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Unveiling Tradition: A Conversation with Saudi Conceptual Artist Maha Malluh

Saudi artist Maha Malluh's journey into the world of art was not a deliberate choice but rather a destiny that unfolded naturally. Born in Jeddah in 1959, Malluh was surrounded by a family that embraced and encouraged her artistic inclinations from a young age. Despite her initial hesitation and self-doubt about her work, she found unwavering support from her family who provided her with art supplies and books, fostering her passion for creativity.

Growing up in a vastly different Saudi Arabia, Malluh experienced a society where art, especially for men, was not considered a serious pursuit. However, her familial support remained a constant source of encouragement. Despite the absence of formal art education in her early years, Malluh embarked on a journey to the United States in the late 1970s to pursue studies in fine art. While her academic experience was conventional, she realized that artistic mastery stemmed more from dedication and daily practice rather than formal education.


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Returning to Riyadh, Malluh encountered cultural limitations and a lack of artistic feedback that left her dissatisfied. This spurred her exploration of conceptual art, focusing on ideas over aesthetics, and emphasizing critical thinking—an aspect she believes is lacking in Arab education.

Malluh's renowned series, "Food For Thought," features everyday objects repurposed to evoke nostalgic and reflective sentiments, highlighting the transient nature of material culture. Through her art, she seeks to preserve societal memories and histories, particularly in the face of rapid cultural change.

Balancing motherhood with her artistic pursuits, Malluh made sacrifices to prioritize her family while pursuing her passion during her free time. Despite facing societal pressure to prioritize her career, she remained committed to her family responsibilities.

In 2007, Malluh's career took a significant turn with her first solo exhibition, marking the beginning of her journey towards international recognition. Her works, now displayed in prestigious institutions worldwide, reflect her initial goal of creating art that resonates with and contributes to society.


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Malluh's latest endeavor, Shamalat, a cultural center in Riyadh, symbolizes her dedication to nurturing artistic talent and providing a platform for emerging artists. Situated in a traditional mud house, the center reflects Malluh's deep-rooted connection to her cultural heritage and her desire to create spaces for artistic expression and collaboration.

Throughout her journey, Malluh's unwavering commitment to art as a fundamental aspect of her life underscores her belief in its transformative power and enduring relevance. 

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