Saudi creatives prosper online during lockdown 

Spark is a trading platform where verified artists, designers and photographers can sign up and advertise their work. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Saudi creatives prosper online during lockdown 

  • Stay-at-home shoppers turn to homegrown brands

DUBAI: Around the world, art galleries, museums and fashion houses turn to digital channels to keep events and exhibitions going during lockdown. So too are local ventures in Saudi Arabia, and one source of art in particular is finding its place in a quarantined world — resulting in increased recognition for the Kingdom’s independent artists and designers.

Over the past few years, e-commerce outlets for art and design products by Saudi talent have been slowly finding their feet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they have suddenly found themselves more popular than ever. With less mall shopping and fewer international deliveries for mainstream brands, shoppers cooped up at home are turning to homegrown ventures and, in turn, highlighting emerging talent in the Kingdom.

“(We have been witnessing) a big spike in online sales,” entrepreneur Bahaa Gazzaz told Arab News. “The question is, will this trend continue after COVID-19? I believe (it) will slightly drop, but not return to the same (as before). Shoppers will remain more active online than pre-COVID-19.”

Bahaa Gazzaz is is the founder of Spark. (Supplied)

Gazzaz, 35, is the founder of Spark — an affordable-art platform that he describes as transforming “artists’ creative expressions into custom-made products.”

Since its launch in 2016, Spark has served as a trading platform where verified artists, designers and photographers can sign up and advertise their work. Products, such as t-shirts, are made to order, resulting in no stock waste, and giving the talent the opportunity to earn a good percentage of the returns.

“(It enables) them to monetize their skill as an artist,” Gazzaz said. “Understanding how their creative expressions can relate to customers, and thus make a sale.”

Spark launched in 2016. (Supplied)

Citing talent such as Fida Al-Hussan, Ameera Al-Sheikh, and Huda Beydoun, he said: “Customers identify and relate to the artist’s work.”

The website’s average demographic is split between men and women aged 25-35, and the most-popular items in the run-up to Ramadan were printed dresses and kimonos.

Given the unpredictability of which items will end up being popular, Gazzaz always advises his artists to keep an open mind.

Spark has served as a trading platform where artists can sign up and advertise their work. (Suppplied)

“In order for (an artist) to reach their highest potential, trial and error — and many failed attempts — must happen. At Spark these come to the artist free of cost. (They can) share their art, and evolve based on what’s popular and what’s not. Let the customers decide.”

Three years prior to Spark’s launch came another concept that is also proving popular right now.

“Dokkan Afkar was born in 2013 with the vision to be the place where creativity can flow — a space for local entrepreneurs, designers and homegrown products to reach larger audiences, grow their business and tell their story,” co-founder and CEO Ammar Waganah explained. “The whole idea of the website is to (help) homegrown businesses and designers reach a wider audience.”

Dokkan Afkar was born in 2013. (Supplied)

Waganah revealed that while his venture has had its fair share of challenges, there’s one that seems to be changing during the pandemic.

“Cash on delivery is always (a challenge), and the market was driven by it until the quarantine. But we believe it's changing,” Waganah said. 

Today, Dokkan Afkar’s main demographic is aged between 20 and 40, and the brand has its sights set on expanding to the rest of the GCC.

Dokkan Afkar’s main demographic is aged between 20 and 40. (Supplied)

“We started with a young Saudi audience who were willing to order and shop online, but we are seeing a big shift, where all ages are shopping online. More consumers are trusting e-commerce.”

During lockdown, the website has seen an increased demand for games. “Games are leading our sales followed by the self-care category,” Waganah says. “We also saw an increase in Ramadan-related products: sebhas, praying mats, kids Ramadan activities packs, and Ramadan decorations.”

Ammar Waganah is the co-founder and CEO of Dokkan Afkar. (Supplied)

Popular homegrown brands available on Dokkan Afkar include Rock Paper Scissors, Rawan Stationary, and Salam, and Waganah believes that local independent art will only become more popular: “We believe that online can help you reach millions of people with your products, creations or designs. Each Saudi entrepreneur and artist has an extraordinary message and product that they can share with the world.”

Gazzaz echoes that sentiment.

“Definitely the world is up for a ride, post COVID-19,” he said. “Technology is going to be a key factor in our way of living. Saudis are becoming more online-friendly, for sure.”

‘Hamilton’ makes a successful transition to the big screen

Updated 04 July 2020

‘Hamilton’ makes a successful transition to the big screen

CHENNAI: Cinema sometimes looks to go back to its roots. Some years ago, European auteurs like Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and others introduced “Dogme 95” as a new form of moviemaking, which meant using no props, no artificial lighting and no makeup. It did not last long. However, Thomas Kail’s “Hamilton” — released to coincide with the Fourth of July and streaming on Disney Plus — is another experiment that reminded me of the very early days of motion pictures when some directors in India captured a stage play with a static camera and then screened it in remote regions, where it was not feasible to cart the entire cast.

Kail used six cameras to shoot what was originally a theatrical production. Over two nights in 2016, he filmed the play with most of the actors, including Tony Award winners, who were in the stage version. Every attempt has been made to make it look cinematic, with impeccable camerawork and editing. There is a bonus here. The movie enables you to be a front-bencher at Richard Rogers’ stage production. This closeness that allows you to see clearly the expressions of the actors establishes an intimacy between the audience and the cast.

Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, the 160-minute show makes a fabulous musical. The release of the film with its intentionally diverse cast comes at a critical time when race relations in the USA have hit the rock bottom. When Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr) sings that he wants to be in “the room where it happens”, the lyrics are sung by a black man.

Alexander Hamilton (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, also the creator of the piece) is the least well known of the American founding fathers. An immigrant and orphan, he was George Washington’s right-hand man. Credited as being responsible for setting up the country’s banking system, Hamilton was killed in a duel by Burr.

The musical is inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton. Courtesy of Disney

The story is narrated through hip-hop beats. Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) sings his speech to Congression, and the debates he has with Alexander Hamilton are verbalized through lyrics. Hamilton also has a lot to say about America’s immigrant past. In one scene French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette tells Alexander, “Immigrants, we get the job done!”

Performances are top notch. Miranda is superb, and evokes an immediate connection between the film and the viewer. King George III is brilliantly portrayed by Jonathan Groff, and Hamilton’s wife, Eliza (Philippa Soo), is an endearing presence who has a calming effect on her often ruffled and troubled husband.

“Hamilton” is a great, if subjective, account of early American political history for those not familiar with that period. It must be said, however, the musical makes a long movie, which might be a trifle tiring for those not used to this format.