The life of luxury at Louvre Abu Dhabi

The museum’s latest exhibition explores 10 millennia of opulence. (Getty)
Updated 15 November 2019

The life of luxury at Louvre Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: “10,000 Years of Luxury” — the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s eighth and latest exhibition — sheds light on how the multidimensional notion of luxury transformed overtime, from the ancient to the modern era, stretching from the Americas to the Far East. It runs until February 18.

Based on a universal theme that is being explored on a grand scale for the first time in the Middle East, it is a fascinating presentation of 350 sumptuous items of art, jewelry, fashion, tableware, and furniture, all on loan from renowned international museums, design and fashion houses, including the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“In today’s world, luxury is, of course, everywhere,” Olivier Gabet, the director of Paris’ Musée des Arts décoratifs and the exhibition’s curator, said during a press preview. “I saw luxury when I left Paris yesterday and I saw luxury when I arrived in Abu Dhabi yesterday, as well. It’s a notion that shapes our world. I think that museums are always about knowledge, enjoyment, sharing — but also giving people clues to understand the world they live in.”

Olivier Gabet is the director of Paris’ Musée des Arts décoratifs and the exhibition’s curator. (Getty)

As the exhibition proves, the beauty of luxury lies in its contrasting nature. It represents different things to different people. It can be miniscule and monumental, simple and elaborate, tangible and abstract, personal and public. Above all, it is an emblem of sophistication, exclusivity, connoisseurship, and the highest level of craftsmanship.

A “dialogue between civilizations” is how the curator describes the contents of the show, which is spread across 12 rooms. Naturally, given the region’s rich history in the production of diverse forms of art, many of the showcased objects — particularly the older ones — hail from the Middle East.

In fact, as soon as one enters the dimly lit show, a glimpse of Abu Dhabi’s history is on view through an exciting recent find on Abu Dhabi’s Marwah Island  — the world’s oldest pearl. It is 8,000 years old and less than one centimeter in size. Pearl diving was a dangerous but lucrative trade, which was a mainstay of the UAE’s economy, pre-oil. Aside from its rarity, the size of the pale pink beauty is what makes it precious. As Gabet aptly put it: “Small is beautiful, always.”

Gabet made note of an elegant silk cape from 1989 created by the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. (Supplied)

Next to the tiny pearl is a bedazzling, nine-strand, Indian-designed pearl necklace from the late 1800s, formerly belonging to the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. The story goes that the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, gifted this piece of jewelry to the singer when she visited the Emirates in the early 1970s.

From Greater Syria, there is a beautiful selection of ancient earrings, pendants, bands, and pearls — extracted from the coastal city of Ugarit (known today as Ras Shamra), which was a hotspot for metallurgy during ancient times. These little scraps of gold — a material regarded as the ‘flesh of the Gods’ in the eyes of the Ancient Egyptians — represent what is known as ‘funerary jewelry,’ which was likely placed in tombs to accompany the deceased to the afterlife.  

The dexterous artisans of Egypt were famed for their refined skills in the visual and textile arts, and the exhibition includes a massive Mamluk wool carpet from the late 15th century, embellished with intricate geometric patterns. In another room, a voluptuous enameled mosque lamp is inscribed with a dedication to the Mamluk ruler Sultan Baybars II, who likely commissioned the piece.

The Indian-designed pearl necklace from the late 1800s formerly belonged to the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. (Supplied)

In the more-modern sections of the exhibition, haute couture becomes dominant, with dresses from the popular Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz, and Tunisia’s Azzedine Alaia on display.

Gabet made note of an elegant silk cape from 1989, created by the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, which, Gabet claimed, was inspired by the Algerian-born designer's visits to Morocco. On its back is sewn a fluttering layer of small, purple and red pieces of ribbed fabric — reminiscent of the boisterous bougainvillea flowers found in the streets of Morocco.  

“Behind these important names, you have thousands and thousands of people working every day to master a craft or a skill,” said Gabet. “I think that this exhibition is not just about the superficial ideas people have about luxury, but also an homage to human creativity.”

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

Zain Al-Rafeea spoke to Arab News about his role in ‘The Eternals.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2020

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

LOS ANGELES: A child is forced to leave home to escape a terrible fate. Growing up in a strange land, he develops a special talent and achieves greatness.

It is a familiar story that could describe the lives of a host of superheroes. But it also applies to refugee and actor Zain Al-Rafeea, and his courageous journey from Syria to stardom.

Al-Rafeea was born in 2004. His family fled the Syrian conflict when he was eight, moving to Lebanon, where they were forced to find shelter in the slums of Beirut.

“Unfortunately, refugees face harsh conditions in Lebanon because the country has so many of them,” Al-Rafeea told Arab News. “I never thought I would be an actor or a famous person. I just dreamt of being safe with my family and that nothing bad would happen to them. I was focusing on making money to support my parents.”

In late 2017, Al-Rafeea’s life was changed by a chance encounter with Jennifer Haddad, casting director and collaborator of acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki.

“I was in the street with a group of friends. I saw Jennifer, and she asked me if I would like to act. My first reaction was like ‘OK, I have no problem with that.’ She took a video of me, sent it to Nadine and things went on from there.”

Labaki cast Al-Rafeea as the lead in her 2018 drama “Capernaum.” The film was a hit, and the young actor’s performance was lauded by both audiences and critics.

“I did not imagine in my wildest dreams that I have such an international success,” Al-Rafeea said. “I just thought of it as an acting experience, but things went in a much better direction.”

In November, it was announced that Al-Rafeea will join the cast of Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals.” The film tells the story of a race of immortal aliens who lived on Earth in secret, and features A-list stars such as Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.

“The introduction happened through Nadine. Directors and producers from Hollywood talked to her and she put us in touch,” Al-Rafeea said.

The actor met his fellow cast members on the Canary Islands during the early stages of filming. “They were nice and their welcome to me was very sweet,” he said. “They invited me for lunch and we chatted for hours, I felt so happy.

“When we finished the first day’s shooting, Salma Hayek came up and hugged me. That night she gave me an iPad and iPhone, and we chatted and listened to music together.”

The teenage star couldn’t reveal much about his role in “The Eternals,” only that he joins the alien heroes as a human who can speak a mysterious 7,000-year-old language.

Life in the Beirut slums is a thing of the past for the Al-Rafeea family. With their son’s success, they were able to relocate to Norway.

“It is a perfect country, the people are so calm, and there are no fights or even traffic. Having water and electricity all the time is a great thing.” While he is excited about his new home, Al-Rafeea has not forgotten his friends, family and the home he left behind in Syria.

“Work hard for nothing is impossible — look what happened to me,” Al-Rafeea said in a message to children facing situations like the one he endured. “Simply dream big.”

“The Eternals” is due to be released in the US on Nov. 6, 2020. A Middle Eastern premiere date is yet to be announced.