Lionel Barber on a late buffet supper in Riyadh, a visit to a Saudi arts centre and Saudis’ heavy use of smartphones

On the fifth floor of a building attached to a shopping mall stands the Athr gallery, with a large collection of Saudi artists. The images on display are equally challenging. Ahmed Mater’s work documents how a multibillion-dollar government-backed high-rise building programme is encroaching on Mecca, a subtle commentary on the clash between Mammon and ancient tradition. One floor above, Saddek Wasil’s twisted metal images, occasionally showing a protruding hand, suggest the human desire to reach out for answers or a form of salvation. Maya El Khalil, the gallery director, says the works highlight the pressure for change and the desire to preserve tradition in Saudi Arabia. “It used to be art for art’s sake. Now they [artists] have something to say.”

– By Lionel Barber, Financial Times

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