Desert to Delta: AMUM, Tennessee

08 Oct 2017 - 06 Jan 2018


Desert to Delta: Saudi Contemporary Art in Memphis, TN represented the first exhibition of its kind from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to appear in Memphis. This timely exhibition opened at the Art Museum of University of Memphis (AMUM) on 8 October 2017 and ran until 6 January 2018.

At first glance, the connections between Saudi Arabia and Memphis might seem thin. However, common denominators begin to appear quickly with a little thought. Spiritual people devoted to their faith inhabit Memphis and the Mid-South; the same is true of Saudi Arabia. Memphis’ church bells ring daily, summoning the faithful, as do the broadcast of prayers from the mosques of Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. These rituals mark the passage of time in two lands and two religions, and they also signify a soulful stability in their believers even as change does great work all around them.

Where the comparisons are truly striking is in the arts. In the same way that music made a name for Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s, today a generation of young visual and video artists is putting contemporary art from Saudi Arabia on the international cultural map. Twenty years ago, only savvy collectors and regional art experts could name a handful of artists from Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the Freer Sackler held a large exhibition featuring the works of Ahmed Mater, and this year the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held an exhibition of works by Abdulnasser Gharem. Both men have entered that high echelon of artists whose works spawn discourse on several continents. Artists such as Njoud Alanbari, Zahra Al-Ghamdi, Shaweesh, Abdullah Al Othman and Ahmad Angawi have launched their careers in this movement. The depth and beauty of their work is great, but their works are also edgy and provocative. This body of art is imbued with what critic Stephen Greenblatt cited as necessary to great art – the characteristics of resonance and wonder.

“This exhibition is more than a showcase for art; it is two cultures of art embracing each other.  Herein, the visual meets the vocal and the sands meet the waters,” says Leslie Luebbers, AMUM director and co-curator of Desert to Delta. “We are pleased to provide an opportunity for Saudi artists to showcase their work in the Art Museum of University of Memphis,” adds Ali Almutairi, Director of Ithra, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. “This exhibition fosters cross-cultural dialogue, and offers the chance for a wider audience to engage with the diversity within Saudi art.”

From Desert to Delta: Saudi Contemporary Art in Memphis, TN was organized by the Art Museum of University of Memphis in collaboration with King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and coordinated by CULTURUNNERS.


King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as ithra, is a one-of-a-kind institution that brings together multiple offerings under one roof. From arts and culture to science and innovation, this bold initiative by Saudi Aramco promises a continuous journey of enrichment designed to energize the next knowledge economy of Saudi Arabia.

ithra aims to make a positive and tangible impact on the cultural scene by focusing on building local talents in the knowledge and creative industries. Blending iconic architectural design with advanced technology, and unique learning methods with enriching programs, ithra is an infinitely inspiring platform for explorers, learners, creators, and leaders–a thriving hub of knowledge, creativity and cross-cultural engagement.

As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia strives to achieve its ambitious national development goals to transition to a knowledge-based economy, ithra acts as a bridge connecting cultures and cultivating a creative and innovative community.

About the Art Museum of University of Memphis (AMUM) 

AMUM opened in 1981 and continues to host temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and culture alongside selections from our permanent collections. Since 1994, the visiting artist series has brought innovative contemporary projects to Memphis. Artists from the Mid-South, New York, Chicago, Great Britain, Germany, The Czech Republic, and Russia have designed site-based installations that include community and student participation. Egyptian antiquities and African art are exhibited in galleries dedicated to these collections.

Our collections of Egyptian antiquities and African art are exhibited in dedicated galleries and periodically updated with new themes. Students and scholars work with art, objects and archival materials from our diverse collections researching individual works and developing exhibitions. The 19th century to present-day print/drawing collection includes several strengths: the work of Samuel H. Crone, Carroll Cloar's lithographs, Épinal prints depicting Napoleon Bonaparte's life, Beth Van Hoesen's preparatory drawings and prints, and Andy Warhol's polaroids, prints and silk screens.

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