kameel Hawa | How art set me free!
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How art set me free!

Over several  months, every weekday off, I used to start every morning on a one hour walk for weight loss purposes. And one morning, it occurred to me to carry my camera along with me, and take photos of graffiti I find on the walls, on my way in the alleys of my early walk. This went on peacefully for several weeks, despite the sensitivity to photography in Saudi city streets. Yet one day as I finished taking several photos of one big collection of  graffiti on a wall, I found a police car parked across the road from where I was, and the policeman looking towards me. He signaled for me to approach him, and when I did he asked me for my residence permit. I gave it to him, and he kept it, then started asking me of why I was taking photos of what were to him dirty walls, which should have been taken care of by the municipality!!

I tried to explain in vain, and show the innocence of my intentions but to no avail. He insisted that I had some bad scheme in mind. During the encounter he would question me, then close the car window, talk to his superior through a wireless phone, then reopen the window and resume the questioning. Then when he did so one more time, he opened the window and asked me a baffling question (coming from a lay policeman): “Are you a modern plastic artist?”. When I answered affirmatively, he handed me back my residence permit, and let me go. Surely the question must have come from his superior officer, who seems to have been of the opinion that people practicing modern art can be up to strange and bizarre things, for which they cannot be blamed or held guilty!

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