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The Story of One Saudi Sculptor Who Took a Chance and Made “Un-art”

Saddek Wasil, "And [All] Faces Will Be Humbled Before The Ever-Living"
Saddek Wasil, “And [All] Faces Will Be Humbled Before The Ever-Living” (2011) (all images courtesy the artist)
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — As I sat down with Saudi artist and sculptor Saddek Wasil to talk about his latest solo exhibition and his upcoming first auction participation at Christie’s Dubai in October, he started by recounting his earliest memories of delving into the art world:

I used to work on my sculptures at the garage. And one of the workers told me that my father, who was not aware of my work at the time, used to ask them to bring one of my pieces to put up his feet and relax. Later on, I decided to participate in an exhibition in Kuwait and submitted this particular sculpture. And one day he asked for it, and the workers told him that Saddek took it. He asked, “what does Saddek want with this junk?!”

He continued:

My father was surprised and couldn’t believe it; how could this piece of metal scrap win anything?! After the awards and the attention, my father got convinced that this, art, is worth something. He started helping me collect all the metal scraps we could find.

Wasil was born and raised in Makkah. His father was a modest mechanic and garage owner who traveled often to Turkey and took the young Saddek with him. “At the age of 16, father took me to Turkey by car. I was fascinated and inspired by Byzantine sculptures and Islamic art,” Wasil said. It was this experience, as well as his discovery of Henry Moore sculptures in old books, that was the start of his passage into art-hood. He worked to educate himself about art and in the process discovered his talent.

Wasil at work
Wasil at work in his studio in Makkah

As he grew up, he participated in every group exhibition he could find, but was often rejected by judges, as his work was deemed “un-art” — not adhering to the standard of paintings depicting desert scenes of camels and tents.

Wasil’s distinctive style sets him apart as an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art DNA. His technique of welding iron and metal scraps, manipulation of spray cans incorporated with various other metals he would hunt for on the streets of Makkah, is unique in that it brings to form his spiritual expression, inspired by religious beliefs.

When he reached his mid-thirties, things changed for the better. “I first met Hamza Serafi at an exhibition back in 2000,” Wasil recounted, “He liked one of my sculptures. I never heard back from him until 2008, when he started his plans to open Athr Gallery. I brought him some of my latest works; he took some and sold all of them at Art Dubai in 2009.” This was Wasil’s rebirth into the art world.

Saddek Wasil, "The Mask VIII"
Saddek Wasil, “The Mask VIII” (2012) (click to enlarge)

He went on to exhibit at Edge of Arabia’s TRANSiTION show in Istanbul in 2010, where he first displayed his Masks series, and at We Need to Talk in Jeddah in 2012. He also showcased his Moallakat sculptures at the Nabatt exhibition in Shanghai (2010). At his latest sold-out solo exhibition at Athr GalleryAnd They Will Not Cease to Differ… , Wasil displayed forty sculptures varying in material and size, but having one common element: his love for Islam.

Even though it is often not obvious, religion has a large impact on Wasil’s work; in particular, the spiritual side of the Quran and the wisdom he finds in its verses enrich his work with religious messages, often is a subtle way. Wasil’s work is a combination of his beliefs, his experiences and his love of metal scraps, all passing through the channel of his unhindered imagination, accompanied by a great dose of his talent. The result is an artwork like “Mask VIII” (2012), a giant mask containing smaller ones, representing the various faces each of us parade on the surface. His work draws inspiration from such great artists as Antony Gormley and Alberto Giacometti.

Artists like Wasil are necessary in our society; they take what is discarded and transform it into spectacular creations. It is not often that you meet a genuine artist, one who has not only worked hard but also has a passion to seek knowledge and a force to create that cannot be tamed.

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