Ever watch a palm tree for any length of time? They tower over barren landscapes. They thrive in cities. And up top in their hairy mane they house wildlife of all sorts from crows to baby pigeons. Some give tasty fruit, others drop annoying seeds on spindly arms. It is the lowly palm, turned sideways that features in a Saudi Arabian contribution to the Biennale Arte 2022 in Venice.
Multidisciplinary artist Muhannad Shono has been selected to represent Saudi Arabia at Biennale
Arte 2022 in Venice. Curated by Reem Fadda and Assistant Curator Rotana Shaker, The Teaching Tree
is a large-scale, ambitious installation exploring themes of creation, regeneration, nature, and
Commissioned by The Visual Arts Commission, one of 11 sector-specific commissions overseen by
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture, the installation will be on display at the Arsenale-Sale d’Armi until November 27.
As Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to define itself on the world stage, Shono has emerged as a compelling voice among a new generation of rising artists from the region.
The Teaching Tree is a vast, 40-metre-long, organically formed structure made of palm fronds painted
in black and animated by pneumatics. The enigmatic form fills the length of the pavilion, embodying
Shono’s investigation of the drawn line and its potential for creation and destruction.
Through this he explores ideas of resilience and regeneration both in the natural world and within human imagination. Shono’s practice counters the limits of singular narratives, instead questioning truths, ontologies, and the basic concepts underpinning human life. Investigating the drawn line, Shono
interrogates the impact of writing and the generation of thought, as well as their respective
For Shono, embracing the line and mark making is an act of creative agency. As such, The
Teaching Tree builds on central concepts within his practice, interrogating the self, tradition,
mythology, and the natural world.
The stories of Al Khidr have also had a profound influence on Shono’s personal and creative life.
Made of plant matter, it was known that wherever Al Khidr sat a garden would grow, symbolising
rebirth, regeneration, and healing.
The Teaching Tree thus alludes to ‘mother nature’ and its hope for rebirth in face of warning signs of past and future ecological struggles.
Commenting on his work, Shono said: “My work embodies the irrepressible spirit of creative expression: the power of the imagination that grows despite what may attempt to limit it but instead makes it more resilient. This is a resilience that is taught by nature, in its continuous cycles of death and re-growth, like trees nourished by the ashes of wildfires.”
The exhibition’s curator, Reem Fadda, added, “The Teaching Tree references the drawn line
overgrown, now encapsulating a multitude of dimensions. This object becomes emblematic and
dichotomous in imaginations represented, words written, and marks engraved, reflecting upon their
irreversible effects on history.”