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Saudi`s art roots: Mounirah Mosely, the first female artist

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As we are stepping forward in our Vision for the future, we must look back to the heroes of the past. One particular such is Mounirah Mosly, the first female artists in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Henri Matisse once said “creativity takes courage”… and courageous indeed she was. At a time when female artists were tabooed, and opportunities for women were scarce, Mounirah Mosly managed to make a name for herself despite all odds.

Challenging a society which was undergoing so many changes at the time, the Saudi artist soon became an inspiration to artists from all over the world, defining the true meaning of art as a form of expression, while leading and reshaping the modern art scene in the Gulf and Middle East. Last week, the art world grieved Mosly’s death at the age of 76, after a long battle with kidney disease. Her work, however, forever lives on holding high the name which has championed women empowerment since the start of her career.

Mosly, who was born in Mecca in 1943, graduated from the College of Fine Arts in Cairo in 1974, to go on and develop her artistic career by earning a diploma in graphic design in the US. Soon after, she joined the Saudi oil company, Aramco, to work as a publications design specialist in the public relations department before fully committing her career to art.

A pioneer in the exhibitions and gallery world, Mosly set up her first private gallery in Jeddah even before graduating as a professional artist. In 1968, her art pieces were displayed in Jeddah for the world to see, in what was considered the city’s first ever art exhibition. Her works, distinct, vibrant and colorful, often reflected the traditions and heritage of her birthplace, and conveyed Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape, with a conspicuous interest and focus on the lives of women.

Considered one of the region’s most celebrated female modernist artists, Mosly tapped on topics relating to political and social issues, from working on paintings tackling women related issues and others honoring the Palestinian cause, to producing various literary works and socially contributing to studies about children’s art and its role in society.

She was revered by many for her bold style and daring experimentation, and was known to incorporate and work with various and multiple materials, including handmade paper, natural dyes, copper, palm trees, wood, papyrus, and even oysters and plants. In her work, she relied on various techniques, such as collages, as well as introduced elements relating to her reality, combined with elements of her wide and wild imagination. As a result of her unique work and style, multiple awards and positions accompanied her through her career life.

A few of the Arab artists inspired by her are being hosted under the welcoming roof of the Gharem Studio that offers not only residence, but also an open stage to all variety of artists in Saudi Arabia, such as musicians, sculptors and painters. This is an extremely welcoming scene and an inspirational one that influences people towards artistic expression and encourages them in pursuing their dreams.  The founder of the studio, Abdulnassar Gharem, wants to establish a long-term influence on the Saudi social design. Above all, he wants to offer an alternative to radical and conservative ideas. He wants people to start thinking for themselves. Having said that, he is one of the few working together with the MISK Foundation to create a platform for artists that supports them with finding scholarships and trainings amongst other programs.

Art is truly in the making in Saudi Arabia, are you bold enough to follow the vision?

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