For spiritual Italian artist, life and work are one

For spiritual Italian artist, life and work are one
Image: Huda Bashatah
Updated 17 December 2016

For spiritual Italian artist, life and work are one

For spiritual Italian artist, life and work are one

WHEN the Italian multimedia artist Maïmouna Guerresi began traveling in North Africa she was deeply affected by the people she encountered.
Guerresi’s conversations with Muslims on her travels had a profound impact on her, and in 1991 the artist — once a staunchly religious Catholic — converted to Islam.
“I learned about the community there where they talked to me without barriers and that left a great impact on my soul,” Guerresi told Arab News at this week’s opening of her exhibition at the Hafez Gallery in Jeddah.
Guerresi was born in Italy to a traditional Catholic family, but she was attracted to Islam during her travels.
The city of Touba in Senegal was a significant milestone on the artist’s religious journey.
The artist didn’t only listen to Muslims on her journey, but also did her own research about Islam’s belief system until she was convinced to take the crucial, life-changing decision to embrace it.
Prayer helped her spiritually in expressing herself through her art, but didn’t change her methods.
“Islam only changed my vision and perspective about life and things around me,” she said. “It changed my mentality, taught me to respect other religions and touched me on a spiritual level.”
Guerresi found harmony and balance in religion and art. “It is impossible for me to separate my life and work,” she said.

The veil in art
Guerresi’s work focuses on the spirituality of human beings and their relationship with their inner mystical dimension. She works primarily with photography, sculpture, video and installations.
Saudi artist Yusuf A. Ibraheem said Guerresi’s exhibition is a beautiful addition that brings a new tone to music that was once monotonous.
“Once we cross-pollinate ideas from different cultures, especially in art, we reach a beautiful point of harmony,” he said.
The Islamic elements in Guerresi’s work were not at first received universally well in Europe, with some taking issue with the depictions of veiled women in many of her photographs.
“People were asking me ‘why?’ every time they see me or my work, especially after I declared my conversion to Islam,” the artist said.
It is important for Guerresi to convey to people that Islamic art is beautiful, harmonious and spiritual. It is certainly not superficial, as everything is connected at a deep level.
Guerresi is disturbed about the distorted image some Islamic extremists portray to the world. This is not true Islam, she said; Islam empowers people mentally and spiritually. “Islam is freedom not prison,” she added.

Exhibition in Saudi Arabia
The feminine element is a continuing theme in Guerresi’s first solo exhibition in Saudi Arabia, as she wants to emphasize women’s empowerment to the young generation.
Tolerance is another message Guerresi intends to convey, given her belief that people from various cultures, faiths and religious backgrounds must coexist.
Manuela De Leonardis, the curator of the exhibition in Jeddah, has been working with Guerresi since 2009 when the two women met at a photography festival in Italy. De Leonardis invited Guerresi to be part of a book project on how art brings people together despite different cultures and languages. Guerresi liked the idea, which led to many more projects with De Leonardis throughout the years.
Guerresi’s work presents an intimate perspective on the spirituality of humans; her images are delicate narratives with fluid sequencing, with an appreciation of shared humanity beyond borders — be they psychological, cultural, religious or political.
Her work has been extensively exhibited in solo and group shows all over Europe, the United States and Asia. Guerresi has participated in the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale on several occasions, and displayed her works across the Middle East and North Africa, in places such as Morocco, Dubai, Sharjah, Bahrain, and now, Jeddah.
“I know that the type of art I’m bringing to (the) Saudi audience is somehow different to them — as they are not used to see women in canvases, which is my way to express myself, but there is a message that want to convey about Islam through my art,” she said.
“I would love to hold another exhibition in different Saudi cities in the future if I had the chance,” the artist added.

Elegant art
Qaswra H. Hafez, owner of Hafez Gallery, said that the idea of hosting Guerresi as the first Italian artist to exhibit in his gallery came from Italian Consul General Elisabetta Martini’s mother, who visited his house last year and had been impressed by Jeddah’s art scene.
“She expressed her will to link the Saudi-Italian roots in terms of art, so she nominated Mrs. Guerresi’s works,” Hafez said.
Saudi artists who attended the exhibition were intrigued by her work.
Mohammed Haider, who had served as chairman of the Saudi House of Artists in Jeddah and is a member in the Arab Society for Arts and Culture, said that Guerresi’s art is elegant.
Haider referenced the artist’s use of salt — a precious commodity since ancient times, and symbol of wisdom, knowledge, incorruptibility and light — as a metaphor in her works.
“What really caught my attention in her work, is the presence of salt and women. She defiantly has a message to convey through these two elements,” Haider said.
Saudi artist Amena Al-Haddad pointed out that Guerresi’s work represents women’s struggles in life and their journey of empowerment. “Islamic spirituality has a big presence in her work,” she added.

— Maïmouna Guerresi’s “Journey of the Sparrowhawk” is on
until Jan. 25 at the Hafez Gallery in Jeddah.

What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

Updated 42 min 20 sec ago

What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

  • The bars and wafers used are locally made and come in an array of different sizes

Singularity is the creation of Nourah Al-Naim, a young Saudi artist who aims to spread her admiration and love for art through chocolate.
Al-Naim presents chocolate bars and wafers packaged in wrappers decorated with an array of watercolors.
The arty chocolate is entertaining, decorative, and very suitable for use as gifts. Each one has a unique hand-painted wrapper for different occasions and seasons, and Al-Naim also offers customized designs.
The bars and wafers used are locally made and come in an array of different sizes. Larger orders can even be delivered with a platter stand for display. For more information visit Instagram @singularity_chocopaint

Saudi Arabia donates $3 million to support Global Partnership for Education strategy for 2025

Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh, speaking on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Screenshot/Global Education Summit)
Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh, speaking on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Screenshot/Global Education Summit)
Updated 30 July 2021

Saudi Arabia donates $3 million to support Global Partnership for Education strategy for 2025

Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Asheikh, speaking on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Screenshot/Global Education Summit)
  • The pledge, announced during an international summit in London, will help to improve the quality of education in low-income developing countries
  • Kingdom ‘will always be a leader in providing support to everything that would achieve development, prosperity and peace’ Saudi education minister says

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday pledged $3 million to support the strategic plan of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) for the next five years.
The announcement came during a global education summit in London on Thursday, co-hosted by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Saudi Arabia will always be a leader in providing support to everything that would achieve development, prosperity and peace for the people of the world,” said Saudi Education Minister Hamad Al-Asheikh, speaking on behalf of the crown prince.
The Kingdom has always attached great importance to education at local, regional and international levels, he said, adding this is evidenced by the inclusion of education as a main issue on the agenda of the Kingdom’s G20 presidency in 2020, and the fact that education is a major component of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
“Moreover, Saudi Arabia is the biggest donor to regional financial organizations such as the Islamic Development Bank, the OPEC Fund for International Development, and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa,” which he said support several countries around the world by financing a variety of projects and initiatives.
Al-Asheikh called for international cooperation in efforts to help low-income countries through support for initiatives and programs designed to improve the economics of education and enhance educational systems in beneficiary countries, especially in light of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning.

He said the GPE aims to improve access to equitable, inclusive education, bridge educational and digital gaps and address all forms of educational inequality, especially in low-income countries. This is in line with the fourth of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
The UAE pledged $100 million during the summit, Kuwait gave $30 million and Dubai Cares donated $2.5 million, while the Islamic Development Bank said it would provide $200 million in concessional loans.
During the previous summit, in 2018, the UAE was the first country in the region to make a $100 million pledge to the GPE. Reem Al-Hashimi, the Emirati minister of state for international cooperation and director general of Dubai World Expo 2020, said educational systems must adapt to the new dynamics created by the pandemic, and a lot has already been learned about how to solve some of the greatest challenges this involves.
“Together we can continue to stand in solidarity to ensure that education and learning are at the center of human development and investment, for a sustainable, dignified and prosperous future for all,” he said.
GPE chairwoman Julia Gillard, a former Australian prime minister, said the organization has developed a strong and growing partnership with the Middle East and Gulf states since the previous summit, and is looking to taking further steps forward this year.
The money pledged will help to support the GPE’s work in almost 90 countries. It is used primarily to help low-income developing countries implement quality educational plans. This is done through the provision of grants or co-financing arrangements, like the one offered by the Islamic Development Bank, Gillard told Arab News.
“The role of Gulf countries is twofold: One, they have got rich experience to point to as to how they have developed, strengthened and improved the quality of their own education systems, and there is much admiration for what has been achieved in many countries,” she said.
This reflects a core aim of the organization, she added, which is to help nations learn from each other’s successful experiences.
The second role of Gulf nations, she said, is to contribute financially to the work of the GPE. About half of the work it does is in conflict zones, including Yemen and Syria, and it makes a great effort to ensure some level of educational provision is maintained despite ongoing violence.
Gillard said she met the Saudi foreign minister on Wednesday ahead of the summit.
“He explained to me just how broad and deep the reform agenda (in Saudi Arabia) is for schooling, with a particular focus on the education of women but also a focus on the increasing use of digital technology, increasing the number of days of schooling, through to looking to increase quality and inclusion,” she said. “So, I was very pleased to hear of the reports of the determination to make real progress.”
In April, the Islamic Development Bank hosted in Jeddah the Middle East launch of the GPE’s Case for Investment, at which Arab institutions showcased their engagement in education and reaffirmed their commitments globally. A proposal was endorsed for $400 million in concessional loans from the Arab Coordination Group to leverage $100 million in grants from the GPE.
The bank’s president, Bandar Hajjar, said during Thursday’s summit that the resources have been pledged and mobilized.

President of Islamic Development Bank, Dr. Bandar Hajjar, pledged $200 million in concessional loans at the summit. (Supplied)

“This demonstrated that Arab institutions are taking their rightful position on the global stage on education financing, and reaffirms their commitment to supporting education as they have traditionally done over several decades, albeit without such publicity,” he told Arab News.
“The GPE is eager to engage with sovereign governments and Arab funds to explore further collaboration and mobilize new and additional resources for education.
“Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE today pledged to the GPE fund, thereby increasing the number of Gulf countries (to do so) from one at the last replenishment to three this time around.”

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’
Portrait of Ghizlane Agzenaï by Lamia Lahbadi. Supplied
Updated 29 July 2021

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

CASABLANCA: Born in Tangier in 1988, Ghizlane Agzenaï is a visual and street artist famed for her colourful and monumental ‘totems.’ She lives and works in Casablanca but also travels the world to create her brightly coloured art. 

Her geometrically-shaped pieces draw new perspectives along abstract lines. She is a self-taught artist whose totems are inspired by an inquisitive and generous spirit and available as paintings, paper collages and puzzles. 

Agzenaï uses a unique assembly process for her totems. Spray-painted, laser-cut and carefully sanded, they are then shaped by a cabinetmaker. Her works include murals and paintings in numerous urban art festivals and exhibitions — in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Casablanca, Rabat, and beyond. 

Her works include murals and paintings in numerous urban art festivals and exhibitions. Supplied

In recent years, she has brightened up the Vigo Ciudad de Color wall in Spain, the US Barcelona street-art festival, the Mural Harbor in Linz, Austria, and the famed Oberkampf wall in Paris. During Rabat’s Jidar festival in 2019, one could admire her colorful geometric shapes on the walls of the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Q: How would you define yourself as an artist?

A: I am more of an urban and contemporary artist. My passion for urban art has naturally dragged me to the streets. Then, gallery work came to gradually complete my urban interventions. Today, I wander between these two. Both are extremely enriching for me.

Tell us more about your passion for colors. 

Colors have always been at the core of my work. They invigorate my art. I never stick to one color in my totems. I also like to use a wide range of colors for each artwork to create harmony and give positive energy.

The artist travels the world to create her brightly coloured totems. Supplied

Why do you call your works ‘totems’ and how are they produced?

My artworks are all called “Totem …” because the word can be defined as an object that represents a kind spirit. For me, the word totem was in perfect harmony with my vision and what I wanted to express through my art. So I use it to reinforce my message. A totem can take form through hand-drawing or a paper collage. Then I transfer one or the other to my computer to be able to pick a color palette and play with shapes. As soon as I’m satisfied with the result, I choose the totem support: wood, canvas, wall or plexiglass. 

Do the titles of your works have any great meaning for you? 

The majority of my works have titles, but they don’t necessarily give any indication as to the nature of the artwork. At first, I would use numbers. Then I started using the names of stars and planets, because I’m particularly fond of science-fiction. And sometimes I just use the name of the city where the totem was created. 

Her work has been displayed both at the 193 Gallery in Paris and the galerie 38 in Casablanca. Supplied

Your work has attracted international attention and has recently been displayed both at the 193 Gallery in Paris and the galerie 38 in Casablanca. How did your collaboration with the 193 Gallery come about?

They contacted me in early 2021 and asked me to join “Colors of Abstraction 2,” a collective exhibition. Fouzia Marouf, the curator, invited me, and I immediately found the gallery’s vision extremely interesting. What we have in common is curiosity, but also openness to the world. After some discussion, I agreed to be part of the exhibition along with Ivorian sculptor and designer Jean Servais Somian and visual artist Valentina Canseco.

Which painters and which art forms have most inspired you?

I am deeply inspired by (minimalist, abstract US painter) Frank Stella and (op-art pioneer) Victor Vasarely for their unique aesthetics, and by (contemporary Argentine-Spanish artist) Felipe Pantone for his vision and energy. (Environmental art luminary) Christo is also a great source of inspiration with his monumental and poetic installations. Last but not least, I draw inspiration from futurism, the Bauhaus movement and brutalism.

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition
‘Final Destination’ by Sameer Al-Doumy (France). Supplied
Updated 29 July 2021

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition
  • Selected highlights from the prize’s tenth edition, held under the theme ‘Humanity’

DUBAI: The winners of the tenth season of the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum International Photography Awards (HIPA) were announced this week. The theme of this year’s awards was ‘’Humanity.” American photographer, and co-founder and director of the VII Academy, Gary Knight — one of this year’s judges, said in a press release: “Humanity is the most important thing a lens can capture … photography is a unique tool that gives us the ability to talk about others and show the conditions they are in and the feelings they are going through. It is clear that this year's winners have interpreted humanity in powerful and diverse ways.”

HIPA Secretary General Ali bin Thalith said: “This season we were humbled by the awe-inspiring and emotionally charged photographs we received that not only dug deep, but also unearthed, through photography, the essence of what it means to be human. In these photographs we felt a myriad of emotions ranging from absolute despair to pure kindness and joy.”

Aside from vying for the $120,000 Grand Prize, photographers could also enter the ‘General’ category (open to both black-and-white and color images); the ‘Portfolio’ category and the ‘Architectural Photography’ category. Here, we present a selection of highlights from the winning entries.

Grand prize winner


Ary Bassous (Brazil)

‘Duty’ by Ary Bassous (Brazil). Supplied

Bassous picked up the main award for this striking, harrowing portrait of Dr. Juliana Ribeiro having just removed her personal protective equipment in order to have her lunch after an eight-hour shift in the COVID-19 emergency room at the University Hospital Clementino Fraga Velho in Rio de Janeiro. Bassous’ image seems to sum up the emotions of the past 18 months while also paying tribute to the extraordinary efforts of frontline healthcare workers around the world.

“Clear signs of prolonged and repeated use of this type of equipment appear on her face. Her features reflect great effort and extreme fatigue due to the human commitment to her moral duty. What grabs you is the hint of sadness in her face as she feels the pain for humanity, as deaths in Brazil exceeded half a million people due to the pandemic,” the caption for the image reads. In its press release, HIPA commented: “The marks on her face share the painful human stories that (have) consumed the entire world.”

Third prize winner: Humanity

‘Blast Scars’

Marc Abou Jaoude (Lebanon)

‘Blast Scars’ by Marc Abou Jaoude (Lebanon). Supplied

Abou Jaoude’s image was taken on August 6, 2020 — two days after the devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut that left at least 220 dead, 6,500 injured and 300,000 displaced from their homes. Here, an injured truck driver stands in same location he was in when the explosion happened. “Despite the massive destruction and the large number of dead and wounded, this driver was lucky enough to live and witness another day,” the caption says.

First prize winner: General (color)

‘Final Destination’

Sameer Al-Doumy (France)

‘Final Destination’ by Sameer Al-Doumy (France). Supplied

The Syrian photographer picked up first place in the ‘General (color)’ category for his beautifully timed shot of migrants caught in the “turbulent waters between Sangat and Cap Blanc-Nez (Cape Blanc-Nez), in the English Channel off the coast of northern France, as they try to cross the maritime border between France and the United Kingdom on August 27, 2020.”

Second prize winner: Architecture

‘Playful Moon’

Amri Arfianto (Indonesia)

‘Playful Moon’ by Amri Arfianto (Indonesia). Supplied

Dubai’s skyline proved a source of creative inspiration in the ‘Architectural Photography’ category, with Indian photographer Rahul Bansal winning fifth prize for an image of the ‘Eye of Dubai.’ Arfianto chose an even more iconic site for his winning image, which shows, HIPA says: “A creative fragmentation of the Burj Khalifa, in which the moon appears as if it is trying to hide behind the most famous tower in the world.”

Fourth prize winner: Portfolio


Yousef Al-Habshi Al-Hashmi (UAE)

‘Pareidolia’ by Yousef Al-Habshi Al-Hashmi (UAE). Supplied

Al-Hashmi was awarded for his collection of shots of microscopic organisms. “Pareidolia is the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns,” HIPA’s caption reads. “(This) collection attempts to find faces with unique characteristics under the microscope and within a tiny area that barely can be seen.”

Second prize winner: General (color)


Fatima Zahra Cherkaoui (Morocco)

‘Camille’ by Fatima Zahra Cherkaoui (Morocco). Supplied

Cherkaoui’s use of black backgrounds on her portraits make them look like an old-master’s painting, as she herself noted on her Instagram post of this picture of an 11-year-old girl. “Looks like she's out of an old painting, she's just beautiful,” Cherkaoui wrote. HIPA’s caption for her winning entry praised the range of emotions the photographer had captured in her subject’s eyes.

First prize winner: Humanity

‘Hugs to Survive’

Mads Nissen (Denmark)

‘Hugs to Survive’ by Mads Nissen (Denmark). Supplied

As you might expect, the COVID-19 pandemic was a dominant theme in this year’s HIPA entries. In Nissen’s winning image, 85-year-old Rosa Luzia Lonardi is hugged by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza. “In March 2020, nursing homes across Brazil closed their doors to all visitors, preventing millions from visiting elderly relatives, as authorities instructed to reduce physical contact to a minimum. But in Viva Beam, a simple innovation called the 'hug curtain' was allowed, (through which) people could see and hug their loved ones without risking their lives,” the caption explains. This was “the first hug Rosa had received in five months.”

British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

 British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion
Completing "puzzle-work" of a smashed glass beaker at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum
Updated 28 July 2021

British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

 British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

DUBAI: It has been almost one year since two explosions rocked the port of Beirut, killing more than 200, injuring over 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands without a home. The incident, which occurred on Aug. 4, 2020, caused significant damage to buildings in Lebanon’s capital, including the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AMAUB), situated two miles away from Beirut’s port where the blasts occurred. During the explosions, many of the artworks on display were damaged.

Now, almost a year after the devastating event, the British Museum and The European Fine Art Foundation have announced that they will partner to help restore some ancient artifacts that were damaged by the blast.

The museum and the fair will restore eight glass vessels dating to Roman and early Islamic times.

The case of glass vessels displayed at the Archaeological Museum (AUB) before the explosion. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

During the explosion, the glass objects that were on display at the AMAUB shattered into hundreds of tiny shards. They will now be painstakingly pieced back together at the British Museum’s conservation labs in London.

Most vessels were shattered beyond repair with only 15 being identified as salvageable.  Of these, only eight are safe to travel to the British Museum to be conserved.

The restored glass works will go on view at the British Museum in a temporary exhibition before returning to Beirut.

Claire Cuyaubère, a conservator from the French Institut National du Patrimoine helped to collect and categorize the shards of ancient glass from the mixed debris, which included glass from the display case and surrounding windows, after the blast.

Conservator Claire Cuyaubère assisting with "puzzle-work" of shard from a glass dish at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

She returned to Beirut in July 2021 to identify and match broken shards from each vessel, and identify those suitable for shipment to London. The puzzle-work was supported by the Friends of the Middle East Department at the British Museum.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said in a statement: “Like the rest of the world, we looked on in horror at the devastating scenes in Beirut in August last year. We immediately offered the assistance of the British Museum to colleagues in the city. As we mark one year since the tragedy, we’re pleased to be able to provide the expertise and resources of the British Museum to restore these important ancient objects so they can be enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come.”