Highlights: ‘The Saudi Gallery’ at MISK Art 2018

Abdulhalim Radwi - Happiness. (Supplied)
Updated 12 November 2018
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Highlights: ‘The Saudi Gallery’ at MISK Art 2018

  • Misk Art Week was held at Durrat Arriyadh from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3
  • More than 40 pioneering Saudi artists have been honored for their role in developing the Kingdom’s arts movement as part of Misk Art Week

DUBAI: A selection of work from the contemporary Saudi Arabian art fair

Abdulhalim Radwi
No retrospective of contemporary Saudi Arabian art would be complete without work from Abdulhalim Radwi. His 1965 exhibition is often credited as the origin of the modern art movement in Saudi Arabia (some historians go even further back, to his 1953 school artwork exhibition) and ushered in a decade or so where most notable Saudi artists were able to stage a solo exhibition of their own, and so became known not only to the public, but to each other, thus helping to establish some kind of collective movement.
Radwi was also one of the first Saudi artists to travel overseas to further his art education — he held a BA degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. But he remained resolutely connected to his roots and many of his paintings were about life in the Kingdom.
So it makes perfect sense that his work would be prominently featured in “The Saudi Gallery,” the modern art fair — curated by Athr Gallery and featuring work from eight Saudi galleries — that ran in correlation with MISK Art 2018, which took place last week. Pictured here are two of his pieces that formed part of the fair, “Palestine” and “Happiness.”

Abdulrahman Al-Sulaiman
Dammam-based artist Abdulrahman Al-Sulaiman, born in Al Ehsa’ in 1954, is one of Saudi Arabia’s most-respected modern artists. He rose to prominence in the 1980s and has been at the forefront of the Kingdom’s contemporary art scene ever since. Al-Sulaiman is a skillful user of subtle contrasts of color and shade and his intricate, ornamental work is often influenced by local culture and literature.

Basmah Felemban
Born in Jeddah in 1993, Basham Felemban she brings a deep knowledge of and affection for Islamic art to her work, but also told Arab News in 2015 that she found inspiration all around her. “I think it’s about being open to learning about everything,” she said. “Inspiration is made of small bits that you collect every day. Once you stop seeking knowledge, you stop getting inspiration. We need to learn to see the truth in things around us so we can learn the truth in ourselves.” Her 2017 work “The Journey in God by God” (shown here) was on display in “The Saudi Gallery.”

Nasser Al-Turki
The Riyadh-based Nasser Al-Turki is a self-taught artist who only began creating work in his twenties. He is now a prominent member of the Riyadh art movement, which includes peers such as Mohammad Farea. Even now, however, art remains a hobby rather than a career for Al-Turki, who works for Saudi Telecom. He has described his creative process as being akin to “deep meditation” in which he is inspired to mix bold colors to create a sense of happiness in the viewer.

Jassim Al-Dhamin
Al-Dhamin was born on Tarout Island in 1988. He is part of the Qatif Artists Group. His award-winning work is inspired by his passion for colors and he has been painting since his early childhood. His 2017 work “A Love Bullet” was on display at “The Saudi Gallery.” Writing about the piece on Facebook, Al-Dhamin said, “When you’re weak, you cling to anything that gives you strength.”

Taha Sabban
The Makkah-born Sabban is a friend and follower of Abdulhalim Radwi and has said he will “always be in debt” to his mentor for his advice and support. Radwi included Sabban’s early work in one of the first exhibitions at the Jeddah Center of Fine Arts — something Sabban says gave him great confidence in his own ability as an artist. However, it wasn’t until he traveled to Britain that he really began to consider art as a viable career. He often draws inspiration, he has said, from Arabian architecture, from the cities of Jeddah and Makkah, but also from the sea.

Zeinab Al-Mahoozi
Qatif-based Al-Mahoozi often uses her murals and stencilled graffiti to tackle social issues, particularly women’s rights. She is part of a growing movement of young female Khaleeji artists who see art as a powerful opportunity to make a statement about their society. Al-Mahoozi’s, “Panadol of the Soul,” created this year, was on display at “The Saudi Gallery.”

 


Talal Derki: ‘I’m not a part of this, but I have to understand’

Updated 22 February 2019
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Talal Derki: ‘I’m not a part of this, but I have to understand’

  • Why the Syrian filmmaker risked his life for his Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Of Fathers and Sons’

DUBAI: Of all the achievements of Arab filmmakers in recent times, Talal Derki’s “Of Fathers and Sons” may be the most stunning. The only non-American film nominated for Best Documentary at the 91st Academy Awards, which take place this Sunday, “Of Fathers and Sons” is the kind of film one might imagine making, but never believe could actually be made. It’s a story that Derki risked his life to tell.

For two and a half years, the Syrian filmmaker lived in northern Syria with Abu Osama, a member of the Al-Nusra Front (also known as Al-Qaeda in the Levant), and his family. There, he pretended to be sympathetic to their cause so that he could film them in an attempt to learn, first-hand, how young men become radicalized. Focusing on a father and his sons, the film lays bare in terrifying detail how young boys with kindness in their hearts find themselves in an Al-Qaeda training camp at a tender young age, all to gain the approval of their beloved patriarch.

“The idea started with my previous film,” Derki tells Arab News. “After the siege of Homs in my last film, ‘Return to Homs,’ after all the massacres, a lot of people on the ground moved to be more radical. It’s a war, but I started wondering how this movement managed to brainwash and bring all these people (over) to their side, and how they gained their trust. I saw a lot of kids with their fathers involved in fights. All these things put questions in my mind. I’m not a part of this, but I also have to understand.”

Derki didn’t want to make a film about the Syrian war or about violence. He wanted to examine life behind closed doors, focusing on the generation of young Syrian men raised in wartime. To do so, he had to go deep undercover.

After starting research for the film at the end of 2013, Derki used many ‘fixers’ to help him work his way into this close-knit community, gain people’s trust, and identify his subjects. He settled on Abu Osama and his sons. He convinced them that he was on their side, and was given intimate access to their lives in return — all the time aware that he could not let them know what kind of film he was actually making.

“Abu Osama wasn’t well known. He’s not the leader. What attracted me to him is how strongly he believed in what he was doing, in the ideology. When you look at him, he looks like a normal father, a lovely father,” says Derki. “This paradox between these two faces — between a lovely father and the father who is ready to sacrifice his kids in order to (realize) his ideology — this is part of my cinematic vision. If I went to a regular cliché jihadist, people would not watch the film. People would leave the cinema after five minutes, believe me.”

Though Derki managed to gain the trust of the family and the Al-Nusra Front, he was always conscious that no matter how friendly they were with him, he was never really creating a true connection with anyone he was filming. And he was powerless to create positive change while he was there.

“I was undercover as a sympathizer,” he says. “This is how they know me. I couldn’t be more than an observer. Sometimes, if I could, I would act as a merciful guy with the kids so they would not get punishment. I played that role. But in a big-topic issue, you couldn’t do anything but make your own film out of this chaos.

“I was connected to them only as a filmmaker, because, at the end of the day, if they knew I had a different purpose than what they thought, I would lose my life,” he continues. “When I had a good moment to film, I was satisfied and happy. As time passed, I had to accept all these things — all these ideas, all this behavior — without any (question). My mission there was to make a film.”

“Of Fathers and Sons” is purely observational. Derki keeps himself out of the story as much as possible, zooming in on a father and his son in everyday moments, in order to see how they interact, the love and trust they build, and the ways that a son’s dedication to his father is twisted to dark ends.

“The knowledge I got from this experience is about the roots of violence — the circle of violence — and the eternal relationship between the dictatorial father and his son; the masculine power that destroys our society,” Derki explains. “All of these things gave me more understanding that it all starts from childhood. Why does someone like me decide not to carry a weapon? If you grow up in a society in which your father, your teacher, are harming you, and punishing you by hitting you, and you’re used to receiving violence, then when you grow up you are very capable of carrying weapons and killing someone for any idea you start to believe in.”

By the second half of the film, the eldest son of Abu Osama is participating in an Al-Qaeda training camp. In one harrowing scene, the young boys are told to lie still on the ground while bullets are shot next to their heads and feet in order to teach them to lose their fear. Even now, years on from filming, Derki thinks about Abu Osama’s young children, hoping they can escape from the fate that already killed their father, who Derki says died at the end of 2018.

“Emotionally, I feel sad for the kids. They are still around 12 years old, it’s still possible to take them out of this and start a new life. Even in the moment when I was there, it was still possible,” he says. “They appreciate life. (But) in this ideology, they appreciate death. Death is their request — not life. Not humanity.”

Derki is speaking to Arab News from Los Angeles, ahead of Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. While there, Derki has had the chance to celebrate with the other Arab nominees, Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek and Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki.

“It was great to meet them and to have some conversation — to be three nominees from the Arab world at the biggest global celebration. It’s very intense,” he says. “I hope that, in the upcoming year, this will bring more success for Arab filmmakers.

“Nadine said she liked it so much. And I liked her film,” Derki continues. “I really want to work with Rami in the future, he’s a very talented actor.”

Whatever happens at the Oscars, Derki hopes the attention his film has received will ultimately be a force for good in the Arab world.

“It’s about how we can protect the new generation in the other Muslim countries,” he explains. “What can we do to build a generation without violence, to focus more on life, love, and communicating with other cultures, instead of building walls around us?”