Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran

Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran
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Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran
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Updated 05 August 2014

Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran

Nabatean-Arabic missing link: ‘Oldest’ inscription found in Najran

A Saudi-French archaeological team has unearthed in Najran what might be considered the oldest inscription in the Arabic alphabet, said a spokesman from the French Foreign Ministry.
“The epigrapher Frédéric Imbert, a professor at the University of Aix-Marseille, found the Nabatean Arabic inscription about 100 km north of Najran near the Yemeni border,” said the spokesman. “The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as Nabatean Arabic, the first stage of Arabic writing,” he said.
This script had previously only ever been seen north of Hejaz, in the Sinai and in the Levant. The second is the fact that these inscriptions are dated. The period indicated corresponds to the years 469-470 AD. This is the oldest form of Arabic writing known to date, the “missing link” between Nabatean and Arabic writing, he added.
This discovery, which is important to the history of the Arabian Peninsula and language, represents a success for the network of archaeological missions funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, which executed 148 projects this year in more than 60 countries worldwide. It is also an excellent example of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and France, the official said.
Many examples of graffiti and inscriptions, largely of names and greetings, are a testament to widespread literacy within Nabatean culture, which extended as far north as the north end of the Dead Sea.
No Nabatean literature has survived with the exception of a few letters.


Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
Updated 16 April 2021

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
  • Louaye Moulayess on why ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is his most personal project yet

DUBAI: Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess was born and raised in a divided nation. With Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon,” his latest major project, he had the chance to tell the story of a fictional land not unlike his own, and to lay out a path forward for how it may be united again.

“When I saw the screening of the film, I realized what the movie is about: It's about trust and what we can do if people come together. Coming from the Middle East, I really like that,” Moulayess tells Arab News. “You see all these different lands inspired from countless places, and basically you see them individually. But if they are so beautiful individually, what can they do if they come together?

Louaye Moulayess is a Lebanese animator. (Supplied)

“That message resonates a lot with me coming from Lebanon, as all this especially applies to Lebanon,” he continues. “I was really proud to be part of something that just tells that story. I like that message. I know It sounds simple, but if we can just show this to kids and families, for me, that would make me happy.”

“Raya and the Last Dragon,” directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, is set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, which is not based on the Middle East, but Southeast Asia. In this fantasy version of that region, humans and dragons once lived in harmony, before mistrust and political division tore the kingdom apart, causing the dragons to disappear and chaos to ensue. The film follows a princess named Raya who sets off on an adventure to unite the kingdom and bridge the gaps between the various warring factions.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is Moulayess’s latest major project. (Supplied)

Moulayess wants people in the Middle East watching the movie to apply the film’s message of togetherness and collaboration not only to politics, however, but to all aspects of life.

“It applies especially to Lebanon, but I don’t want just that. Yes, you can apply this politically, but you can also apply this to your (apartment) complex, you know what I mean? It can be global, but you can also apply it to your circle of friends. This is the appeal for me. It doesn't have to be political. It doesn't have to be big,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess himself started small — growing up primarily in the Lebanese village of Elissar. From a young age, sitting on the couch with his brothers and sisters, Moulayess fell in love with Disney movies, and saw their ability to convey a powerful message. He knew, even back then, that was what he wanted to do with his life.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada. (Supplied)

“I felt something good. I'm like, ‘I want to be part of this.’ That was the first step. The problem was, I didn't see anybody do art (among) my family and friends. So I started doing computer science. And since there was starting to be computer animation, I said, ‘Maybe I can do something with the computer.’ I did computer science for a year. Didn't work. I didn't like it. It wasn't for me, basically,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess started researching, trying to figure out how he could get from his small village on the Western edge of the Mediterranean to the halls of Disney or Pixar on the other side of the world.

One day, he stumbled upon someone who could possibly help him, an animator at Pixar in San Francisco. Overcoming his nervousness, he decided to send him a message out of the blue.

Moulayess worked on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2.” (Supplied)

“I was around 16 or 17. I emailed him and said, ‘Listen, I'm from Lebanon, this is the situation: I want to do animation. Can you help me?’ He was very kind, he replied right away. He told me, ‘Since you don't have a portfolio, try to go to this animation school in San Francisco. It’s expensive, so you’re going to have to have a job on the side.’ He just gave me a lot of good advice. And it's because of him that I made the decision to go to that school specifically,” says Moulayess.

When he’d completed his studies, he managed to land an internship at the place he had been dreaming of: Pixar.

“And guess who my mentor was? It was that animator. I said, ‘Hey, I want to show you something.’ I showed him the email I sent him when I was 16. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I'm here because of you.’ And it was honestly a great moment. It was like everything had aligned to have him as my mentor.”

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. (Supplied)

Moulayess went from working on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios, working on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2” before taking on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” At Disney, Moulayess is not only able to add his own voice to the legacy of the greatest animation studio in history, he’s also able to thrive precisely because of his background and perspective.

“I'm very proud to be here because of the diversity that they try to push every single day,” he says. “They understand that diversity will bring more to the table. I grew up in Lebanon, and I saw movies that maybe somebody else didn't see or shows that somebody else didn't see, I read books, I saw Arabic calligraphy, I saw my culture, and I have stories to tell that my gym teacher used to tell me from the village where he grew up. I mean, who else has that stuff?

Moulayess worked on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios. (Supplied)

“At the studio, the chief creatives understand it's in their best interest to bring diversity because it means more stories, more personality. I think studios around the world are starting to understand this as well,” he continues.

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which he considers his most personal project among the 15 films he has so far worked on, he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. In fact, one of the most memorable bit characters in the film was entirely Moulayess’ creation.

“I'm gonna give you my process,” he says. “Basically, I get asked to do shots. And for fun ones, I like to shoot references of myself in the room. I put a tripod, and I just act out the performance as much as I can. I'm a terrible actor, but I try to hit the beats that I want to hit. There’s one character holding flowers who has a very comedic moment in the film. I feel it's me, I put myself in this character. I shot the references. The directors, Don and Carlos, were laughing for, say, two to three minutes. That made me happy. They said, ‘Do exactly that.’ So I animated him exactly to my reference video. I feel that it's me in the screen.”

Moulayess smiles. “I’m going to tell you the truth,” he says. “I’m incredibly lucky.”


REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air
Updated 16 April 2021

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air
  • Netflix’s all-star movie has more holes than a supervillain’s scheme

LONDON: Back in January, when Netflix dropped a star-studded teaser trailer for its 2021 film slate, one of the most enticing snippets was for “Thunder Force” — a superhero buddy comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer as a crime-fighting duo determined to clean up the mean streets of Chicago. The brief glimpses promised a self-aware nod to big-budget, special-effects-heavy blockbusters, but with a family-friendly air and a supporting cast with serious comedy chops (Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale and Pom Klementieff).

Sadly, if you saw that trailer, then you’ve seen most of the movie’s best bits already. The central premise of “Thunder Force” offers up the chance of a very different, very funny take on the superhero genre. Rough-around-the-edges forklift operator Lydia (McCarthy) is visiting her overachieving, estranged best friend Emily (Spencer) and accidentally sets off a machine in the latter’s lab, granting herself the power of superstrength that Emily had been developing for five years. After the obligatory training montage (Emily has the power to turn invisible), the pair must reconcile and protect Chicago from the ‘Miscreants’ — villains with superpowers — terrorizing the population.

“Thunder Force” is on Netflix. (Supplied)

McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone serves as writer and director (the fifth time he has helmed a movie starring his wife), but can’t seem to get past low-brow physical comedy into anything more substantial. With the genre so overpopulated by the (mostly) very good Marvel movies, “Thunder Force” needed to be smart, funny and different if it was to stand out. It’s none of those things.

McCarthy and Spencer do have decent chemistry, but the script serves as little more than a string of opportunities for McCarthy to do impressions, overly labored running gags, (literal) toilet humor, or simply crude crotch jokes. Klementieff, at least, has some fun as powerful miscreant Laser, and Cannavale goes full pantomime baddie as The King, but it’s tough to imagine what convinced Netflix regular Bateman to say yes to the role of pincer-armed henchman The Crab. It’s a character that bears more than a few similarities to the movie as a whole: not especially funny, not really dark – just bafflingly weird.


Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere
Updated 16 April 2021

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere
  • Sampling some simple French classics at the award-winning Dubai restaurant

DUBAI: The best way to describe eating at Dubai’s LPM — the restaurant formerly known as La Petite Maison — is to compare it to having a meal inside an exquisite art gallery.

The interiors are washed in light, natural colors, with beige leather seats and white linen tablecloths, giving it an elegant and sophisticated vibe. In fact, it felt as if we had been transported to a café in France.

The interiors are washed in light, natural colors, with beige leather seats and white linen tablecloths. (Supplied)

The white walls are bathed in warm lighting and adorned with original artworks. Wooden boxes and modernist sculptures are dotted throughout the whole area. It truly felt like we were eating at a gallery or an swanky house. But while LPM is definitely high-end and refined, it’s also cozy and welcoming.

As you approach your table, you’ll notice that it’s not empty. A pair of juicy tomatoes and zesty lemons are waiting for you. To be honest, we thought it was part of the decor until one of the waiters explained that guests can cut up the tomatoes, squeeze some lemons on top and season with salt and pepper as an appetizer as they wait for their food. Staff regularly circulate with a large basket of bread, baked in-house, too.

The roast baby chicken is marinated in lemon and cooked to perfection. (Supplied)

Even these little touches are delicious — fresh and of high quality. So it’s no surprise that the venue was recognized as the best French restaurant in Dubai by Time Out in its latest awards.

One of the simplest but most delectable dishes we had was the poivrons marinés à l’huile d’olive. The sweet red peppers marinated in olive oil were seasoned with garlic and paprika, translating all the vegetable’s natural flavors while adding a hint of sourness and smokiness.

This dish is snails with garlic butter and parsley. (Supplied)

The next dish we selected is not for the squeamish — and I speak as one who’s been terrified by bugs and creepy-crawlies since childhood. You might have guessed, it’s the escargots de Bourgogne (snails with garlic butter and parsley), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite my misgivings.

The texture of this protein-rich dish is unlike anything else. It could be described as akin to mushrooms, but the snails are meatier and tenderer. There is a hint of saltiness mixed with the creaminess of butter. This dish is definitely a must-try at LPM — a French classic beautifully done.

The gâteau au fromage frais (cheesecake) with berry compote is light and flavorful. (Supplied)

Another highly recommended option is the coquelet au citron confît — one of the best chicken dishes I have ever had in Dubai. The roast baby chicken is marinated in lemon and cooked to perfection; the meat itself is so juicy and tender it feels like you are eating pâté or chicken purée. The delicate flavor of the chicken is perfectly complemented by the smokiness of the roast.

For a perfect finish to your meal, we would definitely recommend the gâteau au fromage frais (cheesecake) with berry compote. It is light and flavorful and the pronounced vanilla flavor of the creamy, silky cheese contrasts with the fruitiness and sour tang of the berry compote.

The sweet red peppers marinated in olive oil were seasoned with garlic and paprika, translating all the vegetable’s natural flavors while adding a hint of sourness and smokiness. (Supplied)

LPM uses simple ingredients including salt, pepper, lemon, parsley, olive oil and butter to elevate its mix of southern French and Italian cuisine — emphasizing their intrinsic flavors. But what really sold us on the place, apart from the great food, is the casual atmosphere. It’s homey, welcoming and artistic, and a real change from many of Dubai’s other high-end restaurants. And while several of the dishes are expensive, there is plenty on offer at a cost that won’t leave your wallet empty.


GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
Updated 15 April 2021

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
  • Khaleeji Art Museum’s latest installation showcases work from six emerging Gulf artists

BENGALURU: In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. Viewers may overlook the mundane act of eating and choose instead to focus on the aesthetic of the woman being photographed.

“During Ramadan, food turns into an obsession. Refraining from it during the day turns it into a desire,” writes Al-Zadjali on his Instagram account. He goes on to explain that, since people rarely make traditional Ramadan fare like luqaimat and samboosa through the rest of the year, come the holy month these delicacies are regarded as “more precious than gold.”

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. (Supplied)

Al-Zadjali’s tongue-in-cheek photograph was part of last year’s online art exhibition “Ramadan in Quarantine,” hosted by the Khaleeji Art Museum (KAM), the region’s first digital art museum dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging artists in the region.

Since its launch on International Museum Day last year, KAM has held three online group exhibitions — “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” “Ramadan in Quarantine,” and “Art for Change” — and hosted two solo digital shows.

KAM’s founders, Emirati sisters Manar and Sharifah Al-Hinai, are also the team behind Sekka Magazine, an online arts and culture magazine launched in 2017, aimed at regional youth.
“Through Sekka, we get to meet a lot of emerging artists from the region,” Sharifah tells Arab News. “The art world is difficult to tap into — even more so when you are an emerging artist. The artists we worked with told us that the biggest challenge they face is that they cannot find spaces that will exhibit their work. So Manar and I had a conversation about this and we thought, ‘Why not start a digital art initiative?’ During a pandemic, digital is a great way to reach as many people as possible.”

This artwork is by Faisal Alkherji. (Supplied)

After several conversations, the duo settled on the idea of a digital museum dedicated to artists from the Arab Gulf states. “As far as we knew, it was something that didn’t exist,” says Manar. “We are very proud to be the first digital museum that provides this platform.” The sisters are currently in talks with various organizations in the UAE to host physical exhibitions in the future.

Their first exhibition, “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” received a positive response. “With lockdowns all over the world and the situation still new, people were interested in seeing how others were coping with COVID-19,” Manar says. The online gallery hit over 10,000 views.

Their latest installation — “Ramadan amid COVID-19,” which began April 12 — sees seven artworks from six emerging regional artists displayed on the façade of the 36-story Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City (DFC). The show runs until April 26 with four ‘screenings’ every evening.

Ishaq Madan’s photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. (Supplied) 

The works include Bahraini photographer Ishaq Madan’s “Ramadan 1441.” His photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. The idea came to Madan during the height of the pandemic last year. “Ramadan usually witnesses triple the worshippers, but as the world shifted away from normalcy, the connection, for some, (was) difficult to find,” he explains. “As mosques closed their gates to worshippers, a new spiritual battle began — of finding connection with the heavens above. As some may struggle, it is important we strengthen our spiritual connections.”

Madan created a painting-like effect for his image by combining natural light techniques with unusual perspectives — portraying a subtle visual story through characters captured in the frame.

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon. (Supplied)

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon — a longstanding symbol of Ramadan. Almoosawi includes further symbolism such as a coffee cup, and a traditional Arab kaftan.

“The illustration speaks of the COVID-19 situation in Ramadan,” she says. “Most of us (usually) spend the holy month gathering with family and friends. But this year, we are patiently waiting for life to get back to the way it was.”

Almoosawi’s work often features female figures in various shapes and forms. It represents the society that she grew up in, she says. “As an Arab girl, I was always surrounded by women. Hearing their stories and their insecurities had a big impact on me.”

In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. (Supplied)

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. His artwork features a gloved, glittering hand pouring coffee out of a sparkling pot into a cup held by another’s hand. “(Coffee), in the Arab tradition, unifies people and brings them together,” Hujeiry says. “It is a constant in our lives and also a cultural symbol that embodies the idea of hospitality, unity, and safety in families during the holy month of Ramadan.”

Hujeiry has always been inspired by the cosmos, space, and illusion, he explains. His work is reflective of this, with several elements of glitter and spatial effects interspersed with cultural symbols. The rest of this series, he says, shows how we can be unified as a society even though we are facing a global pandemic that isolates us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way people celebrate Ramadan, but Hujeiry hopes that it won’t change the meaning behind the celebration. “We will still celebrate it with our loved ones, but keeping safety precautions in mind,” he says.


Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

DUBAI: In honor of World Art Day — celebrated on April 15 — Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia bint Majed Al-Saud shared her view on how art and creativity have “the power to shape our future; whether social, cultural, or economic” in an article for Vogue Arabia, especially in light of a global pandemic that has brought the world to a griding halt over the past year. 

“While the past year has brought with it an array of challenges, creatives across the world have found inspiration in the most difficult times,” she added. 

Indeed, artists across the world have garnered inspiration from lockdown and social distancing measures — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, recently launched a digital showcase titled “COVID-19 Exhibit” that showcases just that. 

In the article penned by Princess Lamia, she declared that “art is central, not peripheral, to social change,” echoing the view that creativity has the power to effect change at all levels of society. 

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She shared her views as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow, with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at March’s Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation and Ithra, including the ongoing Year of Arabic Calligraphy. 

The princess also discussed the goals of Alwaleed Philanthropies — a charitable organization, chaired by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, which collaborates with a range of philanthropic, governmental and educational institutions to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief and create cultural understanding through education.

Princess Lamia said: “We understand the important role that the creative industries play in meeting the sustainable development agenda…We believe that art inspires feeling and emotion while providing a window through which people can explore different perspectives.”

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She penned the article as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation.