Christie's is proud to offer The Capitol Dome by renowned Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem to benefit an upcoming USA tour by the non-profit Edge of Arabia group. This historic tour by Saudi and Arab artists aims to inspire greater friendship and understanding between American and Middle Eastern communities and encourage dialogue across geographic, religious and political borders. It is set to be one of the most significant cross-cultural art initiatives of the twenty-first century.
The Capitol Dome offers a continuing dialogue with Gharem's earlier Message Messenger, sold with Christie's in 2011 for the artist's world record auction price. It marks the last of the Dome series to date.
As one of the founders of the contemporary Saudi Arabian art platform Edge of Arabia, Gharem first presented this work as the sculptural centrepiece of the group's recent London exhibition #COMETOGETHER in 2012. The theme of the exhibition was the rising power of individuals' voices in the Arab and Islamic world, one that remains especially poignant in today's political climate.
The Capitol Dome constitutes a 13-foot scaled-down replica of the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C., propped up by a miniature version of Thomas Crawford's nineteenth-century statue of the armed goddess Freedom. The under-side of Gharem's dome is decorated with intricate Islamic decorative motifs, hand-crafted in Morocco, which resemble a mosque interior. It offers an arranged marriage of Western neo Classical design and Islamic geometry, and the unexpected nature of this combination encourages us to question the reality of splicing together democracy and modern-day Arabic culture. Without suggesting this is right or wrong, Gharem merely underlines the tension and inherent precariousness of this as a political ambition. In a post-Arab Spring world he proposes instead a fresh conversation about democracy in the Arab world as seen from a more Middle Eastern perspective.
By focusing attention on the statue of Freedom, Gharem forces us to ask ourselves what 'freedom' stands for. Crawford's statue of the same name bears a sword and shield. While maternal and welcoming she is at the same time well-armed and outwardly aggressive. Yet much of the power and unresolved tension of this work comes from the positioning of the dome. It has been set up to resemble a crude
animal trap. Freedom has become a lure. Gharem explained in 2012 that he was inspired by his childhood when he 'used to make traps like this for birds using upturned baskets, with a trail of food leading toward it. In the same way, many Saudis are drawn to democracy but we don't know what is inside. Perhaps it is like a mosque? Perhaps something else.' (The artist quoted in The Washington Post, 8 October 2012). Beneath all this is a shiny oil-black surface, a wry reminder of the subtext to any conversation today about freedom or democracy in the Middle East.
Impressive in its sheer presence, Gharem's The Capitol Dome is a powerful reflection on the possibility of democracy throughout the Arab world. It offers an original and unique perspective on the reality of this conversation questioning how it is framed and the way it is seen in the Middle East today.