For a while, Riyadhis only knew him as the anonymous artist behind the #Allah art discovered all around the city. His works trended on Twitter, some attributing them to a Syrian refugee; others stirred up a rumor of a man embittered by the system. All the stories were laid to rest when Abdullah Al Othman went out with his very first solo exhibition in the city entitled, “The Question” at the Alaan Art Space.
As an emerging Saudi artist and poet, Abdullah’s contribution to the local art scene is far from traditional. His work, which has been exhibited in Italy and Jeddah, are highly conceptual and speaks of his own intellectual inquiry about the world. He embraces the art philosophy of Marcel Duchamp, “Art is Life” and indeed, one would see such influences in his pieces.
I went to Alaan Art Space on a Saturday afternoon to meet with Abdullah. He agreed to give me a tour of his exhibit together with his good friend and translator, Morabet Fahad. At the onset of our encounter, this 28-year old Najdi had an elusive but charming demeanor to him. I found myself submerged in an insightful conversation with a man who believes that asking the right questions is more important than getting the answers.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, I’m sure everyone would like to know, who is Abdullah Al Othman?
Talking about the self is tricky for me. (Laughs) I’m not trying to be a mystery man or an everyday misunderstood artist; I simply cannot define who I am. I just know that I am Abdullah Al Othman and I was born with mesmerizing artistic expression.
How would you describe yourself as an artist then? What medium do you use in your work?
When possible, I try to take less from the form and focus on the core and consider myself the medium of art itself. I use every tool my hands can get a hold of. This is how my artistic process allows me to create. I try to fathom what is before me and express through what is present.
What do you plan to achieve with your work? What impact do you want to create in the art movement in Saudi Arabia?
My goal in art is to find out more about life; a better life. I am a close friend of Duchamp, who influenced me in this belief. It’s not about searching for messages to express my work or being the messenger. I want to capture life in a way that is raw and invites people to think deeply. I want to share emotions and motion, running away and joy. I draw Inspirations from a missed note of a musician, an explosion or from a direct clear question.
Speaking of questions, what is “the question” in your exhibition?
It’s the question of life. It is a layer of different questions I ponder and so does everyone else. The main piece from which this exhibition revolves around is called, “the Question.” It is a video collection of interviews I did with different people. As you will find, it’s not just one question I asked, it’s an intimate conversation about God and their belief, attempting to capture their reaction and true feelings.
After this rather intriguing dialogue you’ve created for your exhibition, did you get the answers you were looking for?
If you consider more questions to be answers, then yes. The questions that emerged as I moved from one inquiry to another are something I value more than the actual clarity of answers. There is something limiting and definite about having an answer, I would rather keep on asking and creating.
What’s your favorite work from this collection?
I would have to say the Pepsi*, I jumped into the abyss and survived.
What’s next for Abdullah Al Othman?
I am not the kind of person who thinks of the future. I can tell you that I will keep on marching and striving to express myself and my thoughts.