Basmah Felemban: Every leader is an artist

Born and raised in Jeddah, Basmah Felemban, only 19 years old, is the new star on the horizon.

Basmah Felemban: Every leader is an artist


Mariam Nihal

Saudi Gazette



JEDDAH — Born and raised in Jeddah, Basmah Felemban, only 19 years old, is the new star on the horizon.

With the ability to tap into the current status quo and master art of human experiences, she is one to watch out for.

“Someone once told me: ‘an artist is a story teller.’ So I think that’s what I do!” 

She believes art is about sharing a feeling, a philosophy and projecting reality. “It’s like when you read about something you have knowledge about but you still have an epiphany when you read a well-written fact even though you already know that fact, but a writer manages to hit you in the face with it.”

She added: “When you make an artwork, you are projecting truth or making a vision of what reality should be to provoke people to think and have an opinion.”

Felemban believes having a strong concept is a critical element in any artwork. “But then again we do experience some work that overwhelms you with its beauty without necessarily having a concept! We need both and at the end it’s all about sharing a human experience and trying to connect with people.”

Still a teenager, Felemban said she is one of the many young and upcoming talents in the country.


“I think there are a lot of emerging talented artists almost my age nowadays! I’m very happy to see more and more artists from my age group coming out to the public and taking art more seriously and giving it some form of dedication.”

She said the support from family has been incredible, even though it was slightly different in the beginning.


“It was hard to make them understand what being an artist is all about because for them it seemed more of a hobby. But I think after they attended my first group exhibition and saw the whole scene they realized the potential of this becoming my main profession and started helping me dedicate more time to it.”

Unlike the rest of her peers,Felemban decided not to attend college after graduating high school.

She said: “When I was 14 and worked as a freelancer after school. Growing up I realized I was in it for the wrong reasons, graphic design turned to be more of a corporate job than an artistic one.

“After that I started doing it purely as a job and source of income and found out that art was a lot closer to my heart. So I decided to give it a shot after I graduated from high school in 2011 and didn’t go to college, instead I did a bit of many things really.

“From social media, writing, graphic design to making artworks, I even worked in fashion companies for a while. And in the end it all inspired my art. I don’t feel like I want to be doing one specific type of art. For me, it’s all about the concept and which medium would execute that concept best.”

Felemban identifies with “Sacred Art” and is passionate about symbolism, philosophy, poetry and science.

“I feel like Sacred Art is not only about religion, It’s more about discovering and exploring all the things in the world that are not tangible like spirituality, emotions, philosophy and existence and showing this in a very structured, detailed manner “almost-perfect” visuals makes you understand more about them and somehow helps you identify them,” she said.

As an artist she enjoys architectural designs and anything based on a grid or a pattern. “I love drawing Islamic geometric patterns and understanding it’s geometry and all the equations they’re based on. It’s just spectacular.”

She said there are huge supporters of the art movement in Saudi Arabia. “All the local and even international exhibitions that are highlighting Saudi artists- young and established. They encourage more talented people to produce and not give-up on the artist within.”

Felemban exhibited at YSA2012 and is back this year for YSA13. The Young Saudi Artists (YSA) exhibition is an Athr Gallery prodigy.  It allows talent across the country to shine and helps create a bridge with social themes. “I was more backstage, which was really great!”

She said YSA12 was her first time exhibiting her work in an installation and not a printed design as an artwork.

“It was a really great experience (even though my work was shattered 30 min before the opening!). After that a lot of doors opened for me and I got to show people that I can do more than design! It’s really great to look back every year and see what you’ve achieved since the last YSA,” said Felemban.

She added this year was a flashback and gave her a chance to recollect and progress as an artist.


“I had a flashback when I was at the opening. It’s very overwhelming how much has happened.

“At the same time it’s exciting to see how my work and also other artists matured throughout the year. That’s the whole point of Young Saudi Artists exhibition, documenting the art of the new generation.”

When asked about the role an artist serves in a society such as Saudi Arabia, she said: “An artist eventually is just like any other member of the society. Some artists are there to shock you and make you think, hate, love and expand your perspective on things.

“Some are there to celebrate spirituality and emotions and some to educate you.”

She said the Saudi society is not yet artistically mature. “I think it’s our role as artists to speak to people with a language they are familiar with.”

She said artists are not here to mold the scene. “So I believe it’s essential that artists drop the ‘I’ and work with the ‘we.’”

Felemban will also be starring at RHIZOMA (Generation in Waiting) Edge of Arabia’s latest art phenomenon that highlights the growing underground Saudi art scene.

“I’m very excited about it! Being a part of Venice biennale is such a big deal for any artist and it’s very rewarding being there at such an early stage of my art journey.

“I’m going to show an interactive piece using Islamic Patterns, It’s about how things exist in different shapes and dimensions but each one supports the existence of the other. I hope it would be a nice experience for the audience,” she said.

When asked what inspires her, Basmah said: “People. The way they differentiate, feel, think and constantly change. Also of course Islamic Art! Somehow I really think of them both the same.

“Both are so complicated and infinite yet they’re made of very very simple principles. We’re such fascinating creatures with our paradoxes, flaws, strength and intellectuality. Making a physical or mental experience for people to explore themselves and see what lies underneath our flesh body.”

Talking about her dream project, Felemban said: “I think it would be a project that offers people from my age group things that I hardly found such as professional guidance and mentoring, financial and moral support.


“It’s very essential in my opinion for teens at the age of 13 or 14 to have a passion toward something. At that age you should start developing the talent you’re going to live off of after three or four years.”

Speaking about her favorite artists, Felemban relates to “Shirin Neshat, her feminine strength and how she’s connected to her roots and culture. Da vinci and how his work is a celebration of science and art; he broke boundaries and followed his guts; and finally, Mounir Fatmi.”

Felemban plans to pursue MA in Islamic Art at The Prince’s School of Traditional Art in London.


“And now that I’ve signed exclusively with Athr Gallery I think it is going to be a great experience making contemporary art the same time I’m studying pure traditional art.”

Few of Felemban’s favorite artworks have been Da Vinci’s “vitruvian man,” “The Black Poet” and “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Léon Gérôme.”

“My favorite contemporary pieces are “The Anatomy of an Angel” — Damien Hirst and “One and One #20” by Timo Nasseri,” she said.

She said life is too rough and art is like creating the reality we want to live rather than the one we’re living.

“Today’s world is very materialistic and hectic. We really need to reconnect with our souls and momentarily drift away from society and politics. It’s not even about religion, it’s just us, and our relationship with ourselves!”