Saudi artist Khaled AlQahtani on underrepresentation​ and expected gender roles.

An artist and storyteller in progress, 17 year old Khaled AlQahtani, tells us more about his latest photographic project exploring gender roles and expectations while highlighting the richness of Arabic. IMG_9112

Tell us about yourself?

I’m a high school student endeavouring to be a scientist and an artist.

My work has been featured in Jaffat el Aqlam and Qahwa Project. “Enough” was displayed in the exhibition of Questioning Conflict, a Bahraini community project in 2015. Nonetheless, I’m captivated by STEM and endeavouring to complete my studies in a Biology-related field. Writing has and continues to heal me. Therefore, I curated Ehki, a platform that offers the opportunity to share stories that are unspeakable in MENA. I try to discuss and spread the awareness about a variety of issues that are denied or rarely discussed in our communities, i.e. sexual harassment and depression. Additionally, I’m currently collecting artworks by artists based in Saudi Arabia for the first issue of Ward, an e-mag for artists of all ages.

Tell us more about “Ward” and the work you are collecting for this e-mag…When shall we expect to see to see the final outcome?

Ward is an e-mag that is dedicated to highlighting the creativity of Saudi artists of all ages easily, affordable, and without censoring the content of their works. I think these are the main obstacles artists face when thinking of sharing their work on art-related platforms. I have released four issues of Ward, and the first themed issue discussing freedom will be released next month inshallah.

What influenced you to start being creative?

Art classes during elementary school were taught by an enthusiastic, art-lover who inspired me to discover my passion for art.

What message do you want to give through your artwork?

Messages that represent my feelings and thoughts in a rapidly developing world: Human (Women) rights, specifically in MENA, Arabic Language, etc.

What themes do you often explore in your artwork and why?

The beauty of people of color, from their diverse histories to their languages. I do that because I do not feel like I am represented in media.


What inspired the idea that you submitted to us?

The expected gender roles have literally suffocated me. I want to express the feelings that make me a human fearlessly and freely.

Tell us more…

Toxic masculinity is enforced on males of all ages in a variety of cultures, thus males are obliged to hide their vulnerability, which makes them “humans.” This has a negative, ever-lasting impact on their lives and affects their journeys of self-exploration. Therefore, this project tries to defy this phenomenon in MENA, particularly in Saudi Arabia, as this is how I was raised and many other males, regardless of how they define themselves on the gender spectrum. Arabic synonyms of the English word “Fragile” where used on the photographs, highlighting the beauty and richness of Arabic, which is another objective of this project.

When or when sparked the moment that you began reflecting on the gender roles expected of you?

Since the age of 9, I began noticing that people surrounding me were mostly uncomfortable and irritated by my “situation.” I preferred drawing on sports items and dolls and on mini-cars. Art and drawing was preffered. Nonetheless, I was urged to satisfy them and adhere to the role given to me based on my assigned sex at birth in order to be accepted. I am 17 years old now and my ultimate goal is to be unapologetic when expressing myself.

Toxic masculinity is definitely a concern around the world. What are the major concerns you have and how do you think we as a society can tackle such concerns?

It enforces males to hide any signs of vulnerability, compassion, and sympathy, which I believe are the essence of being human. Moreover, it does not allow them to follow what they are passionate about, especially if it is related to “femininity” in any way.

One of the aims of the project was also the beauty and richness of Arabic, tell me more about this and what it means to you?

Although English has become a part of who I am, I am partially biased to Arabic. Arabic is more than a first language, it is an eternal poem that manages to impress and overcome me with wonder whenever I learn more about it.




What is your favourite artwork that you have created in the past and why?

A self-portrait titled “tiredness.” It was one of the first works that were drawn using soft pastels and black papers, and I was satisfied with the texture.

What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world?

Inspiration is everywhere! From my body to feelings, and from the current political climate to history.

What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative or what advice would you give to someone?

See beauty everywhere, and make everything a raw material for your work.

Connect us with your favourite Arab artists at the moment?

Samia Halabi Sara Wael Ghadah AlkandariReem Tombokti Galal Yousif  & Raghad Alahmad . 


Connect with Khalid here:

Celebrating Emerging Middle Eastern Creatives