Originally from the Hejaz, Sarah Al-Abdali views herself as a caretaker of the region’s culture, preserving it against four decades of rapid ideological and urban transformation. Her deep appreciation for the land, architecture and heritage of her home is a recurring theme.
Layla Falls Asleep, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
Through her artwork she explores the contemporary Hejazi city and ever-changing physical landscape, with a sense of nostalgia and memories of a place that no longer exists. We were able to catch up with the trailblazing artist and discuss her views on marrying the contemporary with tradition and the future of Islamic art.
Women and the Bougainvillea, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
Known as one of Saudi’s first street artists, you use humor and satire to critique current social, political, and cultural practices, including gender inequalities and capitalist developments. You also gained recognition for stencilling graffiti around Jeddah, criticising the rapid commercial redevelopment, what reaction did you receive to that?
Street art was a very early stage in my work that only lasted shortly. Back then, it intrigued curiosity locally, and so much interest in the west. It has definitely set my foot into the art scene, but it had also made me realize I was meant to experiment with other mediums and styles of art, which ended up eventually with intensely studying and learning from traditional Islamic art and philosophy.
Ulfat, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
There is a great sense of nostalgia in your work, particularly of Hejazi material culture and lost pasts. What inspires you to create art?
My identity and quest for meaning. My Hejazi roots and the Hejaz that represented the melting pot of many cultures and traditions and at the same time forming its very own unique culture that celebrates all the differences of its varied ethnicities. You can travel the world tracing down most Hijazi’s lineage.
Inhale, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
How does Arab culture and Islamic philosophy influence your work? Why is preserving cultural heritage important to you?
I’m born in a time where most of what I’ve learnt about my identity was only accessible through oral historic narratives. I’ve grown to learn about the importance of preserving cultural heritage through my own experience as a Makkan witnessing the erasure of its own architectural and urban character in expense of capitalist modernity.
Remains, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
You completed a Master’s at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London, how did this experience of experimenting with traditional crafts of the Islamic world affect your practice?
It has found the base and structure to my art. And had taught me discipline and guided me away from the egotistic approach to perceiving an art career the way some contemporary artists might be tempted to do. My work however, isn’t traditional at all but is inspired by all the practices and philosophies I got exposed to during my Master’s.
Sukoon, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
Your work is created using lots of different materials, why is creating with a variety of media important to your creative process?
I enjoy experimenting with different ideas and materials, it is how I usually work. It is very important to break the norm every now and then for it not to become a comfort zone. Art is a disruptive process and is ever evolving, once it becomes redundant I get to question my materials or even painting style or art form to challenge myself a new.
Tabariyat, Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali
What are you most proud of achieving in your career to date? And what are your aspirations for your career?