Meet a Master

Local art is tricky to find in Saudi Arabia. It’s almost like you have to be in the “in crowd” to find out about the latest exhibitions, the gallery openings, the art shows, and whatever other kind of exclusive event people can think of. It’s fun when you’re one of the movers and shakers of Dhahran, but not so great for the people who have no idea where to go for a unique piece from the region. Luckily, for the newbies who have no clue, I have the perfect spot for you to check out for your artistic needs…

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the re-opening of one of my faves, Arabian Collections Gallery (ACG) in Amwaj Plaza, previously located in Al-Rashid Mall. I was super excited to hear about the opening, partly because it had been closed for about 6 months, but mostly because it is one of the few places in Dhahran where you can buy art by local and Middle Eastern artists! You may remember the name of the gallery from two of my older posts since I bought a very special calligraphic piece for my living room from them and was gifted one of their old Arabian maps, which now hangs in my office.

Arabian Collections Gallery
The new Arabian Collections Gallery space in Amwaj Plaza, Photo courtesy of Ale Studio

Where It All Started: Helen Al-Ammari

Before I get started on the amazing features of the gallery, I have to introduce you to its fabulous owner, Helen Al-Ammari. She is an artist and an entrepreneur, who has spent a majority of her professional career helping support and promote the works of local artists in the region. Helen is an exceptional businesswoman in that she has successfully managed to make their creations accessible to people like you and me.

Art should be accessible to everyone. I always have that in mind. I even think about accessible art when selling my own artwork. I have maintained good relationships with my artists, and luckily they have given me great prices for their work. I do not, however, feel the need to inflate the prices when I sell it in my own gallery.

Helen Al-Ammari
Gallery owner, Helen Al-Ammari, in her home

I spent a wonderful afternoon with Helen at her home where she spoke to me at length about her passion for art and her motivation behind starting the gallery. Interestingly, her desire to start a gallery came from her love of framing! While living in the States, she would frequent a framing store where she would take in her pictures, have them framed, or just frame them herself. She loved this concept, and thought it was something the Saudi market desperately needed. It was after she took multiple courses in framing and gallery business courses, that she translated her passion into a business in Dhahran.

There was no where in town that followed the guild association standards of framing. People have to pay more for our services, but I wanted to do something of the right quality.

Through her gallery, she has been able to promote the work of artists in the region, as well as being able to display some of her own beautiful creations.

Helen describes herself as a mixed media artist, which she started 6 years ago. This type of medium allows her to use different materials and textures to create depth and liveliness to her paintings. Personally, I love her use of color and the overall vibrancy of her artwork. I especially love the pieces from her “Colourful Arabia” series…

Visit her website to see more of these stunning pieces…

Rooftops in Colour, from Helen's
Rooftops in Colour, from Helen’s “Colourful Arabia” series
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Circles 1, from Helen’s “Circles Series”
Helen Al-Ammari's Work
Helen’s amazing studio and colorful creations! For more information visit her website or stop by the gallery.

Side note: While “Googling” Helen’s name – a common method of research for me – I found an article written by my MOTHER, Salma Shakir, for the Arab News in 2008 about Helen and her gallery. I’m not sure why she forgot to mention this to me, but I guess this proves that I really am my mother’s daughter! Check out her much more eloquent and detailed article about Helen and her story here

ACG’s Framing Services

I think we should all be extremely grateful to have a store like ACG in Dhahran. They not only specialize in Middle Eastern and Islamic Art, but provide something quite unique for this market – high quality framing services. To be specific, museum quality framing. If you don’t know why this is a big deal, I’ll give you a few pretty good reasons…

Everything you frame here, is reversible… Framers in town have a tendency to glue pictures down when framing, something this gallery definitely does not practice. I am a victim of this annoying technique as one of my favorite paintings is currently STUCK to the matte it was framed in… ACG wants your picture to be in the same condition as when you originally brought it in. Your pictures might be stretched or stitched in (ie: bedouin jewelry) as part of the framing service, but glue is not a part of the equation. The integrity of the piece is maintained and always a priority.

The best materials are used for your precious artwork… Helen has spent a lot of time going to trade shows to find the highest quality materials for the gallery. Since Italy has the best moldings, that’s where their moldings come from. Even, their acid-free mattes come from the UK.

The staff has been trained by a museum framer… George Taylor, a museum framer from the UK, spent 6 months with the staff to ensure that everything in the store was set up and done the right way.

ACG’s Middle Eastern & Islamic Art

One of the very special perks of being an artist and having your own gallery is that you get to choose the pieces in it! Helen is able to purchase her artwork directly from these artists or from galleries because of the great relationships that she has fostered.

I don’t choose anything I don’t like. I work with artists, and it’s easier to deal with them since I can relate to them as a fellow artist.

While in the past, she has mostly displayed paintings in her gallery, Helen is now working on introducing other mediums, including ceramics and glass pieces as well as sculptures. She even has cards and wrapping paper available for purchase. Eventually, you will be able to purchase the kind of gift items that you typically find in museum stores!

Arabian Collections Gallery
Photos courtesy of Ale Studio
Arabian Collections Gallery
Photo courtesy of Ale Studio

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Helen’s Tips & Tricks:

What kind of art pieces should people think about purchasing while living here?

Buy art pieces that you like unless you’re a pure investor and going for the value. It’s best to find pieces that are representative of here, but it all depends on what you like – abstract, realist, figurative work, etc. Look at your house and match the style.

What services can ACG provide for their clientele?

ACG offers art consultancy services where we can help with interior decisions by looking at what a specific individual likes. We look at things like preferences in terms of orientation, how much space you have, what room it’s going into, if there’s a lot of wood/silver/gold furnishings in the room… We even have a home framing service, where we have a representative (Allan) come out and take care of your framing needs at your home. This has been a very popular option and the preferred choice for most of our clients.

Any particular local artists to look out for?

My personal favorites artists are Hussein Mohassen, Mohammed Saihati, Mohammed Farea, Zaman Jasim, and Sameera Ismail.

Any suggestions on how best to display your artwork?

Give it space. Give it room to breathe. As a general rule, hang it at eye-level or so that your eye-level is two thirds above the painting. You have to think about different ways of using the size of your paintings or how to group your paintings/photographs together. If you have a lot of different shapes and sizes, the majority would have to be different for it to look coherent. You can even mix old photographs with oil paintings, but it is all about balance.

Look at books, such as “Living with Art,” and magazines for ideas. Do some research.

When I moved into my home, I knew where my paintings were going to go before I even knew where the furniture was going to go. It’s important to think about where you are going to put your painting, what room it’s in and how it affects your room. If you have a busy room, then your paintings should be more subdued. We made sure our house was very neutral so that we could accentuate with paintings.

Helen Al-Ammari Home_8

Do you have an suggestions for lighting?

You can use picture lights, guided spotlights, recess lights, or even uplighting from a table. I tried LED fixtures but they often weren’t bright enough… Recess lights work well, but it’s important to figure out the depth of the fixtures so that you don’t create shadows on your paintings… Lighting was difficult in the past, but now stores are carrying better fixtures. Noran (on the main Dhahran-Khobar highway) can order lighting for you if they don’t have it in stock. In general, lighting is very important when thinking about how to display your artwork. Light comes from the inside of a painting, and you’re using it to pull the elements of a painting.

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Also worth checking out are some of the beautiful pieces that Helen has collected for her own home… Just stunning!

Helen Al-Ammari's Home Artwork
Center painting by Omar Rashid from Bahrain; Left & Right street scene paintings by Wahab Koheji from Bahrain
Helen Al-Ammari Home
Painting by Omar Rashid

When you’re ready to explore the local art scene in Dhahran, make sure you stop by Arabian Collections Gallery and check out their amazing pieces…

Store Location

Arabian Collections Gallery

Amwaj Plaza (by Gate 3 across from Red Tag & Ale Studio), 3566 Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Rd, Dhahran, KSA

Telephone: +966 13 868 6142 for an appointment or inquiries



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