LONDON: The London Arabia Art and Fashion Week launched Tuesday with a glamorous evening reception attended by royals, diplomats and guests from across the Arab world and Europe. Event organizer Omar Bdour said he was proud to showcase Arab culture and heritage alongside British creatives and to convey a message of love, unity and hope. He said such inter-cultural dialogue through proactive engagement is imperative to break down barriers.
Speaking of the recent terrorist attacks in the UK, he said: “We will celebrate everything the terrorists hate — they will never stop our collaboration.”
Guest speaker Lord Jeremy Purvis of Tweed, a member of the House of Lords who represented the Scottish School of Fashion and Textiles for a decade, addressed the guests and spoke of his visits to the Middle East and North Africa(MENA) region.
“I know how the creativity and culture of textiles and design can cross borders. I have made 20 visits to the MENA region this year, including areas afflicted by great tension and conflict. I have seen the best and worst of humanity. Tonight we are celebrating the best of humanity through art, design and literature.”
Key event supporter Professor Aldwyn Cooper, vice chancellor and chief executive of London’s Regent’s University, said: “This is a cultural event that makes a real difference.”
Upon arriving at the launch at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in Knightsbridge, guests first had a chance to enjoy an art collection featuring work by the Saudi abstract artist Princess Lamia Mohammad Al-Sabhan, Qatari artists Amal Al-Aathem, Ali Hassan and Ahmad Al-Musaifri, Alia Al-Farsi from Oman, May Al-Saad from Kuwait, Tariq Saeed from Bahrain, Jehad Al-Ameri from Jordan and British sculptor Mark Coreth. Al-Aathem, whose beautiful paintings juxtapose the face of a woman with images of the moon, curated the exhibition.
Speaking to Arab News, she said: “This is a very important opportunity to reflect our Arab culture. As artists, we want to demonstrate our love of peace, not conflict. We are contemporary artists with our own distinct identities with traditional roots. As artists we are not political — we respect our land, our culture and religion.”
Ahmad Al-Musaifri put two striking artworks on display, showing the hardship and pressures faced by women today. The first was the anguished face of a woman representing the thousands of women caught up in the wars that are ravaging the region.
“I wondered how these women must feel in these terrible conditions,” he said.
The second image conveyed a sense of the pressures felt by women everywhere — the pressures of striving to find a place in a competitive, often male-dominated world.
Alia Al-Farsi’s striking painting “What we Possessed for a While” drew attention at the opening. It showed a woman turned away from a man whose face showed his despair at losing her. Another of her works, “Bird on the Tree of Hope,” showed a young couple at the beginning of their relationship — full of promise.
Asked about her participation in the event, she said: “London is a very important city to all artists.”
Hessa Al-Masoud, an entrepreneur from Riyadh who visited the show, said she was very impressed with the exhibition.
“There are many references to the art and culture of the Middle East. There is great color and diversity. I especially liked the pictures of traditional Arab men by the Kuwaiti artist May Al-Saad and the gorgeous paintings by Alia Al-Farsi. I also liked the wonderful animation and movement in the bronzes by the British sculptor Mark Coreth.”
Director of Communications for London Arabia, Mashael Al-Anazi from Saudi Arabia, looked stunning in a full-length white evening gown as she greeted guests.
“The main goal behind this event is to present Arab culture to Western culture. All people from everywhere can appreciate art and fashion, which transcends the differences between nations,” she said.
The fashion show was curated by Faris Al-Shehri, founder of the Jeddah-based Saudi Fashion Council which supports Saudi fashion designers and assists international designers in their bid to explore the market.
Speaking about his participation, he said: “It is one of my goals to support Middle Eastern designers as a follow on from my work as fashion program mentor on ‘Project Runway Middle East’.”
He added: “Art and fashion are very important mediums for people to express themselves. I hope art and fashion will bring people closer together.”
The fashion show featured the designs of Moroccans Albert Oiknine and Safae Ibrahimi, Hanan Heidari from Tunisia and Corrie Nielsen from UK.
Ibrahimi — whose de Mode label “Princess of Arabia” gowns shimmered with beautiful beading, floral motifs and exquisite embroidery — said: “I use a lot of traditional details in my kaftans but they have a modern touch.”
Internet-famous Saudi fashion blogger sisters Thana and Sakhaa Abdul — better known as “the Abduls” — sat front row at the show. Both are stylish ambassadors for fashion with a large and ever-expanding following on social media.
“We understand the importance of supporting up-and- coming designers,” said Thana. “Through our blog, we try to send a message about how important it is to support your local talent. We want to create an approach whereby you shop from an up-and- coming designer, wear something unique and help to raise their profile. We want to move away from chain store shopping.”
To that end, Thana was carrying a striking black evening handbag designed by Egyptian brand Okhtein. Meanwhile, Sakhaa looked stunning in a striking leather top and trousers by Saudi designer Mashael Al-Rajhi.
The sisters place priority on Middle Eastern designers to raise their profile. They have over 70,000 followers on Instagram and what they say makes a real impact.
The London Arabia Art and Fashion Week, which is in its second year, has expanded to include a book fair. Best-selling author Ahlam Mosteghanemi will be on hand for a book signing alongside Lebanese author, journalist and human rights activist Joumana Haddad, Syrian novelist Ghalia Kabbani and Palestinian novelist Huzama Habayeb.