Al Taliaa الطليعة

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Curator Introduction & Artists Biographies Abdulaziz Ashour

In the Name of God

Photographed by Bourkan Kaoukji Mehmet Karakurt Tarik Al abdullah

Ayyam Gallery founder, Khaled Samawi first suggested organising an exhibition on the landmarks of pioneering Saudi Art. This idea was clear to me especially after attending an exhibition (Past as Prologue) during the activities (21:39) sponsored by princess Jawaher Bent Majed Ben Abdul Al Aziz. I later communicated with the artist Abdulaziz Ashour and we agreed to put together this exhibition, with him serving as exhibition curator and writer.

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Diala Sleem

Translator and Editor Fedaa Alqaq

English texts Zarmina Rafi

Mr. Ashour surprised me with the range of rare and historical works and documents to be included in this exhibition. I had not anticipated finding something as valuable as these.

Thanks to Omar Ashour Elsayed Saber Hewar art Gallrey

This exhibition reveals the value of pioneering and first generation of Saudi artists. It highlights this generation’s unique and special circumstances, their notable existence and the sacrifices and contributions made which proved to be vital in the establishment of the first instance of organised Saudi art. Governmental bodies later supported these artists both nationally and internationally. It is my honour to represent Ayyam Gallery in Saudi Arabia, introducing these art works, documents and pictures to be shown for the first time in Ayyam’s gallery space.

Jemes Garcia

Many Thanks Bourkan kaoukji Abdulrahman Al soliman Ala Al shaikh Mazin Al yahya

General references

The Saudi Art Scene Journey - Abdulrahman Alsoliman

I would like to thank Ms. Shatha I. Al-Tassan, founder of Hewar Gallery in Al Riyadh for her support in providing useful pictures and documents. I would also like to thank Mohammed Hafiz, Hamza Serafi, Raneem Farsi, Aya Ali Reza and the members of the Saudi Art Council for their participation and interest in the history of pioneer and the first generation artists in Saudi Arabia. Finally, I would like to thank artist Marwan Redwi and the artists who support this exhibition with pictures and documents. I hope for this exhibition to be an important step in giving Saudi Arabian art its recognition and due in the Arab and international art stage. Qaswra Hafez Ayyam Gallery Jeddah 1

The Painting in Saudi Arabia - Suhil Al-Harbi

The History of Fine Arts in Saudi Arabia - Dr. Mohammed Resayes

Abdulhalim Radwi - Omran Alqaisi

Life between Thought and imagination - Abdulhalim Radwi

Al Afakiah - Muhammed Alsalim Muhammed Alsalim- Fernando Temsti Abdulrahman Alsoliman archives

All rights reserved




The Beginnings of Fine Art in Saudi Arabia By Abdulaziz Ashour

Art in Saudi Arabia developed thanks to the individual efforts of artists aiming to preserve local tradition and culture within a society that did not necessarily support art education and instruction in the same way as the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. This national attitude of refusal to approach painting did not instill confidence in emerging practitioners of art. There was no pride associated in working in the arts, nor was much value attached to this career. However, associations such as the Ministry of Education, the general president of Youth Care (currently the Ministry of Culture and Media), and significant writers of the time did participate in and create lively artistic activities within local society. In the mid 1950s artist Abdulhalim Al Radwi (1939 – 2006) began to be acknowledged for his artistic talents, alongside his contemporary Abdul Rashid Sultan, which created competition between the Saudi Science students and the preparation school students as they participated in an annual activity held in Mecca in 1959. Alradwi distinguished himself by winning the first official painting competition in High School in Saudi Arabia and achieving first position in school for The Village, a work representing trees and clay houses. These were the early signs of his continued rise to fame.


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Another emerging talent of the time was Muhammad Al Saleem (1958 – 2006). He became known the same year that art began to be formally taught in schools in Saudi Arabia. As a result of his artistic prowess, later in life Al Saleem was hired to teach painting at the same primary school he once studied at. In 1960 the artist received his first award in artistic education.

This artwork belongs to Mrs. Shatha I. Al-Tassan’s collection.

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In the early 1960s the first group of Arab students to study abroad left for Cairo, whereas a second group traveled to study in Rome. The Ministry of Education in Riyadh established the first art institute in the region in 1965 with a mandate to train more art teachers. Al Radwi was the first Saudi to study abroad and return to Riyadh as a teacher. His exposure to Western ideas and Modernism made him liberated in his artistic vision; his mind filled with new ideas, he passed them on to his students. Many of the students were not receptive to such free thinking, however there were some who responded well to this new form of instruction, and there were some students who liked him very much. Al Radwi continued teaching in the school until his move to Jeddah. Al Saleem had been at the Fine Arts Academy in Florence, Italy and upon his return to Riyadh he worked as a decorative engineer for a Television channel.

Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya, 1984.

The establishment of the Artistic Education Institute in 1965 and the support of the General leadership of Youth Care was a turning point for artistic production in Saudi Arabia. There were many students graduating from the institute who later went on to became the most important artists of the Kingdom; Youth Care also supported art and artists at various levels, including Abdul Jabbar Al Yahya (b. 1931) and Taha Al Sabban (b. 1948), who did not have academic art degrees but were self taught and were able to make a place for themselves within this art scene. Other artists received training from Arab and local colleges, these include Abdullah Al Shaikh (b. 1936), who graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad in 1959 and was the first artist to obtain an academic degree in art. Mohammed Al Resayes (b. 1950) and Abdullah Hamas (b. 1953) graduated from the art institute in Al Riyadh, and Abdulrahman Al Soliman (b. 1954) graduated from the Teachers Institute in Al Dammam. Youth Care also played a main role in caring for the artists by encouraging artistic talents, and providing structure and formal character to art activities, which enhanced Saudi art both nationally and internationally.

This artwork belongs to Mrs. Shatha I. Al-Tassan’s collection.

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, 1973. 5

Mohammed Al Saleem, 1986. 4


There were distinct groups composed of pioneering artists and their works; those patterned after the West; the audience ignorant about art, representational artists; and ones practicing extreme Modernism. In between all of this the artist chose his visual subject from his real environment alongside the demands of art audiences, and a desire (and an attempt) to create art from reality, not its opposite. For a long time, the above mentioned issues worried artists, as some of them attempted to create a new and modern Arab artistic experience while others went on considering that they must be on good terms with society—for them it was more important than the changes and developments being created within art. In this struggle all artists took part in extended conversations. Pioneer artists wanted to bring stability to heritage and tradition, promoting dialogue about contemporaneity and authenticity, yet applying it in the time they lived was never easy. In the 1980s limitless conversations shaped and helped advance works contrary to the Western tradition. During this time three recognisable styles adopted by the pioneer artists revealed themselves in art. The first was a direct relation to heritage, tradition, and habit; the second held that tradition and heritage were obstacles in the way of their creations; the third was somewhere in between, calling for art to be more flexible, possibly moving towards Modernism and not rigidly tied to old patterns.

The above information provides a historical overview of the development of Saudi art and the participating artists in the exhibition. Regarding creative practices and forms used by artists prior to the generation under discussion it seems their subject matter included different perspectives of local and universal human activities. Later movements such as Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism, Abstraction, and the like came into the mix. The education that artists received in the West, coupled with their creative imagination and what was happening in neighbouring Arab countries in terms of aesthetics all came together to create a new type of art whose most significant feature was the discovery of a distinct national identity that needed to be defined and asserted.

Mohammad Al Resayes, 1982.

This process was difficult but the involved artists did not stop looking forward. The realisation for the need to define identity came out of extensive conversations about contemporaneity and authenticity, as well as formal ideas from Youth Care. Later the artistic experience moved into local reality as well as Western aesthetics, which made the artists reconsider creative approaches that would help enhance local art.

Abdullah Hammas, 1977.

Abdullah Al Shaikh, 1986. 7



During discussion of paradoxical approaches to art making, pioneer artists did suffer from marginalisation as some societies in neighbouring Arab countries did not believe in art, were adversarial to such expression, or had limits to their understanding. However the artists chose to work hard, producing an aesthetic inspired from heritage, working to blend it with modern approaches, and the result was successful. In the end many artists also chose to be involved in art issues, an adventurous journey in which one does not know what the ending has in store. Such daring artists are considered a complex generation, most of them lived as if inside a maze, also often working in isolation, and some of them who were not involved in art debates then are important nonetheless as together they played an important role in creating Saudi art.

Generally, the pioneer artists in the local art scene renewed their visual experiences, and developed the aesthetic vision that wavered between being inspired by heritage, tradition, and what they learnt from experience and technique in school; some of them were able to create attractive works that were considered valuable and distinguished. These innovations furthered the art experience as simple gestures changed into real visions belonging to new aesthetic and theoretical conditions. The most important issue unearthed during this time was the upholding of a national identity.

The brilliant experiences left for us a heritage of contemporary painting, representing their sensibility on different issues, making art a living language referring to the local memory, and their works and creativity went far from copying, some of them worked to promote art tirelessly. We have great hopes in reaching delightful days when such artists are appreciated internationally as a result of their adopted aesthetic and theoretical conditions in the shadow of the new and fast changes that move art into the developed place that everyone once had dreamed of.

Taha Al Sabban, 1994.

Abdulhalim Radwi, 1960. 9







Abdulhalim Radwi (1939 - 2006) inherited the love of art from his mother who liked to paint. Upon noticing his artistic talent, Radwi’s mother encouraged her son to pursue art.

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Radwi was a self-made man who had to work for a living after his father passed away in childhood. Fascinated with art Radwi traveled to Italy in 1961 to study Fine Arts in Rome. Upon returning home his visual sense was highly developed as compared to his compatriots. Radwi said of his first exhibition in Saudi Arabia in 1964: “My works were shot down in exoticism, irony and surprise, the people’s visual imagination in that era was held by representation and copying from reality.” However, such a response did not discourage Radwi and he continued in his endeavours, which were inspired by the impressionism of Cezanne and Van Gogh. Radwi’s themes in terms of subject, technique, brush stroke and use of palette knife enhanced his paintings that often incorporated active blues and greens.

A master at presenting local and Arabic heritage Radwi also borrowed from popular culture and architecture. Radwi was one of the strongest supporters of the concept of “Heritage and Contemporary” in the Saudi art scene. The book Life Between Thought and Imagination was an important turning point in the artist’s career as it made him consider the ability of transforming emotions into colour, highlighting the importance of an artist’s painting in relation to the requirements of the age as well as keeping in mind scientific developments of the time. Discovering the importance of the language of colour, line and light also gave the artist the ability to express himself in a poetic way.







Abdulhalim Radwi Flowers 1 1991 Oil on canvas 91 x 60 cm 17

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Abdulhalim Radwi Horse 1991 Oil on canvas 122 x 76 cm 16

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Abdulhalim Radwi Almadina Al Monawara 1995 Oil on canvas 80.5 x 100 cm 19

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Abdulhalim Radwi Joy Oil on canvas 76 x 150 cm



Abdulhalim Radwi Hornpipe 1998 Oil on canvas 80 x 100 cm 21

Abdulhalim Radwi Al Andalus 1995 Oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

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Mohammed Al Saleem (1939 – 1997).


Known for his sensitivity, Al Saleem studied and later taught at the school in his hometown of Mrat. In his early works, Al Saleem passionately drew palms and farms. His works represent local nature. A famous painting about Mrat and the family launched the artist’s career. Al Saleem struggled between tradition and modernity, especially when things began to modernise in his native country. After studying in Italy, the artist’s works were influenced by the impressionist Henry Edmond. Al Saleem also explored the desert and the imagination, giving the title Al Afakia to his proposed thesis, which was a utopic imagining of the desert. He further explained the concept of Al Afakia by calling it “a step within the visual and aesthetic in human language.” Al Afakia did not look to set limits on human creative thought, but carries with it honourable values and principles by being immersed in the environment’s beauty, and moral values the artist was raised with. These considerations result in producing significant artistic character. Al Saleem is also known to have said, “To be proud of our identity is part of our victory.” In 1977 Al Saleem painted, In the name of God and in his work the importance of language in art and his enhanced vision for Al Afakia are evident. Al Saleem and his colleagues were also deeply involved in formulating a harmony between Western art and a distinct Arab identity. In 1988, in the newspaper Al Yamama, Al Saleem said, “any work without originality doesn’t deserve to belong to art.” 23






Mohammed Al Saleem Untitled 1986 Oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm 27


Mohammed Al Saleem Untitled 1977 Oil on canvas 65 x 100 cm 26

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Mohammed Al Saleem Accepted Mosque 1987 Oil on canvas 120 x 59 5 cm 29

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Mohammed Al Saleem Deserts Heart 1987 Oil on canvas 70 x 50 cm 28



As a student in Iraq, Abduljabbar Al Yahya (b. 1931) created work in the style of Impressionist painters, Cezanne and Manet. In 1952 the artist moved to Jeddah and worked as an editor for the arts publication Al Madian Al Mounara. In 1969 the artist moved to Riyadh, where he received the first sign to seriously practice fine art after he sold an artwork to a German buyer. So began his local art career with his first exhibition opening in the same year at the head quarters of the U.S. Mission in Riyadh, where the artist exhibited in 1972 as well. At the time of Al Yahya’s first exhibition the artist’s works were closer to Renaissance painting, but later he became inspired by nature, humanity and the role of women in society. He said in his brilliant book, Abduljabbar Al Yahya and 50 years of Painting, “I realised that I followed the theme ‘art for life’ and art is not only a hobby or entertainment away from a purpose. I strongly believe that I have a message I must achieve, neither reaching pleasure nor fun, but deliver an idea bringing hope to the human being.” In conclusion he stated, “When I’m away from painting, I feel depressed and I have a lump in my heart, I know my humanity through art.”

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His first exhibition was in Al Riyadh 1971.



Abduljabbar Al Yahya Faces 1995 Oil on canvas 65 x 50 cm 33


Abduljabbar Al Yahya Echoes of Silence 1975 Oil on canvas 78 x 44 cm 32

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Abduljabbar Al Yahya Flask 2000 Oil on canvas 100 x 100 cm 35

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Abduljabbar Al Yahya Spiral 1995 Oil on canvas 50 x 65 cm 34


Abduljabbar Al Yahya Falling 1990 Oil on canvas 75 x 50 cm 37

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Abduljabbar Al Yahya Saba Najd 2000 Oil on canvas 102 x 102 cm 36

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Abdullah Al Shaikh (b. 1936) In the late nineteen-forties Abdullah Al Shaikh saw art works created by his brother and one of his relatives that made him decide to be a painter. He studied at the Fine Arts college in Baghdad, graduating in 1959. Al Shaikh was taught by the most important teachers of that era, Jawad Salim and Faik Hasan who were prominent in the Iraqi art scene. In 1980 the artist presented his early works inspired by local heritage, popular tales, architectural forms and symbols. Later the artist’s works dealt with the Gulf crisis in which he depicted human fear, worry, pain and oppression. In the 1990s Al Shaikh was passionate about music, and would listen to romantic and expressive musicians like Shosta Kufg. Of his taste in music the artist says, “I wasn’t very passionate about this kind of art before, but later new concerns appeared clearly to me through pure and amazing music, liberating me from modern pressures that often hit Arabs.” His first exhibition was held in Baghdad in 1965.






Abdullah Al Shaikh Local Houses 2004 Oil on wood 60 x 81 cm 43

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Abdullah Al Shaikh The Sky 1990 Oil on canvas and wood 90 x 90 cm 42

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Abdullah Al Shaikh Contemporary Series 1 2007 Oil on wood 122 x 80 cm 45

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Abdullah Al Shaikh Local Houses 2 2005 Oil on wood 76 x 76 cm 44

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Abdullah Al Shaikh Contemporary Series 2 2008 Oil on wood 122 x 80 cm 47

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Abdullah Al Shaikh Contemporary Series 3 2007 Oil on wood 122 x 80 cm 46

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Taha Al Sabban (b. 1948) Taha Al Sabban is interested in depicting the changing social landscapes of Saudi Arabia, showing an aesthetic loyalty to the cities of Hejaz, his hometown of Mecca, and Jeddah, each city informing his style and serving as lasting inspiration. In 1975 Al Sabban studied in Britain, which played an important role in the artist’s career. Al Sabban’s father first encouraged him to study art, supplying him with artist’s materials. Another important influence on his art career was the painter, Abdulhalim Alradwi, an artistic pioneer from Mecca. Al Sabban says of his relationship with Alradwi, “When I met Alradwi the first time I showed him a portrait of mine and he liked it, and since then we had an inseparable bond.” This bond enriched Al Sabban’s practice. He also found inspiration in the rich history and variety of people living in the old city. Al Sabban was able to capture the essence of his hometown like no one had done before, with imagery focusing on boats, shooters, dancers, popular games and previously popular Saudi artworks. Al Sabban remains committed to depicting the old city. In order to feed his soul he must continue working with details from the old city and incorporating them into his art. His first exhibition was held in Koltcher, Italy in 1975. 49




Taha Al Sabban Neighborhood 1996 Oil on canvas 90 x 50 cm 53


Taha Al Sabban Old Jeddah 1993 Oil on canvas 120 x 89 cm 52

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Taha Al Sabban Boat 2001 Oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm 55

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Taha Al Sabban From The Beginnings 1981 Oil on canvas 56 x 77 cm 54


Taha Al Sabban Bab Rezq 2010 Oil on canvas 122 x 92 cm 57

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Taha Al Sabban Sea 1 2006 Oil on canvas 98 x 150 cm 56

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Mohammad Al Resayes (b. 1950) In the initial stages of his career, Mohammad Al Resayes’ art works focused on Abstract Expressionism. Al Resayes’ early artistic experience related to local architecture in which he made use of columns and doors. Later he took on the position that “art must be launched out of an idea,” going on to create works of art that brought forth issues such as starvation, the misery of war and adversity. In addition to his artistic output, Al Resauses has also authored The History of Fine Art, a very important historical text in Saudi Arabia and Fine Art and Humanity, and the brochure, Fine Art in Al-Jenadriyah. Having first exhibited in 1973, the artist has participated in various national and international exhibitions in Cairo, Paris and London.






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Mohammad Al Resayes Borrowed from Traditional 1980 Oil on canvas 61 x 92 cm 63

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Mohammad Al Resayes Flexibility 1980 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 cm 62

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Mohammad Al Resayes Architectural Element 5 1982 Oil on canvas 120 x 89 cm 65

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Mohammad Al Resayes Falcon and Spindle 1980 Oil on canvas 90 x 120 cm 64

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Mohammad Al Resayes Animated Mask 1985 Oil on canvas 76 x 60 cm 67

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Mohammad Al Resayes Waiting for The End 1985 Oil on canvas 90 x 55 cm 66

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Abdullah Hammas (b. 1953) Graduated from the Arts Institute in Al Riyadh in 1973. He studied abstraction with Iraqi artist Salman Al-Dulaimi, producing early work in structural abstraction. Hammas continued experimentation with abstraction, while also including symbols reminiscent of the local traditions and environment of his native Aseer into his work. The artist’s technique has also been linked to automatism, in addition to the enrichment of his works with colour that reveals spontaneity in practice. His most recent works reveal knowledge of carpet weaving and costume making from Aseer. Hammas’ first exhibition took place in 1974.



Abdullah Hammas Abstract 8 1974 Oil on canvas 56 x 76 cm 71


Abdullah Hammas Abstract 1973 Oil on canvas 55 x 75 cm 70


Abdullah Hammas Abstract 3 1985 Oil on canvas 75 x 55 cm 73


Abdullah Hammas Abstract 4 1982 Oil on canvas 55 x 75 cm 72

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Abdullah Hammas Abstract 11 1985 Oil on canvas 55 x 43 cm 75

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Abdullah Hammas Abstract 5 1985 Oil on canvas 60 x 45 cm 74

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Abdulrahman Al Soliman (b. 1954) As mentioned in the artist’s diaries, Al Soliman studied painting with artist Mousaed Al-Ghrami, with whom he first worked on canvas and later murals. The artist’s first exhibition was held in 1973, organised by the Al Itifaq Club in Dammam. “I was painting from memory and imagination using images of houses, palms, farms and markets,” he recalls. By the end of 1970’s the artist and his colleagues were busy creating “local art.” Al Soliman became known as a local artist, choosing to give importance to heritage in all its forms.

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The artists’ most recent works demonstrate a preference for ritual and are also related to paleontology and nature, ancient architecture, and local memory. The artists’ use of colour reveals a mastery of expression. In addition to being an artist, Al Soliman is active as an art critic whose writing has focused on local art with the intention of approaching Arab art in all its complexity. He is a significant critic and the author of The Contemporary Saudi Art Journey.





Abdulrahman Al Soliman Beginnings 2 1981 Oil on wood 50 x 60 cm 81

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Abdulrahman Al Soliman Beginnings 3 1977 Oil on canvas 70 x 50 cm 80


Abdulrahman Al Soliman Abstract 1989 Mixed colours on cardboard 50 x 88 cm 83


Abdulrahman Al Soliman Beginnings 11 1986 Oil on canvas 60 x 76 cm 82

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Abdulrahman Al Soliman Climates 3 1993 Oil on canvas 85 x 95 cm 85


Abdulrahman Al Soliman Climates 2 1993 Mixed colours on cardboard 91 x 90 cm 84

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