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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Saudi graffiti artist Maajed Ahmed has a gift — transforming blank walls into captivating bursts of color intertwined with Arabic typography that invariably have passers-by stopping to look.
While graffiti artists in pop culture are often depicted as working in the shadows, Ahmed proudly presented his artistry at the second MDLBeast, the largest music festival in the Middle East that inspires Saudi youth with its eclectic blend of music, art and culture.
His graffiti art on shipping containers greeted thousands of fans as they arrived at the festival for a weekend filled with performances from world-renowned DJs and musicians.
Speaking about the experience, Ahmed said: “Working in MDLBeast was a very enjoyable experience. I did something for the homeland, and the responses were very nice from the Ministry of Culture team, as well as the MDLBeast team.”
He was thrilled to showcase his style at an event that did not shy from international cultural influences. His striking work captured the contrasts between local and modern aesthetic, and became a popular photo backdrop for festivalgoers.
Ahmed believes graffiti is a way to share his culture and roots with international audiences, and is conscious of the responsibility his work carries.
He was born and raised in the culturally rich city of Makkah, and discovered his passion for art and graffiti during his teenage years.
Ahmed said he was inspired by the street culture in his city, but brought his own flair to the artform.
“I developed my drawing and illustration talent after being inspired by the thriving street art scene in my hometown.
I aim to reinvent the art form with my clever blend of Arabic calligraphy and street expressiveness.
Maajed Ahmed, Saudi graffiti artist
“Over time, I created a distinctive style that I called ‘calligraffiti’ by merging conventional Arabic calligraphy with modern graffiti.”
Looking to push the boundaries of his artistic expression, he broadened his artistic toolset to incorporate freehand digital illustration, which allowed him to produce flexible and cutting-edge graffiti and street art pieces.
As a young Saudi artist, Ahmed is dedicated to artistic growth, and works on developing his style and adopting new techniques.
He embarked on a cultural trip to Vietnam earlier this year and attended art events including Nam Jam Da Nang Street Art Festival, an event for graffiti artists and street artists from all over the world. Ahmed painted more than nine murals in three Vietnamese cities during his visit.
He is currently based in Dubai, and most of his projects have emerged there.
Ahmed took part in the Zayed Murals project, organized by Ajman Municipality and Planning Department, which celebrated the “Year of Zayed.” One of his murals was located on the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge intersection and carried elements of the color green to symbolize Sheikh Zayed’s reforestation efforts.
“Although I now reside in the UAE and do most of my work there, I have intentions to move back to my native country to continue my artistic endeavors and spread awareness of Saudi or Arabic hip-hop culture,” he said.
Ahmed said that he is working future projects with NEOM “in addition to some classified ones that I can’t discuss.”
The artist’s use of local and Arabic motifs not only display pride in his heritage, but also serves to correct the narrative about graffiti and graffiti artists.
“I aim to reinvent the art form with my clever blend of Arabic calligraphy and street expressiveness, and I’m doing it with my work by challenging the stigma associated with graffiti as a criminal activity.”
For a long time, graffiti art has been associated with vandalism, but artists such as Ahmed hope to highlight its value in beautifying the urban landscape with splashes of color and culture.
He also believes that producing graffiti art helps his mental health, and also keeps him physically active and fit.
“Graffiti practice makes me more physically fit because I can move more quickly, and my mind works at the same time. In this case, I combine a mental workout from my imagination with physical fitness, and most graffiti artists are in excellent mental and physical health,” he said.
According to the Ahmed, Saudi graffiti artists are among the dominant art groups in Middle East and North Africa.
“Because most of the Saudi artists have their own artistic style and techniques, they also have sufficient experience in the field of street style and more.
“Emerging artists are working hard, and I am happy to see the graffiti community growing and developing because the development of technology has made everything easy, so this is positive news.”
The Saudi Ministry of Culture has launched initiatives and programs to support graffiti art. The ministry has also designated specific venues where “street performers” can express themselves.
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