Arab artists pay homage to Notre Dame in new exhibition

New works are a reaction to the fire in France’s most-famous cathedral earlier this year. (Supplied)
Updated 30 September 2019

Arab artists pay homage to Notre Dame in new exhibition

PARIS: Millions around the world were in a state of shock when Paris’ beloved Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames last April. Having survived the turmoil of the French Revolution and two World Wars, the revered 850-year-old Gothic-style monument suffered the collapse of its spiral and wooden roof and damage to its high altar. One commentator wrote: “The very heart of France and the soul of Europe have been suddenly and viciously ripped out.”

The day after the blaze broke out, Jack Lang — president of Paris’ Insitut du Monde Arabe (IMA) — joined forces with the French-Lebanese art collector and champion of Arab artists Claude Lemand to set up a tribute to Notre Dame from Arab artists. Deeply saddened by the damage caused by the fire, Lemand started contacting artist friends, to see if they would be willing to contribute commemorative works of art.




Azzawi, Notre-Dame, 2019. (Supplied)

“When I was watching this tragedy unfold on television, it reminded me of the beginning of the civil war in Lebanon,” Lemand told Arab News. “Notre Dame is a historical building that doesn’t belong just to French and European civilization, but to all of humanity. The Arab artist — like his European counterpart — has the right to convey his feelings and admiration towards this monument.”

Running through December 20, “Arab Artists’ Tribute to Notre Dame” showcases four new artworks created by contemporary artists from the Arab diaspora in response to the fire and its aftermath.

The renowned Iraqi artist Dia Al-Azzawi is one of them. His symbolic acrylic-on-3D-wood panel portrays a profile of the cathedral guarded by a carved-out cross — standing out in the midst of a red mass that not only represents the fire, but also rebirth.

Another contribution comes in the form of an abstract painting by the French-Moroccan painter Najia Mehadji. Completed in a single broad brushstroke, the painting’s dominating blue (a color associated with the Virgin Mary) swirl hints at the shape of the Madonna and Child statue that stands inside Notre Dame.




Najia Mehadji, Notre-Dame, 2019. (Supplied)

Montpellier-based Mohamed Lekleti’s mixed-media canvas is a conceptual work potraying “the duality of the world,” divided into two halves: good and evil. Lekleti’s work reminds the viewer of life’s inevitability, and to accept that events are sometimes beyond human control, but that taking action — no matter how slow or small — to heal wounds is important, as emphasized by the artist’s depiction of a hand sewing a thread.

Syrian figurative artist Boutros Al-Maari contributes a circular canvas illustrating fictional characters from Victor Hugo’s iconic novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” surrounding the burning cathedral. Inspired by his own heritage, Al-Maari depicts Hugo as a ‘hakawati’ — a storyteller in Damascus’ old cafés. It is a scene of both anguish and hope; of men crying in disbelief and the Virgin Mary being consoled with the offering of a flower.




Boutros Al-Maari, Notre-Dame, 2019. (Supplied)

According to Lemand, a second part of the exhibition will materialize early next year, exhibiting a new roster of artists.

“The goal of this exhibition is neither political nor financial,” he explained. “We just wanted to give an opportunity for Arab artists to present a brighter image of the region — far from the violence, the killing, and religious strife that have in recent years given the world a miserable image of the Arab world.”


Film review: ‘Parkour(s)’ takes obstacle course through class conflict

The sport of parkour forms the backdrop of this Algerian film. Supplied
Updated 08 December 2019

Film review: ‘Parkour(s)’ takes obstacle course through class conflict

  • Fatma Zohra Zamoum’s “Parkour(s)” is set in a small city in Algeria
  • It screened at the recent Cairo International Film Festival

CHENNAI: The fast-paced sport of parkour — or negotiating obstacles in an urban environment by running, jumping and climbing — forms the backdrop of this Algerian film.

Fatma Zohra Zamoum’s “Parkour(s)” is set in a small city in Algeria, and it seems that the director has used the title to convey the kind of histrionics her characters indulge in. Take, for instance, Youcef (Nazim Halladja) — a sportsman playing parkour — literally cartwheeling through the urban landscape. His reckless antics also include threatening people with a gun and pleading with would-be bride Kamila (Adila Bendimered) to ditch her future husband, Khaled, (Mohamed Bounoughaz). 

The movie, which screened at the recent Cairo International Film Festival, unfolds during a day and takes us to the wedding and the assorted group of men and women gathered there. As we see these people making their way toward the occasion, we get to see that they are all motivated by different pulls and pressures.

The film unfolds during a day and takes us to a wedding and the assorted group of men and women gathered there. Supplied

Youcef is there to try to persuade Kamila from walking up the aisle. The kitchen help is set to make an extra buck. However, other characters have not been written with much conviction.

Zamoun says in a note: “The multi-character drama shows how a normal situation turns into major clashes reflecting the conflict between classes, ideas and generations in Algerian society, whose youth try to take control of their lives. But they are surrounded by those who try to handcuff them.” 

The movie is not convincing on this count. For example, how is the bride — who willingly prepares for the wedding (that was my impression, anyway) — “handcuffed?” The same can be said for other characters we encounter.

What comes across loud and clear, however, is the class difference. No clarity is lost when Khaled gives money to Youcef to buy a “decent” suit for the wedding and he is offended by Khaled’s arrogance. Youcef makes no bones about this to his friend — and perhaps he is taking his revenge when he tries to sow discord among his fellow characters. Also worthy of note is the performance by the young daughter of the kitchen help, Nedjma (Lali Mansour), who gives one of the most moving and natural sequences in “Parkour(s).”

The cinematography is nothing to rave about and Youcef’s parkour antics are rather intrusive and add little to the narrative.