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.”


Gigi Hadid visits Rohingya refugee camps

Updated 18 August 2018
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Gigi Hadid visits Rohingya refugee camps

  • American-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid is visiting Bangladesh to meet Rohingya Muslim refugees
  • Hadid visited the Jamtoli Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar on Friday

JEDDAH: American-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid is visiting Bangladesh to meet Rohingya Muslim refugees. The 23-year-old model is documenting her work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Bangladesh on social media.
Hadid visited the Jamtoli Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar on Friday, where she met with Rohingya refugee children.
“En route to the Jamtoli Refugee Camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh,” she wrote on Instagram. “As well as providing for the Rohingya refugees, UNICEF supports the host communities in need, including an estimated 28,000 people given access to better sanitation and safe water through the WASH Program, and 53,000 locals have been supported in educational activities.”
She shared several images of children at the camp, detailing the conditions they live in and UNICEF’s work in the area. “Across all the camps, 1.3 million people currently require humanitarian assistance; more than half of them are children,” Hadid wrote.
Hadid visited a “women/girl-friendly” zone, where they get a basic education and learn skills such as sewing. “We spoke about their personal stories and hardships, what they enjoy and benefit from currently in the refugee camps, what they still need, and what they hope for their futures. Their strength, bravery and desire to learn and better their lives and the lives of their children is inspiring and encourages us @unicefusa to continue to find new ways to support these amazing human beings during this crisis,” she wrote.
The cause of the refugees is one that is close to Hadid’s heart. Her father, Mohamed Hadid, came to the United States as a refugee before he became a billionaire real estate developer. In January, Hadid and her younger sister, Bella, protested US President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting some Muslim-majority countries.
On Saturday, Hadid visited UNICEF’s child-friendly space in Camp 9 of the Kutupalong Balukhali Refugee Camp. The purpose of the camp, Hadid said, is to “let kids be kids.”
“As well as psychosocial work to help them get through trauma through activities like art, they also can play sports, learn music, and learn to read and draw (some for the first time in their lives). Separate from educational spaces, the importance of these spaces is huge due to the fact that refugee children can spend a majority of the day working, usually collecting firewood from miles away so their families can cook, taking care of siblings, helping around the house etc., and here they can just focus on having fun,” she wrote.
The model also visited the UNICEF Learning Center in the Shamlapur Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar.