US show of Saudi art aims to test perceptions

In this undated photo provided by Arab American National Museum, "Digital Spirituality" by Saudi Arabian artist Amr Alngmah is seen. The piece depicts the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Saudi Arabian city of Makkah, Islam's most sacred site in the middle of a circuit board. (Courtesy of Arab American National Museum via AP)
Updated 16 June 2017

US show of Saudi art aims to test perceptions

DETROIT: A US exhibition featuring the works of roughly 40 Saudi artists aims to share their expressions, foster conversations and challenge conceptions of life in the Islamic nation.
“Epicenter X: Saudi Contemporary Art” opens July 8 and runs for about three months at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
It will feature photographic and video installations as well as murals exploring themes of urbanization, globalization, religion and the impact of US culture on Saudi society.
It is among the first and largest US shows featuring a group of contemporary Saudi artists, some of whom have had their work exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and elsewhere.
It is also a big score for the Smithsonian-affiliated Arab museum in a Detroit suburb that can lay claim to being the capital of Arab America.
“I think there’s a lot changing in Saudi Arabia right now,” museum Director Devon Akmon said. “What I find really interesting is obviously the role of the artist in society, regardless of where they are. They are chroniclers of our time — they bear witness, they reflect, they speak about contemporary issues. That’s exactly what many of the artists in this show are doing.”
Themes explored in the exhibit include the role of urbanization and changing landscapes in cities and the impact of religion on society. Akmon said many Americans are neither “attuned to” those issues in Saudi Arabia nor aware that artists are “giving voice to these discussions.”
Akmon said he and his colleagues worked closely on the exhibit with the Saudi Arabia-based King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as Ithra.
The museum also expressed its desire to display a wide array of artwork representing a diversity of artists, including women.
Among the pieces that will be on display is “Digital Spirituality” by Amr Alngmah. Akmon calls it a commentary on “how technology is becoming a religion in our lives.”
Another artist involved in the exhibition is Ayman Yossri Daydban, who also is the museum’s current artist in residence. He will have three photographic works in the exhibit and will be staging two solo shows. Daydban, whose last name means “watchman” in Arabic, has been encouraged to use the museum’s exhibits and archives and surrounding communities as his “studio,” as he creates or collaborates on numerous multimedia projects.
“I have had many residencies, including in Dubai, Berlin and Paris,” Daydban said with the help of an interpreter. “This is the first time when I feel like I becoming younger, and I find it very refreshing. This residency makes me feel brave to ask questions.”
Akmon said his visit to the Kingdom opened his eyes to the burgeoning, expressive art scene in Jeddah featuring men and women. He hopes that visitors to the exhibit experience that as well.
“It was essentially discovery — getting an introduction to some of the ideas of the Saudi people that was unfiltered, so to speak,” he said. “That’s exactly what people will see when they come to the gallery — a range of ideas and philosophies emerging.”


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.