London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Celebrated Saudi artist Ahmed Mater is currently filing a court complaint against Swiss watchmaker Omega for plagiarism of his iconic work Magnetism in an advertisement. Asharq Al-Awsat discussed the dispute with the artist and those close to the negotiations currently underway between the two sides.
Mater said that legal proceedings began some time ago, although a verdict is yet to be reached. He could not divulge the details of the case. The artist filed the infringement suit in Paris’s civil Grand Instance Court against the Swatch Group, parent company of Omega watches, for violation of intellectual property rights.
He spoke about the use of artwork in commercials, saying “It depends on how the artwork is handled; if the artist’s work is changed one way or another, this means harm is done to the artwork.”
The original work depicts the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) with iron shavings oriented around a central black magnet representing the Kaaba. In the Omega advertisement, however, the Kaaba was replaced by a watch.
The artist resorted to the French courts because of the harm done to his work by stripping it of its spiritual elements. The advertisement directly contradicted the work’s profound significance; pure spirituality was replaced by a commercial trend.
Magnetism was first displayed at the Edge of Arabia exhibition in Venice before the work gained world renown. Due to the piece’s creativity yet simplicity at the same time, it has become one of the most important works by young artists in the Arab world.
The piece was a central feature of the British Museum’s 2012 exhibition Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam.
The Omega advertisement for the Seamaster Aqua Terra appeared in international magazines last year, arousing incredulity among those aware of Mater’s original work.
A source close to the negotiations and speaking for the artist, said the dispute began when the luxury watchmaker contacted Ahmed Mater by email and phone to convince him to send them a photo of Magnetism to try it out as part of their new advertising campaign. Yet, the source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Mater did not enter into any agreements with the group nor did he sign any contracts that authorized the use of his work.
The artist’s spokesman added that Mater, having seen the advertisements, hastened to email Omega. However, he received vague responses that pinned the blame on more than one person. Officials from the group told him that they would reply to him at a later date. Eight months down the line, the group began to use the modified image in its advertising campaign in stores, catalogues, billboards in the Paris shopping center Gallerie Lafayette, as well as on the Paris subway map. The source said: “the image was seen everywhere and it was an utter distortion of Ahmed’s work, and so we had to contact an attorney to take legal action.”
As for the artist’s demands, the source said that the group “must stop using the image in its advertising campaign and we request that the group purchases two of the artist’s works and donates them to an international museum. The group must understand that it should end this situation, and we want it to know that it has committed a grave mistake. We tried to explain to it that the image was an important one and that it must not continue using it commercially without a contract signed with the artist.”
Mater’s lawyer, Michel Dutilleul-Francoeur, was quoted in legal documents included in an article by French art magazine Le Quotidien De L’Art, explaining that the artist did not issue a power of attorney for use of his work without prior consent from the official authorities in Saudi Arabia, adding that “Omega SA has destroyed several years of work.”
Contacted by Le Figaro, Swatch’s head of communications, Bastion Buss, said he believed it was within the group’s rights to use the image “to extol the watch’s antimagnetic properties.”
“This is exactly what we are showing with the steel dust that cannot get near the watch, demonstrating its magnetic resistance,” he explained.