#BBCtrending: The Saudi artist with one million Instagram followers

  • 9 December 2013
A compilation of images from Ahlam Alnajdi's Instagram account

One of the biggest Instagram accounts in the Arab world is that of Ahlam Alnajdi - a woman from Saudi Arabia. She's not a celebrity - but a photographer and artist - and she now has more than one million followers.

Ahlam means "dream" in Arabic, and there's no doubt that Ahlam Alnajdi is living her dream right now. A couple of weeks ago, the number of followers on her Instagram account edged over one million. She now has the biggest following on the photo sharing site of any woman in the Arab world - and has overtaken the well-known singer and Arab Idol judge Ahlam Al Shamsi. Alnajdi is 30 years old and lives in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Entirely self-taught, she creates small - incredibly life-like - sculptures out of clay and then takes photos of them. Food - and cakes in particular - are a running theme. Why? "It's what people like more than anything," she says simply.

Saudis are particularly avid social media users - one recent study estimated they are the heaviest Twitter users in the world. Women in Saudi Arabia face many obstacles in the workplace - not least because of a ban on women driving - making social media an attractive choice for women like Alnajdi. It may have started as a hobby, but Alnajdi's Instagram account is also now running as a business. Brands - including Kit Kat, Starbucks, and Instagram itself - feature heavily in her work, but she insists she is not paid for these, but rather makes them because these brands are so ubiquitous and popular.

Alnajdi has a small team working with her, has written two books about her craft, and generates a decent sum of money, she says, from occasional paid adverts on the site. "I think my work proves that with a bit of ambition and persistence, it's possible for any young person in Saudi Arabia to build a successful business," she says. "People are proud of me and I think I'm a good example of an Arab girl who managed to reach people from across the world with her work."

Reporting by Abdirahim Saeed

Read his story in Arabic here. All our stories are at BBC.com/trending

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