Shara Art Fair celebrates Saudi artists

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A number of paintings by Saudi artists.
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Omar Naseef and Mohammed Awlia, founders of Oil and Barrel.
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Updated 30 June 2016
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Shara Art Fair celebrates Saudi artists

For the second year running, The Saudi Art Council has organized and opened its doors for the Kingdom’s most influential art galleries to present some of the country’s leading local artists’ work. Shara Art Fair, opened on the 21st of Ramadan and running for five days, was held at the Saudi Art Council headquarters after the success of last year’s art fair. Sponsored by UBS, the world’s leading wealth manager, the sponsorship of the Shara Art Fair follows a successful collaboration between UBS and the Council during the 2015 art fairs that showcased the history and direction of contemporary visual arts in Saudi Arabia through a number of exhibitions, most prominent among them “21.39”, providing the public a unique chance to learn about the development of the visual art movement through the eyes of local artists. This year, it added a new feature for the art scene by having presented local food and furniture initiatives that made waves in the area; Medd Coffee and Roastry, Shelter Shoppe, Oil Barrel and Mashareq.
The participating galleries included Athr Art Gallery, Hafez Art Gallery, Cuadro Art Gallery and a silent auction held by Al-Mansouria Foundation, a foundation established by Princess Jawaher Bint Majed in support of creativity in the Kingdom. The gallery is set to encourage more Saudi artists to participate in the growing contemporary visual arts movement that has seen a great boom in the past few years and more galleries are set out to showcase their work for public viewing depicting Saudi culture and history through their eyes. Such an initiative not only encourages artists, but encourages the public to understand what Saudi artists portray through their canvases, sculptures, calligraphy, Islamic art and geometry and photographs, bringing together artists from across the Kingdom in one art space.
The space was divided according to the number of galleries partaking in the art fair and the number of artists showcasing their work this year was impressive with many varied pieces that surely caught the attention of newcomers and art lovers alike. To name a few from the field of Islamic calligraphy and geometric Islamic art, there’s Ahmad Angawi with his take on Hijazi patterns of “Al-Mangour” on glass and number talismans from Dana Awartani’s “The Hidden Qualities of Quantities”. Arwa AlNeami’s “spring camel” photographs in full blown vibrant colors, Ghada Al-Rabea’s pop art, Osama Esid’s “Erk Soos” and Moath AlOfi’s “Haramain” from his recent exhibit “Doors of Barlik” were all a hit with the visitors.
It was difficult to pass by and not stare in awe at the the intricate details of Izzat Batrawi’s “relief sculpture” with impressively fine and designed wood work , as was the neon installation by Majed Thobaiti depicting the ever so known arabic version “hhhh”.
There was an abundance of paintings displayed from various well-known and young up and coming artists, each painting with a significant concept of its own, each telling a story. There’s Tagreed Bagshi’s beautiful painting signifying the heroism of women and mysticism on a canvas aptly named “paradise”, a beautiful mix of collage and print in Garden 1 from Filwa Nazer’s Green Library Series. There was “The Ramadan Story” by Ola Hejazi, the vibrant work of the seven tawaf or circumambulations around the Kaaba series by Siddiqa Juma, Ammar Al-Attar’s five print series “salah” in an exquisite portrayal of the daily sacred ritual of prayer, as never seen before.
The Kingdom is seeing a new wave of art enthusiasm in all its forms with centers and galleries offering the best services to steer up and coming artists into the path they need to progress and evolve. Society is also opening up to the art movement, understanding the concept of art bit by bit and allowing a new contemporary wave to be displayed and appreciated.
Oil Barrel founders Mohammed Awlia and Omar Naseef were participating in the art fair as part of an initiative to support local brands as well as to integrate them with the art scene, a mix that sat well with Oil Barrel founders. “We enjoyed being a part of Shara Art Fair as it was also an opportunity for Oil Barrel to give its own rendition of the artistic history lesson through our version of Vision 2030. We chose a concept that was similar to the one Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented but through a hundred year timeline, vision 1930. It was a period of discovery and entrepreneurship, fast forward a hundred years later and the concept can be applied to the now.”
Oil Barrel’s corner of the art fair featured a centerpiece of stacked oil barrels with calligraphy work by artist Shaker Kashgari, a large mural by mother and daughter duo Siham Abdulgadir and Majdaline Bakr and original newspaper clippings from the 1930’s recreating a timeline on the very beginnings of the oil industry of the Kingdom. “Being part of Shara Art Fair also gave us the opportunity to test drive Oil Barrel’s latest furniture line, it was a success with lots of orders coming in. We literally recycle and reuse oil barrels in creative methods related to our brand,” said Mohammed Awlia.
Medd coffee and Roastery, a new favorite among Jeddawis was also a participant, serving their signature 100 percent organic, fair trade and freshly brewed specialty coffee, hot or cold of course, as well as sweets and snacks from local home businesses, an initiative they’ve been supporting since opening.
Shelter Shoppe, a concept store collaboration between husband and wife duo Faisal Sheraiff and Reem Basaad, was also a participant in the fair presenting home décor selected especially by the duo. “Shara Art Fair shared the same concept as the one we took up on ourselves to present in Shelter Shoppe, it was great being a part of such an amazing art movement. We choose pieces that are one of a kind. We handpick them ourselves and much to our pleasure, visitors were very pleased with our products and shared their delight as they browsed the area,” exclaimed Faisal Sheraiff. “We will definitely be participating more with The Saudi Art Council, the art lovers are exactly the target market we strive to attract to share our love for art.” Mashareq, a store that specializes specifically in traditional arts and crafts of the Islamic heritage, also debuted some of its magnificent wood work, handcrafted furniture and home accessories by Middle Eastern artisans. Their displays featured works that literally would take you decades back when woodwork was flaunted in homes, each uniquely crafted by the finest craftsmen.
The Saudi Art Council in partnership with the many galleries at the Shara Art Fair are helping artists in the Kingdom to come forward and showcase their work, simply by arranging art exhibits with exceptional concepts.

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INTERVIEW: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki continues to ride wave of Capernaum Cannes success

Updated 23 May 2019
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INTERVIEW: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki continues to ride wave of Capernaum Cannes success

  • Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so
  • “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks

DUBAI: The success that Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third film, “Capernaum,” continues to find across the world is astounding — even to her. Just one year ago, “Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival — a jury chaired by Cate Blanchett — after a 15-minute standing ovation. The film went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with Labaki becoming the first woman from the Arab world to receive that honor. Now, perhaps most surprisingly, “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks.
“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I really can’t. Why there? It’s all very new, so I still don’t know what it means exactly, but we’re soon going to find out,” Labaki tells Arab News in Cannes.
With its success in China, along with the US, Middle East and across Europe, “Capernaum” has reportedly become the highest grossing Arabic-language film in history.
“There’s been rumors going on for the past two to three days, and it’s like, ‘What?’ I still can’t believe it. It’s living proof that an Arab film with no actors can actually be a box office hit — can actually return money, make money for investors. You know how much we’re struggling in the Arab world to make films, find money, find funding, find investment. Especially for a Lebanese film,” Labaki says.
Labaki was in China just one month ago to show the film at the Beijing International Film Festival, and although the film got a rousing response in the room, she didn’t feel the reaction was any stronger than anywhere else the film has shown.
“Maybe it’s because there’s more than a billion people in China, but even the distributor is saying it’s working like any big blockbuster movie,” says Labaki.
The Chinese release of the film has one major difference from other cuts. The original version of the film tells the story of a young boy named Zain El Hajj (played by Zain Al-Rafeea) struggling to survive on the streets of Lebanon with the help of a young Ethiopian immigrant named Rahil and her undocumented infant son Yonas, dreaming of escaping as a refugee to Sweden. The story is not far from Al-Rafeea’s real-life situation at the time — he is a Syrian refugee. Since the film’s release, though, Al-Rafeea and his family have been relocated to Norway, something the Chinese release includes at the end of the film as a short visual report.
“The film ends on his smile, and in a way there’s (now) a continuation of real life in that story. This is really happening, it’s not made up,” says Labaki. “That’s why we’re making a documentary around the film. Maybe it’s a way of comforting people, knowing that he’s alright, he’s good, he’s in a better place. Deep down, people know this kid is going through this in his real life, they know he’s not just an actor in this film.
“I think it’s comforting to know Zain is in a different place now. He’s travelled. He was dreaming of going to Sweden the whole time, and now he’s really in Norway. He has a new life, a new beginning, a new house. He’s going to school, all his family is with him,” she continues. “It’s a complete shift of destiny. Maybe the fact the distributor added this report after the film made people understand that this is a real story and a real struggle, and not just another film.”
Though this is a huge moment for Arab film in general, Labaki doesn’t believe that the success of “Capernaum” necessarily signals a greater appetite for Arab cinema worldwide.
“I don’t think it’s about (where the film comes from). It’s about good films. It has nothing to do with the identity of the film or the country it’s coming from, really. It doesn’t mean if this film worked in China that another Arab film will work in China,” she says. “Maybe there’s going to be more hope for Lebanese cinema in the sense that investors will be less afraid to invest in Lebanese films, but it’s about the script, the filmmaker, the craft, the know-how. This is what gives confidence to somebody.”
Speaking to Arab News at the renowned Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes on one of the busiest days of the film festival, Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so. Labaki began her relationship with Cannes in 2004, writing and developing her first feature, “Caramel,” at the Cinéfoundation Residency before showcasing the film at the Director’s Fortnight in 2007. Both of Labaki’s subsequent films — “Where do We Go Now?” in 2011 and “Capernaum” in 2018 — debuted at the festival, each in increasingly competitive categories.
“I feel like I’m their baby, in a way. With a baby you start watching their first steps, see them grow, protect them, push them… They’ve accompanied me in this journey, and recognized and encouraged me. It’s great — I really love this festival. I think it’s the best festival in the world. I like the integrity they have towards cinema. You feel that watching a film in Cannes, you know that you’re not going to watch just anything — there’s something in there for you to learn from, to be surprised by, to be in awe of. There’s always something about films that are shown in Cannes,” says Labaki.
In approaching her role as head of the jury, Labaki is focusing on connecting with the films, and taking on the perspective of myriad filmmakers from across the world.
“I don’t watch films as a filmmaker. Never,” she says. “I watch the film as a human being… I don’t like the word jury. I don’t like to judge because I’ve been there — I’m there all the time. I’ve been in those very difficult situations, very fragile situations, where you’re making a film, where you’re doubting, where you don’t know, where you don’t have enough distance with what you’re doing, and you don’t have the right answers and you’re not taking the right decisions.”
Just as her own films have become increasingly focused on the problems facing Lebanese society, Labaki believes that contemporary film cannot help but be political, and must accept its role as a commentary on the world we live in — something that she feels she’s seen in the films in her category.
“Cinema is not just about making another film; it’s about saying something about the state of the world right now. Until now, every film we’ve seen is (doing that). That doesn’t mean that cinema that is just art for art’s sake is not good — there are so many different schools — but I feel we’re becoming so much more responsible for this act,” she says. “You become an activist without even knowing you’re becoming an activist, and saying something about the state of the world. It’s important.”