Screen Series: Ahaad Alamoudi
July 30 – September 15 2019
In 2019, the New Museum Presented “Screens Series: Ahaad Alamoudi”. Through her videos and performances, the artist engaged with the traditional symbols and images that have shaped and defined contemporary Saudi culture. Alamoudi used the desert as a backdrop for constructed, vividly charged scenarios in which she incorporated traditional Saudi symbolism into personal narratives that addressed her experience as a young female artist living and working in Saudi Arabia in 2019. By interweaving her heritage—Saudi customs and folklore—with highly stylized video editing, audio mixing, and production, Alamoudi conveyed the layered complexities of her home country’s changing social fabric.
In Those Who Don’t Know Falcons Grill Them (2018), a cohort of young male dancers performed the Khabayti, a hybrid dance influenced by both Hejazi and Sufi traditions. The choreographed pageantry of swirling, sword-wielding men and boys was once used in preparation for war, and was typically performed at social gatherings by male dancers. However, at segregated events, female dancers were able to perform the Khabayti for women-only audiences. Donning custom-made garments patterned with falcons—the national bird of Saudi Arabia, which represented courage, power, and national identity—Alamoudi’s dancers were propelled by the hypnotically mastered sounds of the mizmar, a wind instrument common in traditional Arabic music. Appropriated the format of a music video, Alamoudi remixed references to traditional Arab culture and, as a woman director, subverted the male gaze typical of the genre by using only male performers.
Alamoudi’s video NIUN (2018), made in collaboration with American artist Michael Mogensen, was inspired by thirteenth-century Persian physician, geographer, and writer Zakariya al-Qazwini’s story, Awaj bin Anfaq, considered one of the first works of science fiction, about an alien who visits Earth to study the oddities of human behavior. The video followed two extra-terrestrial protagonists (NIUN 1 and NIUN 2) who claim the desert as their own and begin to lay down the foundation for a new civilization. Together, the pair devised seven essential components to ensure a prosperous future: energy, water, mobility, biotechnology, entertainment, technology, and manufacturing. The outlanders chanted mantras—ardi (“my land”), noor (“light”), hajira (“traveller”), and hajirati (“my rock”)—which, for the artist, reinforced the importance of language and open communication in cultivating the future.
For Bahara (Men of the sea) (2019), Alamoudi staged a soundscape in which the reverberations of the sea were merged with a modernized version of the song of “El Yamal,” a folk anthem sung by Saudi pearl divers and sailors, known in Arabic as Bahara, to give them strength in their seafaring endeavors. A slideshow of static images—fragmented body parts in the desert, an orange backdrop, and a digitally-rendered silicone vessel—created an atmosphere of relative calm in stark contrast with the arduous tasks of fishing and pearl diving. For the artist, the work honored these seamen, especially the pearl divers, whose now defunct trade was in its heyday a crucial part of the economy of the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Ahaad Alamoudi was raised between England and Saudi Arabia, and lives and works in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Recent group exhibitions include Hockney Gallery, London; Bates College of Art, Lewiston, Maine; Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco; and Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston. In 2018, Alamoudi was the recipient of the Crossway Foundation x Middle East Now Festival Residency in Florence. She is represented by Athr Gallery in Jeddah, where she will have a solo exhibition in 2020. Alamoudi is currently in residence at Residency Unlimited, New York. This presentation at the New Museum marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States.
Concurrent with Alamoudi’s Screen Series presentation, the video I Was Told Ice Wouldn’t Melt in Heat (2019) was screened in the New Museum’s Lower Level Theater on select days throughout August 2019. For this four-hour performance, the artist instructed a male performer to brave the harsh desert weather—a blistering sun and an impromptu dust storm—until 250 blocks of ice had completely melted. In the fourth hour, frustrated by the hazardous conditions, the performer broke character, attacked and then attempted to repair the ice structure; ultimately bringing the performance to an abrupt end.
“Screens Series: Ahaad Alamoudi” continued the New Museum’s Screens Series, a platform for the presentation of new video works by emerging contemporary artists, and was organized by Francesca Altamura, Curatorial Assistant.