Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy
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Updated 22 March 2020

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy
  • In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti to get his take on the unique art form

LONDON: Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art, according to renowned artist Taha Al-Hiti.

In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to the Iraqi artist to get his take on the unique art.

He pointed out that Arabic letters and their forms were very distinctive in the way they were shaped.

“I have found a relationship between all the elements of the letter, which I later found out were linked to the human body and the golden section and all these proportions of beauty, which have just enchanted my eyes since a very young age,” he said.




An example of work by artist Taha Al-Hiti. (Supplied)

Arabic letters, he added, were designed to emulate the human body, animals and nature in general. The “golden section” (also referred to as the golden ratio or mean) appears in geometry, art, architecture and other fields that are designed to make some of the most beautiful shapes.

Several renowned buildings and artworks apply the golden ratio, such as the Parthenon in Greece, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” and the “Mona Lisa,” Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Iran, among others.

Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.” They are referred to as either “the chin, neck, body, or chest of the letter,” and so on and were also grouped into families.




An example of work by artist Taha Al-Hiti. (Supplied)

“For example, the letter Alif (or A in English) in calligraphy is written in a straight, vertical line. But in Arabic calligraphy, it is a straight line leaning slightly forward with a chest that’s protruded forward and the lower part is going backwards, just like the human posture,” he said.

Other examples are the letter Ain (or Aa in English) which takes the form of the eyebrow (or Hajjib in Arabic) and the letter Haa and Kha and Jeem (H, Kh, and J) which are from the same family and are shaped like an ear of a horse.

A graduate of architecture from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, Al-Hiti, was pressured into pursuing a medical degree or one of a scientific nature by his father.

“My dad was a doctor and he suggested I became a doctor, and I said no forget it, I want to be an artist. I thought architecture had got a lot of mathematics and science, as well as arts,” he added. This enabled him to combine his passion for calligraphy and Islamic arts, while also pleasing his family.




Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art. (Supplied)

Al-Hiti was drawing his name and his parents’ before he learnt to read.

“I used to draw the names, not knowing which one was my name or which was my dad’s or being able to read them. I used to just replicate the shapes that I saw, in enchantment of the beautiful letters and then it was always present with me.”

He compared Arabic calligraphy to any other art form. “I suppose, like all sorts of arts or skills, calligraphy predominantly is a skill mixed with a good or variable bit of talent, but it’s a skill like playing the piano or sketching in pencil, these are all skills that you acquire through practice. Calligraphy requires a lot of practice, mixed with the talent and character of the calligrapher.”

He said each calligrapher’s work was based on the teachings of their “master,” ranging from various countries including Iraq, Iran, Morocco, and Andalusia in Spain, which has deep Islamic artistic roots.




Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.”  (Supplied)

“Calligraphy is an art that is inherited by generations that teach it to each other, so you could tell which master or if it was from a Baghdad, Moroccan or Turkish school. All the different calligraphy forms are developed in different nations of the Islamic world,” he added.

Comparing the different types of calligraphy, Al-Hiti said that Arabic calligraphy was always drawn horizontally, as opposed to, for example, Japanese or Chinese calligraphy, which was drawn vertically, and also used different techniques, inks and pens.

However, he said he aspired “to find a modern form of doing calligraphy or compositions” and “started forming vertical letters for mosques’ minarets,” and had done many successful trials, one of them 90 meters high.

“It’s the versatility in breaking the rules and how good you are in breaking those rules and coming up with something new, not necessarily replicating traditional forms, but no harm in sticking to the original rules of calligraphy as well.

“I think it’s changing for the better, there’s more interest, and the proof is this interview, that you want to convey more about this beautiful art to the public, and that is a beautiful thing.

“And the more you look at it, whether you’re an Arab or non-Arab, whether you can read it or not, you will actually find the rhythm in it, you will find the balance, you will find the harmony, you will find the contrast,” Al-Hiti added.

 


Demi Lovato champions Lebanese eyewear label By Karen Wazen

Demi Lovato champions Lebanese eyewear label By Karen Wazen
Updated 23 April 2021

Demi Lovato champions Lebanese eyewear label By Karen Wazen

Demi Lovato champions Lebanese eyewear label By Karen Wazen

DUBAI: American pop star Demi Lovato has been spotted wearing a pair of sunglasses from Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen’s eponymous accessories line By Karen Wazen.

The two-time Grammy nominee opted for the Glamorous shades, a pair of cat-eye-shaped sunglasses in green lenses and a clear frame.

Wazen took to her Instagram to express her excitement with her 5.9 million followers. “The one and only @ddlovato spotted in @bykarenwazen. I love her and feel so happy seeing this (sic),” said the influencer and entrepreneur, who shared a video on her Stories of the 28-year-old “Sorry Not Sorry” singer wearing her shades.

Instagram/ @karenwazen

Dubai-based Wazen launched her debut collection of eyewear in December 2018. The first line of five styles came in acetate and stainless steel and in an array of colors, from neon to tortoiseshell.

Less than a year after the official launch of her brand, her designs were picked up by major e-tailer Farfetch, which became the first online platform to offer her eyewear collection.

Now with a large collection of stylish shades, the label has gained the nod of approval from international celebrities including British-Albanian singer Dua Lipa, reality television star Kourtney Kardashian, French model Cindy Bruna, and American singer Becky G, along with a number of regional influencers and trendsetters such as Lebanese blogger Nathalie Fanj, Lebanese-Canadian actress Cynthia Samuel, and Iraqi influencer Deema Al-Asadi.

It is not the first time that Lovato has championed an Arab designer. In August, she wore a pair of sandals by Jordanian-Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, who is famous for her signature flared heels.


Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?
Updated 23 April 2021

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?

Movie maestros: Who will win this year’s Academy Awards?
  • Arab News assesses the nominees for the major awards in next week’s Oscars

BEST PICTURE

 

The essential, beautiful “Nomadland” is the clear favorite to pick up the Best Picture award this year, and deservedly so. Chloé Zhao’s movie about a middle-aged woman forced to pack up her belongings in a van and travel the States looking for temporary work to make ends meet — and about the ‘tribe’ of van-lifers she meets on the way — is thought-provoking, moving and perfectly formed. It would be a huge shock if it doesn’t win. Among the what must be considered also-rans (although they’re all fine films in their own right), “Sound of Metal” — the story of a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing — would be a great left-field choice, but is surely a rank outsider, as is the excellent “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman in a heartbreaking portrayal of a father and daughter struggling to cope with dementia. The rape-revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” has plenty of buzz about it, the bittersweet, gentle “Minari” is a wonderful movie, and David Fincher’s biographical drama “Mank” is a film about the film industry (and a very good one), which always plays well with the Academy. Another biopic, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is a timely, superbly acted, examination of racial injustice. But if any film is going to pip “Nomadland” to this prize, it will likely be the powerful “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a historical legal drama based on the legal proceedings against a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring a stellar ensemble cast.

OUR PREDICTION: Nomadland

BEST ACTOR

The Academy will surely take the opportunity to posthumously honor Chadwick Boseman, one of the most talented, popular and acclaimed actors of his generation, who died of cancer last year. Fortunately for the voters, Boseman was great in his last role, as cocky jazz trumpeter Levee Green in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Among his fellow nominees, British veterans Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins are both deservedly recognized for their star turns in “Mank” and “The Father” respectively (with Hopkins’ performance just ahead, in our view), while Steven Yeun is selected for his perfectly pitched performance as a frustrated but loving father trying to build a working farm for his family. Perhaps Boseman’s biggest challenge will come from Riz Ahmed who, in “Sound of Metal,” displayed a subtle, nuanced range as well as some serious technical chops — learning to play the drums and ‘speak’ sign language for the movie. You have to expect, though, that Ahmed, like the others, will ultimately lost out to Boseman. And they’re probably fine with that.

OUR PREDICTION: Chadwick Boseman

BEST ACTRESS

This may be one of the hardest categories to call this year, with no clear favorite yet apparent. What is apparent is that all five nominees turned in stellar performances. It could be the category in which “Promising Young Woman” picks up a ‘major’ award — Carey Mulligan is excellent in the lead role, adding nuance and humanity to a character it would have been easy to play at full throttle throughout. Frances McDormand is just wonderful in “Nomadland,” but the role might (deliberately) lack the flashy touches that often grab the Academy’s attention. Viola Davis certainly can’t be accused of that — as the eponymous lead in “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” she dazzles and transfixes with her presence and vocal chops. As does Andra Day in her debut feature film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” turning in an electrifying performance as the eponymous legendary singer. This talent-filled category is rounded out by Vanessa Kirby, recognized by the Academy for her heart-rending, all-too-believable portrayal of a woman who loses her baby at birth in “Pieces of a Woman.”

OUR PREDICTION: Viola Davis

BEST DIRECTOR

For the first time in its 93-year history, the Academy has two female nominees for best director. Could one of them become only the second woman to win the award (following Kathryn Bigelow’s triumph with “The Hurt Locker” in 2009)? We think so. Otherwise, this would be an enormous missed opportunity for the Academy to show that it’s making some effort to move with the times. Chloé Zhao’s fantastic “Nomadland” is, as mentioned, the favorite to win Best Picture, and while that’s no guarantee of landing this award, it certainly doesn’t hurt — and Zhao did an undeniably brilliant job. She deserves to win. The second female nominee is Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” It’s a very of-the-moment piece, and Fennell constructs it brilliantly, but being timely and socially relevant isn’t always a plus with the traditionally conservative Academy. Among the men, David Fincher might be feeling that his time has come. Widely recognized as one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, “Mank” has earned him his third nomination in this category. If anyone can beat Zhao to this year’s prize, it’s probably him. Both Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”) and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) have made great movies, but it would be a big shock if either of them picked up the award this year.

OUR PREDICTION: Chloé Zhao

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

The region’s hopes in this category lie with Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, nominated for her dark satire “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” in which a Syrian refugee desperate for money allows a famous artist to use his skin as a canvas for his latest work. But she faces stiff competition, not least from Best Director nominee Thomas Vinterberg’s meditative comedy-drama “Another Round.” The harrowing Bosnian war drama “Quo Vadis, Aida?” may be the latter’s closest contender, closely followed by Alexander Nanau’s “Collective,” a documentary thriller about a shocking health-care fraud in Romania. Kwok Cheung Tsang’s compelling crime romance “Better Days” is an outsider here.

OUR PREDICTION: “Another Round”

BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

The only other nominee from the Arab world at this year’s Oscars is “The Present,” directed by Farah Nabulsi and telling the story of a man in the West Bank searching for a gift for his wife, accompanied by his young daughter. It’s already picked up a BAFTA and would be a worthy winner. “Feeling Through” — a touching tale of connection between a DeafBlind man and a homeless teen; “The Letter Room” (starring Oscar Isaac); the hyper-timely “Two Distant Strangers,” about a young black man repeatedly confronted and killed by a white NYPD officer, and Israeli contender “White Eye” make this a tough, tough category to win.

OUR PREDICTION: “Two Distant Strangers”


Roka rocks: Dubai’s new Japanese restaurant

Roka rocks: Dubai’s new Japanese restaurant
Updated 23 April 2021

Roka rocks: Dubai’s new Japanese restaurant

Roka rocks: Dubai’s new Japanese restaurant
  • Famed London eatery opens its doors in the Middle East

DUBAI: Roka is the smaller, slightly more casual, sister of renowned Japanese restaurant Zuma. It’s branch in Dubai — housed in a building designed by the acclaimed late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid — is its first in the region, but another is scheduled to open soon in Riyadh.

Its entrance is marked by a white light sign on the gray floor spelling out the restaurant’s name. Simple and stylish. That’s a theme continued inside, where the cold concrete walls and pillars are warmed up by wooden accents and plenty of greenery. The mellow electro beats in the background and the dim lighting all add to the ‘contemporary jungle’ feel of the place — although the stunning views of the downtown skyline are a reminder that you’re in the heart of a city.

The mellow electro beats in the background and the dim lighting all add to the ‘contemporary jungle’ feel of the place. (Supplied)

There are a number of great dishes at Roka, but if you’re only going to order one thing, we would recommend the rosuto bone marrow; combined with the venue’s jungle vibes, you’ll feel like an ancient hunter-gatherer as you feast on this charred, cut bone served with garlic confit, mini miso buns and pickled shallots (admittedly, an upmarket hunter-gatherer). The smoky fattiness of the bone marrow combines perfectly with the creamy subtlety of the confit garlic, complemented by the fresh tang of the shallots. It’s a rare treat.

The age nasu no goma-ae (eggplant with sesame miso) is also excellent — and I speak as someone who doesn’t generally enjoy eggplant. This decadent dish offers a deep palette of flavors, balancing the strong hit of the warm eggplants with the faint sweetness of sesame and savory bonito fish flakes, which also add a welcome crunch to the juicy, tender aubergine.

Roka’s branch in Dubai is housed in a building designed by the acclaimed late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. (Supplied)

One of Roka’s signature dishes — made famous in its London branch — is the kampashi sashimi no salada. And it deserves its reputation: the thin, supple slices of yellowtail sashimi are drenched in a delicious yuzu truffle dressing and garnished with some fresh greens, creating a perfect marriage of raw fish and earthy umami flavor.

The presentation is simple and immaculate. (Supplied)

Roka is a Japanese restaurant, so of course we have to sample the sushi. We opt for the deluxe sashimi platter with tuna, yellowtail shashimi, scallop with green tea and sansho, and torched o-toro nigiri with caviar. The presentation is, once again, simple and immaculate — served up on a big slab of ice on bamboo and wooden plates and accompanied by several palette cleansers. Some of the sushi is stacked on the ice to remain cold, while the rest is presented in a beautiful shell. It is all delicious. Roka also serves fresh wasabi with its sushi, which tastes very different from the store-bought version. It has a mild earthy flavor, with a fleeting hot spicy aftertaste.

One of Roka’s signature dishes — made famous in its London branch — is the kampashi sashimi no salada. (Supplied)

All in all, our meal was superb, including the side dishes. Roka has quickly become one of our favorite spots in Dubai. The laidback, welcoming vibe certainly helps and, considering the top-notch quality of the food, the prices (somewhere between a casual family restaurant and a high-end venue) are reasonable overall.

If you’re in Dubai and fancy a Japanese meal, then Roka would be our number-one recommendation.


THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi photographer Reem Al-Faisal discusses monochromatic series ‘Only the Lonely’

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi photographer Reem Al-Faisal discusses monochromatic series ‘Only the Lonely’
Updated 23 April 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi photographer Reem Al-Faisal discusses monochromatic series ‘Only the Lonely’

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi photographer Reem Al-Faisal discusses monochromatic series ‘Only the Lonely’
  • The Saudi photographer discusses her evocative monochromatic image, recently showcased at Art Dubai through the Riyadh-based Mono Gallery

DUBAI: I’ve been professionally practicing photography for 30 years. It began as a hobby then became something more. Photography, for me, is the most contemporary artistic expression. It very much captures the spirit of the time. It interests me because it’s a mixture between the human element and technology. You are dependent on the machine to use your talent as an artist.

This image was taken in New York in the late Nineties. (Supplied)

I’m looking for people to tell me their stories, not to impose a story on them. I find humanity amazing. People are so diverse but, at the same time, so similar. We all face the same issues: Life, death, sickness, poverty, joy, wealth... This series, “Only the Lonely,” is from many other different projects I worked on all over the world. It’s about loneliness in the modern world, loneliness in a crowd. The title is inspired by the Roy Orbison song. He sings: “Only the lonely/Know the way I feel tonight.” When I take these images of lonely people in big cities, I don’t know why but this song always plays in my mind.

In a way, this image symbolizes this lonely person wondering “Do other people know what I feel?” It was taken in New York in the late Nineties. As usual, I was going out walking a lot. And this man happened to be there at the end of the day, cleaning in front of a shop. None of my pictures are staged — I don’t photograph with flash or tripods. My camera is part of my hand.

In France, they call photographers ‘chasseurs d’images’ — hunters of images. That’s what we do: We hunt down images. It’s difficult to explain. You just sense something and you take a picture. It’s usually a split second that symbolizes something that might take pages and pages of written words to explain. One of the reasons why I deal with black-and-white photography is because I’m dealing with metaphysical meanings and philosophy. The black-and-white encourages the viewer to disassociate with the physical world and look beyond it, into the spiritual.


What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed

What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed
Updated 23 April 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed

What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed

Taleed is a Saudi brand of natural healing soaps. Its products are free of chemicals and harmful additives.
Inspired by a love of nature, Taleed is an Arabic name that means “inherited from ancestors,” which reflects the concept of the brand.
The company produces 30 soaps made of natural and organic ingredients including herbs, oils, petals, seeds, and grains that are free of artificial coloring.
Body soaps by Taleed are suitable for all skin types, as they are vegan-friendly and an ideal option for people with sensitive skin. 
They also can be used for the face and hair, and are safe for children and pregnant women.
Each soap has a specific natural element, and customers can pick soaps that suit them best. 
One of the most interesting options is the black musk soap, it has a powdery, musky natural note that will make you feel fresh and clean, removing unwanted bacteria on your skin.
Unlike other soaps on the market, the brand makes sure to apply pure glycerin that is free of alcohol, fragrances, or other chemical ingredients that could irritate sensitive skin.
Taleed offers delivery services for all regions of Saudi Arabia. For more information visit Instagram @_taleed.