Imaan Hammam explores Arab roots in Vogue Italia’s DNA-themed issue

Imaan Hammam has walked the runway for some of the world’s leading luxury brands. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

Imaan Hammam explores Arab roots in Vogue Italia’s DNA-themed issue

DUBAI: Dutch-Moroccan-Egyptian model Imaan Hammam is Vogue Italia’s July cover star in an issue that focuses on themes of identity and genetics.

The DNA-themed issue hit newsstands late last week with three different covers, featuring models Karen Elson, Imaan Hammam and Gigi Hadid.

US-Palestinian model Hadid was photographed by Alasdair McLellan, while Imaan Hammam and British model Karen Elson Hammam were photographed by Harley Weir and Theo Sion, respectively.

“Why did we choose DNA (as the theme)? Because also for Vogue Italia, as much as for fashion labels, it’s essential to question where our genetic code stands: The answer is in creativity, without compromises,” said Emanuele Farneti, the title’s editor-in-chief, according to Women’s Wear Daily magazine.

For her part, Hammam revealed some interesting results after taking a DNA test.

“A dream come true! My first ever @vogueitalia cover and it’s a very, very special cover for me because it’s all about DNA. I’ve done my DNA test to find out more about my roots and heritage! Finding out that I am 70% Egyptian — which I kinda knew — and 10% Sudanese and 7.6% Senegambian and Guinean (sic),” Hammam posted on Instagram, alongside a shot of her magazine cover.

“I’m only 22 (and) knowing where I come from will help me understand who I am,” the model told Vogue Italia, adding “Islam taught me that regardless the blood, we’re all sons of the world.”

Hadid also spoke to the magazine about her DNA test results.

“Being Arab and European makes me feel open-minded, pushing me to love any cultural background. Embracing our own origins makes us more tri-dimensional and complete human beings,” Hadid said, reflecting on the results of the test that show she has 21.5 percent Italian genes.

The latest issue marks the first under the creative direction of Ferdinando Verderi.

“Ferdinando Verderi’s creative direction brings a cohesive vision of all the magazine’s ingredients: Photography, graphics and writing. DNA, the subject selected for (his) first issue, is a testament to that and it comes to life in the cover’s shootings, through interviews and texts, as well as digital content,” Farneti said.

Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019

Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

  • Inside the Emirati artist’s inaugural solo exhibition in London, ‘I Met a Traveler From an Antique Land’

LONDON: You are searching for treasure. Several potential locations are marked with an ‘x’ on your map. You move methodically from site to site, always to be met with disappointment — never striking gold. Are you, in following trails set by others, missing the treasure ‘hidden’ in plain view?

This is one of the conundrums posed in the artworks of Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan, whose inaugural solo exhibition in London presented a thought-provoking range of work fusing the ancient past with modern life.

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins, reflecting Arab, Roman and Phoenician influences. She described the coins, embedded in the marble, as symbolic of the great treasures buried in secret locations that were sought out and fought over by many. 

Al-Nahyan named her exhibition — held at Pi Artworks from June 25 to July 7 — with the opening line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”: “I met a traveler from an antique land.” (Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.)

Mishmash Dirham. (Supplied) 

The poem, published in 1818, imagines a meeting between the narrator and a traveller who describes a ruined statue lying in the desert. The description of the statue is a meditation on the fragility of human power and on the effects of time: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Maybe a positive thing from looking to the past is that it proves it is only human to repeat the mistake and the lesson,” Al-Nahyan told Arab News. “Studying the past is a realization of human nature, individually or in groups, right or wrong. This natural feeling of connectivity is something I usually aim for.”

There is humor in some of her work — particularly the depictions of old commercial airline advertisements from the 1950s and 60s with ancient figures superimposed in the frames. They certainly give the viewer pause for thought about how much our world has changed in the short time since air travel became widely available.

The exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, said of Al-Nahyan: “She has been practicing art from a very young age and is self-taught. She is incredibly talented, and you see this in the wide range of her work, which uses all sorts of different media. I can’t necessarily call her a pop artist or a collage artist or an installation artist; she is in fact all of these things, but it is the concept behind her work — connecting the past with the present — which is important.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador, Mansoor Abulhoul, was present at the opening and he particularly admired Al-Nahyan’s works based on the classic wooden board game Carrom paired with a modern video game.

Carrom Station in Motion. (Supplied) 

“I first played Carrom with my cousins as a boy, and she has combined it with modern computer games, which is very creative,” he said. He pointed out that her innovative work ties in well with the dynamic of the UAE.

“Next year we have EXPO 2020, with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ It’s very much about our roots and how we take them forward, how we develop the mind and global cooperation,” he said. 

The exhibition included a short clip from Al-Nahyan’s upcoming film “Athel,” written by Al-Nahyan’s sister, Sheikha Shamsa. It centers on a strange encounter in the desert between a pre-Islamic poet and a modern-day TV presenter. “Athel” is set for release later this year and stars Hala Shiha and Mansour Al-Fili.

“The idea behind it all is taken from the tradition of Arabic poetry — its wisdom and, sometimes, risks,” Al-Nahyan explained. “And ending with a realization of one tribal law putting redemption and family before all.” She added that there are some “light-hearted” moments in the film too.

Arabic poetry is an ongoing inspiration for Al-Nahyan’s work, adding another layer of meaning to many of her pieces.

“The Arabic language is poetic, and Arabs and other cultures around the world have documented their lives through poetry,” she said. “So, for example, when tackling the topic of what is considered treasure, we found different meanings in various verses. Like when (pre-Islamic poet) Zuhair Bin Abi Salma refers to glory as the only true treasure.”

There is a much to absorb and reflect on in this exhibition which opens windows into many facets of Arab history and culture and poses universal questions about humanity and what constitutes real treasure.