“SECTION 11”, Rashed Alshshai’s solo exhibition in Hafiz Gallery, was one of the most memorable exhibits I have ever attended. I’m not talking about the individual artworks as much as I’m talking about the whole concept–every single piece was a story related to another. It used contemporary artwork to talk about the traditions and ideas that changed in our area. It forced me to go back and research in order to refresh my memory about the history of societal change in Saudi Arabia.
For example how religious misinterpretation and the way people think take over everything. The whole way of life changed as a result of it, starting with people’s behavior. One of the things I was curious about: how to take over peoples’ minds and control them by using religion and the current situations of people. For example, the young men who felt the world had let them down. They lowered their expectations of life and their minds became vulnerable to anything. The idea of “winning” something drove them to choose death instead of working hard to reach their goal.
I remembered a book I read previously that was written by Dr AbdulAziz Al Khider. The book analyzes the changes that happened in the way people think here. It was one of the best books I have ever read about the societal changes in Saudi Arabia-maybe I will talk about it in another post one day. The exhibit took me back to think about all of this.
The exhibit “Section 11” is like a study and it focuses on education because the artist is a teacher and he tried to make the exhibit like a hypothetical class. The art piece which I spent the most time at was a collection of school notebook pages with drawings of students’ dreams, made when they were still young and innocent. The kids dreamed about achieving something, about helping people, about being doctors, engineers, or scientists. He used a reflection in the mirror to show the changes that happened to them when they grew up and how they changed their definitions of “achievement”. I loved how he tried to use objects from our everyday environment, such as the coffee cup display, to show how traditions can sometimes trap and imprison us.
I went to the exhibit twice because the opening night was crowded. I felt like I wanted to come back in order to spend as much time as possible looking at the artwork. The artist was smart to touch our minds in a way that makes us think, remember, and even imagine. It’s not easy to push people to ask existential questions.
Art is not always about creating beautiful pieces. Sometimes it serves as a message or a reminder. And sometimes it’s something that allows us to encounter ourselves or face our reality. That’s what Rashid did in this exhibit. It was a reminder about facing our past. People are good at looking away from their mistakes and repeating the past. I wonder why the artist chose this subject right now? Is it because of what is happening around us? Is he afraid that history will repeat itself?.
The second day I went back to meet the artist– Rashid. We talked about many things. I was able to see the mind behind all the work revealed. We had a great discussion. I was alone at the exhibit and took another tour through the work. I saw a lot of things I did not see at the opening.
During our little discussion I asked the artist about the message of the art. I asked him, “What is the artwork, is it asking
questions? Or trying to give answers?” He said, “For me, I try to put the person who comes to see my work in a position where he or she will start to ask questions and to think. As an artist, I do not think our job is to fix anything. Rather we put a spotlight on the problems or what we think they are.”