Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse

Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse
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An artwork by UK-based Mauritian artist Shiraz Bayjoo. (Supplied photo)
Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse
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An artwork by UK-based Mauritian artist Shiraz Bayjoo. (Supplied photo)
Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse
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Updated 13 June 2019

Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse

Sharjah Biennial art exhibitions enrich Gulf's cultural discourse
  • Sharjah's reputation as a capital of culture is founded on institutions, museums and events
  • Sharjah Biennial cements its position as a top-tier showcase for local and international contemporary art

DUBAI:  Sharjah’s reputation as a regional art hub and capital of culture is founded on a lengthy list of institutions, museums and events.

One of the most prominent, the Sharjah Biennial, is considered a critical resource for artists and cultural organizations in the Gulf. After supporting local and international contemporary artists in their work for three consecutive months since March 7, Sharjah Biennial 14 came to a close this week.

“Nothing beats international art in a cultural location,” Rowdha Alsayegh, an Emirati cultural conceptual photographer, told Arab News. “I built my passion for art in Sharjah, and I owe it my growth,” she added as one of the biggest art events in the Arab world concluded in the emirate. “The biennial is a unique event that serves both the vision of Sharjah and the goals of emerging and international artists.”

“At the Time of the Ebb,” by Kuwaiti artist Alia Farid. (Supplied photo)

Alsayegh, who considers the UAE’s culture a piece of art in itself, sees the country’s art market as constantly growing. “I became an artist because my culture truly inspired me, and this love we carry for it will make art reach greater heights,” she said. “But there’s always room for improvement. With art, you can’t just say you’re the best version of yourself. You should always keep growing.”

Alsayegh expects to see more growth in the Gulf. “It’s very important for us to participate in such events, to be out there and see exhibits when international artists come to our doorstep, because it’s an easy way for us to learn,” she said. “As artists we learn daily, and when we grow we make art in the country grow. After all, what is an artist without art?”

Established in 1993 and handed over to the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2009, the Sharjah Biennial has grown into a reliable showcase for local, regional and international developments in contemporary art.



• The Sharjah Biennial was established in 1993. • Sharjah is home to more than 20 museums. • The emirate is known as a cultural hub in the Gulf. • Sharjah was named UNESCO’s Arab Capital of Culture in 1998. • In 2019, UNESCO designated it the World Book Capital.

It is “one of the top tiers of biennials globally, and is the largest such platform in the Middle East and South Asia,” said Omar Kholeif, who was a co-curator with Zoe Butt and Claire Tancons of Sharjah Biennial 14.

“The exhibition encompassed the work of many Middle Eastern artists, arguably offering a platform for the dissemination of, and critical engagement with, their work,” he told Arab News.

“But it was also important for the artist and audience community within the region to encounter art from all around the world.” Kholeif was recently appointed director of collections and senior curator of the Sharjah Art Foundation.

The biennial strives to be one of the most vibrant platforms for presenting contemporary art globally. Alia Farid, originally from Kuwait, is one of the many artists who took part in this year’s biennial.

She believes the idea is to present works that challenge the expectations of art and encourage critical and aesthetic thinking.

“The Sharjah Biennial doesn’t prioritize by ethnicity. For Arab artists just like the rest, it’s a huge honor to be invited to exhibit based on merit and the quality of one’s work,” she said. “The (Sharjah Art) Foundation is truly an exceptional art institution in the region. It has an attentive and inspired team who do everything in their capacity to help participating artists achieve the desired outcomes.”

Farid’s work included a video shot in Qeshm, an Iranian island across the sea from the UAE and Oman, where the Gulf and Iran come closest.

Entitled “At the Time of the Ebb,” the idea for the film came from a desire to lessen feelings of estrangement between the neighbors. “Qeshm is a very unique place, and a threshold between the Gulf countries and Persia. Its inhabitants wear the same garb as Arabs from the Gulf do, and there are many common musical elements,” she said. “At the same time, they speak Farsi, the island belongs to Iran, and their economic situation is markedly different.”

Beyond the music and performance art of Qeshm, “At the Time of the Ebb” also explores the contentious relationship between the Gulf countries and Iran.

Kuwaiti artist Alia Farid. (Supplied)

The Sharjah Art Foundation “encourages cultural discourse in a region long known for little more than generating oil revenue,” Farid said. “It recently began adding historical buildings to its core Al-Mureijah Square venue, in an effort to help tell the multiplicity of stories connected with the emirate and its neighbors. Artists are concerned with making work that transforms the perception of viewers. There’s a lot of really good work coming from Egypt, Lebanon and parts of the Gulf. It’s important for artists to have the support of patrons and institutions to be able to make substantial contributions. It would also be great to see more research and production grants being offered by Gulf patrons.”

Sharjah Biennial 14 attracted artists from near and far. 

One of them was Shiraz Bayjoo, a 40-year-old, UK-based artist originally from Mauritius. The subject of his film “Ile de France,” shown at the biennial, was the dark history of the Indian Ocean island, with its ruins of European colonial settlements, and a population comprising descendants of Indian Muslims and people from Africa brought there as slaves or indentured laborers.

“My film explores this environment that shifts, where they fit today in relation to their class and race, and how that kind of history still plays out in terms of our psyche and how we imagine ourselves,” Bayjoo told Arab News. “Acts of conservation, regardless of the location, are important from the standpoint of understanding each other’s past.” Bayjoo sees the Sharjah Biennial as the most significant art event globally after Venice. “It’s very important that we have this in the Middle East and on the African continent as well,” he said.

“If we link these spaces together, it really shifts the center away from just being a Euro-centric conversation. The artists brought together this year as part of Zoe Butt’s curation constitute a majority voice of Global South artists. For it to be represented in the Middle East, instead of in Europe or North America, is really significant.”

Latin American artist Adriana Bustos. (Supplied)

Another participant from afar, Latin American artist Adriana Bustos, told Arab News that her presence in the biennial is an “extraordinary opportunity” to get acquainted with the Middle East’s art scene. 

“I see it as an incipient dialogue between the Middle East and Latin America that’s beginning to exist,” she said.

“Although there are some international art fairs that give visibility to artistic practices from one side of the planet and the other, biennials … offer a platform of great value to know regional discourses.”

She described her interactions with other artists and their productions as her most valuable experience of Sharjah Biennial 14.

“I was able to see that my work is part of a much larger text than the production itself,” she said. “I had the chance to see brilliant artworks by brilliant artists from the Middle East, and a very active, mature and growing art scene.”

Her views are echoed by Kholeif, who says he was a fan and a regular visitor before he was made a co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 14.

“With a real focus on putting artists from the Global South into the conversation, it has been an exhilarating experience to watch the Sharjah Biennial grow year after year,” he said.

“I see the event as continuing to be a site of discovery of Middle Eastern artists and their work … and a space to produce new ideas and knowledge for Middle Eastern artists. I see this happening through a process of commissioning that strongly aligns with the work of the biennial and the (Sharjah Art) Foundation.”

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida
Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied
Updated 14 June 2021

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

DUBAI: London Fashion Week is hoping to be back on track with the usual line-up of physical shows come September, but until then LFW’s “digital first” approach continued with another selection of online presentations from the capital’s designers alongside a handful of in-person events that took place from June 12-14. 


A post shared by Reem Juan (@reemjuan)

Held over three days, the latest edition saw 32 womenswear, menswear and accessories brands showcasing their collections on the LFW digital platform, including regional label Reem Juan. 

The Abu Dhabi-born womenswear designer presented her eponymous brand’s Fall 2021 collection via a four-minute fashion film as part of the fashion event. 

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Inspired by the late Egyptian-born French icon Dalida, Juan decided to embrace femininity by churning out an ultra-romantic collection that included sparkling miniskirts embellished with tiny beads and worn with jumpers embroidered with famous Dalida lyrics such as “En chantant jusqu'au bout” and “C'était le temps des fleurs on ignorait la peur.”

Flower motifs appeared throughout, whether in the form of beaded appliques on tops or as prints on chiffon dresses and jacquard pant suits and skirts.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Black turtlenecks got an ultra-feminine touch by way of lace collars while sharply-tailored blazers looked all the more elegant when paired with pussy bow blouses.

1970’s influence seeped into the offering in the form of thick belts cinched around the waist and denim wide-legged jumpsuits.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

If you’re in the market for a pretty frock, Juan’s latest collection provides plenty to choose from. The offering concluded with a lineup of elegant eveningwear that consisted of heavily-sequined, plunging gowns, tulle dresses with voluminous sleeves, beaded taffeta skirts worn with a matching bralet tops and embellished crepe kaftans in salmon, peach, lemon and mint hues.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

By using technology, minimal production waste and sourcing local hand craftsmanship to create her garments, Juan’s collection is as chic as it is sustainable. For instance, the designer utilized recycled taffeta to create one eye-catching yellow shirt dress with open eyelet details.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Indeed, the designer’s efforts will resonate with the luxury consumer who values ethical clothing.

Producer resigns from movie on New Zealand mosque attacks amid backlash

Producer resigns from movie on New Zealand mosque attacks amid backlash
Flowers and tributes hanging on the fence of the Botanic Gardens on March 17, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Getty Images
Updated 14 June 2021

Producer resigns from movie on New Zealand mosque attacks amid backlash

Producer resigns from movie on New Zealand mosque attacks amid backlash

DUBAI: A producer for a controversial Hollywood film about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the Christchurch terror attacks in 2019 has resigned from the project.

 The producer Philippa Campbell’s resignation comes after the Andrew Niccol-directed  film, titled “They Are Us,”  came under fire for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.

“I’ve listened to the concerns raised over recent days and I have heard the strength of people’s views. I now agree that the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for film at this time and do not wish to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement released to the media.

“The announcement was focused on film business, and did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story in this country. It’s the complexity of that context I’ve been reflecting on that has led me to this decision,” she added.

Ardern, who is slated to be played by Australian actress Rose Byrne, said on Sunday it felt “very soon and very raw” for New Zealand, and that she was not an appropriate focus for a film about the mosque attacks. 

“There are plenty of stories from March 15 that could be told, but I don’t consider mine to be one of them,” she said. Ardern has stated that she has no involvement with the film, which would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.


Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 
Updated 14 June 2021

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Salma Abu Deif and Iraqi model Dima Al-Sheikhly collaborated with Italian luxury fashion house Valentino to promote the brand’s latest launch, a new bag called “Rockstud Alcove.” 

On Monday, the Italian label shared pictures with its 14.8 million Instagram followers of Abu Deif and Al-Sheikhly flaunting the bag with bold studs and golden locks. 


A post shared by Valentino (@maisonvalentino)

Starring alongside the models are US singer and TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio and German blogger Leonie Hanne. 

The bag comes in two colors, red and black, and two sizes, medium and mini. 


A post shared by Valentino (@maisonvalentino)

Since its launch in May, Valentino’s Rockstud Alcove has also been championed by US superstar Angelina Jolie, Lebanese actress Daniella Rahme, Jordanian-Romanian designer Amina Muaddi, Dubai-based fashion blogger Ola Farahat and many more. 

US actress Zendaya starred in the campaign for Valentino’s Fall 2021 Roman Palazzo collection, which featured the Rockstud Alcove bag. 

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
Anamolous was founded by Lebanese designer Rabih Rowell. Instagram/@anomalous.monism
Updated 14 June 2021

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
  • While menswear designers once seemed a rare breed in the Middle East, today the region’s talent is not only surviving but thriving

DUBAI: The question usually arrived in stages, often introducing itself by way of physical cues. The furrowed brow, a pause for thought, maybe a tilt of the head – for variety’s sake – and then: “So, just where are all the Middle East’s menswear designers?”

For many years, it seemed a valid point.

Scan any red carpet during an awards season and a female megastar dressed by an Arab designer is likely to be there. Beyonce wearing Zuhair Murad, Cardi B in Ashi Studio, Kendall Jenner in Elie Saab; womenswear designers in the region have been much sought after for decades.

2D2C2M is a Saudi co-ed streetwear label helmed by Ahmed Al-Wohaibi. Instagram/@2d2c2m

By and large, the answer to all of this was a numbers game. Women bought more, they wore more, and had more diverse tastes. Men would often wear the same work shirt for years and think nothing of it. So, more demand and more opportunities to be creative meant more womenswear designers.

But perhaps it was also a cultural question.

Keanoush Zargham, GQ Middle East’s style editor, said: “I think the debate around the lack of menswear designers wasn’t just restricted to our region.

“For years luxury menswear shows, globally, were mixed with womenswear because the men’s market was always so small. However, in the Arab world the issue ran a little deeper, with something of a stigma attached to the notion of a man designing fashion for a living. Thankfully, perspectives are changing.”

Founded by Moroccan-French Charaf Tajer, Casablanca is one of the buzziest brands at the moment. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Fashion is changing, culture is changing, so should the question be changing too? Never mind the lack of menswear designers, due to a global shift toward genderless collections, maybe soon menswear will become a thing of the past – just clothes made for us all to wear and enjoy.

Looking back, as the noughties came to an end, Saudi Arabia had a small, but burgeoning scene. There was the legendary Yahya Al-Bishri designing for royalty, and Hatem Alakeel doing all kinds of amazing things with thobes, but other than that there was little conversation.

“My work in menswear started from a personal requirement. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the market, so I decided to design it myself,” said Alakeel, who has just launched Authenticite, a Saudi-centric agency forging collaboration opportunities for up-and-coming authentic creatives in the region.

Hatem Alakeel is known for fusing international styles. Supplied

“But fashion remains a female-dominated ecosystem, especially in Saudi,” he added.

While it may be slow going in some Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets, the scales are undoubtedly tipping, and men have gradually become more adventurous in how they dress. Combine that with streetwear hype gripping a generation and the numbers have acted accordingly. Figures from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce show that menswear dominated the UAE apparel sector in 2018, amounting to $12.3 billion in sales.

As a further signal of shifting sands in the Middle East, this year has witnessed an industry milestone with the first ever Arab Fashion Week – Men’s (AFWM).

Zar Douz at the inaugural Arab Fashion Week Men’s. Supplied

A three-day showcase in January, AFWM highlighted the extent of menswear talent in the region, from classic to avant-garde to streetwear, all produced under coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic conditions and presented as a digital project. Organized by the Arab Fashion Council, its chief strategy officer, Mohammed Aqra, said it was a clear sign of an exciting market.

“For quite some time the MENA region wasn’t ready to accept an adventurous wardrobe for men. At the same time, consumer behavior in the region was very much driven by international brands.

“This recently has started to change thanks to an ever-growing fashion scene that has allowed the culture to be more accepting and resulted in a growing demand for unique menswear,” he added.

He noted Proud Angels, El-Salam, and Anomalous as examples of fledgling local brands to watch out for.

Anomalous is a brand to look out for. Instagram/@anomalous.monism

Perhaps more indicative of menswear’s rude health has been the decision by some womenswear designers to migrate their work to men. In 2016, the Lebanese fashion designer Nour Hage did exactly that, launching her Zero One collection. The idea was to take traditional Middle Eastern garb and make it feel contemporary and relevant.

Her move received some vindication two years later, when the Emmy-winning actor Riz Ahmed wore items from her collection in a shoot for British GQ.

Riz Ahmed wearing Zero One in British GQ. Instagram/@nourhage_

Aqra said: “The prognosis (for menswear) is very positive. Since the launch of the first AFWM, many Arab womenswear designers have also started to create menswear, or genderless, lines too. Brands such as Mrs Keepa, Amato Couture, and Michael Cinco in the UAE, and Kojak Studio in Egypt.”

It is true that there are an ever-increasing number of Middle Eastern brands creating genderless collections.

Zargham said: “Personally, I really love the Moroccan brand, Casablanca. It has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women.”

Casablanca has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Then there are brands such as the Saudi-based 2D2C2M and the stylings of Palestinian label Trashy Clothing.

Trashy’s co-founder and co-creative director, Shukri Lawrence, said: “We believe whoever feels comfortable wearing any piece from our collection should have the freedom to choose.”

When it comes to what men wear on the red carpet, the lines of what is expected are already starting to blur, whether it be Michael B. Jordan in a Louis Vuitton harness at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, or Billy Porter decked out in a custom-made white suit – including train – by Ashi Studio for the Emmys.

The Saudi-based brand believes clothing has no gender. Instagram/@2d2c2m

“We’ve entered a new era in fashion where men are experimenting. Both men and women shouldn’t be restricted to wearing specific pieces. We believe clothing has no gender,” Lawrence added.

Gendered collections aside, there is another shift that feels prevalent right now in menswear and beyond: A desire to bring attention to the region and shine a light, not just on talent, but also the issues of its people.

While brands such as the Iraqi/Moroccan COR-Project highlight socio-political problems via a military aesthetic, Lebanese brand Emergency Room has been built around sustainable style and a fair industry ethos. For Trashy Clothing, somebody wearing its products is about existence itself.

Palestinian label Trashy Clothing was founded by Shukri Lawerence. Instagram/@trashyclothing

“As a Palestinian brand, having a celebrity wear our label means solidarity and awareness to our cause. Bringing the name of Palestine to the mainstream is important since our identity is under constant threat of erasure,” Lawrence said.

So, that age-old question about Arab menswear does not really seem to exist anymore. No more furrowed brows or considered pauses. The style question has become a fashion statement.

Menswear, womenswear, genderless collections. In 2021, it no longer really matters. The work by an array of Middle Eastern talent is speaking for itself.

Kim Kardashian completes daring look with Amina Muaddi heels

Kim Kardashian completes daring look with Amina Muaddi heels
Updated 14 June 2021

Kim Kardashian completes daring look with Amina Muaddi heels

Kim Kardashian completes daring look with Amina Muaddi heels

DUBAI: Reality TV star Kim Kardashian stepped up her style game this week by championing a creation by Jordanian-Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi. 

The entrepreneur, who recently filed for divorce from her husband rapper Kanye West, shared a series of images on Instagram with her 228 million followers, wearing a green suit by French fashion label Jean Paul Gaultier and a daring corset by London-based Spanish designer Luis De Javier. 

The founder of the cosmetics brand KKW Beauty and the shape wear brand Skims topped off her look with a pair of green Karma pumps by Muaddi.

Muaddi’s cult brand — famous for its signature flared heels — has garnered a loyal following of famous fans, including Dua Lipa, Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin Bieber.