Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al-Salem’s modern take on Islamic art

Al-Salem is one of 10 contemporary artists awarded the Al-Burda Endowment in 2018. (Supplied)
Updated 06 November 2019

Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al-Salem’s modern take on Islamic art

DUBAI: Jeddah-based Saudi artist Nasser Al-Salem has revealed his latest project, which will be showcased in the UAE’s Al-Burda Endowment exhibition — organized by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development — on Nov. 21.

Al-Salem is one of 10 contemporary artists awarded the Al-Burda Endowment in 2018. The endowment is awarded to “artists who explore Islamic art practices and continue to work towards developing contemporary Islamic Art,” according to a press release.




Al-Salem's latest project will be showcased in the UAE’s Al-Burda Endowment exhibition. (Supplied)

That is something Al-Salem has a history of doing, dating back to his time studying at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Makkah. In 2010, Al-Salem came second in Saudi Arabia’s National Calligraphy competition. He is also a member of the National Guild of Calligraphers and an active member of Saudi Arabia’s Arts and Culture Group.

His work in general incorporates modern design elements (he has a background in architecture) with traditional calligraphy and Islamic geometry, often referencing verses from the Qur’an. He has been hailed as “pushing the boundaries of Islamic calligraphy” for his habit of using mixed-media platforms to present his work.




In 2010, Al-Salem came second in Saudi Arabia’s National Calligraphy competition. (Supplied)

For the Al-Burda exhibition, Al-Salem has created an installation of a room with green walls (a reference to the green screens used to insert special effects into movies) with Arabic text written on them — a quote from the hadith, “Ma la aynon raat,” which translates as “Like never seen before,” according to Al-Salem.

“The idea (behind the) green-screen room is that every (filmmaker) can create a scene, then edit the picture and add backgrounds that are sometimes surreal or difficult to achieve in real life,” Al-Salem told Arab News. “Every one of us has different expectations of heaven, and I tried to translate this idea in the project. When you are in the room, you will not only see one perspective of the project, you can also spin around to see other perspectives of the work… and this translates the idea of ‘Like Never Seen Before.’ There isn't one clear image you can see from one corner of the room, just like there isn't one perspective or one picture through which we can imagine heaven.”


Lebanese luxury soap brand sees boost in sales amid pandemic

Updated 27 May 2020

Lebanese luxury soap brand sees boost in sales amid pandemic

DUBAI: In 1999, Syrian-Palestinian fragrance connoisseur Hana Debs Akkari pursued her passion project in Lebanon by founding a sophisticated soap company called “Senteurs d’Orient,” or “Fragrances of the East” in French.

Akkari envisioned that her handcrafted soaps would symbolize the beloved floral essences of the Middle East, particularly the Levant, which is reportedly the world’s oldest soap-making region.

With the pandemic caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Akkari’s small, family-run luxury soap business has witnessed an increased demand in their natural products nearly twenty years since its founding.

Portrait of Sarah Akkari, CEO of Senteurs d’Orient. (Supplied)

“Since the pandemic was declared, we saw a spike in our online sales,” said Lebanese-Canadian and New Yorked-based Sarah Akkari, Hana’s daughter and CEO of Senteurs d’Orient, to Arab News. “People are washing their hands more often, and their hands are becoming drier as a consequence. So, they’re also looking for a natural soap, such as the ones we offer. Our antibacterial soaps are packed with different nourishing ingredients like glycerin, Shea butter and Vitamin E.”

Operating from Lebanon, Senteurs d’Orient’s factory is run by a diligent team of chemists and artisans, many of whom are women as female education and empowerment in the workforce is at the heart of the company’s ethos.

Engraving soaps at the Lebanon factory. (Supplied)

After mixing the chemical-free ingredients by hand, the soaps are air-dried for 10 ten days and later machine-molded and carefully hand-wrapped. True to the company’s name, the delicate floral scents of gardenia, jasmine, tuberose, and rose of Damascus draw their inspiration from eastern gardens.

To show support for the selfless medical workers, some of whom reached out to Akkari and expressed interest in Senteurs d’Orient’s soaps, she recently donated nearly 500 packages to doctors and nurses from four American hospitals — two in Los Angeles, one in New York and another in New Jersey.

Each package is an ‘Oriental Trio Box’, containing three bars of soap, the shapes and engravings of which are inspired by the decoration of ‘maamoul’, the Levant region’s quintessential pastry.

“When you’re facing this type of crisis and you’re receiving emails from doctors and nurses or anyone on the frontlines, it’s a not a request you can reject,” explained the 32-year-old entrepreneur. “It’s something that we really wanted to be part of and it brought us much satisfaction knowing we could contribute in this way.”

The company has expanded its international presence and line of therapeutic products, creating bath salts, multi-purpose oils and thinly sliced, single-use soap leaves. (Supplied)

Under the leadership of Akkari, the company has expanded its international presence and line of therapeutic products, creating Mediterranean orange blossom bath salts, multi-purpose oils and thinly sliced, single-use soap leaves of amber and tea flower.

It is the authenticity of Senteurs d’Orient’s products that Akkari hopes will come through.

“You feel the fragrance is coming straight from the flower,” she said.