Arts, Culture & Media

A Saudi military man doubles as a world-class artist



"In Transit - Fighter" (2013) from the series Restored Behaviour. Industrial lacquer paint on rubber stamps on 9mm plywood

Abdulnassar Gharem has had his art in galleries around the world. And he finds it is not always easy mixing his day job, as Lieutenant Colonel in the Saudi Army, with his art. 

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His two interests - art and the military - initially got some strange reactions, especially an early performance piece, executed in 2007, for which Garem wrapped himself and a tree in a giant sheet of plastic.

He says his aim was to highlight environmental problems. 

"I'm coming from a tribe," he explained to the BBC "and it's a small village... it was a little bit complicated. In the beginning, people thought I [was] crazy, and then I start to tell them 'Guys, there is an issue here."  

In 2011, Gharem showcased a piece called "The Capitol Dome." It's a replica of the US Capitol Dome, but has a gold-plated interior resembling a mosque. It's a reference to the marriage of Islamic and neo-classical architectural styles - and to the question of whether it's wise to splice democratic values onto Arabic culture.

That's a live question across the Arab world in response to the electoral success of Islamist parties in North Africa.

Garem insists that, as an artist, his goal is not to provide answers to these issues, but to attempt to ask important questions. He feels like art can be a way to talk about things in a conservative country, where it's not comfortable to speak about politics.

"You know through the newspaper or the official channel, you cannot say what you want, sometimes," he admits. "But through the art, you have a kind of exit." 

"The main problem is that people are not thinking," he says. "So I should encourage them to think."