Young artists take center stage in Saudi exhibition

It is the 6th edition of Athr Gallery’s ‘In The Midst Of It All.’ (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2019

Young artists take center stage in Saudi exhibition

  • Highlights from Athr Gallery’s ‘In The Midst Of It All,’ the sixth edition of its exhibition dedicated to showcasing young talent in the Kingdom

 

‘Emotional Metamorphosis’

Aisha Islam

This year’s Young Saudi Artist showcase at Athr Gallery — which runs until December 31 — features 22 artists based in the Kingdom (selected from over 200 applicants) tackling the theme of social change in the country and Saudi identity. Curator Zahra Dar Bundakji says the gallery called on artists to answer the question: “Who are you, in the midst of it all?”

Al-Dahran-based artist Aisha Islam explored connections between identity and wellbeing in her work — a series of x-rays belonging to her late mother onto which Islam has ‘painted’ patterns in henna. “My mother loved henna, it was very ceremonial for her and made her really happy,” Islam told Arab News at the exhibition launch. “Working on this series was my mourning process — accepting the loss and turning something sad into something happier.”

‘The Capable Machine’

Rajaa Al-Hajj

Al-Hajj is a Sanaa-born sculptor and painter whose work, according to the exhibition brochure, “explores art movements such as surrealism and cubism” and “observes striking resemblances between biology and machinery” while “giving body and form to the intangible elements of existence.”

The striking ceramic sculpture she created for “In The Midst Of It All” is an attempt by the artist to examine the impact that “artificial constructs” including borders and power can have on regular people’s ability to proceed with their daily lives. “She redefines authority as merely a position,” the brochure says. “One that can be changed at any given time.”

‘Architecture Light’ series

Feras Nour

The Jeddah-born photographer was an architecture student and that passion has become his main source of inspiration for his work, and the lens through which he scrutinizes social and cultural issues. “Many of his works started to explore subjects of culturalism, displacement and identity,” the brochure states.

The photographs selected for “In The Midst Of It All,” including this one — “Emergence” — focus on the presence of light and how it can alter people’s environment and perception. “Light is able to transform and awaken a building, an object or a material … and bring it to life by giving emotional depth and character regardless of the intensity of the light source,” the artist’s statement says. “It is an ever-changing and moving presence, a reflection of us.”

‘Nobody Asked For Your Opinion’

Hana Kanee

Kanee is a painter and mixed-media artist born in Jeddah whose landscapes and portraits focus on everyday life in the Kingdom, often depicting the clash between modernization and heritage. “Capturing conflict is a recurrent subject for Kanee, be it through depictions of traditional landscapes in Abha or the changes in the region’s urbanization, the relationships between millennials and the generations preceding them, or the struggle to find balance of identity,” the exhibition brochure says.

The three paintings shown here depict “eye rolls and cringes” and are a commentary on “our being receptors of information, and the lack of control over it by way of various intruding forms of media.”

‘Chanting’ (Performance and video installation)

Ftoon Al-Thaedi

Al-Thaedi, a Riyadh-born “cultural mediator and multidisciplinary artist” contributed a video installation and performance piece to the exhibition. “Chanting” aims to “bridge cultural and generational gaps and shift views, as well as break stereotypes about Saudi youth.”

In her performance, the artist created various forms of henna — leaves, bright-green powder, and the brown or black pastes — and smeared them over herself, using natural material “to create layers of (a) new and redefined identity that sits in between the past and the present.”

‘From Within’

Nasser Al-Shemimry

Al-Shemimry is a Jeddah-based sound artist also known as Desertfish. “He creates lush, sonic, and immersive soundscapes” and “focuses on topics such as the realm of human awareness of time, and aims to create a dialogue about the self in relation to the space it occupies.”

For “In The Midst Of It All,” Al-Shemimry created an audio-visual installation that uses infrared sensors to track viewers’ motion so that when they enter the room, a projection is cast on the wall. The work “highlights our spatial awareness,” according to the exhibition brochure.

‘Fake Persian Carpet’

Ibrahim Romman

The Jeddah-born artist and graphic designer relies heavily on research for his artworks, often using found material to create them. “He explores Arab cultural identity” and “questions the influences between East and West.”

In “Fake Persian Carpet,” Romman used imagery from the daily life of his grandmother, replacing her imported carpets with “a bespoke carpet of his own making.” The work was influenced by Romman’s studies on “Arab aesthetics and impressions of opulence, success and ‘culture,’” with particular focus on “notions of Westernized beauty and style standards, as appropriated by Arabs through travel and as diasporas.”

While all the elements in the work are taken from his grandmother’s life and home in Saudi Arabia — patterns from her furniture, the tiles that create the border — all the objects in her home, the artist realizes, are imported. “Which begs the question: What is Saudi aesthetic identity, and where does it come from?”


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.