Saudi artists on show in UAE gallery exhibition 

DUBAI: Emerging Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim is an open book. A little more than 10 minutes into our interview, Almulhim, speaking from his studio in Riyadh, admits to dealing with mental health issues, particularly depression. He copes, he says, with deep breathing, prayer, walking barefoot on the grass and getting in touch with his spiritual side. The topic came up when I asked him about his childhood in Saudi Arabia, at a time when the country was much more restrictive.

“I never faced this question because I was always afraid to look back at the memories. It was not an easy lifestyle for either men or women,” Almulhim, born in 1988, told Arab News.

‘Balance’ by Nasser Almulhim. (Attached)

Almulhim comes from a large family of four sisters and three brothers. According to the artist, they were raised in the Al-Malaz neighborhood in Riyadh, where mostly the expatriate community of Sudanese, Egyptians and Jordanians lives. Socializing with people from different backgrounds enriched his upbringing.

“My parents raised me well and taught me to respect people from an early age,” he says. “It was a very simple lifestyle. We didn’t have much, but the family provided us with security and a good education. I studied in a public school and we were on the street a lot. We were playing football and splashing paint, because we were just rebels, and the police came,” he says. “Art was once dead. It was haram.”

Nevertheless, Almulhim, who enjoyed mathematics and science as school subjects, was always sketching. “My parents saw something in me,” he says. It is also possible that Almulhim, who describes himself as a visual person who loves nature, inherited his artistic sensibilities from his family. Almulhim says his grandmother was a poet and his father was passionate about analog photography.

The artist’s ‘Distance is near’. (Attached)

“I believe he has an artistic side, but he doesn’t accept it,” she says. “He has a wonderful vision, despite how he decorated the house. It came from someone who was vulnerable and sensitive.”

During Almulhim’s high school years, he began to notice how “different” he was as a Saudi compared to other Arabs in the region. “We used to travel to Syria and Lebanon,” he recalls. “In Beirut, everyone was hanging out on the beach. People were doing their thing, but then I came back to Riyadh and it was the complete opposite. I would ask my father, “Are we foreigners?” And I would say, ‘There is a system. That’s our tradition and culture.’ So I’ve always tried to do the opposite.”

After graduating from high school, Almulhim, who did not speak English at the time, traveled all the way to Sydney, Australia to study intensive English courses, and later moved to the United States to earn his bachelor’s degree. “The funniest thing is that I went there to study engineering,” he says, adding that the men in his family were either doctors or engineers. At university, he hung out with creative people who studied music and theater, and they noticed something in him.

‘Face your madness.’ (Attached)

“I was seen reading books, sketching, playing the guitar, watching art documentaries and going to museums. They were telling me to change my major. It was a big deal for me and my family too. I switched to studying fine arts and it was the best decision I ever made. I felt light, I felt like me,” says Almulhim, who graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in studio art.

As reflected in his colorful paintings, Almulhim is not afraid to embrace his feminine side, something that stems from his close relationship with his sisters.

“I always had a good conversation with them, even about sensitive topics that I couldn’t discuss with my parents. It was a gap,” he says. However, it invited criticism from male viewers. “When using pink, for example, I’ve had men ask me, ‘Why are you using pink? You’re the man.'”

He says he wants to go “back to basics” with his painting by re-appreciating beauty.

“In art, beauty is my greatest inspiration. The late Lebanese artist Etel Adnan said that nowadays in the art scene we have neglected the idea of ​​beauty and are only focused on the conceptual,” she says. “Humans love distraction, which makes sense because we live in distraction. But I feel that beauty is necessary for your soul, your physical self and for being kind to other people.”

Nasser ‘Gazing at the Sea Horizon.’ (Attached)

Almulhim fills his soothing canvases of floating geometric shapes with open spaces of color.

“When I paint, I like colors that bring happiness and maybe heal you. It puts you in a state of mind that doesn’t numb you, but makes you disconnect from the distractions around you. I always say that art is therapy for me. Part of it feels like I’m running away, maybe from some pain that I need to heal from, and part of it is that I’m facing that pain,” he explains, adding that he hopes to one day pursue a doctorate in art therapy. His paintings also contain a psychological and spiritual element, creating his own universe where he “channels the Higher Power, Allah, this great universe, this divinity that is outside and within us.”

On June 6, Almulhim will open his new exhibition “On In-Between” at Tabari Art Space in Dubai. With new paintings, the artist tackles the psychological levels of the subconscious, preconscious and conscious.

“I tell the audience that we need to understand this world in order to heal and know ourselves,” he says. “It’s also good to run between those two or three fields. As a humble human being, I tell you that I am all of these: my chaos, my order, my vulnerability, my beauty, my ugliness. I will give it all out.”

Almulhim at this stage of his career is also driven by collaboration with fellow artists in the Arab region. He would like to set up artist residency exchanges where artists from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan could work in his space in Riyadh and vice versa. He says the ongoing tragedy in Gaza sparked the idea.

“I’m an artist, but above all I’m a human being,” he says. “How can I help? How can I contribute? How can we learn from each other as Arabs and as citizens of the world? I feel that we need this unity in our region.”

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