Under the hammer: Contemporary art from the Arab world

Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri created this 1953 painting in Moscow. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 March 2020

Under the hammer: Contemporary art from the Arab world

  • Highlights from Sotheby’s “20th Century Art/Middle East” auction, scheduled for March 24

‘Piraeus at Dawn’

Mahmoud Said

Sotheby’s is billing this 1949 depiction of a Greek port in the early morning by the Alexandrian painter — widely regarded as the founder of Egypt’s modern-art movement — as the highlight of this auction. It is expected to fetch close to half-a-million dollars. “An otherworldly stillness emanates from the work,” the brochure says, “as Said maintains a harmonious balance between the various elements of the composition and bestows his signature grandeur on the scene. He picked dawn as the time of day for this painting to emphasize the beauty and grandeur of the sea, mountains and trees. He gracefully expressed the nature of the place and its magic as he saw it, producing a glorious landscape.”



The work of acclaimed Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine was reportedly the influence for Picasso’s series of paintings called “Women of Algeria.” Baya was self-taught — she was orphaned aged five and did not attend school — and her art is often described as “naïve,” “surrealist,” and “primitive.” She was certainly heavily influenced by the traditional tribal art of her homeland, but also by Picasso’s own techniques (she was invited to work with him in 1948). “Picasso nurtured Baya’s aesthetic — particularly her use of color and line, while Baya’s cultural vitality served as creative lifeblood for Picasso,” according to Sotheby’s. This piece, from 1990, is expected to fetch between $10-15,000 at auction.


Naim Ismail

Ismail — like his older brother Adham — is one of Syria’s most significant painters and, according to Barjeel Art Foundation, “contributed to a movement in Syria to cultivate a sense of national consciousness through visual culture.” His works often contains influences from Islam, particularly geometric patterns, and are often depictions of everyday life in his homeland. This work from 1960 is expected to fetch up to $22,000 at auction.

“A Family of Farmers”

Mahmoud Sabri

The Iraqi artist actually created this 1953 painting in Moscow. It is one of many of his works to highlight the hardships faced by the working class and the dispossessed. “Sabri came of age during far-reaching social and economic changes in Iraq, committed to depicting the realities of persistent poverty and social injustice yet with an underlying message of hope and a shared responsibility to transform society,” Sotheby’s writes. “A Family of Farmers” is expected to fetch between $120-185,000 at auction.


Hassan Hajjaj

A typical image from the Moroccan artist’s dazzling portfolio, “Hindiii” is a portrait of singer, actress and artist Hindi Zahra. As Hajjaj told Arab News last year, many of his subjects are of “friends and friends of friends who have some kind of talent that is inspiring to me. They’re not mainstream … but somebody who has something.” Zahra said of Hajjaj: “We have different visions but we have a love of Morocco in common. I love this guy because he really pushed people to express themselves... He told me I had to take my drawings seriously and really pushed me into painting, so I'm grateful.”

‘The Well’

Laila Shawa

The Palestinian artist created this oil painting in Beirut in 1967, not long after the June War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria. “Beneath the disc of a searing sun — a visual element recurring throughout Shawa’s oeuvre — three exhausted women in traditional garb with water urns, the diminutive well of the title and a bulky, masculine mosque, are strewn across the picture plane,” the catalogue notes state. “The Well” is expected to fetch up to $30,000 at auction.

‘My Bed, Fifi Abdou’ 

Youssef Nabil

The Egyptian artist-photographer has spent much of his career creating intimate portraits of celebrities. He is influenced by the golden age of Egyptian cinema from his youth, and his photographs recall, as his gallery bio from The Third Line puts it, “evoke the deliciously outmoded feel of the photo-novels that accompanied cinema at the time and highlight the extraordinary character of his models…” This portrait, taken in 2000, is of Egyptian actress and belly dancer Fifi Abdou and is expected to fetch between $5,000 and $7,400 at auction.

Startup of the Week: Jawa 7alawa, a cruelty-free makeup brand

Updated 04 August 2020

Startup of the Week: Jawa 7alawa, a cruelty-free makeup brand

  • Jawa 7alawa will continue to launch more makeup products in the coming months

With the plethora of make-up brands introduced onto the market over the past few years and a growing public awareness regarding the controversial testing of products on animals, young startup brands are increasingly incorporating a cruelty-free approach into their ethos.
Jawa 7alawa, a Saudi cruelty-free makeup brand launched last month, is the brainchild of social media influencer Rahaf Jambi.
The name ‘Jawa 7alawa’ is Hejazi slang used to compliment girls of Javanese descent — ‘Jawa’ being a term used to refer to Javanese people and ‘7alawa’ meaning sweets or candy. The number 7 is used in Arabized English to substitute a pharyngeal letter nonexistent in English.
Jambi has launched three items: The faux-mink Rahaf and Hatoon Lashes, and an eyeliner pen that acts as an adhesive glue and that also contains magnetic properties for those who wish to use magnetic clip-on lashes. 
The lash sets were inspired by Jambi and her sisters —  Rahaf, Hatoon, Jumana, Hams and Kenda — representing each of their respective personalities.
Rahaf Lashes are bold, dramatic and daring, while Hatoon Lashes are described as soft and sophisticated.
Jambi started developing the brand during quarantine, when she felt that she finally had the time to realize her goals.
“I’ve always wanted to create something for myself. I used to continuously postpone this idea, but during the quarantine, I felt like I had the time to sit and think and actually get something out of this pandemic,” she told Arab News.
At the heart of Jambi’s brand is a desire to shed light on animal rights and environmental sustainability.
“Whenever I try to buy lashes, they always turn out to be mink lashes. It’s not cruelty-free, and it’s against my values. I wanted to achieve the same sort of high-quality lashes, which feel like mink lashes, without using cruel practices.”
“One percent of the profits will go to animal charity organizations. You’re not only buying, you’re giving back,” she added.
The lash containers are candy-shaped and are sustainable as well.
“One of my brand’s main values is sustainability. It is a pretty container that can be used well after the lashes are gone, instead of just being thrown away,” she said.
The brand stressed the importance of including all types of eye shapes so that no woman has to struggle to find the perfect lashes.
“I have hooded eyes, a common Asian characteristic. It’s hard for me to find something that’s of good quality and that I actually like and can use multiple times. There is usually only one type that suits hooded eyes, but with Jawa 7alawa, I created a wide variety of lashes to suit every shape and style,” Jambi said.
She added: “The materials used are soft, luxurious and of high quality. I wanted to add something new to the market.”
Jambi has experienced cyberbullying as a social media influencer interested in beauty.
“I’ve been told my features weren’t pure Saudi and comments of that sort. I’ve even heard comments from people saying I wasn’t proud of my roots. I feel like I took something I was insecure about and I turned it into something powerful,” she said.
 Jawa 7alawa will continue to launch more makeup products in the coming months. Keep up with the Saudi brand on Instagram (@Jawa7alawa).