‘Refusing to Be Still’ exhibition ‘shows vitality of Saudi art’

‘Refusing to Be Still’ exhibition ‘shows vitality of Saudi art’
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‘Refusing to Be Still’ exhibition ‘shows vitality of Saudi art’
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Art works are shown at one of the venues of the "Refusing to Be Still" art exhibition in Jeddah. (AN photo)
Updated 01 March 2018

‘Refusing to Be Still’ exhibition ‘shows vitality of Saudi art’

‘Refusing to Be Still’ exhibition ‘shows vitality of Saudi art’

JEDDAH: A groundbreaking art exhibition will give visitors a unique chance to meet visiting artists through a series of workshops, organizers said.

More than 30 Saudi and international artists are featured in the exhibition, called 21,39, which opened on Feb. 7 under the title “Refusing to Be Still.”

The exhibition, organized annually by the Saudi Art Council, is in its fifth year. Artworks explore the old and the new, the permanent and the temporary, the emotional and the aesthetic.

The display also highlights the growing cultural cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Germany, with Berlin conceptual artist Ilona Kalnoky among the exhibitors. Her work features cubes of clay brought directly from Germany and finished through the ancient process of pit burning in Jeddah.

Eight Saudi artists recently met Kalnoky during a study tour of Germany in the lead-up to the exhibition.

The German consulate is one of the sponsors of the exhibition.

The German Consul General, Holger Ziegeler, said: “By bringing the most creative minds of different countries together, we see how quickly they understand each other and spur each other on. They benefit mutually from the values, experiences and dreams of their peers.”

Kalnoky said: “I am surprised by the vitality and curiosity of the artists and the vibrant art scene in Saudi Arabia. The exchange with the Saudi artists was an enriching experience.”

A visitor to the exhibition, Abdul Aziz Al-Ghamdi, told Arab News: “I am amazed at this year’s exhibits. I come here each year. I like the diversity of art here.”

Al-Ghamdi, a law student, said he had started a project to promote Saudi Arabia’s little-known artists by collecting their social media accounts and artworks and presenting them in a single Instagram account.

Saleh Al Shehri, a Saudi fine artist who visited the exhibit, said: “The way that the artists applied their ideas on reality here is breathtaking. The selection of artists in this year’s exhibition is excellent.”

“Refusing to Be Still” is taking place in locations across Jeddah, including Gold Moor mall, Serafi mall and King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), and is open daily from 5-10 p.m. until May 5.


Building bridges: Saudi designer Nawaf Al-Nassar discusses the inspirations behind his work

Building bridges: Saudi designer Nawaf Al-Nassar discusses the inspirations behind his work
Updated 17 June 2021

Building bridges: Saudi designer Nawaf Al-Nassar discusses the inspirations behind his work

Building bridges: Saudi designer Nawaf Al-Nassar discusses the inspirations behind his work

DUBAI: Interior design has a much deeper meaning for Nawaf Al-Nassar than for many others out there. For the Saudi designer, looking to the outdoors is what allows him to create the indoors.

Growing up in Jeddah, Al-Nassar travelled to London for his studies, where he was mentored by design icons including Zaha Hadid, Philippe Starck and Gianfranco Ferré. “It was amazing,” he tells Arab News.

After graduating in 1990, Al-Nassar returned to his hometown to work as an interior designer, starting his studio, 3N Jeddah (the three Ns being his name, his father’s name — Nahar — and their family name). It quickly gained popularity, acquiring residential and commercial projects in Jeddah, Riyadh, Cairo, Beirut, London, Paris and the south of France.

After graduating in 1990, Al-Nassar returned to his hometown to work as an interior designer, starting his studio, 3N Jeddah. (Supplied)

In 2017, Al-Nassar established Tasmeem Fair — a Saudi-based art platform for young designers to showcase their creativity. The fair became an instant hit, attracting 9,000 guests in its first week alone. He describes it as “my favorite — and the best — project of my life so far.”

His family’s origins — from a small village north of Riyadh in the center of the Kingdom — played a major role in Al-Nassar’s inspiration. He remembers his grandfather taking him out into the deserted Saudi countryside as a child.

“These were our family gatherings,” he says. “When I used to look at old houses in the beautiful desert, it attracted and relaxed me. When I’d go inside old palaces or any interior space, I always felt more relaxed.

Interior design has a much deeper meaning for Nawaf Al-Nassar than for many others out there. (Supplied)

“Since I was young, I’ve always felt more like I’m talking to myself when I'm inside an interior,” he continues. “Then, when I went to high school, I always felt comfortable sitting inside a space that was complete. All of us live in an interior space, but sometimes when we look around, we don’t feel comfortable. When I’d feel that in my youth, I’d find out it was because it was not made by a designer, but by a person who has expertise with walls and ceilings. not with proportion.”

Soon after, he attended a couple of summer schools in the United Kingdom to dive deeper into the world of interior design. And his calling towards the industry only grew. “When I sit with people, I love to know their interior, the outside doesn’t mean anything to me,” he explains. “The interior is the core to know the person more. So I started wanting to know more about the interior of things, which helped me a lot with product design. I really do believe that if the interior of where a person works or lives is not reflecting their character, they can never be themselves.”

For Al-Nassar, an artist should reflect his surroundings and his feelings towards them. As such, he began infusing local Saudi motifs into his designs to pass on to generations to come. “I love the space of my studio,” he says. “It really talks to me. As an interior designer, I use soft materials for the interior, such as fabric furniture, and I deal a lot with European companies.”

His family’s origins — from a small village north of Riyadh in the center of the Kingdom — played a major role in Al-Nassar’s inspiration. (Supplied)

Although he owns many fabrics with European motifs, he had been longing to find a Saudi designer with his own design on a fabric. He collaborated with manufacturers to print the first Saudi design on a French fabric company’s products.

“It's very important when you go inside a space and you see details around you that reflect the surrounding of the city where you are,” Al-Nassar says. “Paris, Cairo and others have that, but in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t see any Saudi motifs, so I started to create this line of fabric design and we started manufacturing pieces.”
In May, he designed some furniture for the Kingdom’s Misk Institute. His brief was to use inspiration from a historical building in the country, so he turned to the historic Salwa Palace — the original home of the Al-Saud royal family, located northwest of Riyadh.

“I started to enjoy its smooth elements and I looked at it as an architectural designer,” he says. “It’s as if I was in an orchestra, it was like silent music and it was so beautiful to see.”

Although he owns many fabrics with European motifs, he had been longing to find a Saudi designer with his own design on a fabric. (Supplied)

From that visit, he created “Takkei” (meaning ‘Let’s sit’), inspired by the stones that form the base of the palace. He used new material to achieve a more industrial look that he believed would be more attractive to younger generations. “It’s about speaking their language,” he explains.

Al-Nassar’s creative process happens in the outdoors. Whenever he is struggling for inspiration, he jumps in his car and drives to the mountains, two-and-a-half hours away from Jeddah. He is revitalized by the surrounding landscape and old houses, some of which date back 200 years.

“I can almost read the culture and the type of life they used to live there,” he says. “I’m definitely inspired by Saudi Arabia — but also by everywhere. You have to go to the location and smell old places to be inspired.”

He collaborated with manufacturers to print the first Saudi design on a French fabric company’s products. (Supplied)

He mentions the picturesque village of Qaryat Al-Dehin, which is made up of 49 houses built from white mountain marble and quartz. After much research, he visited with a friend who came from Qaryat Al-Dehin. Four hours of driving later, he was immersed in its beauty. He compares it to a moment when he was 16 and he and his father watched the great opera singer Luciano Pavarotti sing in Milan. “Honestly, the same feeling came to me when I looked at these 49 beautiful houses on top of this beautiful mountain,” Al-Nassar says. “It was the same energy — the same music; it was amazing.”

His passion for the outdoors has also extended to his teaching as a guest lecturer in universities. He will often take the students on field trips — something he deems vital for today’s youth. “They have to go there themselves and see the reality on the ground,” he explains. “I have done field trips everywhere in Saudi Arabia for students, and lately it has become for others as well.”

Al-Nassar sees great potential and talent in young Saudi architects and interior designers. He admires their creativity, but suggest they need the right curator.

Ultimately, he hopes such people can build a bridge between the Kingdom and the rest of the world. “Design and art are a message of peace,” he concludes. “I’m already building that bridge, and hopefully it will be finished soon.”


‘Letters from Beirut’ addresses the crises in Lebanon

‘Letters from Beirut’ addresses the crises in Lebanon
Updated 17 June 2021

‘Letters from Beirut’ addresses the crises in Lebanon

‘Letters from Beirut’ addresses the crises in Lebanon
  • The Sakhi sisters’ Venice installation gathers messages from survivors of the Beirut Port blast

DUBAI: Let’s talk about it. That is the simple message the Lebanese-Polish architects and sisters Tessa and Tara Sakhi are hoping to convey through their poignant installation running until November 21, in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale. “Letters from Beirut” is a six-meter wall of 2,000 handwritten letters. Peeking out of pouches, they reveal personal thoughts of survivors from the Beirut Port blast in August 2020, which claimed over 200 lives.

Although Lebanon has witnessed a series of intense conflicts in its recent past, it is fair to say that this recent calamity, along with a prolonged financial crisis and a non-existent government, has left a mark on the Lebanese unlike any other previous event. “Our life flipped from one day to another. We felt uprooted,” Tara told Arab News. “Our parents told us that during the civil war the country was working economically, but with the pandemic and everything that happened with the central bank, Lebanon has really crashed this time.”

“Letters from Beirut” is a six-meter wall of 2,000 handwritten letters. (Supplied)

To start afresh, the sisters — co-founders of the design and architecture firm T Sakhi —decided to move to Venice. The more time they spent there, the more similarities they recognized between the historical centers of Beirut and Venice in terms of their open Mediterranean culture, housing layouts, and proximity to water. “We feel that maybe now we can give much more to Lebanon from outside and hopefully one day we will eventually come back,” said Tessa.

One of their ways of ‘giving’ to the Lebanese community back home is by spreading their voice. “It’s a healing process,” said Tara, who, with her sister, was in Beirut during the explosion. “We didn’t get any acknowledgement. There hasn’t been any active decision made by the government, or economic reforms to make things advanced, to give people a glimpse of hope. Nothing has been done.”

Peeking out of pouches, they reveal personal thoughts of survivors from the Beirut Port blast in August 2020, which claimed over 200 lives. (Supplied)

To bring their project to life, the sisters set up an online platform, inviting civilians to share their messages, which would later be written out by Tessa and Tara on pieces of recycled paper. The letters — in Arabic, English and French — contain grief, anger, resistance, and stories of love. “How does it feel to be born elsewhere?” one asks. “Why is humanity so destructive?” “No to resilience, yes to resistance.” One simply states: “Beirut kills.”

“It was ups and downs,” remarked Tessa of this cathartic practice of writing the messages out. “Physically, it was very tough. You can feel people’s pain in their letters.” Each pouch also contains a tiny yet symbolic seed of a vegetable or herb, notably Lebanese-grown coriander and zucchini.

'Letters From Beirut' was created by sisters Tara and Tessa Sakhi. (Perine Renard)

The pouches were donated by the UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Craft Council, a heritage-preserving organization that advocates female empowerment socially and economically. Made of felt, the pouches were created by 37 Emirati craftswomen living in Sharjah. Their skilled manner of hand weaving, adhering to similar techniques utilized for producing baskets, is native to their culture. Three Emirati female university students were also involved in producing the recycled pieces of paper.

This isn’t the first time the Sakhis have explored the timely idea of walls and their restrictive, political implications in their body of work. “It’s an element of separation and segregation that’s used in Lebanon a lot,” explained Tara. “We want to actually take that and turn it into our advantage and see how we can communicate with a surface of separation.”

The pouches were donated by the UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Craft Council, a heritage-preserving organization that advocates female empowerment socially and economically. (Supplied)

“Letters from Beirut” is meant to be an interactive and uniting memorial, where biennale visitors can take a pouch until they all disappear from the wall. In a way, this engagement enables the victims’ voices to be heard and remembered around the world. “There were people who decided to frame the letters in their homes,” noted Tara. “For us, this is incredibly beautiful to see that our creation has a life that’s continuing.” Visitors are also invited to scan a barcode at the site, allowing them to donate money to Lebanese NGOs that are supporting restoration efforts and children’s education in post-blast Beirut.

The installation is a response to the central theme of the biennale: How will we live together? In the case of Lebanon, according to the Sakhis, the way to live together is for citizens of different generations and professional backgrounds to collaborate — a sense of unity that was heightened in the aftermath of the blast. It’s about sharing ideas and having conversations again.


Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador
Updated 16 June 2021

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Amina Khalil has been named an honorary goodwill ambassador by the United Nations Population Fund, the star announced on Wednesday. 

Khalil gave an acceptance speech at an an event that took place this week in Cairo, saying: “Now it is time to act for women and girls everywhere.

“Bold steps to improve the lives of women mean a better future for children and families,” she added.

In a lengthy Instagram post, which she shared alongside images from the event, Khalil wrote: “It is truly an honor to be a UNFPA Honorary Goodwill Ambassador. I hope I make my family proud. I hope I make my loved ones and friends proud. And I hope to make my country proud.”

The actress has been an active advocate of women and their health in Egypt.  

“I promise to do all I can on this journey to bring positive change to my country,” her post read. “I promise to wholeheartedly put all the effort I can to show women and girls, that yes we have a voice, yes we have rights, and yes we all stand united.” 

The announcement came after UNFPA’s open-air ceremony held on Monday. The event was attended by international co-operation minister Rania Al-Mashat, president of the National Council for Women Maya Morsy and more. 


Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
The exhibition will be divided into five sections: Origins of the Arabic script, development of calligraphy, master calligraphers, calligraphy and contemporary art, and calligraphy, artificial intelligence. (AN photos/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 16 June 2021

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
  • Event devoted to the art form opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh

RIYADH: Artists have been sharing their thoughts about the “mesmerizing and elegant” beauty and spirituality of Arabic calligraphy, and the importance of the art form, ahead of the opening on Wednesday of an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi conceptual artist Othman Al-Khuzaim believes that global interest in the art of Arabic calligraphy has grown in recent years, and this can be attributed to increased awareness of its beauty.
“The general interest of people in calligraphy has led them to show appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, with all its mesmerizing and elegant shapes and forms,” he said.
“Arabic calligraphy stands witness to beauty, which is depicted by Arabic calligraphists on walls inside the Two Holy Mosques to add more spirituality to the holy places.”
Describing Arabic calligraphy as one of the most prominent forms of visual art, Al-Khuzaim said he often recommends it to people and encourages them to enjoy and appreciate it even if they cannot read the language or understand the meaning of the words.
Script and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey, which opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh and runs until Aug. 21, is a good place for newcomers to the art form to start, or for those who are already familiar with it to learn more about its history, from its origins right up the present day.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Organized by the Culture Ministry, the exhibition runs until Aug. 21.

• The 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings.

• It includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture to showcase the history of Arabic calligraphy, the 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings, along with the relationship between calligraphy, contemporary art and artificial intelligence (AI).
This exceptional journey through history features input from Saudi and international master calligraphers, contemporary artists and designers. It begins with the advent of written communication on the Arabian Peninsula nearly 1,700 years ago and traces the development of scripts engraved on stone and included in linear paintings, manuscripts and other objects across the Islamic world.
The exhibition brings the story right up to date by considering the most modern applications of Arabic calligraphy, for example in fashion, design and even AI. Alongside the classic artworks on display, visitors will find an AI machine, developed by Egyptian artist and designer Haytham Nawar, that allows them to produce a new pictographic language on a video screen.
At the other end of the timeline of Arabic calligraphy, the exhibition includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD. There is also a selection of Qur’an manuscripts, including the renowned Blue Qur’an and Mushaf Al-Madinah, and a specially designed manuscript presented by Obvious, a collective of French AI researchers and artists.

Such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts.
Abdelrahman El-Shahed Calligrapher

Abdelrahman El-Shahed, a calligrapher and contemporary artist involved in the exhibition, said such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts, who view the preservation of the art form as an important way to show pride in their religion and nations. They also help bring calligraphists together to continue to develop an ancient art, he added.
“We are glad that the Mohammed bin Salman Global Center for Arabic Calligraphy has been launched,” said El-Shahed. “It will definitely help in promoting and preserving Arabic calligraphy around the world, and giving it the appreciation it deserves.”
Saudi authorities announced in April last year that the Dar Al-Qalam Center in Madinah would be developed to become a global platform for calligraphers from all over the world and was renamed in honor of the crown prince. Arabic calligraphy in the region also receives great support from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who last year launched the Year of Arabic Calligraphy initiative to raise awareness and interest in the art form.


‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  
Updated 14 June 2021

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

‘The Arsonists’ City’ by Hala Alyan spans the world to tell a complicated tale  

CHICAGO: From California by way of Beirut, Lebanon, Hala Alyan introduces readers to the Nasr family in “The Arsonists’ City” — a family of five whose multi-faceted members create worlds within worlds to cope with their complicated lives. Alyan places her characters together in Beirut, where they’ve all laughed and loved and where some secrets come to flourish and others die.

Alyan’s story transitions between past and present, where both spiral around one another until they clash. Idris and Mazna convince their American children to travel to Beirut for the summer before Idris sells his father’s home, a decision no one takes lightly. Despite the fact that they are spread out across the globe, their grandfather’s home is their base, where their roots have taken to the Earth, where their memories come alive and where the façade of perfection holds no value against the past and the truth.

Life flourishes despite the civil war that raged in Lebanon during Idris and Mazna’s youth and the present Syrian conflict that now prevents Mazna from returning to her native Damascus. Their children, despite growing up in American, still hold dear their grandparents’ home, a short walk from the Corniche that was built two centuries ago. They remember the events of their childhood, the people and circumstances that shaped them into the adults they have become. And no matter how far from their roots they travel, how far from their grounded reality they venture, they always come back because they are connected to one another and to their past.

Alyan’s novel brims with life as the Nasr family’s secrets are revealed, pushing past into present. Spanning across the globe, from Palestine to Lebanon and from Syria to America, each character is housed in pockets of social and identity politics, exile, civil war, and everything in between. But Beirut means something different to everyone, and going back makes them all face their predicaments head-on. There is no more glossing over devastation and past tragedies here. They must relive their lives, where love rushes to the fore as quickly as heartbreak.