The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria

The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
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Elias Zayat's ‘Zenobia/Palmyra,’ from 1990. (Supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
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‘Untitled’ (1965) by Fateh Moudarres. (Supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
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Shireen and Mouna Atassi. (Photo supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
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‘Untitled’ by Tawfik Tarek. (Supplied)
Updated 22 April 2019

The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria

The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
  • The foundation refuses to be “sucked into the cycle of hatred and violence,” says director Shireen Atassi

DUBAI: “We need to tell the story of Syria in a very different way,” says Shireen Atassi, the Dubai-based director of the Atassi Foundation. “A way far from the destruction, which is not us and does not represent us.”

A family-run, independent, non-profit initiative, the Atassi Foundation was established in 2015 with the core objective of promoting Syrian art through the expansive collection of Atassi’s parents, Mouna and Soudki.

Encompassing a wide spectrum of narratives and themes, the breadth of the foundation’s collection is remarkable; comprising nearly 500 artworks produced by over 80 modern and contemporary artists, including Fateh Moudarres, Mahmoud Hammad, Louay Kayyali, and Tammam Azzam. The Atassis began their collection of paintings, sculptures, and photographs — which is predominantly from Syria, but includes works from neighboring Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq — in the 1980s.

They relocated to Dubai in 2012, following the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011, and managed to ship the entire collection out of their homeland — a “painful process,” according to Atassi.

Her own appreciation of art began at an early age. “During the 1980s, my mother was a gallerist and bookshop owner in Homs,” she explains. “I was a pre-teen then and so, I lived with all this art. Painters and poets like Fateh Moudarres and Adonis visited us at home and I enjoyed listening to their conversations.”

So it made sense that, despite spending more than two decades working in the corporate world, Atassi would head up the foundation. “It was not an easy move from the corporate to the art world, but I made the leap and I have never been happier,” she says.

Since 2015, the foundation has organized four exhibitions, commencing with its inaugural debut at Art Dubai in 2016 when a selection of vibrant, folklore-inspired glass paintings by Damascus-born Abu Subhi Al Tinawi (1888-1973) was showcased in “A Syrian Chronology.” The next two exhibitions were hosted by Dubai’s contemporary arts hub AlSerkal Avenue: “Syria: Into The Light” (2017), focusing on portraiture and “In the Age of New Media” (2018), displaying emotionally charged works that provide insight into how contemporary Syrian artists portray classical themes in a modern manner.

The Atassi Foundation’s most recent exhibition, “Personal Revolutions: Women Artists from Syria,” which ran at AlSerkal until April 8, was timed to coincide with Women’s History Month and pays homage to Syria’s unsung female artists, with works that date from 1950 until today. It depicts the evolution of how female artists have expressed themselves and the ever-changing world around them. Inspiring, diverse, and often confrontational, the artworks start with charming traditional portraiture by 20th-century painters including Hala Kouatly, Asma Fayyoumi, and Dorrieh Fakhoury Hammad and end with bold, contemporary works by multidisciplinary artists Alina Amer, Laila Muraywid, and Randa Maddah, among others, tackling the complexities of war, memory, and the female body.

“The inspiration behind this show was to celebrate Syria’s female artists, many of whom were not celebrated during their lifetime. Usually, in the modernist era, their male counterparts — like Fateh Moudarres and Elias Zayat — took the lead. We were asking ourselves, ‘Where are the female artists?’ They were as productive as their male contemporaries. We also wanted to tell the story of how today’s young generation of female artists managed to revolt through their powerful works,” Atassi explains.

Aside from educating audiences on Syrian art and history through exhibitions, the pursuit of research remains another major focus of the Atassi Foundation, commissioning professional scholarship and archiving rare, endangered documents and materials related to Syrian art.

“As a foundation, whatever we do needs to tick a number of boxes,” Atassi says. “We need to preserve, and we need to tell stories that have not been told. The world has just discovered Syrian art, thanks to Christie’s Dubai and Arab-focused galleries like Ayyam Gallery, who have done a wonderful job bringing Syrian art into the light. But more can be done, and so what we do is dig deeper through long-term research as the basis of our exhibitions.”

It is a delicate process to promote Syrian art and culture after all the tragedy the country has endured since 2011. But Atassi believes that visual art can allow Syria to be (re)observed in a more hopeful and refreshing way. “I think it was a way for us to resist what was going on in Syria,” she says. “It was our refusal to be sucked into that cycle of hatred and violence of the war. We felt the responsibility because we had the resources, the artworks, the knowledge and the network to tell the story of Syria in another way. Syria is not entirely about the war, (Daesh), or Bashar Al Assad; we also have a variety of narratives that can be told through art history.”

A number of exciting projects are in the pipeline too, she says: A potential show in Europe, and the upcoming online launch of MASA (Modern Art of Syria Archive).

Atassi simply hopes that the foundation’s ongoing endeavors will encourage enquiry into Syrian art and culture.

“The most beautiful encounter I can have as director is when a curator or an enthusiast visits our exhibitions and asks to get in touch with our exhibiting artists,” she says. “Building connections is important to me, and since I don’t sell any of our artworks, my role is to work as a (conduit) for researching and showcasing the essence of this nation and its history.”


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
Updated 18 April 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images

DUBAI: Dubai-based beauty mogul Huda Kattan took to Instagram on Saturday to reveal she has taken part in a food drive campaign launched by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The 100 Million Meals mission was launched to provide food parcels to disadvantaged communities across 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa in an effort to combat hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Kattan announced that she has donated one million meals to those less fortunate via her cosmetics company Huda Beauty.

“It’s hard to believe that in today’s world, in 2021, we’re still dealing with issues of malnutrition and that every ten seconds a child dies because of hunger. This initiative is so incredible and it’s just a reminder of how each and every single one of us has the power to make a change,” said Kattan in a video posted to her Instagram account.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

“I’m so proud to live in a country that prioritizes world hunger,” she said, urging her 2.2 million followers to donate to the charitable initiative.

The 100 Million Meals campaign is an expansion of the 10 Million Meals campaign, which was launched in 2020 to help those worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a week of its launch, the initiative has raised over $21,200, equivalent to providing more than 78 million meals, as massive donations continue to pour in from individuals and companies inside and outside the UAE.

Kattan is an avid humanitarian and often steps up to help those who need it most.

In June, her cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty, donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a civil and human rights organization that provides legal assistance to low-income African Americans, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests that swept through the US last year. 

Before that, the US-Iraqi beauty mogul pledged to donate $100,000 — to be split between 100 different freelance makeup artists providing them with $1000 each — in a bid to help people in the industry stay afloat financially during the pandemic.


Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
Updated 18 April 2021

Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek

DUBAI: There’s a new fashion week in the region to look forward to. Middle East Fashion Week has announced its inaugural edition in a statement today. The six-day event is scheduled to take place at Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm from May 14-19. 

Unlike the traditional fashion week format we’ve all become accustomed to, Middle East Fashion Week is adopting a unique schedule, with a three-day sustainable fashion forum featuring high-profile international speakers, followed by three days of in-person fashion shows from international and regional designers, a gala dinner and a slew of other VIP events.

CEO of Middle East Fashion Council Simon J Lo Gatto, said in a statement: “Middle Eastern Fashion Week has been created as a platform to allow designers to come together with a unique opportunity to showcase in Dubai and to reach audiences not only across the GCC, but also the larger Indian subcontinent and Europe.”

He added: “Our goal is for the Middle East Fashion Week to become a biannual Fashion Week that acts as a reference point for designers from all corners of the world. Since inception in 2020, MEFC has positioned itself as the world’s first fashion council with sustainability as its core value and long-term objective. The platform was born from an inspiration to tackle climate change and pollution brought on as a direct result of the industry we love.”

The participating designers have yet to be revealed.


Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.
Baked feta pasta.
Updated 18 April 2021

Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.

DUBAI: If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve drooled over one of countless images of baked feta pasta — a dish that went viral this year for that holy grail combination of anyone-can-do-it easiness and blissful deliciousness.

The dish, which consists of feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and pasta, has been blasted all over the For You pages of millennials and Gen Z’ers on TikTok, and as of April 18,  #bakedfetapasta has more than 111.4 million views on the social media platform.

For those looking to whip up the dish for iftar, we asked Iraqi-Canadian chef Faisal Hasoon to share a simple baked feta pasta recipe with an Arab twist. 

The chef incorporates a fresh Middle Eastern flavor by way of roasted red peppers, sliced kalamata olives, a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkling of zest.  

Baked Feta Pasta

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

Olive oil 3tbsp

6 cloves garlic (minced)

60g kalamata olives (sliced thin)

250g roasted red peppers (diced)

6 fresh basil leaves (chiffonade)

350g pasta (rigatoni) 

200g feta cheese (Greek, sheep or goat)

1 lemon (zest and juice)

Chilli pepper oil 1tbsp

Dried chilli flakes 1tsp

Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

Step 1: In a medium sized pot bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta as per the instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, drain the remainder and set aside.

Step 2: Starting with a cold pan, cook garlic on low heat in olive oil. Allow it to simmer just before turning golden brown. Be sure not to overcook it as it will become bitter.  Add red chilli flakes and roasted red peppers, let it simmer for a few minutes then add sliced olives. Maintaining low heat and turning with a spatula frequently.

Step 3: Place the whole block of feta into the center of the pan and into the oven at 375 Celsius for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. 

Step 4: Place the pasta into the pan and mix well until all ingredients are well incorporated, adding reserved pasta water as needed.

Step 5: Finish with the zest and juice of one lemon, fresh cracked black pepper and thinly sliced basil. For an extra kick, drizzle over chilli oil and enjoy!

 

 


Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied
Updated 17 April 2021

Lebanese author Hoda Barakat’s ‘Voices of the Lost’ is a dark, profound novel

The book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Supplied

CHICAGO: Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, “Voices of the Lost,” written by acclaimed Lebanese author Hoda Barakat and newly translated into English by Marilyn Booth, is a dark, profound novel that follows the lives of six men and women who confess their untold truths to their loved ones through letters. None of the letters reaches their intended recipients, however, and their devastating admissions are left to strangers who are then inspired to disclose their own secrets. And through their confessions, a series of letters emerges on life, love and devastating loss.

In an unknown part of the world, where war, poverty and destruction have caused life to veer in unpredictable directions, strangers struggle with the events of the past, both those they were responsible for and those they were victims of, which forced them into lives they neither wanted nor could have ever dreamed of. Split into three parts — for the lost, for the searching, and those left behind — the novel begins with an undocumented immigrant who is writing to an ex-girlfriend. He writes to her of the most profound and disturbing moment in his childhood, one that changed the trajectory of his life forever. From that moment on, life has never quite been the same, and it has led him to a dark place where he cannot mentally, spiritually or physically settle.

Barakat’s novel is a delicate experiment in confession and a testament to the catalyzing power of writing to reveal the truth. Her characters commit their lives to paper without the fear of retribution, confessing their crimes of infidelity, torture and more. None of the writers can return to his or home, to a state of comfort or to the past. Some have lost their countries, while others have simply run out of time.

Barakat’s characters must force themselves to move forward from their past sufferings. Where loved ones and society may not accept their revelations of shortcomings or shame, their confessions are a reconciliation with themselves. And in writing of their pain, they connect with one another. They are not alone, no matter how lonely the act of writing a letter can be. And in a moment of consciousness, awake in their confessions, Barakat’s characters reach a spiritual peak within themselves, one that pushes them to continue surviving.

 


US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images
Updated 17 April 2021

US actress Yara Shahidi to produce new TV series

Yara Shahidi shot to fame for her role on TV’s ‘Black-ish.’ File/ Getty Images

DUBAI: US actress Yara Shahidi is developing a new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions. The part-Middle Eastern star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World,” alongside her mother and business partner Keri Shahidi and Brown for ABC Signature.

“Honored to bring @coletdbrown’s incredible & nuanced telling of our stories as brown folx onto screens w/ my PARTNER IN CRIME @chocolatemommyluv! (sic)” wrote the 21-year-old on Instagram, alongside a screenshot of a Deadline article announcing the news of the series.

“The work of displaying and celebrating the ENTIRE spectrum of our humanity continues to feel more prescient (sic),” she added.

Published in 2020, “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” is a first-hand account of what it’s like to navigate life in America as a mixed-race adolescent. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author.

According to the author, the book is heavily inspired by an essay he wrote in college.

“What a dream come true this is!” exclaimed Cole on Instagram. “It still astounds me to think that what began as a college essay a few years ago has made it all the way to ABC. No duo I’d rather work with to bring Greyboy to life than @yarashahidi & @chocolatemommyluv. Let’s get to work! (sic),” the author posted on social media.

Back in September, Shahidi took to social media to praise Cole’s debut book, writing that “his honest reflections on the way in which racial identity takes shape and shape-shifts through his own experiences feels intimate, and yet taps in to the common experience of moving through space as a black and brown person.” She added that “It’s been a must-read in our household!”

“Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” isn’t the only project that the “Grown-ish” star is currently working on. 

The US-Iranian actress and activist is also producing a new single-camera comedy series, titled “Smoakland,” for Freeform via her production company 7th Sun.

The rising star and her mother announced the launch of their new production company in July and signed an exclusive overall deal with ABC Studios which will see them develop television projects for streaming, cable and broadcast platforms.