By Charlotte Schriwer
17 May 2017
‘Attar’ by Shaweesh
Art, as a subject, has been central to contentious debates for centuries in the more conservative realms of Islamic doctrine, such as Wahhabism. In Saudi Arabia, for example, staunchly conservative Saudi clerics deem art- other than floral, geometric or calligraphic patterns- to be forbidden; the notion of art can only be found in the creation by God, and thus any attempt to ‘imitate’ His work by a human being is considered blasphemous. Of course, this does not mean that art has been lacking in Islam; far from this, traditional Islamic art, such as that of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Mamluks and Ottomans, is famous for its beautiful, complex and globally diverse craftsmanship, from as far West as Spain, to as far East as Indonesia.
In the last decade, however, contemporary art in Saudi Arabia has bloomed not only into a profitable international market, but moreover, it has been the vessel for broaching social and political dialogue that has hitherto been hidden in the lockers of censorship by a deeply conservative state that bases its social fabric on one of the most conservative forms of Islam.