Inside New York’s historical community of Arab immigrants, Little Syria

Inside New York’s historical community of Arab immigrants, Little Syria
Sara Ouhaddou is a Paris- and Rabat-based artist. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 April 2020

Inside New York’s historical community of Arab immigrants, Little Syria

Inside New York’s historical community of Arab immigrants, Little Syria
  • The neighborhood was once home to a thriving community of Arab immigrants

DUBAI: In the early 20th century, New York City’s Lower Manhattan area was home to a thriving community known as Little Syria (aka ‘The Syrian Quarter’ and ‘The Mother Colony’). This enclave of Arabic-speaking immigrants traveled by ship from the Ottoman-occupied region of Greater Syria (mostly from Mount Lebanon) to New York — a major entry point for millions of immigrants at the time. 

Many of these newcomers, who had headed to the US in search of a better life, eventually settled on Rector Street and Washington Street — the heart of Little Syria between the 1880s and 1940s. In its heyday, this close-knit community boasted a lively ecosystem of shisha cafés, pastry shops, exotic grocery stores, and textile wholesalers. 




A public artwork created by Paris- and Rabat-based Sara Ouhaddou — nearly a decade in the making — will soon pay tribute to Little Syria. (Supplied)

Little Syria was also associated with some of the Arab world’s most prominent émigré writers, publishers, and thinkers, including Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, who penned the first Arab-American novel, “The Book of Khalid,” in 1911. 

Today, though, only three historical buildings from that era have survived — including the landmarked St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church — and the area is no longer known as an Arabic hub. Over the past few years, however, the memory of Little Syria has been revived by the likes of preservation activist Todd Fine, who runs educational walking tours as president of the Washington Street Advocacy Group. 

“This part of the city has been changed and demolished probably more than any other neighborhood in New York City. A huge chunk of it was destroyed to build the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in 1946,” explained Fine, citing one the central causes of Little Syria’s physical demise. 




Little Syria was also associated with some of the Arab world’s most prominent émigré writers, publishers, and thinkers. (Getty)

“(You cannot) underestimate the sophistication and the amount of activity of this robust Arab-American population in the early 20th century,” he continued. “They had so many businesses and were involved in such high-level politics — such as advocacy for the Palestinians and communicating things to the American society about their culture. A lot of that has been totally lost and forgotten.” 

Thanks to collaborative efforts by preservationists and members of the Arab-American community, a public artwork created by Paris- and Rabat-based Sara Ouhaddou — nearly a decade in the making — will soon pay tribute to Little Syria.  




Today, the area is no longer known as an Arabic hub. (Getty)

In an interview with Arab News, Ouhaddou explained that language is at the heart of her project. She was inspired by Little Syria’s literary heritage, specifically the words of the Mahjar (diaspora) poets. 

The French-born artist explained that one of the reasons she applied to the competition to design the commemorative artwork, which was supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, was that she felt a personal connection to the writers of Little Syria. 




This is an example of Sara Ouhaddou’s artwork. (Supplied)

“I’m Amazigh and Arab,” she said. “I’m the multicultural daughter of immigrants from Morocco, a place that is full of minorities. We were a minority in Europe. It’s a history that has repeated itself; the Little Syria history is the same history I’ve lived in France.”




Ouhaddou explained that language is at the heart of her project. (Getty)

Ouhaddou said that her initial main artwork will be manifested through two pathways in a 20,000 square-foot park — the Elizabeth Berger Plaza — that is being built especially for this memorial. The decorative pathways integrate her unique, colorful mosaic design in which she has invented an alphabet that cleverly combines elements of Islamic geometry and classical Arabic lettering. Embodying messages of spirituality and humanity, one of the poems on which she has based the artwork is taken from Gibran’s “The Prophet”: “You who travel with the wind/What weathervane shall direct your course?”

It is through Ouhaddou’s own contemporary practice of amalgamating craftsmanship, geometry and language that she explores identity, a recurring theme in the writings of Little Syria’s poets. “They were Universalists,” Ouhaddou pointed out. “They were very well advanced in the idea that we could be our own complex identity and — at the same time — be a universal human.”




Ouhaddou was inspired by Little Syria’s literary heritage, specifically the words of the Mahjar (diaspora) poets. (Getty)

There is not yet a set date for the unveiling of Ouhaddou’s site-specific artwork, since organizers are finalizing the park’s construction and aiming to attract further funding. 

“It will be a great way for people from around the world to really see something beautiful,” said Fine of the artwork. “And not to do it in the way we do most memorials, where we just have statues. I’m hoping that this is a way to show the beauty of the Arabic language and poetry in a calm and comforting way.” 


US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana
The Dolce & Gabbana x Khaled collaboration. Instagram
Updated 13 June 2021

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

US-Palestinian DJ Khaled drops second collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana

DUBAI: Back in March, US-Palestinian producer DJ Khaled unveiled his first collection with Italian luxury maison Dolce & Gabbana – a Miami-inspired capsule of  beachwear and ready-to-wear unisex pieces, including tracksuits, hoodies, shorts and accessories.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

Now, the award-winning hitmaker is launching his second collaboration with the Italian fashion house just in time for summer.

Inspired by music, the wilderness and the Mediterranean, the new offering features designs for men, women, children as well as babies. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

The collection, which is available online and in select Dolce & Gabbana stores, is punctuated with flamingo and butterfly motifs, floral and animal print and a harmonic purple, blue and yellow colorway. 

A special edition box includes DJ Khaled's latest album, where he dons D&G on the cover.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)


London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection
Qasimi Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear. Instagram
Updated 13 June 2021

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

London Fashion Week: Qasimi celebrates Emirati heritage in Spring 2022 collection

DUBAI: Day one of London Fashion Week kicked off on June 12 with a striking digital presentation from London-based Emirati menswear label Qasimi titled “Between Ashes and Roses” – inspired by Syrian poet Adunis’s 2004 book of the same name.

Hoor Al-Qasimi, the creative director, presented the brand’s Spring 2022 ready-to-wear collection via an eight-minute runway film staged at St. Ann’s Court, a country estate in Surrey. 

Male and female models snaked down a spiral staircase and stomped through the white-washed estate wearing bright, bold colors reminiscent of the bougainvillea and magnolias growing against the backdrop.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

The collection opened with vivid pink trousers worn with a matching cape with a built-in bucket hat, which set the tone for the fringed skirts, boxy shirts with laser-cut designs, jacquard button-ups, bomber jackets and graphic T-shirts and hoodies that spelled the words “Longing” and “Belonging” in Arabic and English, that followed. 

Some of the models carried fringed bags made using the traditional Emirati craft of palm frond weaving known as safeefah.

Al-Qasimi weaved her heritage into the new offering by collaborating with the Sharjah-based  Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council – a platform that empowers women artisans and preserves the skills and rich cultural heritage of the UAE.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

She also tasked Lahore-based jeweler Zohra Rahman with creating a round, multi-functional embellishment that functioned as a brooch, a pendant and an earring in the show.

Meanwhile, tarboushas – the tassels that hang from the Emirati gutra – swung from the front pockets of tailored jackets, the bottoms of small bags and the necks of shirt dresses.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by QASIMI (@qasimi_official)

The new collection is Al-Qasimi’s fourth for the London-based brand since taking over the reins after her twin brother Khalid Al-Qasimi’s passing in 2019.

Qasimi, which was founded in 2015, focuses on crafting understated garments that reflect its multicultural origins.


Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale
Jamil is one of the judges on the HBO Max competition series. File/AFP
Updated 13 June 2021

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

Actress Jameela Jamil champions Moroccan label in ‘Legendary’ finale

DUBAI: Jameela Jamil has a well-known penchant for Arab designers. The British-Pakistani-Indian actress and activist has been pictured donning looks from regional labels on plenty of occasions, including designs by Rami Kadi and Georges Chakra, to name a few.

This week, the actress, who is known for her role as Tahani on NBC’s “The Good Life,” was spotted wearing a ballgown by Moroccan-Dutch couturier Benchellal  in the finale episode of “Legendary.”

The 35-year-old posted a series of snaps on Instagram of herself on set dressed in an extravagant royal blue dress with  long sleeves and voluminous shoulders. She paired the look with sparkling fishnet boots from Jimmy Choo.

Mo Benchellal launched his namesake couture womenswear label in 2007 and has since made a name for himself with his elegant and classic eveningwear, which has also been worn by popstar Camilla Cabello and supermodel Helena Christensen, to name a few.


Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal
British-Moroccan model Nora Attal celebrated her birthday Saturday. Getty Images
Updated 13 June 2021

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

Birthday wishes pour in for model Nora Attal

DUBAI:  Saturday marked British-Moroccan model Nora Attal’s birthday — and she certainly has a lot to celebrate. Though Attal just turned 22, she has already achieved many career milestones that most models can only dream of. 

Attal, who was born to Moroccan parents in London, was first discovered by Jonathan Anderson, founder of the J.W. Anderson label, and shot a campaign for the British fashion house in 2014 before she had even taken her first steps down a runway.

She would go on to become a runway fixture after making her catwalk debut in 2017. 

Based in London and signed to Viva Model Management, Attal has worked with a number of renowned designers and stylists and walked the runway for major fashion houses, including Dior, Fendi, Burberry and Valentino to name a few. 

She also strutted her stuff on a runway in the south of France for Chanel’s resort 2022 show last month.

On Instagram, birthday wishes poured in from Attal’s loved ones. Instagram

When she’s not turning heads on the catwalk, Attal can be found gracing the pages of prestigious magazines such as the American, Arab and British editions of Vogue, in addition to fronting campaigns for renowned fashion brands such as Loewe, Chanel and Alexander McQueen. 

The newly-minted 22-year-old also uses her massive platform for good, often taking to Instagram to voice her support for important social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and countering violence against the Asian community in the US and UK. 

“Happy birthday,” wrote fellow model Luna Bijl, alongside a backstage shot of her and Attal.

“Happiest birthday,” wrote model Camille Hurel. Instagram

Runway model Camille Hurel posted a throwback of Attal from 2019 and wrote: “Happiest birthday,” alongside a blue heart emoji.

Attal spent her 22nd birthday with her fiancé, cinematographer Victor Bastidas, in Paris.

The couple announced their engagement in October 2020.

Captioning a series of images of the proposal on Instagram, the model told her 48,000 followers: “Forever my life partner... @sictor.”

The proposal took place on a beach in Formentera, an island in Spain. Among the pictures the bride-to-be shared, Attal showed off her engagement ring — a round-cut solitaire.


Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Updated 12 June 2021

Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
  • The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques

WELLINGTON: Tentative plans for a movie that recounts the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to a gunman's slaughter of Muslim worshippers drew criticism in New Zealand on Friday for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in the movie “They Are Us,” which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers.
The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.
Deadline said the movie would follow Ardern's response to the attacks and how people rallied behind her message of compassion and unity, and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.
The title of the movie comes from the words Ardern spoke in a landmark address soon after the attacks. At the time, Ardern was praised around the world for her response.
But many in New Zealand are raising concerns about the movie plans.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussein was killed in the attacks, wrote on Twitter simply “Yeah nah,” a New Zealand phrase meaning “No.”
Abdigani Ali, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said the community recognized the story of the attacks needed to be told “but we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.”
Tina Ngata, an author and advocate, was more blunt, tweeting that the slaughter of Muslims should not be the backdrop for a film about "white woman strength. COME ON.”
Ardern’s office said in a brief statement that the prime minister and her government have no involvement with the movie.
Deadline reported that New Zealander Andrew Niccol would write and direct the project and that the script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.
Niccol said the film wasn't so much about the attacks but more the response.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world," Niccol told Deadline. "It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”
Byrne's agents and FilmNation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The report said the project would be filmed in New Zealand but did not say when.
Niccol is known for writing and directing “Gattaca” and writing “The Terminal" and “The Truman Show,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Byrne is known for roles in “Spy” and “Bridesmaids.”