Marrakech show highlights its role as art capital

Marrakech show highlights its role as art capital
Amina Benbouchta’s ‘Eternel retour du désir amoureux’ (2019). (Supplied)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Marrakech show highlights its role as art capital

Marrakech show highlights its role as art capital

DUBAI: A gigantic installation composed of a wood-and-sheet metal framework onto which have been placed dozens of metal barrels and variously sized plastic bottles is stationed on the ground floor atrium of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al-Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech. Titled Lluvia (Rain) (2019) by Colombian artist Daniel Otero Torres, the work acts like a waterfall with water travelling across the structure until it fills up the basin from which it emerges. It stems from the artist’s encounter with the Emberá community, on the banks of the Atrato River, where he was studying their system for recycling rainwater.  Torres’ work is a meditative reflection on one of the world’s principal concerns: The scarcity of basic needs.




The white and raw sugar installation at Lugar a dudas, Colombia is by Felipe Arturo and Tropico Entropico. (Supplied)

This strange fountain is the first work you encounter as you enter “Have You Seen A Horizon Lately?” the museum’s latest exhibition curated by Marie-Ann Yemsi, exploring a collection of stories by a global group of artists hailing from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America investigating subject matter related to post-colonialism, feminist discourse, the environment and gender. The exhibition’s title bears the same name as a song by activist-artist Yoko Ono and illustrates participating artists’ reactions to the increasingly precarious socioeconomic conditions of today’s world. Featured artists include Brazilian Maxwell Alexandre, Emirati Farah Al-Qasimi, Columbian Felipe Arturo, Moroccan Amina Benbouchta, French Gaëlle Choisne, Nigerian Rahima Gambo, Japanese Akira IKezoe, Angolan Kiluanji Kia Henda and French-Canadian Kapwani Kiwanga.




The installation on manila paper is by Maxwell Alexandre. (Supplied)

At the helm of MACAAL are Moroccan art collectors and father-and-son duo Alami Lazraq and his son Othman Lazraq, who serves as the museum’s president. It celebrated its soft opening in 2016 and officially opened to global audiences in February 2018 alongside the inaugural Marrakech edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair of which it continues to be associated. “For Marrakech’s growth within the international art scene, these interactions must continue to be realized,” said Othman.

“We have done eight exhibitions at MACAAL and all of them were international shows, but this one in particular was important as it allows the museum to reinforce its position as a global museum where the dialogue engaged goes beyond the African continent and its diaspora,” he added.  “In the exhibition are works by brilliant artists from Africa, such as homegrown Amina Benbouchta and Rahima Gambo, yet presented alongside equally talented peers from further afield. We want the artworks to transcend national borders.”




This installation is by French artist Gaëlle Choisne. (Supplied)

All works, spanning the mediums of photography, painting, and large-scale multimedia installation, respond to predictions of the world’s imminent collapse with the belief that new realities can be nurtured through collective transformation.

Many of the artworks on display use their surrounding environment and society as a starting point. For example, in the vibrant work of Brazilian painter Maxwell Alexandre’s installation of drawings, Afro-Brazilian figures dressed in urban fashion, rap, dance, and convene in the streets of Rocinha, Latin America’s largest favela, located in the artist’s hometown of Rio de Janeiro. His works, displayed on the walls, tables and aligning the staircase as one walks to the second floor, are found on a vibrant yellow mustard paper. The figures seem to pulsate before the viewer with the rhythm and power of daily life found on the streets of Brazil. Through his figures Alexandre refers to oppression and discrimination through scenes of confrontation by appropriating popular figures from black culture, such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z or superheroes like Black Ranger and Misty Knight.

Upstairs is a gigantic in-situ installation covering one of the gallery floors made of white and brown sugar by Colombian artist Felipe Arturo. The sugar can be smelled from the stairways and grows stronger as one approaches the work. Displayed for the first time in 2013 in Cali, Colombia, the work, entitled Trópico Entrópico, is at once fragile and powerful in its message. Arturo took inspiration from the pattern of a black and white mosaic created during the 19th century to evoke what is called “The Meeting of Waters,” the confluence between the dark Rio Negro and the pale sandy-colored Amazon River, which flow side by side for six kilometers without mixing. The meeting of the two rivers has become in a metaphor for cultural assimilation brought forth by colonialism. The work is thus an effort to conjure up the idea of “the colonization of the American continent as a slow process of cultural entropy.”

The viewer is then led into another adjacent gallery space via the sound of woman’s voice whispering soft indecipherable phrases — once again the interactive qualities of the works in the show lure one from one space to the next. Amina Benbouchta’s installation Éternel Retour du

désir amoureux (Eternal Return of Desire) (2019) oscillates between the world of dreams and the unconscious, the real and the imaginary. The work comprises a wooden bed made in an Art Deco style above which hang playful neon forms of a chair, heart, cloud and unforgettable high-heeled shoes, similar the appearance of a child’s mobile. The sound piece that accompanies the work is the voice of a woman speaking of feminine desire and the fantasies and taboos of Moroccan society. There’s something endearing and slightly fearful about the piece — it prompts the viewer to stay with it as if waiting for a human being to appear. No one arrives. We are left with the voices, the whispers and the empty bed dispelling thoughts related to the unspoken feelings of frustration, excitement and longing.

Downstairs is Kapwani Kiwanga’s moving work Flowers for Africa (2013-ongoing) that reveals bouquets of flowers on variously sized pedestals. The long-term project explores colonial histories and draws on the iconographic archives of independence ceremonies in African nations to reactivate floral arrangements that at one time served as décor for important events. Through the work Kiwanga intends to pay tribute to the struggles for independence that gripped the African continent over the course of the 20th century.

The exhibition ends on a powerful note with the work from whence it takes its title. HAVE YOU SEEN A HORIZON LATELY? appears on a giant billboard outside of MACAAL. Stationed in the grass, the work takes its name from the title of a song from Yoko Ono’s 1973 album “Approximately Infinite Universe.” It recalls the artist’s peace campaigns, like War is Over (If You Want It), that were launched in 1969 in twelve cities around the world with John Lennon.

Ono’s conceptual work resonates as much today as it did so many decades ago. It is inspired by the deep desire to obtain a higher state of consciousness through art. As Ono has stated: “What art can offer…is an absence of complexity, a vacuum through which you are led to a state of complete relaxation of mind.”

Have You Seen A Horizon Lately? runs until July 19, 2020, at MACAAL.  You can find more information at macaal.org.


Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

DUBAI: The 18th edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), themed “The Future Starts Now,” kicked off on Tuesday, and to celebrate the launch of its Ramadan series, Saudi singer Marwan Fagi opened up the event with a virtual performance. 

The singer, who hails from Makkah, performed “Ateehu Fika” (Lost in You), a song he composed based on a poem by Lebanese poet Nada El-Hage, with music by Saudi musician Rami Basahih.

Composer, soprano and academic Hiba Al-Kawas produced and conducted the show and mentored Fagi, weaving together the singer’s natural high tones and soothing low tones. 

Fagi was accompanied by members of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was streamed online on ADF’s digital platforms.

Members of the orchestra recorded the melody in the National Museum of Lebanon in Beirut, while Fagi recorded his voice in Al-Tayebat International City of Science and Knowledge, an Islamic heritage museum in Jeddah.

Fagi said in a released statement: “Being part of Abu Dhabi Festival is a great opportunity for me, given its cultural status on local, regional and global levels and its unique multicultural message of acceptance and openness, which positively serves the music industry in the Arab world. My current experience with ADF is unique and special because it is liberating from all traditional musical restrictions.”

The Ramadan series, titled “Human Fraternity: Dignity and Hope,” includes digital performances of over 25 songs and chants by Arab vocalists and creators, written by 11 poets and writers and performed by eight chanters and singers who are accompanied by 60 musicians.


‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan
‘Promising Young Woman’ has been nominated for a number of Oscars. Supplied
Updated 21 April 2021

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

CHENNAI: Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Penned by Fennell herself, it is Carey Mulligan’s work all the way, and she gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Ohio-based Cassandra Thomas.

A medical school dropout, Cassandra is 30 with no boyfriend and no real friends, much to the anxiety of her doting parents. Of course, there is a reason for this. Years ago, her med-school classmate. Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), sexually assaulted her best friend, Nina Fisher. A corrupt lawyer and the school’s uncaring administration let Monroe off and left him not feeling the faintest sense of remorse. Cassandra, a promising student, dropped out and withdrew from social life.

Against this backdrop, which is gradually revealed in the nearly two-hour movie, we watch Cassandra make a weekly trip to a bar until a “friendly” male attempts to take advantage of her inebriated state, before she reveals she is in perfect control of her faculties, having pretended to be tipsy to lull predators into a false sense of security.

The plot is extremely gripping. We watch with trepidation as Cassandra challenges men, who on the surface seem so jovial, friendly and highbrow — the ultimate “nice guys” — until the moment of reckoning, when they fail to do the right thing.

Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories. Supplied

Cassandra’s life of solitude is upended, however, when she re-connects with Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), an old classmate who finds a chink in her armor. The pair does have genuine chemistry — enough for a whole film on them.

“Promising Young Woman” is not about their romance, however. It is about Cassandra, it is about Mulligan, and audiences will be amazed to see her comic side in a film on such dark subject matter — it is a mesmeric performance.

The soundtrack is moody and meaningful — songs like “It’s Rainin’ Men” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” fill the air, as well as Paris Hilton’s cheery pop numbers that are foot-tapping but jarring.


UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards
Updated 21 April 2021

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil, who is of Indian-Pakistani decent, is set to host the 25th edition of the Webby Awards, organizers announced this week. 

The event will be held virtually and winners will be announced on May 18. 

South Korean band BTS, US singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and rapper Cardi B are among a long list of nominees for the 2021 Webby Awards. 

The nominations also include Trevor Noah, Jennifer Garner, Kevin Bacon, Shaquille O'Neal, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Lawrence, James Corden, LeBron James, Stephen Colbert, Chris Evans, John Mayer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The awards show, which was founded in 1996, celebrates excellence on the Internet, including websites, media and public relations, advertising, video, apps, mobile and voice, social, podcasts and games.


From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label
Updated 21 April 2021

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

DUBAI: A Cairo-born jewelry brand that has been running since 1923 must have quite a story to tell, with plenty of insight for up-and-coming designers to learn from.

Egyptian label El Baz Jewelry is a family business that has been on the market for almost a century, fueled by its evolving artistic vision and mastery of the complex art of jewelry making. 

Youssef El-Baz, one of the owners of the brand, spoke with Arab News about how jewelry design in the region has changed over the past 100 years and why he believes El Baz has endured, as well as the launch of his own brands, one of which he kickstarted in Barcelona. 

“In the past, people were keen on buying jewelry that… was chosen based on the material and the resale value, with little attention to the design,” said El-Baz.

“Today… the customers who want to buy jewelry are (more interested in) the design (rather) than the material,” he added.

However, the designer, who founded two other labels – Grace Jewelry and B Jewelry – believes some things in the industry will never change. 

“I believe what will never change about jewelry is the sentimental value it holds, like inheritance and the idea of passing on jewelry through generations,” he said.  “People hold their loved ones forever (by) wearing and keeping their (designs).”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

When it comes to the brand’s longevity, El-Baz shared his thoughts on why the label has lasted.

“In jewelry, people are always looking for authenticity or people are always looking for high quality, because they are buying something precious … and taste for sure. If the brand is not developing and adapting to the different tastes that change during the years it will die out,” explained El-Baz.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

On that note, in 2019, El-Baz launched his own brand, B Jewelry, during a spell in Barcelona and quickly followed it up with the launch of Grace Jewelry in 2020.

“I wanted to create a jewelry brand that was socially responsible. I felt like Grace can be the beginning of a change in an industry where people start brands that are environmentally aware through their designs, manufacturing and packaging.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by B Jewelry (@bjewelryworld)

El-Baz got the inspiration to open the Cairo-based label Grace when he was in Milan.

“We have a complete collection called For A Better Tomorrow, (where) every design is dedicated toward a good cause. We donate 10 percent of the sales toward a good cause.” 

El-Baz ships worldwide for all three brands. 


Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini
Syrian refugees and swimmers Yusra and Sarah Mardini pose for photographers with the trophy at the Bambi awards on Nov 17, 2016 in Berlin. AFP
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

DUBAI: Netflix has announced that it has teamed up with Egyptian-Welsh director and screenwriter Sally El-Hosaini on a new film titled “The Swimmers,” based on the true story of Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians Sarah and Yusra Mardini.

The film tells the story of the two sisters and competitive swimmers and their miraculous journey as refugees from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Yusra competed as a swimmer as part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROT).

Lebanese actresses, and real-life sisters, Manal and Nathalie Issa will portray Yusra and Sarah Mardini in the upcoming movie.

They will be joined by Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, Syrian actress Kinda Alloush and “The Good Karma Hospital” star James Krishna Floyd, who starred in El-Hosaini’s last film “My Brother the Devil,” which won the World Cinema Cinematography at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  

Rounding out the cast are German actor Matthias Schweighöfer and YouTube star Elmi Rashid Elmi.

The forthcoming film will be produced by Working Title’s Eric and Tim Bevan, Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole. Stephen Daldry is the executive producer.

“The Swimmers” is set to begin production this week, shooting in the UK, Turkey and Belgium.

It is slated for global release on Netflix in 2022.