FOOD FOR THOUGHT ‘Almuallaqat’ 2014
maha malluh is a saudi artist, born in the traditional region of najd, who explores the challenges of modernity that have come so overwhelmingly to saudi arabia. she has exhibited since 1976 and has in later years acquired a BA in english literature and a californian certificate in design and photography. continuous in her artwork, that started with collages and developed into photograms, is her use of symbolic and real imagery to express her opinion about life in saudi arabia.
seen at Art Basel Unlimited via GALERIE KRINZINGER (Vienna, Austria)
“Used aluminium cooking pots from around Saudi Arabia. Sizes vary from pots that fit a leg of lamb to those that fit three camels.
Arab culture is a predominantly literary one, with the Spoken Word being an intrinsic part of the Arab cultural mindset. From the dawn of Arab history and civilization, the oral literature of the region has dominated the cultural scene. It is the pride of every Arab. This is not to say that the visual culture was not important, yet it did not have the same value as the Spoken Word.
As I am interested in the visual culture of our region, and the immense impact globalization has had and is still having on our part of the world, I often find myself contemplating these very significant issues.
To try and come to terms with this shift, from primarily oral to visual culture, which has also come with the rise of the museum institutions, art galleries and fairs in the past decade, this works attempts to create a platform where the literary and the visual are both celebrated and hung.
Old aluminium pots, these ones here which have come from various flea markets around Saudi Arabia, have been used throughout history by Arabs both at home in urban areas, in Bedouin tents, and also more recently in restaurants, as cooking vessels. The sizes of these pots vary, with some able to hold as much as 3 camels. As such these pots held one of the most prized animals of the desert, the camel, in order to feed guests and customers. But with food comes other narratives, other stories, other histories, histories of travel, or adventure, of change, anecdotes and comic tales which people discuss over food. These pots are therefore a celebration of Arab history, of Arab traditions of hospitality as well as of a visual reproduction of personal histories.
The title of this work, is Food for Thought ‘Al-Muallaqat’, a reference to the great muallaqat, or ‘Hanging Odes’, canonical Arabic poems by great pre-Islamic or jahili poets from Arabia that once were hanging on the Ka’ba in Mecca. Unfortunately, these canonical Arabic poems are studied and read as being part of a lost heritage, a past golden age which bears to reflection on our modern realities as Saudi Arabians. This is also met with astonishing records as to the percentage of the reading public in the Arab world.
Thus, what this work calls out for is a reconnection with our literary heritage, but using the visual medium to do so in order to communicate with the rest of the world. Therefore, these hanging pots are both a salute to our literary heritage, as well as being a testament to our current need for everything visual. These pots speak of our revived archaeological search for our visual heritage, our culture that has been in the shadows of our literary heritage for so long. Without dismissing the significance and aesthetic beauty of the original muallaqat, this work both acknowledges the position poetry has in Arab culture and heritage, whilst simultaneously allowing for an engaging visual dialogue with the remainder of the world.”