AlUla: Saudi Arabia’s natural wonder

AlUla: Saudi Arabia’s natural wonder
A new exhibition highlights the beauty and heritage of the Kingdom’s cultural gem. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 December 2019

AlUla: Saudi Arabia’s natural wonder

AlUla: Saudi Arabia’s natural wonder

PARIS: This month sees the inauguration of an immersive and research-driven exhibition showcasing one of Saudi Arabia’s most significant historical and cultural locations, AlUla.

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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Running at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris from October 9 to January 19, “AlUla: Wonder of Arabia” is the world’s first major exhibition dedicated to exploring the multilayered history and arresting scenery of the area.

Isolated in the desert of the Kingdom’s northwestern region, AlUla is an archaeological marvel — boasting golden sandstone canyons, colossal arches and rock formations — that has played host to numerous ancient civilizations, from the Neolithic to the Roman to the Ottoman, making it a significant cultural crossroads.




The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was founded in 2017. (Supplied)

“A landscape composed of mountains, hills and rivers, adorned with colors that change from morning to evening, where calm, silence, tranquility and mystery are intertwined,” was how IMA’s president Jack Lang described this impressive setting — which is actually home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site — in an official statement.  

Although the exhibition’s organizers describe AlUla as an “oasis with 7000 years of history,” it has only been in recent years that it was brought to world attention, thanks to strategic efforts supported by Saudi government officials. The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was founded in 2017 with the aim — in collaboration with overseas partners — of preserving and protecting the area, and promoting AlUla to regional and international audiences.

One of RCU’s ultimate goals is to cultivate AlUla as “a world-class tourist destination.” Plans to boost tourism in the Kingdom have already been set in motion with the arrival of the groundbreaking news that the country will grant tourist visas to nationals of 49 countries.

Last year saw the launch of AlUla’s Winter at Tantora Festival, which hosted musical legends including Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang, and Majida El Roumi. Furthermore, the renowned French architect Jean Nouvel — who also designed the IMA back in the 1980s — plans to construct a bespoke resort called Sharaan, nestled in the rocks of AlUla, an architectural project that is scheduled for completion by 2023.




Hegra Landscape and Tomb. (Supplied)

According to Saudi archeologist and professor Dr. Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, who co-curated “AlUla: Wonder of Arabia,” the initial idea for the exhibition came last year. Seeing it finally come to fruition symbolizes a moment of pride but most importantly, an opportunity to enlighten audiences with a better understanding of the Kingdom’s storied archaeological history.

“For a long time, many foreigners have held a common and stereotypical view of Saudi Arabia as a country depending solely on petrol, which is not true,” the Sorbonne-educated Alsuhaibani told Arab News. “Our country has a historical depth of civilizations (to rival) those found in neighboring areas, whether it be Mesopotamia, Greater Syria or Egypt. What I hope to deliver through this exhibition is the true cultural identity of Saudi Arabia, as it deserves to be viewed.”

A former King Saud University archeology student who dedicated his research to the influential Dadanite kingdom of AlUla, Alsuhaibani fondly recalls the first time he laid eyes on AlUla’s beauty, back in 2005.




Fragment de linceul de transport. (Supplied)

“AlUla means everything to me,” he says. “My personal view is that it represents the past, present, and future. It leaves such a strong impression on you that it is easy to enter AlUla, but difficult to leave.”

Unfolding across two levels of the museum, the exhibition is divided into four sections, granting insight into the past and present of this little-known city. The first section looks into the fertile environment (due to the presence of an oasis) of AlUla, taking visitors through a vivid, multisensory experience.

“AlUla at the moment has many gardens and farms, and I was thinking to myself, ‘How can I transport the visitor to such an environment?’” explains Alsuhaibani. And so, the exhibition’s organizers brought AlUla to IMA, stimulating visitors’ senses of smell, sight, and hearing. Permeating throughout the space is the scent of a French-manufactured perfume, using ingredients of plants that commonly grow in AlUla, including figs, dates, pomegranates, and moringa.

“When I’m asked about what makes AlUla special, I always say it’s where nature meets history,” says Alsuhaibani. To prove this point, the exhibition’s curators brought along the well-known French photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand — who has practiced aerial photography since the 1990s — to document AlUla’s varying sites in a private helicopter, a mission that was completed within a week, according to Alsuhaibani.




Brûle encens. (Supplied)

The results — detailed photographs and videos — are indeed eye-catching: For instance, imagery of Hegra’s massive tombs with decorated facades built by the Nabateans, a nomadic tribe of Arabs who also, famously, established the ‘Rose City’ of Petra in Jordan, is shown alongside bird’s-eye-view videos, with accompanying audio of the area’s serene nature.

The second and third parts of the exhibition showcase around 200 archeological objects extracted from excavations carried out collectively by the Saudi-French Commission and King Saud University at the Dadan, Qurh, and Hegra sites — 95 percent of which are being shown for the very first time. One can see delicate and ancient human and animal sculptures, larger-than-life-size statues, incense burners, plants, coins, inscribed rocks, textiles, old maps, and skeletal human remains.

A subsection of the show presents a selection of sandy toned, inscribed rocks (left behind by inhabitants, traders, and travellers), demonstrating the practice of numerous writing systems including ancient Aramaic, Dadanite, Latin, Greek, and Arabic.




Tantora Wall, Royal Commission for AlUla. (Supplied)

All in all, such a wide array of objects indicates the long history of settlement and development in the region. “If we look at AlUla alone, it is exceptional because it has been inhabited for the past 200,000 years,” says Alsuhaibani. “There aren’t many places in the world that have had a continuous state of habitation like AlUla.”

Acting as a conclusion of sorts, the forth section offers glimpses of life in AlUla today. The area — which is roughly the size of Belgium — is currently home to 643,000 inhabitants. Visitors are able to ‘meet’ AlUla residents of all social classes, ages and professions through interview-style videos, in which the subjects discuss elements of their day-to-day lives.

“It all boils down to the people of AlUla. They are the custodians, who were able protect their beautiful city and heritage,” says Alsuhaibani. “And now they are preparing themselves to welcome visitors and tourists in the future.”

 

 

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine
Updated 18 May 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan condemns ‘unjust’ situation in Palestine

DUBAI: US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has become the latest celebrity to speak out on social media about the current bombardment of Gaza by Israel and the forced evictions faced by Palesntians.

A number of big names have recently expressed their support for families facing eviction from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah while also condemning Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

In an Instagram video, Dubai-based entrepreneur and founder of the Huda Beauty brand, and skincare label Wishful, Kattan said: “I am really annoyed at some of the things that have been happening on some of the social media platforms.

“There have been very unjust things going on in Palestine right now. Hopefully, most of you have been able to experience the opportunity to buy your own home, and I just recently did. I can’t imagine somebody coming into the home that I built and telling me I have to leave and taking it away from me.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

The 37-year-old makeup artist also accused Instagram of hiding or “completely” deleting posts about Palestine. “It is really disappointing, because a lot of these outlets have outwardly said, ‘we are going to allow fake news.’ But they won’t allow us to post or protest?” she added.

“One of the gifts of social media is the equal opportunity to spread news and to spread the things of how we see them. But that’s not actual, it depends on which side you are fighting actually. Because if you are on the wrong side, it will get hidden, or deleted, or nobody is going to see it.

“I know I have a beauty brand and I am not supposed to talk about politics or whatever, but it is unjust, and I want to stand for what’s right whether or not it makes me unpopular,” Kattan said.


Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik
The model joined forces with Paris-based label Antik Batik. Supplied
Updated 18 May 2021

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

Model Elisa Sednaoui Dellal collaborates with French label Antik Batik

DUBAI: French womenswear label Antik Batik has just launched a new collaboration with Part-Egyptian model and activist Elisa Sednaoui Dellal’s nonprofit social enterprise Funtasia, helping children and teenagers obtain access to education geared toward their development.

The Antik Batik x Funtasia capsule collection, which was released this week, includes 11 pieces such as tops, trousers, a fringed jacket, and embroidered dresses, that are meant to be mixed and matched.

“Partnering with @antikbatik_paris is the dream collaboration,” wrote Sednaoui Dellal on Instagram. “#AntikBatik is a brand of integrity that creates handmade items in India. I’ve been their fan, and a client, for over 10 years. It’s been a joy to select my favorite pieces that I have most worn through the years and create what to me is the ideal summer suitcase, that will take you from day to night. Thank you to all of you that have already made a purchase, it blesses my heart.”

Meanwhile, 100 percent of the profits from the collection with the Paris-based brand, founded by Gabriela Cortese in 1992, will be donated to Funtasia, Sednaoui Dellal’s social enterprise.

It’s not the first time the Italy-born beauty, who spent a large portion of her childhood in Cairo, has collaborated with a fashion brand for a good cause.

Sednaoui Dellal, who has walked runways and featured in campaigns for prestigious brands such as Chanel and Roberto Cavalli, is on a constant quest to assist underprivileged youth in achieving their creative potential.

In 2020, the actress teamed up with France-based accessories label Josefina on a capsule collection of 16 leather carryalls, pouches, backpacks and accessories inspired by her Egyptian roots. Much like her most recent collection with Antik Batik, 100 percent of the profits from the collaboration benefited Funtasia.

That same year, she designed a capsule collection with Italian brand Spazio that was composed of black and white T-shirts printed with the words “Respect,” “Diversity,” “Empathy” and “Identity” in Italian.

More recently, the French-Italian-Egyptian philanthropist teamed up with Italy-based coffee roasting company Caffe Vergano in support of Funtasia.


Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care
Updated 18 May 2021

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

JEDDAH: Abeer Khafaji is a Saudi artist who designs and sells luxury jewelry for her brand, Tebr Jewelry. She discovered her love for the craft when she began experimenting with handmade jewelry.

“I began studying jewelry designing. It took several courses to hone my skills. Now I make sure that each piece is made with the utmost care, using the highest quality materials from the best suppliers,” Khafaji told Arab News.

Her jewelry is made with natural diamonds and precious and semi-precious stones that she chooses to match her designs. She also pays special attention to the packaging of her pieces, which is part of the “Tebr experience.” “My biggest challenge was finding manufacturers who could help me convert my ideas to physical products while maintaining the elegance I aim for,” she said. Tebr has participated in numerous local and international jewelry exhibitions. However, the designer said she gets the most joy out of her work when she sees her customers talking about her products and wearing them with pride. “My biggest achievement was opening a Tebr atelier in Jeddah,” she said.

Khafaji explained the process behind her work: “It takes a lot of time and effort to launch a new collection at the right time. We start working on these months in advance. It is a long process to choose stones that are compatible with my designs, so to ensure perfection we make the demos before the pieces are released. Then we arrange photography sessions with the crew, and then comes social media advertising. But thankfully, it’s all worth it in the end.”


Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments
Cult Gaia is a Los Angeles-based label founded by Jasmin Larian. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

DUBAI: Harvey Nichols Kuwait announced this week that they will no longer be stocking Cult Gaia products after the Los Angeles-based brand’s founder, Jasmin Larian, made comments on Instagram that were deemed by many on social media to be “anti-Palestine.”

Her post, which she shared with her 28,200 Instagram followers read: “I am seeing so much misinformation on social… One-sided and spreading hate. Please educate yourself on the full story before reposting. I’m praying for everyone on both sides who are a victim of this violence.” She also reposted a photo depicting the words “I support Israel’s right to defend itself.” 

Many in the region perceived her post as taking an anti-Palestine stance and engaging in “bothsidesism,” and urged local department stores and e-tailers to stop selling Cult Gaia products.  

In response to the backlash her post garnered, Larian, who is Iranian-Jewish, later shared: “I realize I am part of the problem by failing to share both sides.” She added, “I also want to be clear that I am in support of the Palestinian people and their rights but not of the leadership that uses them to incite violence and hatred for Israel and Jews. In a perfect world, Israel should be a place for all people and all religions.” However, a number of retailers have already made the decision to remove Cult Gaia from shelves.

Harvey Nichols in Kuwait took to Instagram on Monday to announce their decision to stop stocking the ready-to-wear label. “Our dear followers, due to the current escalation of events, the decision has been made to remove Cult Gaia from Harvey Nichols,” said the statement.

Galleries Lafayette in Doha followed suit, replying to a user calling for the boycott of the brand in an Instagram direct message that they are “in the process of taking the necessary action.”

Ounass, a leading luxury e-tailer in the region, has also stopped selling Cult Gaia products on its online platform as well as Bloomingdales Middle East.

The death toll in Gaza has climbed to a total of 197, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip this week, at least 1,235 Palestinians have been injured, with the number expected to rise, the health ministry said.


Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear
Updated 17 May 2021

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

DUBAI: While Arab womenswear designers continue to take the international fashion scene and celebrity red carpets by storm, menswear is still a work in progress. Understanding the need to fill the gap in the market, cousins Abla and Raneen Kawar launched ARAK, creating unique designs for men and also shining a spotlight on Arab culture. 

With sustainability and community at the forefront of the brand’s ethos, ARAK is a social enterprise, empowering local women and preserving their fading culture. Here, the duo discusses their label, fusing fashion with technology, and why showcasing Middle East traditions is so important. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

Tell us about the idea behind ARAK.

We launched ARAK (meaning “I see you”) with the aim to preserve our Arab heritage by using artisanal skills and techniques in the production of our pieces, namely cross stitch embroidery. We grew up in a family that values sustainability and caring for the environment, so it’s important for us to carry out those values. 

Why focus on menswear?

We noticed the visible gap in the market, particularly with Arab menswear brands. So, we wanted to fill that gap by incorporating traditional Levantine embroidery through our designs. As part of our sustainability efforts, we only want to offer consumers garments that are not offered in the market today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

You say ‘each garment narrates a wider narrative,’ how so?

Each collection we produce has an overarching narrative, which the designs are inspired by, and then each piece has a hidden narrative to tell – the story of the woman who spent endless hours creating it.                                                                                                                                  

Most of your artisans are underprivileged women in Jordan, why was this important to you?    

Part of ARAK’s ethos is female empowerment. We provide the women with jobs and the opportunity to be financially independent and to help them provide for their children, all from the comfort of their own home. It was important to support these women and destigmatize the taboo around women working in traditionally conservative households.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

How does your relationship work with the local NGO in Jordan?

ARAK works with a local NGO based in Amman, for the production and operation of embroidering the pieces in order to ensure quality and consistency. The local NGO launched in October 2020, aiming to help women build sustainable income as well as build their skills professionally. They work with a not-for-profit academy which offers 100 percent free artisanal courses for members in a bid to continue advancing their skills. We offer the women work with fair wages and ethical working conditions.

ARAK’s designs also fuse tech with tradition, tell us more.               

Today’s world is shifting towards being more tech-dependent. So, it was a no brainer that the initial step we would take as a brand was to implement a woven QR code attached to each garment. Our QR code allows purchasing customers to track how to care for their garment, be introduced to who made it, and identify our transparent practices. We hope to integrate more tech-savvy solutions to our brand in the future.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

What was the inspiration behind your SS21 collection?                     

Re-discovering our country from a new lens, particularly appreciating the little things as well as the beautiful landscapes that we took for granted pre-COVID-19. The designs in this collection, translate the beauty of the Jordanian landscape through embroidery.                              

What’s your opinion on the representation of Middle Eastern talent in the fashion industry?

The region is filled with incredible talent, many that are yet to be discovered. We believe that representation of the Middle East for what it is still has a long way to go to be perceived in the light it deserves. ARAK aims to do that by making sure all our work is supporting local talent, from the production down to the photographers, models and anyone involved in the creative process of our journey.