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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Abeer Sultan is a collector of moments. In chilly weather or exhausting heat, she can be found roaming local neighborhoods in search of snapshots of life, which she tucks away in her camera until their time comes.
Her process shapes her practice. The artist’s most recent work titled “I Will Take the Sun Into My Eyes,” is on display at Noor Riyadh’s exhibition in JAX District until March 2.
Speaking about the exhibition, Sultan said: “I’m glad I’m participating in Noor Riyadh alongside some amazing artists. It’s a great way to have all these narratives in conversation with each other and I hope to take the audience along with me to explore the world I’ve created.”
Sultan is an emerging Saudi Arabia artist who presents her own experiences as a way to elicit emotional responses from her audiences.
Taking a new approach to the exhibition’s theme “Refracted Identities, Shared Futures,” Sultan blurs reality and fiction. Inspired by the color blue, she explores alternative, yet realistic worlds through conventional modes of visual storytelling.
The three-screen video installation, commissioned by Noor Riyadh, displays different encounters in Riyadh and Jeddah. The moments she selected was not based on aesthetic considerations, rather on feelings they elicit.
• Abeer Sultan is an emerging Saudi artist who presents her own experiences as a way to elicit emotional responses from her audiences.
• The three-screen video installation, commissioned by Noor Riyadh, displays different encounters in Riyadh and Jeddah.
• She has used the color blue to portray both sadness and calm, which is a captivating feature of the work.
Sultan, who is based in Riyadh, was drawn to the coastal city of Jeddah looking for shades of blue. She found the sea, fish markets, and a muse.
“I wrote a proposal a while back with my friends about immigrating and being the children of the sea. I kept thinking about it, and Jeddah always gave me the feeling of nostalgia. The idea of the sea kept recurring in my mind and I wanted to capture that to an extent,” she said.
The work’s title was inspired by the Bjork song “Sun In My Mouth,” leading her to write a short piece which became her starting point.
“I chant and I repeat until I meet you at the end with your cold hands in my palms. You are dead, but pulsing with life. You emanate the bluest light my love. While I’m stuck in this intolerable heat,” she wrote as part of her poem.
The text was written as a continuation of her 2022 Misk Art Institute residency project titled “Al-Bidaya,” or “The Beginning,” which sought to portray the symbolism involved at the funerals of people.
“I’m always thinking about loss and separation, and here, it came out in this way,” she said about her most recent installation.
When people see my work, I hope I can make them feel how I’m feeling, but also see themselves and their experiences in it.
Abeer Sultan, Saudi artist
On one hot summer day, she came across fallen palm trees. “It was too hot and I really loved walking and I couldn’t. So, I took videos of dead palm trees, and they really described my emotional state at the time: bent and dry,” she said.
She contrasts growth and decay, as a metaphor for life itself, by having the palm trees — no longer upright but wilting toward their final state — frame the three display screens.
She has used the color blue to portray both sadness and calm, which is a captivating feature of the work.
“It’s about separating, losing, and how that feels, but also there’s a sense of playfulness,” Sultan said about the work.
One of the scenes she presents shows her family members lining up for prayer as her young cousins fiddle around the mat, a sight which for Muslims are both familiar and nostalgic. This was inspired by a moment she witnessed where women prayed together just outside of King Fahd National Library in Riyadh.
She collaborated on the sound with fellow artist Sumayah Fallatah who repeats the words “the wave shuddered” in Arabic behind Sultan.
The closing scene of her video installation captures a woman walking towards the sea, alluding to a possibility of continuing the work as a series, championing the “Children of the Sea” concept.
The world Sultan creates is not rooted in escapism, but rather a means to contemplate our current realities. Her work is seemingly simple but evokes the complexities of human experience.
“When people see my work, I hope I can make them feel how I’m feeling, but also see themselves and their experiences in it,” Sultan said.
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