“Saudi is going through a lot of change and street art is the perfect medium to experiment in. It's something very new here. I started with very random shapes but I wanted to develop more concepts that people could relate to. I like street art because it's there for the people. You don't need to overdo your ideas, it's a simple way of expressing yourself.”
Born 1989 in Jeddah, Al Abdali studied graphic design at Dar Al Hekma College. Having been branded as one of Saudi’s first street artists, Al Abdali has exhibited at the British Museum in a collateral show to the Hajj exhibition. Born into a family with rich Hejazi history, Al Abdali has grown up with a deep appreciation of the land and heritage of the coastal region of Saudi, which is a recurring theme in her work. With the landscape ever changing, Al Abdali can no longer see the Hejaz she dreams of through the ruins of today and seeks to share a vision of her imagined land.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- At first glance, it looks like a standard road sign to Mecca, the Saudi Arabian pilgrimage site for millions of Muslims every year.
But look again at this piece of graffiti art and you see that the Ka'ba, the cube-shaped building at the spiritual heart of Mecca shown on its genuine road signs, has been replaced by a cluster of high rise buildings.
It is the work of Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali, a 22-year-old graphic design graduate, and she sprayed it on walls around her home city of Jeddah as a comment on overdevelopment in Mecca, the holiest Muslim city. It is a bold statement to make in the socially conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the method -- spray painting walls in public places -- even more so. "At first I was worried about how the conservatives would react and whether I would get any bad comments, but no-one has said anything," said Al Abdali, who works as a university teaching assistant.
"Saudi is going through a lot of change and street art is the perfect medium to experiment in."
Al Abdali began experimenting with graffiti about six months ago and is one of a small but growing number of street artists in the kingdom. A blog, Saudi Street Art, displays some of their work. "It's something very new here," she said. "I started with very random shapes but I wanted to develop more techniques that people could relate to. "You don't see a lot of street art here, there's just vandalism. I'm excited to be doing something new. I like street art because it's there for the people. You don't need to overdo your ideas, it's a simple way of expressing yourself. And it's free, which you don't see in many forms of art."
Al Abdali sprayed her Mecca sign on walls around the historic area of Jeddah where it would be seen by as many passing people as possible. "I didn't want it to be a beautiful artwork, I wanted to create debate," she said. She was pleased with the response it received.
"People took photos and shared them on Facebook and Twitter," she said.
"Some people related to it because it was straight to the point; other people didn't care. It's interesting to hear the different views every time someone comes up and asks me if I did it."
Al Abdali is also gaining recognition. She was one of four artists chosen to exhibit at an off shoot of the Edge of Arabia show, the first major contemporary art exhibition in Saudi Arabia, according to its organizers. In a country where a lot of culture is controlled by the government, Al Abdali is one of growing number of young rebels finding their own way of pushing boundaries.
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