Ghamdi demonstrates the intimate tactile encounter she undergoes in the process of making the work that exhibits her master craftsmanship. The land artist starts from local leather, a medium that recalls abandoned spaces from her childhood and reshapes it in 52,000 pieces. The exhibition aims to recognize, reconnect, and revisit a feeling where one tries to explore something new but rather familiar; a step into an imaginary world created by the artist to seek comfort in her journey towards self-realization.
“After Illusion” is curated by Eiman Elgibreen, to reflect on the history of Saudi Arabia and its identity. The team is guided by Project Advisor, Nada Shabout. The title “After Illusion” is inspired by a line from an ancient Arabic poem written by Zuhayr bin Abī Sūlmā (b.520 – d.609), in which he described his struggle to recognize what was “home” after being away for twenty years. Only ‘illusion’ helped the eighty-year-old poet recognize it – a state of mind that we fight during our search for the ‘truth’ but somehow it paves a path to it. Old Arabic poetry is cherished by many Saudis as an important substitute source of ‘truth’, inspiration and a resort for those who seek assurance.
Eiman Elgibreen states: “Saudis have long been living in interesting times. Their complicated sociocultural history has forced them, and others, to be seen as interesting. There is a sense of lost cultural and historical agency due to the hegemony of global discourse. Their significance has been encapsulated within two narrow historical moments: the emergence of Islam and the discovery of oil, leaving them confused on how to perceive their history outside of those moments, particularly with the absence of visual evidence.”
“After Illusion” is an exhibition that offers an attempt to meditate on the value of ‘uncertainty’ in opening new doors to self-awareness and transformation.”