By Wided Khadraoui
This space is a modest attempt to help further cultivate, develop and engage with the art scene in Riyadh. It will be my regular compilation of the thoughtful, complex, beautiful and infuriating. This comes from a genuine spirit of inquiry.
Marwah Al Mugait’s short film, “Oudah” is the crux of the entire exhibition, Sigh. “Oudah” commands a viewer’s attention without relying on normal narrative devices. The video embodies the exhibition’s complex and multilayered exploration of reconciliation and healing.
The installation piece showcases sequences of an individual floating underwater; disconnection from the blurry footage forces the audience to examine the human body’s aesthetic dimensions.
The video, projected in a water tank set up in the empty and dimly lit gallery space provides a vaguely ominous context for the entire exhibition’s tone.
Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to scale Mount Everest, is featured in the video. The womb-like sound track in the video installation helps fortify the exhibition’s almost foreboding tone. Moharrak is a metaphor for healing in the film; out of focus but still unavoidable. The atmospheric video appeals to the concept of the exhibition of exploration and healing.
Al Mugait’s work is reminiscent of the Japanese artist, Tadasu Takamine, whose artwork Water Level and Organ Sound is currently on display in the Yokohama Museum of Art. Takamine’s work is notoriously strong with controversial statements. Al Mugait’s muted video installation utilizes the same medium in a more subtle way, to evocatively play with fragility, finding its potency in its starkness.
Stills of captured motions from “Oudah” make up another component of the exhibition. Eight acrylic prints of stills taken from the video are mounted on the wall. The prints highlight the element of obscurity in the video and further the concept of anonymity. “It will be ok, it will be ok;” with the human figure lifelessly floating in the water, the edges of the figure are murky, evoking an ephemeral sense of sentimentality.
Despite the technical complexity of the water tank piece, the mirror artwork, Secrets to God, in its overall simplicity is arguably the most dramatic piece. It takes over an entire gallery wall, measuring more than 300 centimeters across and 250 centimeters up. The mirror piece, whose embodiment of self-reflection is both blasé as well as confronting, is stupefying in its enormous scale.
The art pieces are organized sparsely, taking advantage of the gallery’s white space to force the viewer’s full concentration. Also dispersed throughout the gallery is inclusion of the artist’s own poetic texts, which also act as exhibited objects. It is Al Mugait’s straddling of not only two worlds but also two different modes of communicating: verbal and visual. The poetic texts are a superfluous diversion but the exposed vulnerability is an appreciated element to the overall exhibition. Experimental and avant-garde art in the Middle East is still relatively new and Sigh is a contemporary manifestation of the art form.