Gonzo Arabia: Contemporary Saudi Art in Aspen

Visitors taking in the Gonzo Arabia exhibition

Telfaz11 installation

30 Jun 2016 - 01 Sep 2016
GONZO GALLERY
534 E COOPER AVENUE
ASPEN, COLORADO

PART OF BRIDGES 2016 - 2017: AN ITHRA INITIATIVE

On the occasion of Aspen Ideas Festival 2016, Gharem Studio and Culturunners, in collaboration with Gonzo  Gallery and The Open Mind Project opened the major exhibition: Gonzo Arabia: Contemporary Art from Saudi  Arabia, in the legendary Boogie’s building in the heart of downtown Aspen. Gonzo Arabia was realised through  support from King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and presents a cross-generational survey of  contemporary art from the Kingdom, providing insights into the Saudi culture through the creativity and vision of some the most influential Saudi artists of their generation.

In the spirit of the late, Colorado-based journalist, Hunter S. Thompson — pioneer of Gonzo journalism and champion of truth over fact — the participating Saudi artists have embedded themselves within their societies and harnessed the potential of art as a cultural commentary, satire and social critique; through Gonzo-style performances and storytelling, they shared these experiences with audiences in Aspen.

Founder of Gharem Studio, Abdulnasser Gharem, comments: “The artists in Gonzo Arabia present a new  intellectual paradigm that utilizes unique concepts and terminology to define the artists’ role within society. Rather than analyzing art and society separately, the artists confront art as a reflection of society, positioning themselves as its mirrors.”

The exhibition was held in a re-imagined annex of the original Boogies Diner, an iconic Aspen landmark for  the last 25 years. Seen as a historical and cultural icon, the American diner is a pit-stop on highways across the US, connecting travellers with locals and provided a fitting backdrop for this experimental platform for cross-cultural dialogue and engagement.

Gonzo Arabia was the second stop of a multi-city Saudi artists tour of the United States. Aspen – once known only  for its snow-capped mountain ranges and high-end ski resort – is now a booming cultural hub, with its own contemporary art museum and annual Ideas Festival, considered one of the most influential gatherings for  local and global innovators to stimulate creativity. Using the artworks as a springboard for nation-to-nation dialogue, this leg of the tour aimed to enable better understanding between Saudi Arabia and key influencers in the United States.

About King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

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 Gonzo Gallery

The Gonzo Gallery in downtown Aspen presents and celebrates artwork by Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph  Steadman, Tom Benton and William Burroughs as well as local and international contemporary artists, with a special focus on printmaking. The gallery’s founder and curator, DJ Watkins, first became involved with Gonzo art through his interest in the activist art of Tom Benton. He wrote a  book on Benton, "Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist," which won the Colorado Book award, and he went on to  start the Gonzo Museum as interest in Tom Benton’s work grew.

While running the gallery, he came across original material from Hunter Thompson’s 1970 campaign for Sheriff of Pitkin County. Fascinated by this overlooked part of Thompson’s life, he put together his second book, Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff. Watkins also created a 100-piece museum  show entitled, Freak Power, which premiered in the Gonzo Gallery during the summer of 2015. Through Liberty Salons, curated exhibits, and workshops, the Gonzo Gallery seeks to continue a creative intellectual  dialogue with the local and international community.

About the Open Mind Project
The Open Mind Project seeks to shed light on the power and influence that religious, cultural and fundamental narratives have on human psychology, society, and environment. We provide educational  resources, including an online database of belief systems (the Faith Portal).* We promote a broadened worldview that reinforces our identity as one human race, transcending the stories that often divide us.  We connect people from different backgrounds, seeking more beneficial narratives to assist in our progression toward sustainability and equitable civilization.

Divisions between people of different backgrounds and beliefs are growing, with modern technology encouraging people to tune into websites and news networks that offer biased or one-sided information  that reinforces what they already believe, starving them of alternative points of view. They are not given tools to compassionately relate to people who see the world differently from themselves. This leads to  conflict, oppression, and ineffectiveness. The United States Congress, paralyzed by their partisanship, is one obvious example. Effective democracy depends on an informed population that can effectively dialogue with each other, despite their differences. Fractious relations exist between both people of  differing faiths, and between religious, atheist, and scientific communities. The Open Mind Project is a bridge between these groups, bringing together people of different backgrounds, offering contextual  education, providing tools for compassionate, and self-reflective communication.

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