The Saudi art scene is abuzz with contemporary artists, many of whom have chosen to step beyond the mere boundaries of esthetics with a solid, strong statement. Naturally, those going completely against the current are few and far between. Jeddah’s own Qaswra Hafez fits under the latter category. Bold, thought provoking, and multilayered — these adjectives can easily describe Hafez’s art as well as the man behind them. Hafez is one of those intellectual, well-read artists who make cross references to history, literature, mythology, and pretty much everything under the sun in his artwork and conversations.

It is not always easy to keep up in both cases. That is not to say his work attempts to alienate audiences, quite the contrary. His art is a sharp attempt to fight any demons of elitism on the regional art scene through both medium and message.

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One of many plausible explanations for the artist’s cultural and intellectual endowment is genetics. He is the son of the late Hisham Hafez, a prominent Saudi publisher of leading newspapers and magazines including the daily Asharq Al Awsat. A poet and writer who held several diplomatic positions, his father played a significant role in shaping the critical views that now exist as an essential component of his art, according to the artist’s mini bio.

Ask him why he opted for conceptual art, which has been his practice for five years, and he’ll say: “I wasn’t academically trained as an artist. My emotions and thoughts are my playing cards.”

A relative newcomer to the regional art world, Hafez works with a variety of mediums and found objects. True to his father’s legacy, his pieces possess underlying elements of social critique, where he addresses the prevalent state of the Middle East by utilizing symbols and/or imagery that are replete with cultural meaning. Yet his images and signifiers are never one dimensional, with a potent duality running through all.

The shmagh, the Saudi male head cover, is at the heart of Hafez’s work in his first series. “Because it is a cultural icon,” he explains his choice of medium. His premier series, which he unveiled in Saudi’s Atelier Jeddah this April and which is coming to Beirut this fall, comprises nine stencils in four colors on red and white shmagh. Made of stencils and spray paint, the series, which he calls “A Short Story”, is a narrative, which he is unwilling to narrate in his own words. “… [It is all] open for interpretation within the context of the collection. I do not want to lead the viewer into a limited or focused scope,” he remarks.

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