Rabia Al-Akhras: The man behind Jeddah’s waterfront sculptures

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Modern horse sculptors at the Jeddah waterfront. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Modern horse sculptors at the Jeddah waterfront. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Jeddah waterfront. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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childhood sea sculptors at the Jeddah waterfront by artist Abeer Ahmed Alfatni. (AN photo by Huda Bashtah)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Rabia Al-Akhras: The man behind Jeddah’s waterfront sculptures

JEDDAH: The development of Jeddah’s waterfront has offered new opportunities for artists to display their work. One of them is the world-renowned Syrian sculptor Rabia Al-Akhras.
Al-Akhras was born in Homs and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus. He has gone on to become one of the most famous sculptors in the world, his work sought-after by museums and private collectors alike. But he gifted his sculptures to the city of Jeddah.
He told Arab News, “I spent most of my life in the city of Jeddah; I am indebted to this city and all that it has given me, and in return I gave it sculptures of three horses, which honors me tremendously. The horses represent an extension of 20 other sculptures I’ve made throughout my life.
“These sculptures were not made with Jeddah specifically in mind, but they suit the city and the waterfront; the ambience of horse tracks is timeless and reflects a kind of passion, heritage and history,” he continued.
“In addition, 80 percent of the designs displayed at the corniche were made by female sculptors, whose work I’ve supervised closely as their mentor. Most of them are my students, many of whom are senior sculptors and university teachers who have many works of their own.”
“It is not the job of the artist to search for a school to belong to,” Al-Akhras said. “An honest designer reflects his innermost self in his work.” The sculptors’ main objective, he explained, was to ensure their designs were compatible with the waterfront.
Al-Akhras said that the majority of his ideas, and his sculptures, have “a strong relationship” with Jeddah, citing the sea, “the city’s crevices and the clear sky” as inspirations.
“All the works displayed at the waterfront will carry this — the inspiration and the internal accumulation of the innermost mind; that is the basis of the sculptures,” he said. “The works are not archaeological but possess a sense of heritage. Archaeological work is that which has lived long, but imitating antiquities is not in itself archaeological, but inspired by it.”
“I love to leave pieces of them missing because it has to do with the concept that we are not complete and are imperfect; this is from an intellectual aspect,” he explained. “But with regard to technicality, my sculptures aim to stimulate the imagination of the recipient so they will fill in the blanks in their own way. That way, it is up to the recipient to imagine the remainder of the sculpture on their own.
“It’s very nice. When we see, for example, the horses’ roundabout in the city of Jeddah, we see the design of horses through the fragmentation of the first horse in the second horse and then back,” he continued. “This beautiful interference triggers movement and the ability to see the unrealized vision, but it exists within the sculpture to create harmony between two blocks and two spaces.”
View more photos of the waterfront's sculptors here.


Meet Cherine Magrabi, a talented businesswoman and inspiration to young designers

Updated 18 July 2018
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Meet Cherine Magrabi, a talented businesswoman and inspiration to young designers

  • Born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, Cherine Magrabi is also the curator and founder of House of Today in Beirut, a non-profit organization that helps to launch Lebanese designers onto the global scene
  • She says she is "happy to witness my country taking real steps toward long-overdue social reform"

JEDDAH: Cherine Magrabi began as a store manager and worked her way up to become creative and communications director at Magrabi Optical, a well-known family brand in the Middle East.

Born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, Magrabi is also the curator and founder of House of Today in Beirut, a non-profit organization that helps to launch Lebanese designers onto the global scene.

“I was born in Jeddah and moved at the age of 16 to Switzerland for schooling with four of my best friends. I keep having fine memories related to my life in Jeddah ... my father used to take me fishing in the Red Sea.”

She said: “Moving to Switzerland was a good preparation for life.” While there, she felt it was important to reflect a good image as a Saudi, while adjusting to her new environment and learning to do things by herself for the first time.

“It was also a good preparation for college, and I don’t think I would’ve done it any other way,” she added.

Magrabi went to study at Chelsea College of Art in London, where she met her future husband. After they married they moved to Beirut in 2002 and she started working for Magrabi Optical.

“We were just opening our first store in the Lebanese market and my brother asked me to help set it up and manage it.”

She worked as a store manager, which helped her to understand the family business and learn about their customers’ needs. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from the store level, understanding our weaknesses and opportunities directly from the market,” she said. “Today, as creative and communications director at Magrabi, I relate to what’s really happening on the ground.” 

She made a significant stamp on the firm when it came to rebranding the company, changing its logo, and reworking the display and merchandising. The rebranding stressed how the company’s products marry fashion and medical expertise. The company’s marketing campaign focuses on empowering women, a move which was led by her vision.

The eyewear business inspired her to found House of Today in 2012. She said: “I was always in the search for great designers in Beirut and faced difficulties in reaching out to them. I saw great potential in Lebanon, but there was no supporting system to introduce them to the world. It happened quite organically that I decided to showcase their work as an active member of the art scene.” 

She works closely with designers. House of Today identifies, nurtures, mentors, curates and showcases local Lebanese designers and to help them raise their profile. It also gives promising young designers — between the ages of 17 and 34 — a chance to study product design at a university in Lebanon or abroad under its scholarship program.

She said: “We are helping designers to develop their own business plan, connecting them to galleries and in creating sustainable images for themselves while supporting the next generation of designers through our scholarship program.” 

Every two years, HoT curates an exhibition showcasing the collaboration between experts and emerging designers. So far four exhibitions have been organized, including at Athr Gallery, the Jeddah art gallery, in 2015. Exhibitions aim to present a stellar collection highlighting the best work of young Lebanese designers. 

Commenting on the reform in Saudi Arabia, she said: “I’m happy to witness my country taking real steps toward long-overdue social reform. I think there would be a grace period with people waiting to see the true results of the ongoing changes.”