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HomeArtMona Saudi (1945–2022) - Artforum International

Mona Saudi (1945–2022) – Artforum International

Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi, widely renowned for her massive jade, marble, and sandstone works in undulant, organic shapes that evoked primeval themes while remaining electrifyingly modern, died in Beirut on February 16 at the age of seventy-six. News of her death was confirmed by her daughter in an Instagram post. Driven by an almost lifelong need to create forms with heft and stature, Saudi was one of the few women sculptors of her generation to find a place in the Arab world. Once describing the sound of chiseling as “music,” she performed all her own carving, sometimes working for eighteen hours uninterrupted. “I never get fed up in my life,” she told Selections magazine in 2018, “because I need more time than what’s given to me.”

Born in Amman in 1945, Saudi as a child played amid the rubble of the Nymphaeum, an ancient Roman bathhouse near her home; the experience shaped her connection with Arab history and fostered a love of ancient geometries. When she was eight her older brother died, his loss fostering in her the sense that time must be used wisely. Set on being an artist, and denied by her father the opportunity to attend college, Saudi at the age of seventeen took a taxi to Beirut, then home to a lively art scene and a hub of cultural experimentation. “This was how I planned my life,” she told The National in 2018. “I wanted to do an exhibition and then go to Paris. Nobody supported me. I just decided to make my life by myself, so I abolished all kinds of obstacles — family, society, et cetera.” Saudi secured her first exhibition within months and shortly thereafter departed for Paris, where she studied at the École Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, supporting herself through the sales of drawings in Beirut.

Following her graduation, she returned to Beirut, where she would live and work for the next five-plus decades, continuing her practice even as the civil war raged there, frequently taking as her inspiration creatures and objects of all sizes, but always large concepts. “I am interested in exploring ideas, such as the meaning of growth, and what is known as ‘takween’ in Arabic and can be translated as creation or formation,” she told Gulf News in 2018, discussing a group of sculptures variously referencing seagulls, wheat, coffee grains, and obelisks. “When you work with stone you discover how rich our Earth is.”

Writing of her work in Artforum in 2018, Yasmine El Rashidi noted, “Saudi’s sculptures—which evoke those of Barbara Hepworth or a more restrained Lee Bontecou—deploy movement, geometry, and abstraction to probe questions about nature and growth. Characterized by exuberant color and austere morphology, the pieces inhabit a space of formal innovation in a region that the art-historical mainstream seldom acknowledges as a site of progress.”

Saudi enjoyed major exhibitions of her work at Darat al Funun in Amman, the Mosaic Rooms in London, and the Sharjah Art Foundation. Several of her works are held by London’s British Museum, which will feature them in the upcoming exhibition “Feminine Power,” which will tour to Australia and a number of cities in Spain over the next several years.




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