Saudi Arabian artists explore Arab identity with sculpture

Abulrahman and Turki Gazzaz’s ‘Geographical Child’s Play’ echoes chaotic drawing up of boundaries for Arab world. (Supplied)
Updated 05 August 2019

Saudi Arabian artists explore Arab identity with sculpture

LONDON: The children in the British Museum playing at reconfiguring Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz's jigsaw-style map of the 22 Arab League States are, in their naivety, creating similar chaos that was caused by the British and French officials responsible for drawing up post-war boundaries across the Middle East.

That seemingly cavalier approach to carving out states has blighted the region — often the Europeans who drew up the maps had little knowledge or interest in the myriad identities of the people whose countries they were defining.

Shubbak. (Supplied)

The Saudi Arabian brothers’ work — “Geographical Child’s Play” — was commissioned for Shubbak, an annual art festival now in its fifth year which brings work by Arab artists to London's stages, concert halls, cinemas, galleries, museums and streets. Arab News caught up with the Jeddah-based artists (and founders of Bricklab studio) at the British Museum, where their sculpture was attracting interest from visitors from all over the world.

Each ‘state’ in the sculpture is represented by a three-dimensional piece. The pieces are decorated in pastel colors (with shades abstracted from the pan-Arab colors), which, coupled with their low height makes them reminiscent of children’s seating in a nursery. One key feature of the work is that — regardless of the way in which the 22 pieces are arranged, they are always interconnected. The work is described in the promotional materials as “an invitation to imagine geopolitics through the lens of play and deliberately naïve hope.”

Geographical Child's Play. (Supplied)

“We wanted something playful that also serves as an educational tool,” Abdulrahman explained. “Some people try to read the names of all the 22 countries, while others just enjoy the tactility of the material.”

The brothers, who both trained as architects, had originally intended to use a hard rubber surface, but — in the transition “from conceptualization to realization” — they decided they wanted a softer surface too. “We wanted to use different materials like wood and foam together to create a contrast,” said Abdulrahman. “We were looking for tactile materials. This aspect is something we are always interested in at Bricklab. Most of the projects we work with involve us breaking the concept down to its material form and trying to carry it through.”

In addition to three London venues — the British Library, British Museum and the National Theatre — the installation has also been exhibited in Milton Keynes as part of the town’s community festival Art in the Park. That particular location, Abdulrahman said, was his favorite. “It was just families and children really interacting with the artwork and mainly just having fun,” he explained.

Geographical Child's Play. (Supplied)

“At the British Library, which is a lovely space, people were treating it more as an educational tool and shying away from touching the work. We, and the invigilators, had to encourage them. Here at the British Museum, people are much more relaxed about engaging with the work.”

According to Turki, showing “Geographical Child’s Play” in the UK makes the piece even more relevant.

“Initially the project was very political, because the role that the British have played in shaping the Arab world, and Arab identity in general, is undeniable,” he said. “The Arab revolt was instigated in large (part) by the British, and reading about some of the policy makers, you see that the people in the background, who were holding office in Egypt or India at the time, were playing instrumental roles in shaping what we understand as Arab identity today.

“By bringing this work here to London — especially here, to the British Museum — I think we are asking the question, ‘What is our identity now?’ And if we were to remove it from the Western understanding, or the British understanding, of the Arab world, what might that identity be?”

Turki and Abdulrahman Gazzaz with their sculpture Geographical Child's Play at the British Museum. (Supplied)

He pointed out that the borders between Arab countries were ‘blurred’ before the interference of British, French and Ottoman Empire officials.

“If you take a village in the south of Saudi on the border with Yemen, you can barely tell where Yemen ends and Saudi starts,” he said. “I think it is interesting to acknowledge how abstract these borders are and how cultures merged — and this is something that is true generally, not just particular to the Arab world.”

The brothers are encouraged by the creative progress they see happening in their home country.

“The community of art is growing, and speaks truthfully to us as a society,” said Abdulrahman. “We are lucky to be around at this time when the arts are really being promoted and supported. Without such support, we wouldn’t be here.  We are getting tremendous support back in Saudi. There is this really meaningful belief in emerging architects and artists who look at things from a critical perspective and try to have a certain commentary rather than shying away from the truth. And that is what we have always tried to do and to achieve.”

Zingy rom-com ‘Seriously Single’ offers lighthearted plot with refreshing twist

The film was directed by Katleho and Rethabile Ramaphakela. Supplied
Updated 04 August 2020

Zingy rom-com ‘Seriously Single’ offers lighthearted plot with refreshing twist

CHENNAI: Loneliness can become excruciatingly difficult especially in times like these with a pandemic ravaging the world. And for those who live alone, it can be even more difficult.

Although the South African film, “Seriously Single,” takes place in a happier, normal period, its protagonist, Dineo (Fulu Mugovhani), is single and so lonely that she is desperate to hook up with any man who crosses her path.

A social manager in a Johannesburg firm, she is happy at work and with her close girlfriend, Noni (Tumi Morake). But after two disastrous relationships, Dineo is clearly unhappy. And she commits one mistake that so many men and women with failed affairs do. She befriends Lunga (Bohang Moeko) – on the rebound.

Directed by a brother-and-sister team, Katleho and Rethabile Ramaphakela, the movie, now playing on Netflix, infuses comedy into the gravity of the situation that Dineo finds herself in.

Lunga is already engaged to marry a girl, but does not tell Dineo, hoping that the new relationship would be nothing else but short-lived – a kind of one-night stand. Dineo has other ideas.

“Seriously Single” turns out predictable characters, but then they add a zing to the plot. Supplied

Dineo’s relationship with Lunga flies into turbulence, and she turns to Noni for advice and comfort. Noni firmly advocates independence and believes that women do not need men – except for physical gratification. She proudly keeps repeating that she never goes beyond a one-night stand. Otherwise, it can turn into a relationship, leading to possible heartbreak and sorrow.

“Seriously Single” turns out predictable characters, but then they add a zing to the plot, and this is what makes the film rise above the mundane.

Both women are genially disposed, and the betrayals they face have an element of fun. They are not morose, and there is no need for tissues.

Unfortunately, little attempt is made to capture the scenic beauty of Johannesburg. Supplied

There is nothing much to talk about in terms of cinematography, and the imagery is often flat. Little attempt is made to capture the scenic beauty of Johannesburg.

But “Seriously Single” stays away from getting serious and offers a lighthearted story of two women who think very differently, only to prove in the end that both were wide of the mark.

The twist when it comes after several ups and downs is refreshingly different.