Ahmed Mater’s first US exhibition, focusing on his landscape photography on the impact of urbanisation and the rapid change that Saudi Arabia has experienced, will be on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from March 19–Sept. 18.

The exhibition, curated by Carol Huh,  includes “Empty Land,” a series of aerial photographs, “Desert of Pharan” (2011-13) which focuses on the redevelopment around Mecca, and “Ashab Al-Lal/Fault Mirage” (2015), which examines the confluence of religion and urbanisation in recent history.


Photo by Ahmed Mater



There’s a program of talks and discussions to celebrate the opening of Symbolic Cities, including a panel  at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a talk, entitled “Documenting Unofficial Histories,” at George Washington University. Details of these events and the others planned are available here.

From abandoned desert cities to the extraordinary transformation of Mecca, Symbolic Cities presents his visual and aural journeys observing economic and urban change in Saudi Arabia. The exhibition, the first in the United States solely dedicated to Mater, also debuts new works based on his extensive research on Riyadh’s development.

Though he has worked with a variety of media, Mater has focused on video and photography since 2010, examining the same issues across these mediums.

In Leaves Fall in All Seasons (2013), Ahmed Mater looks at the booming construction in Mecca from the point of view of the construction workers, who are largely migrant laborers from elsewhere in the Middle East as well as from South Asia. Their cellphone videos capture the city from the perspective of an outsider granted a momentary peek in, focusing not on the loss of local neighborhoods but on the spectacle of demolition, the crowning of new towers and the quotidian moments of the workday.

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