The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria

The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
1 / 4
Elias Zayat's ‘Zenobia/Palmyra,’ from 1990. (Supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
2 / 4
‘Untitled’ (1965) by Fateh Moudarres. (Supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
3 / 4
Shireen and Mouna Atassi. (Photo supplied)
The Atassi Foundation offers a different perspective on Syria
4 / 4
‘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.”

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers
Zuhair Murad Fall 2021 couture. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

DUBAI: The recent Paris Haute Couture Week brought with it an array of wedding dresses that brides-to-be – and even those not yet engaged – will surely have their hearts set on.

For this year’s fall, Middle Eastern couturiers have presented a range of ethereal dresses for the big day. Here are the best wedding dresses by the industry’s top Arab designers from fall 2021 couture shows.

Zuhair Murad

The Lebanese fashion designer closed out his fall 2021 couture show with a glamorous, heavily embellished bridal gown embroidered with intricate pearls that evoked the opulent chandeliers of a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal.

Elie Saab

The embroidered buds and petals that emerge and unfold across the princess-worthy gown are emblematic of rebirth and renewal.

Rami Kadi

Fit for royalty, Kadi’s couture bridal gown is delicately embellished with crystals, sequins, and beads in a baroque design.

Georges Chakra

The ethereal, pure white gown is adorned with symmetrical crystals and a cape nouveau pouring from the shoulders in white tulle with ribbons of satin.

Georges Hobeika

As with every Georges Hobeika creation, embroidery and embellishments played a big role in amping up the glamour on this off-the-shoulder gown.

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
Portrait of Kuwaiti chef Ahmed Al-Bader. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader

In conversation with Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader
  • The Kuwaiti chef and entrepreneur on cheese-melt goodness, the brilliance of butter, and taking inspiration from his dad

LONDON: On a fine London afternoon, Kuwaiti chef Ahmad Al-Bader sits in Chestnut Bakery. It is one of four successful food ventures he’s co-founded and currently co-manages — the other three being the beef canteen Habra, and Lunch Room — a “social-dining venue” — both in Kuwait, as well as GunBun in Riyadh.

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes thanks largely to the consistent quality of his food, which is partly down to his systematic approach to cooking and baking. 

Al-Bader has made a name for himself in the regional and international culinary scenes. Supplied

“This is the core of success,” he says. “Things have to be written down. For the past 10 years I’ve been writing my recipes, not cooking them. When you reach this point, you have to be very experienced and to know exactly what is right. Recipes are written based on the palette — the acidity, sourness, bitterness, and sweetness; that’s how I create the balance.”

Q: What’s one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish? 

A: Butter. It’s has a fatty flavour. It’s soothing and it hits the palette. Sometimes you can have a loaf of white bread and still feel empty. But on other days you can have two or three spoons of peanut butter and some honey and feel happy.

What’s your favorite cuisine?

I love Chinese food, and Indian. Anything that (Wagamama founder) Alan Yau does always inspires me. He’s one of the ‘guru’ concept developers I’ve met. I respect how he thinks and works and I’ve learned a lot from him. The same applies to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (co-owners of six delis and restaurants in London). I have the greatest respect for them. 


What’s the most common issue you find when you eat in other restaurants?

Dining out is never for competitive purposes. Knowledge is always my objective — I want to learn how to do something. But not to compete. My objective is always to build something with value. 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly? And why?

A cheese melt sandwich. Good cheese and good bread. It’s soothing. And you can play with it — you can put pickles, mustard, or roast beef or chicken. And use a good 60 grams of butter; that will give you a solid foundation.

What’s the most annoying thing customers do?

Customers are never annoying. As long as they’re not insulting one of the waiters or insulting us, I’ll respect whatever they have to say. I’m here to serve them. 

What’s your biggest challenge as a restaurateur?

Food handling, especially critical items like protein and fish that need to be transported. I don’t risk having a lot of them in my concept because of the heat and handling. Freshness is very important in these protein concepts. That’s why I simplify things through process cooking or curing, et cetera. That’s what I do to avoid any bacterial growth. 


What’s your favorite dish to cook? 

Grilling and barbecuing reminds me so much of my dad. Prepping instant salsas is also one of many things I learned from him. He’s probably been making chimichurri for 30 years but in his own way, with a lot of coriander and garlic. He’s always been a host. Hosting is very important to me. 

I also love slow cooking. I love cooking tongue — beef or lamb — and this I also got from my dad. I remember he used to slice it and eat it with mustard. And I always loved that. 


Here, Al-Bader offers some cooking tips and a recipe for a tasty beetroot dish (although it requires a sous-vide machine).

Ahmad Al-Bader’s pickled beetroot recipe 



100g boiled beetroot; 100g apple vinegar; 100g white vinegar; 30g honey; 3g roasted coriander seeds; 5g thyme; 3g roasted yellow mustard seeds; 3g whole black pepper; 3g fresh dill; 3g salt; 10g jaggery



1. Set sous-vide machine to 80 C.

2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, adding the beetroot last.

3. Transfer to a vacuum-sealed bag.

4. Cook in the sous-vide machine for 10 minutes at 82 C.

5. Remove and transfer into a bowl of ice.

6. Transfer to a clean container, cover, and store in refrigerator at 1 C to 4 C until serving. It can be stored for up to three days.

REVIEW: ‘Jolt’ is a whip-smart shot in the arm

REVIEW: ‘Jolt’ is a whip-smart shot in the arm
The action comedy is streaming on Amazon Prime. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

REVIEW: ‘Jolt’ is a whip-smart shot in the arm

REVIEW: ‘Jolt’ is a whip-smart shot in the arm
  • Kate Beckinsale unleashes her fists of fury in a silly, fun quest for revenge

LONDON: If, like most people, you checked out the trailer for Amazon Prime’s new action comedy “Jolt,” you’ll have saved yourself from sitting through the first five minutes of this entertaining, if somewhat predictable, beat-em-up movie in which an off-screen narrator explains that seemingly sweet kid Lindy suffers from uncontrollable bouts of rage and cortisone-fueled superstrength that only a self-administered electric shock (the jolt of the title) can quell. 

Flash-forward past the exposition-heavy intro and Lindy, now played by Kate Beckinsale, continues to zap herself out of flashes of unwarranted violence and fantasizes about killing her therapist, played by Stanley Tucci.

Kate Beckinsale is a blast, clearly having fun with upending the tired trope of repressed female fury. Supplied

After such a laborious setup, director Tanya Wexler eventually gets to the good stuff. Lindy meets a nice guy on a blind date, only for him to wind up dead — so she decides to stop zapping herself back to calmness, and instead punch her way to whomever is responsible.

The premise is akin to a zany “Taken” and, thankfully, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Beckinsale is a blast, clearly having fun with upending the tired trope of repressed female fury as she quips and scissor-kicks her way to the men responsible for her murdered beau. What’s more, she’s ably backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Jai Courtney and Susan Sarandon. 

“Jolt” is fun, rather than dumb, because, like Beckinsale, the talented cast see it for what it is — 90 minutes of ass-kicking, physics-defying, nonsensical setups for Lindy to beat the snot out of roomfuls of nameless, cookie-cutter male stooges. There’s a well-signposted twist that won’t surprise many, and a setup for a sequel (probably a franchise) once the dust has, quite literally, settled. But you know what? If it stays this silly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada unveils world’s largest canvas at UK store

Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada unveils world’s largest canvas at UK store
“Infinity Pattern 1” by Osman Yousefzada
Updated 29 July 2021

Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada unveils world’s largest canvas at UK store

Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada unveils world’s largest canvas at UK store

DUBAI: Afghan-Pakistani designer and artist Osman Yousefzada has unveiled a world record-breaking new artwork for the UK Selfridges store in Birmingham, the city where he grew up.

Titled “Infinity Pattern 1,” his pink and black tessellated installation that wraps around the futuristic curved facade of the department store, was co-commissioned by the city’s Ikon Gallery and Selfridges Birmingham.

The 44-year-old was selected by Ikon art gallery as the winner of its international competition.

The gigantic, public installation, which measures in at 10,000 square meters and weighs five tons, will adorn Selfridge’s storefront until the end of the year while it undergoes restoration.

The son of Afghan-Pakistani immigrants, the designer-turned-artist said his giant canvas addressed issues of race, labor, and migration which had shaped the city’s past and present.

“Infinity Pattern 1,” Yousefzada’s first piece of public art, is also a record-breaker, having been confirmed as the world’s largest canvas.

As a fashion designer his tailored pieces have been worn by the likes of American singers Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. In addition to his celebrity loved eponymous label launched in 2008, Yousefzada is also known for his multi-disciplinary artwork that tackles the socio-political issues of the day.

He held his first solo art show titled “Being Somewhere Else” at Ikon Gallery in 2018, exploring the links between fashion and migration.

Actor Waleed Zuaiter: ‘For the first time, I have a real, genuine voice’

Actor Waleed Zuaiter: ‘For the first time, I have a real, genuine voice’
Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter is one of the most acclaimed Arab actors in the world. Supplied
Updated 29 July 2021

Actor Waleed Zuaiter: ‘For the first time, I have a real, genuine voice’

Actor Waleed Zuaiter: ‘For the first time, I have a real, genuine voice’
  • The BAFTA-nominated actor on the frustrations of typecasting and the joys of ‘Baghdad Central’

DUBAI: The road to success is rockier than most care to admit. Even years past that first big break, the life of an actor is often a stop-and-start existence, with work drying up when you need it most.

In 2011, Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter —now one of the most acclaimed Arab actors in the world having secured a BAFTA nomination in 2021 for his starring role in “Baghdad Central” — was experiencing one of those lulls. The big roles weren’t coming and it was affecting him more than he let on.

It had only been two years since he starred opposite George Clooney in “The Men who Stare at Goats,” and here he was, a family to take care of, wondering whether he should continue pursuing his dream or give up acting entirely.  

Waleed Zuaiter with George Clooney and Ewan McGregor in 'The Men Who Stare at Goats.' (Alamy)

It was then that he got a call from the creators of a new series called “Homeland.” 

“I remember, ‘Homeland’ came around (at a time when) we couldn't pay our rent. It's as simple as that,” Zuaiter tells Arab News. 

They wanted him to play a terrorist. It was something he really didn’t want to do. 

Earlier in his life, Zuaiter had never imagined he would be viewed as an outsider in America. Born in the US, he moved with his family to Kuwait and at the age of five, growing up in the Gulf, he had no concept of himself as ‘different’ in any way, attending an American school with a diverse array of friends and interests.

“I never grew up with real racism. (Kuwait) was a small country. My dad's best friend was Sudanese, and so I had no concept of a separation between races. I had friends from all over, and we were listening to hard rock and heavy metal like AC/DC and Iron Maiden,” says Zuaiter. 

Waleed Zuaiter in Chicago Justice (2017). Supplied

Zuaiter had a sense of himself, but the dream of becoming an actor meant to him — as it does to most actors — the ability to become anyone. It wasn’t until he got into the industry that he realized that ‘becoming anyone’ wasn’t really on the cards for Arabs — that they tended to be put into a very small box, even if it’s sometimes a box made with the best of intentions. 

“When I came into acting, I didn't see it as, ‘I'm originally Arab, I have an Arabic name, I should only be up for Arab roles.’ But that's kind of how the industry works here. Even if you're like me, and you don't speak with an accent, and you're American. The industry thought, ‘Oh, this is a very hot topic, there's material that's coming out. Let's look for the people that can bring authenticity to it.’ There was a good intention there, but what winds up happening is you get pigeonholed. That was very frustrating for me,” says Zuaiter.

“I just wanted to make movies like Jon Favreau’s ‘Swingers.’ Those are the kinds of roles and stories that I'm interested in playing. But the TV roles I was offered were terrorists.”

Zuaiter took the role in “Homeland,” and while the experience ended up being a positive one, as Zuaiter was able to imbue the menacing role with nuance, depth and humanity, in a space that allowed him to do that, it wasn’t where he ultimately wanted to be. The producers were so impressed that they asked him to come back as another character. This time, he refused. He knew what he needed next, and it was a story that came from the Arab world rather than gazing at it from afar.

Waleed Zuaiter in Omar (2013). Supplied

So Zuaiter got in touch with an old friend, Hany Abu Assad, the acclaimed Palestinian director behind “Paradise Now,” whom he had met years earlier.

“A mutual friend said to me, ‘You should get in touch with Hany, because he's written something that's really, really great.’ I called him, and he said ‘Yes, and I actually wrote a role for you in this.’” 

Zuaiter would end up doing more than lending his acting talents. He got together his Palestinian family and friends and they made the film — 2013’s “Omar” — using their own capital. The film earned an Oscar-nomination, one of only two Palestinian feature-length films in history to have been nominated. 

“Essentially, I raised the whole budget, I brought on my brothers, and they helped bring in some other investors. Hany had that same ambition of ‘Let's get our own people to invest in us.’ And that’s what we did,” Zuaiter explains. “Around 95 percent of the investment for Omar was Palestinian private equity, with another 5 percent from Dubai. And we're very thankful for it. It was rewarding on so many levels.”

The experience would embolden Zuaiter, allowing him to enter the next phase of his career, working across genres and continents until he was finally able to land the biggest role of his career, the lead in a prestige TV drama that portrayed Iraq as Hollywood never had before — “Baghdad Central,” now streaming on Starzplay Arabia. 

Still from Baghdad Central (2020). Supplied

“What did this show give me? It gave me a voice. I learned to trust myself. I learned so much about the craft, so much about responsibility. For the first time, I had a real, genuine voice from the very first rehearsals, and I learned how to wield it. And to do that playing an Arab hero — not a terrorist — was such an honor, especially because we very rarely get to see it,” he says. 

Zuaiter was also struck by the show’s ability to not only amplify the voices of those that are so often marginalized, but to do so while also making the Iraqi characters’ American and British foils three-dimensional as well, giving the show a richness that it would not otherwise have had.  

The experience helped turn Zuaiter into the leader that he never knew he could be, both on screen and off. He has now founded a production company with his wife Joana, whom he credits with saving his career again and again, called FlipNarrative. 

Waleed and Joana Zuaiter at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2021. Getty Images

“So much of our identity as a company is the embodiment of who we are. Our mission is to amplify the voice of underrepresented and historically misrepresented voices around the world, starting with a focus on stories coming out of the Middle East,” Zuaiter says. “We’re a global mission-based company, because we realize there’s a global audience out there and we have always felt like insider-outsiders, allowing us to bridge those borders and make those connections.” 

FlipNarrative has already announced six projects from across the Arab world. But first Zuaiter’s tackling another dream, a pure actor’s dream — playing someone totally outside his own lived reality. As the villain in the upcoming second season of British crime drama “Gangs of London” he won’t be an Arab at all, he’ll be playing a Georgian. It’s an experience he’s already reveling in. 

“I just want to expand the types of roles that I play. I want a sense of play. They said, ‘Listen, if you want to play him as Palestinian, we can do that’. I said, ‘No, I played enough Palestinian gangsters. I would love to play a Georgian gangster, That's exactly why I'm an actor,’” he says. “Hopefully, there’ll be more of those roles. I just want to be free.”