Saudi artist steps into limelight as religious curbs ease

STORY: “Hello, today you're in my house, I’m Awatif Al-Keneibit, I have a PHD in archaeology and fine arts, I have my personal gallery here, I want to show you the beginnings since 2009, come with me.”

Meet Saudi ceramic artist Awatif Al-Keneibit.

Aged 60, she’s paving the trail for women in the arts in Saudi Arabia’s conservative male dominated society.

Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Keneibit's exposition includes ceramic faces and figurines of Saudi Arabian women.

After decades of religious restrictions, her work is at the forefront of the kingdom’s new art scene.

“This is the gallery where I started in 2009, it was built so I can practice my art which we only could do in our private places due to the strictness at that time, and now you can see how it's progressed since I started in 2009.”

A strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, including by the kingdom's traditional Wahhabi doctrine, reserves the power of creation to God

and bans statues and other art expressions that create an image of a human being.

As a result, human sculptures became largely absent from public spheres in the Arabian Peninsula.

But Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has curbed the influence of Wahhabism on Saudi society and arts.

Despite that, human rights groups say abuses prevail due to his crackdown on dissent and tight grip on power.

For U.S.-educated Keneibit, the religious reforms mean that her work is now welcomed in Riyadh's most prestigious galleries, where other fellow Saudi artists have also began enjoying their new-found freedoms.

“If we can go back in time and take a moment to remember how things were in the past and how artists couldn’t show their artwork, that we can now show, especially faces I've made, it’s now displayed in the best streets of Riyadh, AlOlaya street, I hope you can come and see it.”

“Who thought that one day this gallery, which was located in a basement, is now here in AlOlaya, can you imagine? Can you imagine that I was told before it’s impossible for this to happen because it’s forbidden but now it's here in the heart of Riyadh.”