Weird, quirky ... yet brilliant

Updated 04 November 2016
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Weird, quirky ... yet brilliant

People in the GCC region, especially Saudi Arabia, have been educating themselves in their art and culture, as the country’s latest art boom (five years and counting) is making its mark. The sky is the limit for special artists and there are no boundaries, it’s only them and their talents. One such amazing artist is Balqis Al-Rashed, a contemporary artist exploring performance art, a universe-loving and star-searching artist who is in tune with herself, the Earth and beyond. It’s not an exaggeration when I talk about her work to say it’s different, it’s weird and quirky but in such a beautiful way that you can’t help but want to know more.
Balqis hasn’t been on the art scene for many years, but she is making her way onto it beautifully. Her path into art stems from the years of living in Beirut and later on studying graphic design at the American University in Beirut, her form of art can’t be labeled, it can’t be defined yet somehow you see something beautiful in the mess of her thought collages. Her time exploring the world of art resulted in finding and cultivating her artistic expression as one that can express her ethnic mosaic mixed in with her true voice.
In 2015, she participated in the March Project at the Sharjah Art Foundation, an educational residency program for young artists. She exhibited her largest art installation under the name “Once we fell from the sky and landed in Babel” in the old heritage area turned into art spaces with a souk nearby where she found inspiration. The installation was a large concrete spiral “mebkhara” (used by Khaleejis to burn incense) that held many different meanings. There’s concrete that represents modernity, there’s a spiral shape that represents evolution and progress, the carpet that was placed around and inside the spiral installation inspired by the nearby souk and the burning incense that allowed visitors to literally smell nature mixed with tradition. The colorful carpet used was inspired by the many shopkeepers of the souk, where the edge of the carpet contrasted with the concrete welcoming visitors in. An Arab tradition requires people to remove their shoes as they enter a personal space and the concept was used with the installation.
“This monument attempts to portray a sensory and experiential space of dichotomies; a contemplative public space where contrasting beliefs, objects and practices are recreated and re-appropriated in order to blur the distinction of established systems and their agencies and transform them into a collective city experience. Dichotomies such as modernity and the past, sacred and profane, material and immaterial, labor and leisure, tradition and progress are in contrast because they are in constant threat of losing their value. The execution of the artwork was exciting yet challenging as it was designed to be heavy on labor, transforming the creation process into a ritualistic performance of labor toward the unknown,” said Balqis.
She’s recently made waves with her hula-hooping performances, a medium she uses to channel her higher self and inner child. Hula-hooping represents an innocence, a form of entertainment and playfulness that turned controversial solely through public opinion due to the artist donning the veil, a representation of her culture.
“I chose to use the veil as a modern representation of womanhood in our culture. It has become the static visual identification of the feminine collective. My work generally depicts a high level of contrast, whether it’s intentional or not. I enjoy playing around with contrasting ideas and aesthetic elements and “A State of Play” is a great example of that where I was able to achieve a powerful negotiation of meanings by combining a hoop, a child’s toy, with this cultural representation. The hoop, representing a child’s innocent play and urge for self-expression is surprisingly working in complete harmony with these representations, giving it a movement, a form and an essence,” explained Balqis.
She goes on to explain the use of the hula-hoop as a meditative tool, to reach a state of surreal discovery and our bodies are mere vessels. Her hula-hooping was a tool, that enabled her to free her soul and capture a certain freedom that her mind allowed her to reach.
“I find the niqab to be a very interesting piece of garment. It perplexes me. How can a black piece of fabric restrict and allow, empower and oppress, protect and expose all at once, it’s fascinating. The niqab gave me a sense of freedom that I didn’t think it can offer, it allowed me to share myself with the world without compromising my identity. In a sense, it is the extraction of the ego on an unknown path of self discovery. The artwork was able to innocently touch on many sensitive subjects that I find necessary to think and start talking about. The fact that we are asking “why” is a great start. It starts a discourse that is important to have today. I felt I was able to start a dialogue, allow people to question the illusion and discover the world of new possibilities.”
Art is not complicated, it’s a personal deep interpretation of oneself presented to the public to experience on their own, finding their own rendition of themselves. Imagine being able to find out something new about yourself that you haven’t ever tapped into before, a talent, an understanding, something that just might surprise you.

— Photo credit: Nidal Morra


Camel racing: An Arabian sport loved by the region’s people

Updated 14 August 2018
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Camel racing: An Arabian sport loved by the region’s people

  • Camel racing is among the most famous traditional sports in the Arab world
  • The camels that take part in races are known as “Thaluls” in Arabic

RIYADH: Camel racing is among the most famous traditional sports in the Arab world, which even dates back to the pre-Islamic era, when tribes organized the races to show off the strong camels they owned.
The races continued during the subsequent Islamic era, promoting the practicing of equestrian sports and bravery.
Prophet Muhammad’s companions were known for camel racing.
The camels that take part in races are known as “thaluls” in Arabic, or riding camels.
Among the most famous ones are: Thalul Al-Hurra (aka The Free Camel), as well as those from central and northern the Arabian Peninsula, such as Aseela, from the Thalul Al-Hurra breed, and the Omani Thaluls, known for being a graceful, slim and noble type of camels.
And the Sudanese Thaluls, which are known for the strength and patience and adapting to the challenging desert conditions.
The camels are known for their tolerance to thirst and traveling longer distances than horses.
Though camels are slightly slower than horses, some types of camels have traveled distances on speed that exceeds those of horses, as good camels can travel 40 kilometers continuously in one hour.
Good racing camels are known for specific characteristics that distinguish them from other camels, such as light weight, small palms, large chest size, long legs and long tail.
Racing camels undergo a special diet to help them get rid of excess fats, and the most important foods they feed on are dates, milk, honey, dry grass and corn.