Sculptural oasis: why the giants of art made for Jeddah

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Sculptural oasis: why the giants of art made for Jeddah
Tahliah Fountain (Desalination Pipes 1) by Mustafa Senbel
Sculptural oasis: why the giants of art made for Jeddah
Tahliah Fountain (Desalination Pipes 1) by Mustafa Senbel

In the 21st century art is moving eastwards – literally – as masterpiece after masterpiece is sold to the oil-rich state Qatar, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi nears completion in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates. Huge and imaginative investments are turning these small wealthy nations on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula into the Manhattans of the middle east, brimming over with Cezannes and Gauguins and perhaps – although the rumours were denied – Picasso’s $179 million Women of Algiers (O).

But while Qatar and the UAE glitter with modernity, their neighbour Saudi Arabia seems mired in regressive ideas from the middle ages. It gets in the news for flogging the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, taking women to court for driving a car and nurturing the extreme Wahhabist religious ideology adopted by Isis.

Yet, 40 years earlier, the Saudi city of Jeddah was a pioneer investor in the shock of the new. As Ahmed Mater’s photographs in the book Sculptures of Jeddah show, this ancient city near Mecca is home to one of the world’s most spectacular arrays of open-air modern sculpture. Perhaps aware of the kudos its neighbours are getting from their Guggenheim branches and skyscrapers, Jeddah has just restored these modernist marvels and moved a selection into a new seaside sculpture park. []

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