Lebanese publisher launches book project of Arab art created during lockdown

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Updated 04 June 2020

Lebanese publisher launches book project of Arab art created during lockdown

  • Dongola Books launches The Mailbox Project encouraging Middle Eastern artists around the world to create art during lockdown

DUBAI: While most artists will say that creating art in isolation is their natural state, the months of lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have for many conjured up feelings of restlessness and unease.

“An artist’s mission in the first place is to tell history — their side of history and what they are living every day,” artist and political cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who is based in the Danish capital Copenhagen, told Arab News.

But how does an artist document history while confined to their home?

As the world begins to reopen after months of closure, artwork created by more than 50 Middle Eastern artists will serve as a testament to the power of creativity, as part of the “Cities Under Quarantine: The Mailbox Project.”




“Cities Under Quarantine: The Mailbox Project” was launched by Beirut-based artist and co-founder of Dongola Books Abed Al-Kadiri. (Supplied)

The initiative was launched by Beirut-based artist and co-founder of Dongola Books Abed Al-Kadiri.

The scope of the project was not only to create works of art during varying states of lockdown, but to channel challenging feelings of anxiety into creativity.

The project involved the creation of more than 50 hand-made and hand-stitched books, produced in-house at Dongola and designed with each individual artist in mind by Reza Abedini.

Each book had the name of the artist it was sent to on its front cover and was distributed accordingly to Middle Eastern artists around the world working in isolation.




Some of the Middle East’s most prominent emerging and established artists globally participated in the initiative. (Supplied)

Some of the Middle East’s most prominent emerging and established artists globally participated in the initiative. They included Beirut-based artists Serwan Baran, Reza Abedini, Abed Al-Kadiri, Dalia Baassiri, Gilbert Hage, Hiba Kalache, Majd Abdel Hamid, Shawki Youssef, and Mona Saudi.

Albaih said: “I took part in this project because I thought it was a great project through which to document the times we are living. I am trying to document how I feel and how the surroundings look to me at a time when it is hard to produce and when there is little to nowhere that is active right now. Artists produce during good times and times of hardship.”




Portrait of Abed Al-Kadiri. (Supplied)

Dongola continues to believe in the power of artists’ books to harness change and as a unique form of expression that captures and responds to the spirit of the times.

“I began to question what our collective spaces could offer us as we stay apart together,” said Al-Kadiri, an artist known for his large-scale paintings covering social issues around the Middle East.

“What could I, not just as an artist, but as a believer in the power of artistic connection, encourage through my peers? Art has always been exceptionally responsive to the world around us. Through it, we capture the personal, social, political, and environmental issues that we struggle to make sense of.




The project involved the creation of more than 50 hand-made and hand-stitched books. (Supplied)

“These books are an invitation to join me in thinking along the same lines, through a practice I have dedicated myself to for the past few years. I believe in the relevance of the artist’s book today, now more than ever,” he added.

Al-Kadiri pointed out that the initiative was also on a mission to put art outside of gallery walls. He was particularly inspired by American artist John Baldessari’s book “Ingres and Other Parables.” In it, Baldessari writes that “it’s difficult to put a painting in the mailbox.”

However, Baldessari, who died in January this year, had a desire to create hand-held artwork to be viewed away from galleries — something Al-Kadiri also aims to promote in the age of COVID-19.




Dongola continues to believe in the power of artists’ books to harness change and as a unique form of expression that captures and responds to the spirit of the times. (Supplied)

Much of the power of The Mailbox Project lies in the diversity of the artists taking part, working in different countries throughout the world and in different artistic mediums. They were given no artistic parameters. They were only asked to create.

“This will be a great historic witness to the times we are living,” added Albaih.

Al-Kadiri hopes to culminate the project in the future with a compilation of completed works from the artists’ books to then be published as a limited-edition book by Dongola. “We also hope to stage an exhibition of the works in the future.”


Bollywood megastar Bachchan hospitalized with COVID-19

Updated 11 July 2020

Bollywood megastar Bachchan hospitalized with COVID-19

  • Affectionately known as "Big B", Bachchan shot to stardom in the early 1970s on the back of roles in huge hit movies such as "Zanjeer" and "Sholay"
  • Millions of Indians revere Bachchan like royalty, hanging on his every word and seeking his blessings

MUMBAI: Bollywood veteran megastar Amitabh Bachchan, 77, has tested positive for COVID-19 and been admitted to hospital in his hometown of Mumbai, he said Saturday on Twitter, calling for those close to him to get tested.
"I have tested CoviD positive .. shifted to Hospital," Bachchan wrote, saying his family and staff had already been tested and were awaiting their results.
"All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested!" he added.

His son Abhishek Bachchan, 44, said in a tweet minutes later that he had also tested positive.

The Bollywood actors were admitted to Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment hub, and several other members of the high-profile family were tested for the virus.

Affectionately known as "Big B", Bachchan shot to stardom in the early 1970s on the back of roles in huge hit movies such as "Zanjeer" and "Sholay".
His films still open to packed cinemas across India, but his new movie - comedy-drama "Gulabo Sitabo" - was released on Amazon's streaming service due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Bollywood recently resumed film shoots after a months-long hiatus following the imposition of a nationwide lockdown in India in late March.
But actors over the age of 65, such as Bachchan, are banned from set due to their vulnerability to the virus.
India's nationwide coronavirus toll rose Saturday to 820,916 cases - the third highest in the world - with 22,123 deaths.
Health workers have complained about severe staff shortages, with some senior doctors and nurses avoiding frontlines because of their risk of catching the virus.
As the death toll climbs, critics say the country is not testing enough - leaving many infections undiagnosed.
Millions of Indians revere Bachchan like royalty, hanging on his every word, seeking his blessings and congregating outside his Mumbai bungalow every year on October 11, his birthday.
The doyen of Bollywood is a keen user of Twitter, where he has 43 million followers, and his career has branched into television presenting, business and politics, as well as countless commercial endorsements.
Early in his acting life, Bachchan earned his reputation as India's "angry young man" for portraying violent heroes fighting an unjust system and injecting a new aggressive element into Bollywood movies, which had previously consisted of polite romances.
After some lean years, Bachchan bounced back spectacularly, largely due to his stint as host for the Indian version of the popular TV game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", which revived his artistic and financial fortunes.
According to local media, he was being treated at Mumbai's Nanavati hospital.