Mona Saudi @ Saleh Barakat

To stones from which we build an ocean of dreams

To stones where beginnings and endings abide… 

…To stones in which I chisel a path for the soul

To stones that I touch, and the vapors of love arise

And as I polish them my soul thins out

And the gods of mystery talk to me… 

…To stones that connect me with what I know

And with what I do not know

 –An Ocean of Dreams, Mona Saudi

Sculptor Mona Saudi’s love poem to stone is displayed alongside illustrations of the Petra tablets at Saleh Barakat gallery in Beirut, Lebanon. The semi-retrospective is a sumptuous display of sculpture and works on paper, spanning over two decades, documenting the Jordanian sculptor’s appreciation for the Earth.

Saudi grew up in Amman, quite literally a stone’s throw away from the archeological sites of Jordan, sparking an enduring love and fascination with stone and nature. Her sculptures are smooth, reductive and powerful. Whilst her works might be likened to abstraction, clear forms can be seen amongst objects crafted from pink limestone, onyx, marble and jade. Full Moon, 2003 is formed from milky-coloured travertine. Like the lunar satellite that appears across our night skies once a month, the round that protrudes from a rectangular tablet appears pure and powerful. The calcareous rock that Saudi’s moon has been made from contains little flickers of black and brown, which appear to mimic the craters and blemishes, that can be seen across the surface of the orb that circuits our planet.

8 Full Moon
Full Moon, 2003, travertine

My decision to begin with Saudi’s moon is deliberate. Throughout her oeuvre, Saudi has been consistent in employing the natural world both as her subject, and the material from which to make her work, stressing her connection to the mother/earth, which also happens to have been the title given in 1965 to her very first sculpture. The moon is the one constant body that has always orbited our planet, and therefore draws on Saudi’s regard for the planet.

Away from the sky and back to earth, the Saleh Barakat display includes many sculptures of water and plants. Amongst the display are two objects titled Water of Life, one made from onyx in 2010, with the other having been constructed from Lebanese stone in 2007. The two forms are quite different in appearance. The 2010 piece is square, while its 2007 counterpart is vertical, and has been given ripples that sweep down the side like a wave. Saudi’s use of Lebanese of stone in the work reflects her preference to work with materials sourced in the Middle East and across the Mediterranean, connecting herself to her routes and culture. This is manifested in the use of black diorite from Syria and pink limestone and green marble from Jordan.

Besides an interest vegetation that is displayed in works like Cactus, Jordanian jade, 2009 – a thick-branched sculpture with brilliant shades of brown and sea-foam green that appear in front of a mottled jade background – are a number of figures dedicated to the female form. Two Woman/River works, one black-marble from 2003, another granite from 2004, display the voluptuous curves of a woman nestled amongst the smooth currents of water. There is also a piece titled Mother/Earth, Lebanese stone, 2006, which shows an egg-shaped form being embraced by a larger protective structure. Perhaps the most powerful sculpture however is The Dawn of Creation, Jordanian limestone, 2005, the peachy, fleshy toned limestone appears like a flower, or maybe even female genitalia: the mother of all human life.

5
Image courtesy Saleh Barakat Gallery

Besides her stone objects, Saudi also creates work on paper. Like her three-dimensional artworks, these are reductive and reflect a deep affection for natural materials. Often, these drawings are illustrations of her stone pieces, with Woman/Rose, 1997, Growth, 1995 and Woman and Birds, 1998 appearing like black and white accompaniments to sculptural counterparts that are also displayed in the exhibition.

Saudi’s most memorable illustrations are The Petra Tablets, an album of 12 drawings in serigraphy and watercolour, inspired by Adonis’ poem that she made between 1995-1998. These drawings not only demonstrate a love for the archaeology of Jordan, stone and sculpture, but also an appreciation of literature. The series even includes calligraphy, which is written to the side, underneath, and across the backgrounds of the sculptural drawings.

1
Image courtesy Saleh Barakat Gallery

Amongst the predominantly monochrome sketches, are a number of acrylic paintings on painter coloured in lush blues, greens, reds and oranges. Often titled Poem in and then a colour, the images that appear without words evoke all the feelings and intensity that one would expect to find in poetry, much like the one in the introduction to this article.

Throughout Saudi’s work, stone remains a constant. Both in her smooth, tactile jade and limestone forms, and in her flat illustrations on paper, Saudi crafts poems dedicated to the earth. The Saleh Barakat exhibition is a gentle yet powerful display of affection towards natural phenomena and must not be missed if in Beirut this October.

Mona Saudi: Sculptures & works on paper 1995-2017 is on display at Saleh Barakat until 28th October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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