Alia Ahmad - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “In Arabic 'riyadh' translates to ‘oasis within a desert’ […] my intention is to illuminate that there is a lot of life from a land that is perceived as dry.”
    —Alia Ahmad


    Representing Saudi-Arabian artist Alia Ahmad’s auction debut, Malga - The place in which we gather is a work full of lively vitality and thrilling energy. Working on a large scale, her confident handling and sophisticated sense of colour is particularly evident here, with skeins of paint drawn like delicate, melting nets across the surface of the canvas. Drawing inspiration from her home, the vibrant and ever-growing desert city of Riyadh and its heady mix of ancient heritage, modern skyscrapers, luscious fauna, and desert sands, Ahmad’s paintings excavate and interrogate more fixed notions of time and place, overlaying sensation and memory into her fluid and deeply evocative abstract compositions.

    City Scenes


    In contradistinction to popular conceptions of the desert as a barren, empty space, Ahmad fills her compositions with the noise and bustle of urban life, capturing the rich diversity of this thriving city and celebrating the dense tapestry of the lives woven through it. Included in the artist’s first solo presentation in the United States, A Meadow … From a Dream, hosted by Kohn Gallery in 2022, Malga - The place in which we gather brings this vividly to life, its richly textured surface evoking the tactility, vibrant colour, and highly decorative qualities of Sadu textiles. However, while these tend to more regular geometries and repeating patterns, Ahmad’s more calligraphic treatment of line adds an energy and irregularity that brings to mind Jean Dubuffet’s own long-standing fascination with his city and the lives within it. For Dubuffet the city was a theatre teeming with life, while the scumbled surfaces of its walls and buildings were sedimented palimpsests, recording and bearing witness to the past and present lives of the city. Sharing a predisposition for the calligraphic line, in Ahamd’s compositions, not unlike Dubuffet’s, boundaries between abstraction, figuration, and the urban cityscape become increasingly blurred and fluid.


    Jean Dubuffet, Le Plomb Dans L'Aile, 1961, Detroit Institute of Fine Arts. Image: © Detroit Institute of Arts / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2024

    Fittingly, Ahmad was recently included in the group exhibition Considering Female Abstractions, hosted by the Green Family Art Foundation in Dallas. Situating her work within the broader currents of contemporary abstraction alongside familiar names such as Austyn Weiner, Michalea Yearwood-Dan, and Francesca Mollett not only firmly positions Ahmad in dialogue with others pursuing this exciting new painterly terrain but highlights the rich interplay of painterly abstraction and states of interiority explored by these emerging female voices. Although closely aligned with her contemporaries in this way, Ahmad’s work also looks back to a long history of women and abstraction, notably the innovative play of materials and abstract forms in American-Ukrainian artist Janet Sobel’s all-over canvases, which pioneered a mode of drip painting that preceded Jackson Pollock’s adoption of the method.


    Janet Sobel, Milky Way, 1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: akg-images / Album

    Exploring the rich, dreamlike spaces between memory, place, and time - and the forms that bloom and swell from these sites – Ahmad’s compositions are at once rich and muscular, lyrical and expressive. Invoking both Riyadh’s vibrant district of Al Malga, and the Arabic word for ‘refuge’, Malga – The place in which we gather is a moving statement on the central importance of place and history in grounding our sense of personal identity. In this sense, Ahmad’s description of her paintings as ‘blueprints’ seems especially profound, their cellular structure and complex interplay of emerging and dissolving forms a powerful and poetic expression of the shifting nature of identity and memory itself. In March of this year White Cube in Paris will mount a solo presentation of Ahmad’s paintings, her first exhibition in Europe.


    Collector’s Digest


    • Currently living and working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Alia Ahmad graduated from Kings College in London with a BA in Digital Culture before going on to study at the Royal College of Art.


    • The artist has been the subject of several international solo exhibitions at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, Hafez Gallery in Jeddah, and Gallery BAWA in Kuwait. In March of this year, she will open her first solo show with White Cube in Paris, marking her European debut.


    • The present work represents the artist's auction debut. 

    • Provenance

      Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Michael Kohn Gallery, من الحلم .. . روضة (A meadow… from a dream), 5 November 2022-14 January 2023


Malga - The Place In Which We Gather

signed 'Alia' lower right
oil on canvas
129 x 148.2 cm (50 3/4 x 58 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2022.

Full Cataloguing

£20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for £101,600

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024