Across Saudi Arabia, young artists are challenging international perceptions of what it means to wear traditional Bedouin grab. Through digital imagery spread across social media platforms, these artists are transforming Western pop-culture icons like Beyoncé and Adele into Bedouin women donning veils and traditional clothing.
Take Al Osaimi a 24-year-old artist who grew up in Al Duwadimi, a small town west of Riyadh He says he has always been obsessed with Western pop culture. “My cousins and friends would tell me that drawing the veil on the head of a non-Muslim singer or celebrity is haram (forbidden). However, this is not how I perceive the veil; it is a cultural symbol to me.”
With over 12,000 Instagram followers, his passion has now turned into a small business. He has set up a website called “Scribbles” with a friend, and sells his designs to mainly Saudis and nationals from close Persian Gulf states.
Al Osaimi’s designs can be seen to some as controversial, yet he claims “I do not have a message when designing. It is just a passion that resonated with people.”
Re-imagining Saudi Arabia
As Saudi Arabia shifts into public image, artists like Al Osaimi and Fida Al Hussan are helping to highlight the new, young wave of Saudis.
Fida Al Husan is a 32-year-old digital artist who combines aspects of Western culture with Saudi traditions.
She originally made a name for herself through directing a satirical music video called “Hwages” which garnered more than 16 million viewss. Her designs frequently show white women covered with Arabic letter, designs, and flags from Arabic countries.
“When I make a design, I do it because I have a feeling that I want to portray, not a message per se, and my character is a woman because I am mostly showing the state of mind that I am in.”
Her images range from women wearing the burqa, to donning an astronaut helmet.
“Through this design, I wanted to tell Saudi women that they can do anything.”
Mixing Western and Arabic Culture
Abdallah Al Harthy was one of the first Saudi artists to mix aspects of Western and Arabic culture, starting back in 2010.
“The idea came to me after I saw pictures of celebrities who visited our region and tried to wear the shemagh (headdress for men), yet never mastered it.”
Today the artist’s account features pictures of celebrities such as Drake, Brad Pitt and George Clooney wearing Saudi clothing.
“In Western cinema, the person wearing the Arab attire is always depicted as a bad person, a terrorist. By showing celebrities looking stylish in our attire, I am showing the world an alternative image for the ‘bad’ Arab they are used to seeing.”
Read more at CNN.