LONDON - Some influential voices have come together to start the London MENA season with a bang. Edge of Arabia, in partnership with Ayyam Gallery and Akim Monet/Side by Side Gallery are currently presenting a first solo show by Abdul Nasser Gharem whose fame and importance as a Saudi artist is well established. His work has been shown at many prestigious locations – at the Institut du Monde Arabe’s 25 Years of Arab Art, at the Venice Biennale, and at every other Gulf art fair – not to mention the last big Edge of Arabia London show in 2012.
Edge of Arabia, Back Courtyard fluorescent panel
A pioneering, self-educated artist who was formerly an army man, Gharem consistently challenges existing modes of artistic practice in the isolated, rapidly-changing Saudi landscape. This particular exhibition brings together the different types of works that have catapulted him to public attention: photography, video, painting, sculpture and performance, giving us a flavour of the artist’s scope of work.
For me, the simplicity and directness of Gharem’s messaging is what lends such impact to his works. Who could forget the great, gaping Capital Dome in the 2012 London Edge of Arabia show, with its uneasy juxtapositions? Or the Stamps, which say so much by saying so little? Forging a path as a conceptual artist in Saudi Arabia must have its challenges. But Gharem has developed an audience and a following by carefully ensuring a respect for history and the relationships with authority. He has also taken his work to the streets in order to reach out to the public, and been fiercely committed to education and the establishment of an artist-led foundation in Riyadh. Held in numerous private and public collections, Gharem is currently one of the highest-selling living Arab artists.
Abdulnasser Gharem, The Stamp, Moujaz, 2013
Last night, an art-loving crowd convened at Edge of Arabia’s hip new space in Battersea to celebrate the opening of Gharem’s show. Artists, art patrons, curators and collectors enjoyed not just a preview but also a feast of a dinner, plus a musical performance and a comedy routine in a setting that was unmistakably Middle Eastern yet trendy and avant-garde. We have clearly not seen the last of what Edge of Arabia conjures every time it puts on a show. The creativity goes from strength to strength, and from one idea to another.