Sophia Al-Maria wins inaugural Dunya Contemporary Art Prize

The Dunya prize is presented to a mid-career artist from the Middle East or its diaspora. (Sophia Al-Maria and Third Line Gallery)
Updated 26 April 2018
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Sophia Al-Maria wins inaugural Dunya Contemporary Art Prize

  • The Dunya prize is presented to a mid-career artist from the Middle East or its diaspora
  • Al-Maria was selected as the recipient of the prize by “an international jury of experts in the field of contemporary Middle Eastern art”

DUBAI: Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) launched its biennial Dunya Contemporary Art Prize last Monday. The first winner is Qatari-American artist, writer and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria.

The Dunya prize is presented to a mid-career artist from the Middle East or its diaspora. Its goal, according to a press release, is “to foster contemporary artists from the Middle East whose work is rigorous, challenging and unconventional.”

Al-Maria certainly fits that description. The artist coined the term “Gulf Futurism” to describe her take on the social shifts that have taken place due to dramatic economic growth in the GCC.

Al-Maria told the Chicago Tribune she was “gobsmacked” by the award (and the $100,000 she receives as its winner, along with an exhibition at the MCA and a catalog) and said it could enable her to complete projects that had faltered in the past due to a lack of funding. She also suggested that her focus may now shift from the Gulf to “some of the questions about America that I’ve been thinking about,” as she feels she is “no longer concerned” with Gulf Futurism as a concept.

“My whole life in a way is a project of, I guess, moving away from designated cultural identities and moving it onto some other plane where one can attempt to not be, perhaps, a Middle Eastern artist or an American artist or a Qatari artist and just be someone who is working,” she told the newspaper.

Al-Maria was selected as the recipient of the prize by “an international jury of experts in the field of contemporary Middle Eastern art,” the MCA said. The jury was led by Omar Kholeif, MCA Manilow senior curator and director of global initiatives.

“Al-Maria’s practice illustrates the diversity of ways that artists are working in the twenty-first century,” the jury wrote in a statement. “Her critical insights into contemporary culture, examining histories of science fiction, feminism, and the global socio-political condition, feel more urgent now than ever.”


All eyes on Salah as Egyptians await Champions League final

Updated 27 May 2018
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All eyes on Salah as Egyptians await Champions League final

CAIRO: An owner of a Cairo coffee shop supervised last-minute arrangements for Saturday’s European Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool, giving instructions to his employees as they lined up chairs and set up a bigger television set.
“Today is the big day for us. No match is more important than tonight’s, simply because Mohamed Salah is playing,” Mohamed Fathy, the owner of a cafe located in the affluent district of Maadi in southern Cairo, told Arab News.
Salah has enjoyed a record-breaking debut season with Liverpool and could cap a remarkable campaign by leading the Reds to the most-coveted European title as they face serial winners Real Madrid, who are eyeing a third successive triumph.
Nicknamed the Egyptian King, Salah has racked up a record 32 Premier League goals in a 38-game campaign and netted 10 Champions League goals to help Liverpool reach their first final since losing 2-1 to AC Milan in 2007.
He has become a national hero in Egypt, with his popularity hitting unprecedented heights. Saturday’s Champions League final is given more attention than any fixture for Cairo giants Ahly or Zamalek, who each have a huge fan base in the football-mad country.
“We raised our prices a bit because this is the probably the most important day of the football season. We expect to welcome the same number of people who came to the cafe when Egypt defeated Congo (last October) to reach the World Cup,” Fathy said.
Salah ‘gatherings’
Friends have been making plans for weeks to watch the game, choosing between a plenty of options as Cairo’s cafes and mega-malls gear up for the final.
Cairo Festival City, a mall in the upscale Fifth Settlement district, installed a huge screen for its visitors, creating a stadium-like atmosphere. Vodafone, Egypt’s leading mobile operator, launched a competition and invited customers to watch the match and have the pre-dawn Suhoormeal at Cairo’s upmarket Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Coffee shops in poorer areas also replaced their television sets with larger models, which were placed in the streets in order to accommodate as much people as possible.
Many friends are planning to come together in large gatherings at homes after the Ramadan iftar meal to watch Salah in action, but some have mixed emotions.
Spanish giants Real Madrid, the world’s most successful outfit, are popular in Egypt and favored by millions of Egyptians, who will be equally keen to see Salah lift the Champions League trophy in Kiev.
“I really don’t know who I should support now; my heart is split between Real Madrid, the club I have been supporting since I was child, and Salah who deserves to finish his season by winning such a prestigious title,” said Mahmoud Raheem, a 32-year-old fan.
But Liverpool and Salah still enjoy the unique support of their own fans. The club, England’s most successful in Europe, has an official fan club in Egypt, which includes thousands of supporters.
They plan to watch the game on a huge screen in Cairo’s Nasr City district, hoping Salah could play an instrumental role in giving them a title they have long sought.
“It will be difficult against Real because of their experience, but we still have deadly counter-attacking abilities that could help us a lot. Salah has had a great season and it would be great if he can finish the season by leading us to the trophy,” said Ahmed Maher, a 36-year-old Liverpool fan.
If Salah wins the Champions League, he will only become the second Arab to taste that glory after Algerian great Rabah Madjer, who was on target in Porto’s famous 2-1 comeback win over Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final.