January 22, 2024

Saudi conceptual artist Meshal Al-Obaidallah explores Arab culture and identity.

Saudi conceptual artist Meshal Al-Obaidallah discusses his explorations of Arab culture and identity

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Saudi conceptual artist Meshal Al-Obaidallah, at 32 years old, passionately explores a central question in his art: “How can we preserve our rapidly evolving culture before it’s forgotten, especially in fast-changing Saudi Arabia?” He shared this insight with Arab News, emphasizing the importance of remembering amidst swift changes.

Born in the US and now residing in Riyadh, Al-Obaidallah focuses on what he terms ‘collective amnesia’ – aspects of culture rapidly fading due to swift societal changes. This unique perspective distinguishes him from other artists who often emphasize collective memory.

Al-Obaidallah experienced cultural shock upon returning to Saudi Arabia from the US, surprised by the Kingdom’s rapid modernization. His artistic practice weaves together digital art, internet themes, pop culture, and local elements. He aims to archive and document narratives in innovative ways.

Meshal Al-Obaidallah: Blending Tradition and Technology in Saudi Art

In his “Shimagh Series,” Al-Obaidallah reimagined the traditional Khaleeji men’s headdress, infusing it with vibrant colors to comment on Arab multiculturalism. This work probes different facets of Arab identity and its contemporary significance.

His ongoing interest in object experimentation, memory, and preservation was evident in a 2023 group exhibition at the Saudi Arabia Museum of Contemporary Art. This installation, resembling a library, featured cassettes, VHS tapes, and postcards, emblematic of communication in the ’80s and ’90s. To modernize the exhibit, Al-Obaidallah included QR Codes for downloading “IMG_0220,” a short video from his old iPhone, highlighting the ephemeral nature of online media.

This installation, with its iridescent sheen, was designed to immerse visitors in an ‘Internet-like’ environment. Unlike typical museums, visitors could interact with the items, embodying Al-Obaidallah’s intent for a dynamic, engaging experience.

Al-Obaidallah believes in balancing digital and physical media, seeing them as complementary. He views today’s social media as an evolution of traditional communication, accelerated and widespread. Reflecting this, the team distributed over 1,000 exhibition booklets and 3,000 postcards, mirroring online sharing practices.

Post-exhibition, Saudi conceptual artist Meshal Al-Obaidallah hopes to take his project global, underscoring its universal appeal. He continues to distribute materials worldwide, emphasizing that the project’s essence lies in the act of sharing, transcending physical boundaries.

Source: Arab News

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