Arab American Museum Gives Platform to Contemporary Saudi Artists

Television screens show a disjointed man as he listens to music weaponized for torturing prisoners, a photograph gives viewers a stomach-turning vista from the top of a crane overlooking Mecca, and brightly colored, hand-painted walls fill Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum for the Epicenter X: Saudi Contemporary Art exhibit running from July 8 to Oct. 1.

The exhibit is the first of its kind in Michigan to focus on and give a platform to Saudi art, says Museum Director Devon Akmon.

A portion of the critically acclaimed art featured in the showcase includes Ahmed Mater’s Golden Hour photograph, Qamar Abdulmalik’s Asylum of Dreams installation, and Marwah Al Mugait’s We Were video installation. Palestinian resident artist Ayman Yossri Daydban’s photographs will also be included.

“These artists have numerous different philosophies on contemporary Saudi society,” Akmon says. “There are very challenging viewpoints being presented.”

The goal of Epicenter X is to challenge the stereotypical depictions of Arab culture by showcasing a range of Saudi art, from traditional wall paintings to video installations. The exhibit is free with museum admission.

“I think the artwork is immensely powerful and the timing is incredibly powerful,” Akmon says. “Our goal is to create a safe space for these discussions to be explored. This is not just a show for people who consider themselves art patrons. This show provides some very interesting insights — insights unfiltered by media and politicians.”

This exhibit comes a month after the Arab American National Museum released its Artists + Residents project at the City Hall Artspace Lofts across the street from the museum on Michigan Avenue.

“We’re working to decentralize the museum and embed museum experiences directly into the community,” Akmon says. “This residency program is meant to nurture meaningful dialogue between visiting artists and the community as they inform and inspire each other.”

Resident artists include Sara Ouhaddou, a French Moroccan artist and designer researching the history of New York’s Little Syria in relation to Detroit; Michael Ibrahim, founder and director of the National Arab Orchestra, working on an original score to accompany an Egyptian silent film; Iraqi American Wafaa Bilal, focusing on Michigan residents’ access to water; theatrical innovator Ping Chong, examining culture and identity; and playwright Ismail Khalidi and composer Hadi Eldebbek, who are working on a play exploring the history of Arab American lynchings in the Jim Crow South.

For more information, visit arabamericanmuseum.org or call 313-582-2266.

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