Athr is a contemporary art project space and gallery that represents Middle Eastern and international artists, as well as acting as a platform for creative experimentation. Every year it hosts multiple exhibitions, displaying both international and Saudi contemporary art. This month, Athr is presenting Saudi artists Ghada Al-Rabea’s first solo exhibition, titled Sidi Shahin. Ghada tells Vogue Arabia that the name of the exhibition comes from a tradition in Medina that celebrates the upcoming Holy Month of Ramadan, when kids sing songs and knock on neighbors doors asking for candy. “I always thought of art as just oil paintings. But then when I was visiting Dubai a few years ago I saw such a variation of media being used and it made me realise that there are endless amounts of materials that make up art available to me”.
When asked about her inspiration behind her pieces, Ghada says, “I started to get inspired by candy companies, specifically their wrappers. They are constantly releasing exciting new patterns, colors, and prints which are essentially an art in themselves. I told my husband about my decision to begin using the candy wrappers as my medium and with his support I began doing it. It has been eight years now and I continue to expand my skills today.”
The Medina-born artist depicts Saudi daily life through her art by successfully altering original artworks into her own with the added twist of her go-to media, candy wrappers. Having prepared for this exhibition since 2014, Ghada explains that she got ready for it by picking the best original paintings that she feels most connected to and then looked at them through arab eyes in order to transform them with an arabic touch. The classic “The Son of Man” painting depicts a man in a suit transforming into a woman in an abaya and was created using Mentos and Munchies wrappers. Van Gogh is in a Umma and Frida Kahlo wears a traditional Hejazi head dress, fusing together classic with contemporary and the East with the West.
To ensure that the exhibition properly captures the vision of what Sidi Shahin is all about, Afia H. Bin Taleb, the woman behind the gallery, will be embracing the atmosphere of the traditional Sidi Shahini festivities by giving out candy. Afia wants to make sure that Ghada’s soul is portrayed through the ambiance — it should be fun and exciting, as opposed to having to take art so seriously. Speaking on the Saudi art scene Ghada says, “I believe it has really developed a lot from a few years ago. Art academies are still uncommon, which is why I never attended an art school. I learnt art through a Russian teacher back in Medina; she was my first and last teacher. From there I developed my art skills through the internet.” As for her next step in her artistic journey, she adds, “Over the next few years I want to expand my skills and step out of my comfort zone by experimenting with different media”.
Ghada Al-Rabea’s solo exhibition at Athr takes place from April 30th until June 1st in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia