Greenbox dictionary of Saudi Arabian artists

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Shadia Alem has a following of admirers among the creative djinns of both the desert of Wadi Abkat and those of the Île de la Cité, where the bells of the Notre Dame at first 'confused' her to recite muslim prayers. If ever there is need to imagine a hunchback on the minarets of the Grand Mosque in Makkah many djinns will no doubt summon Shadia and her sister Raja to draw and write his grotesque lines with a single pencil to please both ears and eyes. The artist and her novel writing sister were born in Makkah and later lived in Taif where Shadia as a child is said to have drawn on the doors. By the time she lived in Paris Alem had managed to move up to painting landscapes on the tail fin of some British Airways aircraft.

In Saudi Arabia Shadia Alem has been supported by the Al-Mansouria Foundation. It owns a number of her oils on paper of mysterious and traditionally dressed women of the early 1990s. They seem to be part of a series that the artist calls her Wabar collection, apparently in reference to a city of Bedouin legend, which was destroyed by a destructive wind. Shadia is said to have later turned to landscape painting, before she discovered that the imagination may flow even more freely in less conventional ways. While informing us that Tracy Enim's Bed spoke to her in 1999, she turned to making installations. In the Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2004 she joined a show "Languages of the desert" of artists from the Gulf region with an installation Negatives: no more, using dvd, photo and negatives. An installation, Powerless, and two series of photographs, named Compassionate wires and Rain, featured in 2007 in Bahrain in a solo presentation at Albareh Art Gallery.

At Edge of Arabia in 2009 Alem suspended from the ceiling a series of large transparent panels on which in black and white details of the eye was painted much enlarged with her sister's writing dancing lines around the pupil. Jah Eye: meaning the 'beautiful eye.'

Last now, but perhaps first for posterity, are the books that Shadia Alem illustrates. Djnniyat Lar is a series of 21 paintings in which the artists wrestles freedom of imagination without leaving the boundaries of anthropomorphism. At the request of Al-Mansouria her sister Raja wrote stories to go with the images of the djinn. For this she must have had assistance from a passing army of these creatures. Raja told us at Edge of Arabia that for a month she was without inspiration to write stories and then wrote down 40 of them in half an hour. Although she informed us in the same interview that she tells lies all the time, this may actually be true since such events happen in opposition to what must have passed at the city of Wabar. (2009).   


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From top to bottom: Jah Eye at Edge of Arabia.