Inspired by the Middle East: Art show wows London crowd

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’Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’ by Pippa Thew.
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'The Sea (Horizon)' by Vaseem Mohammed.
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A piece by Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
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'Dream of a Talismanic Shirt' by artist Elisabeth Bolza.
Updated 16 October 2017
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Inspired by the Middle East: Art show wows London crowd

LONDON: Middle Eastern influences were the binding element in the work of four artists displayed at the Janet Rady Fine Art exhibition held at the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London last week.
Rady is a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East and has 30 years of experience in the international market. She worked on the Art Bahrain Across Borders project (ArtBAB) and is the curator of the “I AM” touring exhibition of 31 women artists from the Middle East, currently on show at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington.
One of the artists showcased at the event on Oct. 12, whose work also features in “I AM,” was the well-established Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
Rady gave Arab News insight into her work.
“Fakhro is very attached to the heritage of her Bahraini background. She is painting traditional houses, which Bahrain is fortunate enough to still have in existence. She talks about how the home is the heartland. For her, it represents her family, her homeland, her background and her security. Her work can be understood by everyone.”
Artist Vaseem Mohammed, who was present at the exhibition, showed off some wonderful examples of his work, including a piece entitled “The Sea (Horizon).” The piece features an inscription reading: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” At the center of the work lies a beautiful seam of gold, which seems to be suspended between the sea and the sky. When asked about the work, Mohammed explained that it was his tribute to the children who were killed in 2014 when an Israeli missile exploded on a beach in Gaza where they were playing. He said the gold represents their souls ascending to heaven.
Visual artist Abu Jafar said he appreciated the beautiful soft shades of blue, which he believes conveys the particular color of the sky near the sea in the Middle East — a color that he says is different to blue skies in French or British paintings.
“The artist has succeeded in creating a poem with this piece,” he said.
Another piece by Mohammed that attracted a lot of attention was entitled “The Pinnacle (Moon Splits),” painted in 2017.
Art enthusiast Marie-Aimee Fattouche of Egyptian-Lebanese heritage gave her opinion on the piece.
“For me, what I like about this piece is that the scene looks familiar. I have a sense of home while looking at it. It reminds me of a night stroll… in Morocco or Egypt. This gives a sense of the light that shines at night when you walk through the deserted streets — the time between the end of the busy nightlife period and just before the city awakens again.”
Speaking about his work, Mohammed said: “My paintings share an expression of isolation while representing a global community. This is an expression of my own feelings of isolation among the Western and Islamic communities.
“I have two distinct styles of which one uses calligraphy at the heart of the piece, juxtaposed on top of modernist, abstract style work. I would describe the calligraphy as a representation of Islam’s stability and presence in an ever-changing world.
“I also draw from my childhood experience of living in the East End of London in the 1970s. That’s what inspires me; I liked dilapidation, paint peeling off and things like that. In my parents’ house, which was more than 100 years old, I used to peel off the wallpaper and there were decades of wallpaper underneath. Subconsciously, I started using that in my work.”
Artist Pippa Thew, who was born in Kenya and now lives in Devon in the UK, has strong connections with the Middle East. She described her first introduction to the Gulf region in a conversation with Arab News.
“My connection with the Middle East started when I had a solo exhibition in Abu Dhabi. I was very fortunate as I was invited out to the royal stables by a granddaughter of the President of the UAE Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
“She invited me to see her racing horses and a stallion and I began to paint the horses. I was also very fortunate to become very good friends with a lot of Emirati people. I do a lot of portraits of my clients and their families, which is something I love to do.
“I love the Middle East, its culture and its people. I think it is a beautiful and fascinating place,” she said.
Thew’s paintings on show included “Sultan and Arabian Stallion Fayed” and “Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.”
“We were coming back on a yacht and it was a beautiful September evening and very hot. The light was catching across the mosque and I just had to paint it,” she said.
Also featured in the exhibition was the artist Elisabeth Bolza, who has, for many years, studied Islamic arts and civilization. Since 2014, she has spent extended periods of time in Saudi Arabia studying its heritage and that of other countries in the region.
She was nominated for the Jameel Prize 2017 and is currently preparing a major exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum due to open on Jan. 20, 2018.
Her work “Dream of a Talismanic Shirt, 2010” was greatly admired by exhibition visitor and video producer Khalil Itani. His company, Visual Story, has covered many major Middle East art exhibitions and independent artist shows. He has a keen eye, developed over many years of training his lens on a wide range of art works.
Commenting on the piece, he said: “The balance of colors is wonderful and this represents mixed media creativity at its best. The combination of colors is subtle and I like the calligraphy — I like the layers and Islamic-Arabian influence in it.”
Rady was asked about the criteria she uses when selecting work for exhibitions, to which she replied: “First and foremost, I look at the art. Which country the artists come from is not relevant. When I am curating an exhibition, I am intent solely on showing superb artists.”


Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

Twenty-five years later, director Jon Favreau has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. (Supplied)
Updated 18 July 2019
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Interview with the director and stars of ‘The Lion King’

  • Jon Favreau, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner discuss Disney’s latest blockbuster remake.
  • ‘We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being,’ says Favreau.

DUBAI: There are few movies as resonant as Disney’s 1994 classic “The Lion King.” From its beautiful animation and memorable songs by Hans Zimmer and Elton John to its devastating emotional punch, the film has become a touchstone for an entire generation, one of the few films that unite nearly every person who has seen it across the world.

Now, 25 years later, director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “The Jungle Book”) has brought “The Lion King” to life again for a new generation. Sitting in London, the first thing Favreau asks Arab News is whether we were part of the “Lion King” generation, and we were, mentioning to Favreau just how expansive the film still feels to us.

 Chiwetel Ejiofor, Director and Producer Jon Favreau and Donald Glover attend the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood. (AFP)

“That’s part of the challenge here! We’re trying to live up to people’s imagination of what they remember ‘Lion King’ being. We would watch it next to one another and there’s certain sequences that hold up incredibly well that we tried to follow shot-for-shot like (the opening sequence) ‘Circle of Life,’ but there’s other areas where we had the opportunity to update it and make it feel a bit more grounded in reality,” Favreau tells Arab News.

Remaking it for a new generation seems obvious, but — to borrow from another Disney classic — it was a Herculean task for Favreau and the huge animation team that supported him. This version remains fully animated, but uses cutting-edge technology to make the entire film photo-realistic. The characters, story, and songs remain, but the film looks more like a David Attenborough nature documentary than an animated movie.

It wasn’t just the technology that proved challenging, either. Making sure that audiences still connect with these beloved characters without the expressiveness of classic Disney animation was something that gave Favreau pause.

(Supplied)

“I worked on ‘Jungle Book,’ so I had some experience in this area,” he says. “Pretty early on, we got to try some different things and when you go to human, you think it would make you feel more but it really feels kind of bizarre, at least to me. I was limited if we were to go photo-real. If you go stylized like Pixar it’s great, you can do whatever you want. If we go ‘Madagascar’ you can make them stick their tongues out. The minute you start hitting photorealism, you hit the uncanny valley when you push the performances beyond what the real animal could do. Part of what makes it look so real is we limited what we allowed the animators to do.”

To be sure that audiences would connect with the characters, Favreau relied a lot on the voices that supported them, bringing in an all-star cast including Beyoncé as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.

“If you look at a character like Pumbaa, to me he’s the most fun example, because when people saw pictures of Pumbaa they were like, ‘Oh my god! That’s horrifying! That thing looks like a monster!’ But when you watch the movie and you hear Seth Rogen’s voice coming out of it and the way the animators animated his body and what the character represents and feels, you have a tremendous connection to it. It’s a testament to the power of using techniques that we borrowed from documentaries or other films, where we limit ourselves to not anthropomorphize the characters,” says Favreau.

(Supplied) 

Eichner and Rogen both tried to remain true to the characters, but also stay true to themselves. “My idea from the beginning was that Jon cast us for a reason,” says Eichner. “He could have cast pretty much any actors. Anyone would have killed to do these roles and be in this movie. It wasn’t the right time to try a new persona. It would have been very strange had I all of a sudden had a deep resonant baritone. I figured he wants Seth to sound like Seth and me to sound like me — or at least what our public comic personas sound-like — and hopefully they’ll complement each other, which they did. Our goal was not to try a new character but to be as funny as possible together.”

As funny as Rogen and Eichner are in the film, it is still aimed firmly at kids — something Rogen hadn’t really considered prior.

Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen at the World Premiere of Disney's "THE LION KING" in Hollywood . (AFP)

“It wasn’t something that even occurred to me until we were making the movie and I was performing the bully scene,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is for kids!’ I have never done anything that was ever trying to instill any wisdom into kids in any way shape or form.”

The film’s wisdom, like the original, is far-reaching, exploring truths not only of family and loss, but of the corrupting nature of ambition and power, which Ejiofor explored in his role as Scar.

“Often, when people are obsessed with power and status, they aren’t really worried about what they do with it, they’re just concerned about getting it. It’s not something that’s connected to any kind of nurturing aspect for a community or anybody else. It becomes about the nature of obsession — obsession with power and status, and maybe status more than power, even though they are related,” says Ejiofor. “That’s one of the things that’s engaging and fun about the film and its themes.”