Saudi artists forge creative partnerships on US art trip

Saudi artists forge creative partnerships on US art trip
The Crossway team with students from the University of Texas in El Paso. (Photo by Majid Angawi)
Updated 19 November 2016

Saudi artists forge creative partnerships on US art trip

Saudi artists forge creative partnerships on US art trip

Two young Saudi artists are standing in an expansive white desert – but they far away from their homeland. They are in New Mexico, US, at the breathtaking White Sands National Monument, surrounded by 710 sq km of white gypsum.
The artists, Ahaad Alamoudi and Basmah Felemban, gave Arab News vivid descriptions of the places they visited on their recent two-week tour of the southwestern US organized by the Crossway Foundation and Art Jameel. They traveled alongside eight other emerging artists from Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan who were selected from over 100 Crossway Foundation alumni following an Open Call this summer. Along the way they collaborated with local arts and social organizations in both Texas and New Mexico.
Alamoudi is in the final year of her MA program at the Royal College of Art and Felemban is in the final year of her MA at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, founded in 2004 by HRH The Prince of Wales. The Prince’s School grew out of the Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts Programme (VITA) established at The Royal College of Art in 1984 by Professor Keith Critchlow.
Both students said the experience of traveling across the US with artists from different creative disciplines and countries had opened up new ways of thinking about their art. Meeting with the townspeople they encountered on their journey had also been a great experience and had helped them to see the country from perspectives based on their own personal encounters.
“Everyone we visited in the small towns was really welcoming. We always felt comfortable,” said Alamoudi.
With the US election campaign then in full swing, they met people from both the Republican and Democrat camps and observed: “In the news, especially in relation to the coverage of the elections, you can get a lot of negative messages. But the people we met shattered the stereotypes on both sides of the contest.”
One of the places they found especially inspirational was Marfa, Texas, which has been called one of the last American frontiers. It is situated at an altitude of 4,830 feet above sea level in a semiarid region.
Marfa was the film location for James Dean’s final picture, Giant, which also starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and Dennis Hopper. In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist, moved to Marfa from New York City with the intention of permanently installing his art. Judd acquired an entire Army base, and before he died in 1994, he filled it with art, including light installations by Dan Flavin and Judd’s own signature boxes. One hundred of them made of silvery milled aluminum are housed in two old brick artillery sheds. They sit in perfectly quiet rows, glowing or seemingly translucent, depending on the light.
Another high point was The Lightning Field (1977), a land artwork in Catron County, New Mexico, by sculptor Walter De Maria. It consists of 400 stainless steel poles with solid, pointed tips, arranged in a rectangular 1 mile × 1 kilometer grid.
Alamoudi, who placed her own hand-crafted clay date palm trees along the route, commented: “The Lightning Field really resonated with me. We traveled 45 minutes off-road to get to this remote place. I strongly related to the landscape art – especially in the context of my own palm tree project. It was really inspirational in terms of thinking of a space as part of your artwork. Formerly, I thought of an artwork just as an entity in itself – I didn’t think of the space surrounding it as being a part of the piece itself.”
Asked about the thinking behind her date palm concept, she explained:
“I see my placing of date palms in the US as an act of forming a bridge between Saudi Arabia and the USA. Throughout history, date palm trees have offered sustenance wherever they are found. So these trees that I left behind are a symbol of the culture of my country and a personal gift from me. I left them in good faith – not knowing what would happen to them.”
For Felemban, whose work has always been in black and white and highly structured, the trip was a turning point in how she views the use of color.
“I have always struggled with color – even at school. I don’t like the idea of just putting colors together to make a pretty effect. Now I have found a way of making color a theory; the colors now make sense to me – the colors of space. So this trip has helped me to be experimental and creative as an artist. When you become a commercial artist, it is all too easy to conform to the demands of the market, avoid risk and end up never producing work that you actually want to create.
“Trips like this and residencies are very good for giving you more space to experiment and let loose,” she said.
She created a video presented at the conclusion of the tour to demonstrate her way of interpreting the landscapes.
“I came up with the idea of documenting space through color palettes. I color-matched the places we visited. If I liked an art work, for example the Lightning Field, because I am neither a photographer nor an illustrator – I would document the color palette.”
She found the whole experience and collaboration with other artists energizing and liberating.
“My work has always been very structured and organized. I went to the US with the attitude that I wanted to be more experimental. Two weeks away from school and being somewhere new – in nature and focusing on minimal art – was really helpful to me. The Lightning Field is a perfect grid but it is in the middle of nowhere. I was able to explore a middle ground between wild expanses and structured elements.”
Felemban, who has interned with the prestigious architectural firm Foster + Partners, was asked about her love of Islamic art and her view of how artists interact with their surroundings.
“Sacred art and the language of geometry resonate with me. It is so broad and has so much symbolism and philosophy. My internship with Foster + Partners made me appreciate and respect how the mind of an architect works. Their brains have to constantly balance the elements of function and design. Every beautiful design element has a function.
“Perhaps contemporary artists have forgotten the practical considerations which led artists in the past to use particular materials according to location, setting or even climate. Now we have art that is not going to last for the next 100 years because we are not thinking in such a practical way.
“We need to think of ourselves as people involved in society, as activists, as entrepreneurs, teachers and mentors. My course at the Prince’s School is challenging; it is very traditional – for example, you have to use natural pigments. My natural element is contemporary but this approach pushes me to be a better artist.”
Elaborating on her view of Islamic art, she observed: “Most western audiences are not aware of the architectural significance and quality of Islamic patterns; how they are made, the construction lines, how they tessellate. I thought it would be interesting to create work about this but also to conceptualize it – so it is not just a process of how to make an Islamic pattern. The idea is to compare Islamic patterns with social fabric. One unit is a pattern within itself but it is also open to connecting with other units. It has the ability to be independent but also able to be flexible. I love to compare people to patterns, our ability to be symmetrical and asymmetrical.”
Both Felemban and Alamoudi are planning to return to Saudi Arabia after finishing their studies next summer.
Alamoudi said: “I see myself going back to Jeddah working in the educational field or perhaps as a freelance artist. I want to produce work. Within our generation there is an awareness of the importance of art to culture and to society. The Internet and social media has had a big impact – and artists such as Abdulnasser Gharem, Manal Al Dowayan and Ahmed Mater have led the way and given others a platform to pursue art as a career. It’s really an interesting time in Saudi Arabia right now; there are many new galleries and exhibitions.”
Felemban is keen to work in education. She commented: “Girls like us are very lucky; we have families who support our choices and we have had the opportunity to attend prestigious art schools. There are many women with the same passion and eagerness to learn. It is our responsibility to return and give back.”
Looking back over the amazing trip, she was asked if there was anything that she had not expected. She replied with a laugh, remembering her visit to a family ranch in New Mexico where she rode the horses: “One of the most surprising things for me was that cowboys are real! The cowboy lifestyle is real.”
Alamoudi concluded: “My objective was to understand a new landscape that I have never visited. I found it intriguing, exciting and beautiful.”

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GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
Updated 6 min 29 sec ago

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.  


THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region
Updated 15 April 2021

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

FREEK

The Dubai-based, UAE-born Somalian MC — one of the leading figures in the Arabic drill scene — released new single, “Kafi,” late last month, ahead of a new album due to drop at the end of May. “Kafi” isn’t typical of Freek’s repertoire, it’s calmer, but with a strong lyrical message. In a press release, he described it as an “emotional” track that “tackles the issue of child abuse … and how children deal with it.”

HUDA LUTFI

The veteran Egyptian artist’s latest solo show, “Our Black Thread,” is currently running in Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery. It consists of hand-sewn, embroidered works that began as improvisations on organza teabags. “She asks what form of intentionality separates craft from art,” a gallery statement read. “She (uses) repetition as a formal statement on endurance and resistance.”

DB GAD

The 28-year-old Egyptian rapper released his new track “Mooga” (Waves) this month. It’s a song inspired by the well-known novel “The Life of Pi,” he explained in a press release. “As lonely and emotional as one can get when leaving your home and the ones you love, sometimes you have to let go and just go with the waves,” Gad said.

MARWAN PABLO

The Egyptian MC and trap pioneer formerly known as Dama made an unexpected comeback from his ‘retirement’ (announced last year) in late February, releasing a hard-hitting new song called “Ghaba” (Jungle), the video for which has now racked up more than 13 million views on YouTube. It was followed up in late March by the release of “CTRL” — a five-track EP.


Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
Updated 15 April 2021

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
  • ‘We created something that speaks to what an occupation takes away from people,’ Shoufani says

BEIRUT: “It’s immensely surprising, and a step in the right direction for the Academy,” says

Palestinian-American filmmaker, writer and poet, Hind Shoufani, of this year’s list of Oscar-nominated short films. “They’re looking at diversity, women’s voices, underrepresented minorities; they’re paying attention to intense, conflict-driven and truthful stories.”

One such story was crafted by Shoufani and compatriot Farah Nabulsi. “The Present” — directed by Nabulsi — has already won a BAFTA in the British Short Film category and is nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at this month’s Academy Awards.

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story. (Supplied)

Available on Netflix, “The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. His 10-year-old daughter, played by the talented Mariam Kanj, joins him on a journey peppered with the injustice and humiliation emblematic of the daily plight of people living in the Occupied Territories.

Shoufani — a Fulbright scholar born to Palestinian parents in 1978 in Lebanon who has lived between Damascus, Amman, Beirut, New York and Dubai — explains that the partnership between Nabulsi and herself was “collaborative and fruitful.” The director supplied the film’s overarching themes and inspiring narrative threads and Shoufani fleshed them out in script and dialogue, introducing crucial plot elements, such as the daughter as a character.

“We had long sessions where we would go through different drafts of the script, talk through scenes and negotiate ideas,” says Shoufani, who also edited the film. “We ended up creating something that speaks to the heart of what an occupation takes away from people, in terms of agency and the ordinary ability to have freedom of movement and dignity.”

“The Present” is available on Netflix. (Supplied)

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story.

“Most people nowadays don’t want to sit for two hours and watch a highly nuanced, socioeconomic/class-driven, ethnographically correct, anthropologically dense film,” she says. “We don’t try to explain the past 70 years of Zionism, we don’t moralize or make grandstanding political statements... Instead, you have this ordinary man with a beautiful daughter whom anyone would only want to protect and love. Your natural human instinct is to want to keep this little girl safe and make sure she’s okay.”

And while Bakri’s Yousef is seemingly the protagonist, it is ultimately Kanj’s portrayal of Yasmine that steals the show and infuses the film with a powerful message. “She has a strong hand in how the story resolves. It’s about the power of youth and women. It’s inspiring but also heartbreaking. And it gives us an opportunity to appreciate the strength and determination of this 10-year-old kid.”

“The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. (Supplied)

Shoufani passionately praises everyone involved, especially Palestinian producer Ossama Bawardi. “I introduced Ossama to Farah, and I couldn’t be happier for him — he put this crew together in the West Bank and did all he could to get this film out into the world. He really believed in it, and I want to give him a shout-out because he’s just awesome.”

Though “bewildered” and “astounded” by the industry’s acclaim for “The Present,” Shoufani is equally thrilled by many of her other endeavors, including two personal projects that are close to her heart.

One is “They Planted Strange Trees,” her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee,” where Shoufani’s family is from. While being intrigued “to explore indigenous communities that people don’t really talk about much around the world,” the journey is also very personal. “It’s also about reconnecting with my family, and what it means to not belong, and yet very much belong there.”

“They Planted Strange Trees” is her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee.” (Supplied) 

The other is a four-part series that captures the stories of four female Arab poets and draws its working title — “Poeticians” — from a group that Shoufani founded. “We’ve filmed in five or six Arab countries for eight years, and I’m trying to create a purely video-art-driven essay on taking poetry into a visual language. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than making films that are based on poems.”

In the short term, however, she is very much looking forward to seeing how “The Present” does at the Oscars.

“I think it is vital that global audiences see this film, and I’m proud to be part of that experience,” she says. “As Palestinians, we have an unending array of stories to bring to life, because of our diaspora, our fight, our complex history and our strength. And, yes, our profound beauty as people.”


US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
Updated 14 April 2021

US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian stand-up comedian Mohammed Amer, who goes by the name Mo Amer, is set to star alongside US actor Dwayne Johnson in the new superhero movie “Black Adam.”

The action-adventure thriller is DC Comics’ long-awaited follow-up to 2019’s commercial hit “Shazam!” with the two characters, Shazam and Black Adam, being rivals in the DC Universe.

It is still unknown what role Amer will play.

 

 

The talent is famous for his role in the award-winning Hulu sitcom “Ramy,” in which he stars as US-Egyptian actor Ramy Youssef’s Muslim cousin who owns a diner. Amer also has a Netflix comedy special called “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.” 

Amer is not the only Arab actor in the cast. Tunisian-Dutch “Aladdin” star Marwan Kenzari confirmed in February that he is also starring in the movie, alongside actors Noah Centineo, Aldis Hodge and Quintessa Swindell.

 

 

Johnson, otherwise known as “The Rock” from his professional wrestling days, announced he was taking part in “Black Adam” two years ago on Instagram: “This role is unlike any other I’ve ever played in my career and I’m grateful to the bone we’ll all go on this journey together,” he wrote at the time. 

The movie was supposed to be released in December 2021, but was pushed back due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Production is expected to begin in April in Atlanta.

According to Deadline, “Black Adam” is set for release in July 2022.