The Cowboy Code

Ahmed Mater’s Cowboy Code, 2012 is a particular favourite here at #OCCUPYARABART and is our second article on the work of Saudi artist Ahmed Mater. Born in Abha in 1979, Ahmed Mater is recognised as one of the most influential Saudi Arabian artists of today.


This impressive large scale work falls within the narrative of identity. Mater uses a material of his childhood, plastic cap-gun discs, to cover an entire surface of wall. The caps are removed to create negative space and text is formed, listing the values and ethical code of cowboys parallel to comparable virtues epitomised by the Islamic prophet Mohammed in his teachings.


Ahmed Mater, Cowboy Code, (Hadith) 2012, 415 x 800 cm Edition of 2, Plastic Gun-Caps

In this piece Matar is making reference to the Western influence on his childhood in Arabia, a sentimental reference to young Saudi boys playing at “The Wild West” which is then developed into a mature conversation. Cowboy Code expresses the concept of equity of morality in different religions and schools of thought. In expressing shared codes of conduct this is a realisation of the artist’s personal religious and cultural identity influenced by both the West and his own cultural traditions.


The Cowboy Code can work as a symbol to reinforce the idea that opposing cultures and language may seem like two far apart worlds; the Arabic word in particular to the western eye seems mysterious and cloaked in calligraphic or religious meaning, but in fact, when compared to a meaningful translation delivers a universal message. One of identity crossing boundaries and of making contemporary work in the same was as any contemporary artist from any geographic location.


      The Cowboy Code

  1. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage – even of an enemy
  2. A cowboy never betrays trust. He never goes back on his word.
  3. A cowboy always tells the truth.
  4. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.
  5. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
  6. A cowboy is always helpful when someone is in trouble.
  7. A cowboy is always a good worker.
  8. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation’s laws.
  9. A cowboy is clean about his person in though, word and deed.
  10. A cowboy is a Patriot.

      The Hadith (Translation)

  1. The Prophet (pbuh) cautioned to always march in the name of God.
  2. He cautioned to always march in the path of God.
  3. He cautioned never to be extreme or fanatic.
  4. He cautioned never to desecrate the bodies of your fallen enemy.
  5. He cautioned never to take unfair advantage of your enemy.
  6. He cautioned never to harm the elderly.
  7. He cautioned never to harm children.
  8. He cautioned never to harm women.
  9. He cautioned never to harm holy men.
  10. He cautioned never to cut down trees.



Mater’s work is widely shown in the Middle East and in Europe, and encompasses photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video. He explores the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of globalisation, consumerism and dramatic flux.

Selected solo shows

2013 – 100 Found Objects, Sharjah Museum, Sharjah, UAE

2010 – Ahmed Mater, The Vinyl Factory Gallery, London, UK

2009 – Illumination, Artspace, Dubai, UAE

Selected group shows

2014 – Here & Elsewhwere, New Museum, New York, USA

2014 – A-History, Pompidou Center, Paris, France

2013 – Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

2012 – #COMETOGETHER, Edge of Arabia, London, UK


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