‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London

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CARAVAN artists Mayasa Al-Sowaidi and Marwa Al-Khalifa.
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Artist Sheikha Lulwa Al-Khalifa. (Photos by Marc Gascoigne)
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'From the Outside' by Lulwa Al-Khalifa.
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Palestinian artist Manal Deeb’s painting combines the abstract with traditional cultural elements.
Updated 20 July 2017

‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London

A powerful exhibition of the work of 31 contemporary female artists from 12 Middle Eastern countries is now showing in London.
Among the artists are Ahaad Al-Amoudi from Jeddah, Sheikha Lulwa Al-Khalifa from Bahrain and Shereen Audi from Jordan.
Each work shows a different aspect of women, and collectively they demonstrate a great range of emotions, insights and life experiences as interpreted by the artists.
The work “Land of Dreams” by Al-Amoudi makes the viewer stop and stare because it is so unexpected and unusual.
It shows a desert landscape filled with images of the popular Emirati singer Ahlam Al-Shami. She appears to emerge from the sand, dominating the landscape and blotting out everything else you might expect to see in this setting.
The artist chose Al-Shami as her subject because she is so prolific on the Internet and social media. Her public image also challenges perceptions of the submissive stereotype.
“I wanted the viewer to come with their own notion and interpretation of their land of dreams, then be subjected to Ahlam scattered across an empty plot of land,” said Al-Amoudi (“Ahlam” means “dream” in Arabic).
Al-Amoudi obtained a bachelor’s degree in graphic design at Dar Al-Hekma University, and is finishing her masters in print at the Royal College of Art in London.
Al-Khalifa has a thought-provoking image of a woman staring out through a barrier of white lines that resemble a blind. Just as her view of the world is distorted, so is the view of those looking at her from the outside.
“Middle Eastern women are an integral part of the world community,” she said. “They’re woven into the fabric of humanity that we’re all part of. We have more that unites than separates us. We just have to remove the barriers to obtain clarity.”
She added: “I really believe in the message behind this exhibition. It tries to bridge the gap between East and West; this is especially important now when there are so many misconceptions and so much misinformation around. Art is a perfect vehicle that can deliver a different message.”
The “I AM” exhibition, organized by CARAVAN and guest-curated by Janet Rady, a specialist in Middle Eastern contemporary art, premiered in May at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, under the patronage of Queen Rania. It is showing at London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square until Aug. 20 and will then tour North America until the end of 2018, premiering in Washington.
The founding president of CARAVAN, Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, told Arab News: “The core message of this exhibition is about tearing down walls and building bridges. We’re doing this through the lens of Middle Eastern women. The artworks reflect and celebrate what Middle East women contribute to global peace.”
CARAVAN, which originated out of Cairo, is an international peacebuilding NGO that focuses on building bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and the West through the arts, which it sees as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing and deepen friendship between those of different faiths and cultures.
Chandler believes that everyone can play a part in breaking down walls of prejudice.
“It’s not always about big projects; it’s also about one on one. We each can do something to change the perception of the other. That’s our responsibility,” he said.
He recounted a story from the childhood of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson to illustrate his point.
As a young boy, Stevenson used to watch from his window every evening as the lamp-lighter made his way down his street. One day, his mother asked him what he was looking at and he replied: “I am watching a man punch holes in the darkness.”
Washington-based Palestinian artist Manal Deeb’s painting “Golden” illustrates such a transformation from darkness to light. Her work combines the abstract with traditional cultural elements.
Helen Zughaib from Lebanon uses the outline of a woman in an abaya to reflect on the lives being lived behind the concealing garment.
Speaking of her work “The Secrets They Carry,” she said: “I thought about a woman caught up in war and displacement. What has she seen and heard? I thought about her strength as a woman. I thought about her protecting her children, wanting only peace and stability for them. I thought about her ability to persevere in any circumstance she faces.”
Audi said her work “Dreams Give Hope” reflects “the burdens and frustrations often experienced by women in our society and, in spite of everything, their continual optimism for a better future. Beauty and fragility belie the inner strength and determination of women to confront new challenges. The roses reflect the beauty needed in our world, while the wings represent the capacity of women to fly above conflict and tragedy, with a view to a more peaceful future.”
The launch of “I AM” was attended by Mazen Kemal Homoud, Jordan’s ambassador to the UK.
In his address to the packed audience, he said the exhibition was an innovative way to raise awareness of the women of the Middle East and their role.
He spoke about the importance of people standing together with mutual tolerance and respect to overcome differences.
The atmosphere at the opening reflected the optimistic, inclusive mood, with peoples of many races and faiths coming together to appreciate the art and dwell on the messages being conveyed.
Rev. Sam Wells, a vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields — an Anglican church that opens its doors to all — said it was a wonderful gathering of truth, beauty and goodness.
The blending of the voices of East and West was beautifully articulated by the talented Jordanian and French sopranos Dima Bawab and Margo Arsane, who gave memorable performances.
The music sponsor for the event was the Peace and Prosperity Trust.
The reception was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board, the program sponsors were the Arab International Women’s Forum and the Jonas Foundation, and the program partner was the Arab British Center.
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The Six: Frightening films to watch this Halloween

Watch a scary film this Halloween. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 October 2018

The Six: Frightening films to watch this Halloween

DUBAI: Spooky season is upon us and with Halloween right around the corner, settle in and have a movie night with one of these horror films, including some creepy classics.

Devastated by the loss of her child, a brilliant criminal defense attorney takes on a case involving an old Moroccan legend of a vengeful spirit named “Kandisha.”

An Emirati couple start experiencing strange occurrences in their home. They come to find that their new apartment is built atop the home of malevolent beings.

A video blogger, Walid, returns to his Egyptian countryside home to document and explore the strange occurrences that have been disturbing his family.

‘The Pyramid’
An archaeological team discovers a unique pyramid that has been buried for thousands of years. They enter the tomb and are trapped, facing endless labyrinths and deadly predators.

‘ElFil Alazraq’
A psychological thriller about a psychotherapist, Dr.Yehya, who deals with the criminally insane and finds himself treating a friend. Over the course of the film, Dr.Yehya battles with his past and questions his own sanity.

‘Al-Ins Wa Al-Jinn’
A 1985 film about a spirit disguised as a human being working as a tour guide. He forces a woman who just returned back home from the US into marrying another spirit.