It’s easy to lose oneself in Saudi artist Raeda Ashour’s exceptionally handsome compositions. Her work offers scintillating insight into Islamic decorations and miniature art, depicting rhythmic linear patterns that are embossed by hand using gold and silver inks and pastel colours to give a relief effect.
Look closely and you’ll be mesmerised by her impeccable ornamentation and iconography, which she interprets in a minimalist and modern way. “I’m passionate about producing art that’s built upon cultural enlightenment and the legacy of the Islamic world,” she says. “I consider myself as a custodian of traditional Islamic art and heritage.”
Raeda acquired her Bachelor’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the American University of Cairo in 1981 whilst she was based in Egypt. There, she co-founded the publishing house Dar Al-Bayader with the aim of increasing awareness about political turmoil in the Arab world. When the venture ended after eight years, she joined the iconic Dar Al-Fata Al-Arabi and was captivated by its illustrated children’s books, which featured the works of Egyptian artists like Adli Rizqallah.
Her passion for the arts stemmed from her career in publishing, which she further pursued upon her return to Saudi Arabia in 1991. In 2007, she received her Master’s Degree in Art Education from Rushmore University in South Dakota, the United States. She also attended workshops on geometry, pattern and adornment in Islamic art at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London in 2006 and 2007.
Raeda is inspired by the works of Palestinian artist Jumana El Husseini and her portrayal of Jerusalem, the city of her birth. “I started making collages featuring Arab cities and their traditional architecture. I’ve always had a fascination with places and their design language. The crowded, concrete-laden locations we live in these days make me nostalgic about old cities, their simplicity, and sense of peace and spirituality,” she shares.
She has developed a signature hand-embossing technique, which allows her to express ideas with accuracy and freedom. She utilises gold leaf, pastels, water colours, and photo prints to create her meditative artworks.
“Over the years, I’ve developed deeper respect for my identity as a Muslim. I’ve done extensive research on places like Morocco, Iran and East Turkestan, and relentlessly studied what constitutes Islamic art. The more I delved into the subject, the prouder I felt of my roots,” she notes.
Raeda has showcased her works in more than 50 group shows at galleries and festivals around the world, including the Saudi Women Artists’ exhibition at UNESCO Beirut, Lebanon (2001); Dolmabahçe Sanat Galerisi in Istanbul, Turkey (2012); and Saudi Cultural Week in Moscow, Russia (2017). Also to her credit are solo regional exhibitions at places like Dar Al Funoon in Kuwait (1997), and Jeddah’s Hafez Gallery (2023).
“I believe in the ability of art to shape our perception, refine our senses, and enhance our imagination. My aim is to indulge in the visual palate of my audience and show reverence towards their spiritual and humanistic values,” she concludes.
Photography by Fawzi Kaoukji. Images courtesy of Raeda Ashour