‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London

‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London
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CARAVAN artists Mayasa Al-Sowaidi and Marwa Al-Khalifa.
‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London
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Artist Sheikha Lulwa Al-Khalifa. (Photos by Marc Gascoigne)
‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London
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'From the Outside' by Lulwa Al-Khalifa.
‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London
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Palestinian artist Manal Deeb’s painting combines the abstract with traditional cultural elements.
Updated 20 July 2017

‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London

‘Punching holes in the darkness’ : Leading Middle East female artists light up London

A powerful exhibition of the work of 31 contemporary female artists from 12 Middle Eastern countries is now showing in London.
Among the artists are Ahaad Al-Amoudi from Jeddah, Sheikha Lulwa Al-Khalifa from Bahrain and Shereen Audi from Jordan.
Each work shows a different aspect of women, and collectively they demonstrate a great range of emotions, insights and life experiences as interpreted by the artists.
The work “Land of Dreams” by Al-Amoudi makes the viewer stop and stare because it is so unexpected and unusual.
It shows a desert landscape filled with images of the popular Emirati singer Ahlam Al-Shami. She appears to emerge from the sand, dominating the landscape and blotting out everything else you might expect to see in this setting.
The artist chose Al-Shami as her subject because she is so prolific on the Internet and social media. Her public image also challenges perceptions of the submissive stereotype.
“I wanted the viewer to come with their own notion and interpretation of their land of dreams, then be subjected to Ahlam scattered across an empty plot of land,” said Al-Amoudi (“Ahlam” means “dream” in Arabic).
Al-Amoudi obtained a bachelor’s degree in graphic design at Dar Al-Hekma University, and is finishing her masters in print at the Royal College of Art in London.
Al-Khalifa has a thought-provoking image of a woman staring out through a barrier of white lines that resemble a blind. Just as her view of the world is distorted, so is the view of those looking at her from the outside.
“Middle Eastern women are an integral part of the world community,” she said. “They’re woven into the fabric of humanity that we’re all part of. We have more that unites than separates us. We just have to remove the barriers to obtain clarity.”
She added: “I really believe in the message behind this exhibition. It tries to bridge the gap between East and West; this is especially important now when there are so many misconceptions and so much misinformation around. Art is a perfect vehicle that can deliver a different message.”
The “I AM” exhibition, organized by CARAVAN and guest-curated by Janet Rady, a specialist in Middle Eastern contemporary art, premiered in May at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman, under the patronage of Queen Rania. It is showing at London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square until Aug. 20 and will then tour North America until the end of 2018, premiering in Washington.
The founding president of CARAVAN, Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, told Arab News: “The core message of this exhibition is about tearing down walls and building bridges. We’re doing this through the lens of Middle Eastern women. The artworks reflect and celebrate what Middle East women contribute to global peace.”
CARAVAN, which originated out of Cairo, is an international peacebuilding NGO that focuses on building bridges between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and the West through the arts, which it sees as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing and deepen friendship between those of different faiths and cultures.
Chandler believes that everyone can play a part in breaking down walls of prejudice.
“It’s not always about big projects; it’s also about one on one. We each can do something to change the perception of the other. That’s our responsibility,” he said.
He recounted a story from the childhood of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson to illustrate his point.
As a young boy, Stevenson used to watch from his window every evening as the lamp-lighter made his way down his street. One day, his mother asked him what he was looking at and he replied: “I am watching a man punch holes in the darkness.”
Washington-based Palestinian artist Manal Deeb’s painting “Golden” illustrates such a transformation from darkness to light. Her work combines the abstract with traditional cultural elements.
Helen Zughaib from Lebanon uses the outline of a woman in an abaya to reflect on the lives being lived behind the concealing garment.
Speaking of her work “The Secrets They Carry,” she said: “I thought about a woman caught up in war and displacement. What has she seen and heard? I thought about her strength as a woman. I thought about her protecting her children, wanting only peace and stability for them. I thought about her ability to persevere in any circumstance she faces.”
Audi said her work “Dreams Give Hope” reflects “the burdens and frustrations often experienced by women in our society and, in spite of everything, their continual optimism for a better future. Beauty and fragility belie the inner strength and determination of women to confront new challenges. The roses reflect the beauty needed in our world, while the wings represent the capacity of women to fly above conflict and tragedy, with a view to a more peaceful future.”
The launch of “I AM” was attended by Mazen Kemal Homoud, Jordan’s ambassador to the UK.
In his address to the packed audience, he said the exhibition was an innovative way to raise awareness of the women of the Middle East and their role.
He spoke about the importance of people standing together with mutual tolerance and respect to overcome differences.
The atmosphere at the opening reflected the optimistic, inclusive mood, with peoples of many races and faiths coming together to appreciate the art and dwell on the messages being conveyed.
Rev. Sam Wells, a vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields — an Anglican church that opens its doors to all — said it was a wonderful gathering of truth, beauty and goodness.
The blending of the voices of East and West was beautifully articulated by the talented Jordanian and French sopranos Dima Bawab and Margo Arsane, who gave memorable performances.
The music sponsor for the event was the Peace and Prosperity Trust.
The reception was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board, the program sponsors were the Arab International Women’s Forum and the Jonas Foundation, and the program partner was the Arab British Center.
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Art, a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
Updated 02 August 2021

Art, a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Art therapy is super effective. (Supplied)
  • Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them

JEDDAH: Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues.
Art can be a calming activity that some take on as a hobby or make a living, while it can also be part of a therapeutic approach used by mental health professionals to heal and treat those in need.
The stigma of seeking professional help has declined in the past few years in the Kingdom and psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.
Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them.

Anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses.

Rawan Bajsair, Art therapist

Rawan Bajsair, a registered and board-certified art therapist in Jeddah, described it as a playful, non-threatening and non-invasive approach to tap into someone’s psyche.
“Art therapy is super effective. It’s a field that’s very hard to explain in words how effective it is, but I think anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses,” she told Arab News.
She spoke of two cases she helped to treat while in the US early in her career. One of her earliest clients in art therapy was a 55-year-old woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

HIGHLIGHT

Psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.

“She’d been hospitalized a number of times and went through different kinds of therapy until she landed on art therapy, which she continued practicing for 12 years. She truly showed me the therapeutic power of creativity and art through her work and experience with this form of therapy,” she said, adding that the success lay in how the client felt protected while having the freedom to express herself.
One of the most significant cases she worked on was with a 19-year-old male, who chose to be called Felix, who she treated in rehab.
She said clients that come to the clinic are usually defensive due to their court mandate. “When Felix first joined my art therapy group he was like most of the clients — none of them really wanted to make art, they thought it was childish.”
After offering some tools and explaining the process of experimenting without any expectation of the product, “some people would just play around with the tools and not actually make anything out of it, and that on its own is therapeutic.”
In the case of Felix, one of the things she offered him was a rubber stamp that printed out jars.
“I just demonstrated how he could use it and I noticed week by week he would place a print on more jars and he would experiment on different kinds of paper and it was really therapeutic at the time for him because when you think about printmaking, you really put the weight of your body into it, and there’s some kind of release that comes with painting that can be really healing, especially for past traumas.”
Felix printed jars that stayed empty for weeks and then would add something little inside the jar every week using different art materials.
“As the weeks went by, I looked at his artwork and I would see him putting his materials in these jars and he’d put some of his graffiti tag names onto them,” she said.
“Towards the end he looked at me and said: ‘So this is a safe space?’ He was talking about the jars and that’s when I got the idea of a whole book chapter that I wrote (Art Therapy Practices for Resilient Youth) about how clients can find safe spaces within these jars, whether its substance use patients or those who suffered trauma, a safe space is one of the biggest and most important component of psychotherapy.”
Educating the public through art is another aspect of using art as a medium.
Shahad Al-Sonare, 27, a clinical psychologist, believes that art is a tool to relay information and get your message across. “I usually draw to express my own feelings, so I decided to express the feelings of my patients. I convey their pain through my art to educate the world on these cases. I’ll be their medium,” she told Arab News.
Over the past two years she has drawn six pieces of art that embody her patients’ experiences, and said she will use the art as a means of education.
For issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities, she has found that by incorporating it into her work she is able to embody her patients struggles in a way that can be understood without the need for words.
In 2020 and 2021, Al-Sonare’s experience of teaching an autistic child in a classroom full of non-autistic children motivated her to raise awareness about autism.
“The school and other teachers didn’t understand his condition; he is actually very smart. It was sad to witness that I was the only one (teacher) who knew that there is nothing wrong with the child’s learning ability.”
“I was his eyes, ears and tongue. I was trying to educate all teachers, admins and principals on such cases. I experienced his pain through this experience and when I drew the autism piece, I wrote, ‘I’m not different, I’m just unique,’” Al-Sonare said.
“I feel like the best way someone could explain psychological cases is through pictures. Just like the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ it’s more descriptive and opens the viewer’s heart to the case,’ she said.


UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
Updated 31 July 2021

UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

DUBAI: Curators Sarah Daher and Anna Bernice just unveiled a playful exhibition in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue featuring 38 UAE-based artists.

The exhibition, titled “After the Beep,” was the culmination of a two-month long creative exercise with the artists, in which they were asked to participate in a reactive creative exercise where they responded with new work to the work of another artist in the spirit of the childhood game “Broken Telephone.”

All artists only saw the one work that was produced directly before them in the chain and were given 48 hours from seeing the work to submit their new artworks.

The show, which closed on July 31 and was staged at Satellite gallery, featured 40 artworks from artists including Andrew Riad, Athoub Albusaily, Rabab Tantawy, Danabelle Gutierrez, Mashael Alsaie and Maryam Al-Huraiz, among others.

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

Co-curator Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. Meanwhile, Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai who also graduated with a BA from New York University Abu Dhabi.

According to the press release, “the organizers were intrigued to discover what creating looks like without the pressure of perfection, and to explore how creative inspiration transcends through different artworks and artists.”

The open call for artist participation was released in May 2021 via Instagram under the title “Telephone.”

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

“Three months of working with a very special group of 38 artists has produced a fantastically rich body of new work culminating in what might be the largest group show Dubai has seen in recent years,” Daher commented on Instagram about the show.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

 


What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 31 July 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

Photo/Supplied
  • 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 31 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.