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Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabian, b. 1973)
Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabian, b. 1973)

The Stamp (Amen)

Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabian, b. 1973)
The Stamp (Amen)
rubber and wood
37 3/8 x 37 3/8 x 47 ¼in. (95 x 95 x 120cm.)
Conceived in 2008 and executed in 2010, this work is from an edition of eight plus four artist's proofs
V. Blackburn, "Green Light Ahead", in Canvas, vol. 7, issue 3, May/June 2011 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, pp. 54, 57-58).
H. Hemming, "Leave No Man Behind: Abdulnasser Gharem", in Canvas, vol. 7, issue 6, Nov/Dec 2011 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 118).
S. Sykes, "We Need to Talk", in Harper's Bazaar Arabia Art, issue 2, Spring 2012 (another from the edition exhibited, p. 118).
"When Creativity Knocks on the Edge of the Desert", in Canvas Daily Art Dubai Edition (in Arabic), issue 2, 21 March 2012 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 10).
J. T. Taylor, "Army/Artist", in Alef, issue 2, Sep/Oct/Nov 2013 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 97).
M. Ayad (ed.), Contemporary Kingdom: The Saudi Art Scene Now, Dubai 2014 (another from the edition illustrated in colour, p. 295).
London, SOAS, Edge of Arabia, 2008 (another from the edition exhibited).
Venice, 54th Venice Biennale, The Future of a Promise, 2011 (another from the edition exhibited).
Vienna, Galerie Krinzinger, Edge of Arabia, 2012 (another from the edition exhibited).
London, Ayyam Gallery, Edge of Arabia, 2013 (another from the edition exhibited).

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Lot Essay

‘I learn a lot from the military. It helps me think, and it inspires me, for example, the initial idea for my stamp paintings stems from my work – the stamp of approval we all so depend upon. It becomes like an Art of Survival… and that's how I have often described my practice.’
(The artist quoted in “Abdulnasser Gharem Art of Survival” on www.dazeddigital.com 2013, accessed online).

‘I'm part of the system, you know. And I'm using that stamp in my daily job, and I know how powerful is that stamp in our lives, if you know what they mean. So that stamp is the symbol of bureaucracy, yeah. When you have a baby, you should stamp that you have the baby. When you go into marriage you should have stamps. Even if you need a vacation you need that kind of stamp. So I think that's what's killing the dreams of the youth here.’
(The artist quoted in “Saudi Soldier Questions Authority with Art And Plastic Wrap” on www.npr.org 2013, accessed online).

Both a practicing artist and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Saudi Army, Abdulnasser Gharem is one of the forefront contemporary artists in Saudi Arabia, known for his intellectual courage and innovative use of materials. Spearheading the Edge of Arabia group through their inaugural exhibition in 2008 at SOAS, Gharem’s paintings, performances and installations, which have transformed the Saudi Arabian art scene, challenge people to question the same authority he upholds in his daily profession.
The Stamp, Amen from 2008 is a seminal work that is testament to Gharem’s examination and discourse on the themes of bureaucracy that are prevalent in Saudi Arabian culture. A scaled up version of a wooden stamp used every day across Saudi Arabia by bureaucrats, officials, policemen and soldiers – including the artist - it articulates an official reaction. It is intended to imply the stamp’s ability to reinforce authority as each stamp either authorises of prohibits certain behaviours. The concept of the work arose as a reaction to several works by the artist being censored in the Edge of Arabia’s inaugural exhibition. Earlier that year, Gharem had been made a Major, which meant he had more responsibility, more forms to plough through and more administration to deal with as well as more slips of paper to stamp.

Gharem became more and more interested in the notions behind these stamps, it thus became clear that no matter how complex the logic that informed his decisions, these stamps in his everyday life reduced his thoughts to a single decision which was either a yes or no. Given his new dealings with censorship in the way he was hoping to express himself, he produced a large scale stamp which included both English and Arabic to provide a commentary against this simplified bureaucracy, which Gharem believes has become an impediment to the development of Saudi Arabian (if not Arab) society and people.

To mark the opening of the Edge of Arabia exhibition, Gharem inked up the stamp itself and charged it onto the walls of the gallery, in some way authorising the exhibition under a proposed and enacted separate authority that of an author or artist that outweighed the authority that had led to the censorship of his originally intended works.

Unlike other stamps that are simple in the one dimensional message, Gharem’s stamp, reading ‘Have a Bit of Commitment,’ thus implies that the artist demands more intellectual rigour, more bravery and more confidence in one’s convictions. Empowered by the stamp and all of its false authority, he finishes it with a word that is itself a stamp of approval; ‘Amen.’

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