Calligrapher Ruh Al-Alam discusses his contemporary approach to an ancient artform

Calligrapher Ruh Al-Alam discusses his contemporary approach to an ancient artform
Ruh Al-Alam studied design at Central Saint Martins in London. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 June 2020

Calligrapher Ruh Al-Alam discusses his contemporary approach to an ancient artform

Calligrapher Ruh Al-Alam discusses his contemporary approach to an ancient artform

LONDON: ‘The pens have been lifted, and the pages have dried.’ (At-Tirmidhi, 2516) 

This saying from the Hadith has been an inspiration for contemporary calligrapher Ruh Al-Alam, he tells Arab News. 




‘The pens have been lifted, and the pages have dried.’ (At-Tirmidhi, 2516) 

“The reference to the pens and inks resonated with me. This saying refers to the religion being complete — to the fact that Islam has been given to the people and there is nothing more to give; there is nothing more to be taught. There is no better way to present this message than through calligraphy,” he says. 

A British artist of Bangladeshi descent, Al-Alam studied design at Central Saint Martins in London. After graduating, he spent several years in Cairo learning Arabic and studying calligraphy with esteemed teachers.

And while the message of the inspirational hadith that so inspired him may apply to Islam, Al-Alam’s work suggests that his chosen art from still has plenty to give. He sees calligraphy not as a calcified art but something present, alive and relevant. That is reflected in his own style, which has led to collaborations with major brands and organizations including Netflix, the BBC, the UK’s National Portrait Gallery, and Sony. 

“When Sony launched the PlayStation Portable they used Arabic calligraphy to appeal to different audiences,” he says. “They wanted to use something unique to differentiate themselves from others in the market.” 

His desire to make Islamic art accessible and current has been at the heart of his development as an artist. 




This artwork is by Ruh Al-Alam. (Supplied)

“I don’t want to restrict the use of calligraphic arts to just the traditional — I want to apply them in ways that are less common,” he says. “For example, early on when I wanted to decorate my home with artwork, I wanted to put something up that was more spiritually focused. That’s where Islamic art came in. I wanted to make sure I did something that reflected my faith, but couldn’t find anything that I could put up in a more contemporary home that reflected the identity of myself and my family.” So he applied his own imagination. “One God Allah” is a perfect example of Al-Alam’s modern take on the ancient art.

“I wanted to create an emotive piece with a lot of texture and to keep it really simple with strong, contrasting colors. You don’t often see red with a contrasting black or brown color — that’s the contemporary element,” he explains. “I am saying that a calligraphic work doesn’t need to be black ink on a white sheet — it can be different. An important element to consider is where the artwork will be displayed. It could be in a beautiful contemporary home or a workplace, but it is designed to be striking.”




This artwork is by Ruh Al-Alam. (Supplied)

Al-Alam has also incorporated other items used or worn on a daily basis by devout Muslims into his work. He found that traditional prayer mats did not suit his home, so he created a limited edition of contemporary designs, which have proved so popular — even though they are expensive — that he is planning a new series in leather. 

“I was tired of the regular wool-pile prayer mats — many are really badly designed and some do not follow Islamic artistic tradition,” he says. “Also, they don’t fit the lifestyles that a lot of people lead. I always like to leave my prayer mat open so I can leave it in the corner and go back to it. People want minimalist designs in different materials that adhere to Islamic art traditions and suit the design of their homes better.

“I charge a lot more for my prayer mats but they are something you can cherish and they became an instant hit. We sold out right away in the first year,” he said.




He found that traditional prayer mats did not suit his home, so he created a limited edition of contemporary designs. (Supplied)

He has also extended his application of calligraphy to the hijab in a one-off series. 

“Putting abstract calligraphy onto hijabs was a new idea at that time,” Al-Alam claims. “I wanted them to be practical but different. One of the things I had to make sure of was that the lettering on the hijab was not interpreted as being in any way religious, as scripture is not allowed on garments.”

Al-Alam explains that he has personal experience of being falsely accused of disrespecting religious writings. “About a decade ago, I designed some T-shirts and there was a problem in Egypt when a journalist claimed that I had put scripture on them — even to the point of getting a fatwah against me from an Azhari scholar. I then had to go on TV and refute him, at which point he acknowledged that he had not actually seen the T-shirts.” 

 Al-Alam has since built an international reputation and has received many honors — including the Islamic Economy Award for Islamic Arts, which he received from Dubai’s Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum in 2018 — in recognition of his pioneering work in contemporary Arabic typography and calligraphy. 




The artist’s prayer mats sold out right away in the first year. (Supplied)

His calligraphic script styles include Spirit, Jude and Latin-Arabi, while his innovative Arabic typography includes Kufica, Arabic Didot and Moda. His design agency, Archetype, specializes in Arabic work.

“Right now we are talking to a Saudi client for whom we are designing several websites. We have designed many different logos and identities for clients in Saudi Arabia. I have also been to the Kingdom for religious purposes — for the Hajj and the Umrah and for work visits,” he says, adding that he is very impressed with the burgeoning art scene in Saudi Arabia.

“Artists like Ahmed Mater are amazing and I also see a lot of young artists and calligraphers who are passionately creating work,” he says. “There are a lot of naturally gifted people who are now expressing their talent and when this movement comes to fruition over the next decade it will change how the art of the Middle East is perceived.”

 


Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut
Updated 08 March 2021

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

CHICAGO: Lebanese author A. Naji Bakhti’s debut is a comical coming-of-age tale of a boy growing up within the confines of post-civil-war Beirut.

With a Muslim father, Christian mother, and a curious little sister, the young Adam Najjar navigates adolescence in the vibrant coastal city.

In Bakhti’s “Between Beirut and the Moon,” Najjar flirts with adulthood as the Lebanese capital teeters between peace and conflict while flourishing in its multiple identities.

Despite the harsh realities of war and limited finances, and the difficult school yard choices children must make, there is a brightness to Najjar’s world that comes in the form of his family’s never-ending ability to adjust, his father’s books, and the scenarios that play out in his life.

A sharp wit and endless curiosity drown out the bombs falling around his sixth-floor apartment off Hamra Street in Ras Beirut as his family hides in the bathroom for safety.

Bakhti displays Beirut in all its multifaceted brilliance, pluralism, and conflicts and through Najjar, his family, and friends tries to make sense of the complex histories of characters, and religious and political tensions.

With the works of Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish nearby, a mother who wants him to live out his dream, and his father’s articles and obituaries, the Najjar family members force light into the dark corners of their lives.

In an old city that has built and rebuilt itself, Bakhti manages to convey the dream of a young boy, in a humorous way, when life wants to weigh him down.

Bakhti does not romanticize Beirut but creates an ever-increasing feel of belonging, and a love of the imperfect and sometimes dangerous. There is a fighting spirit for home, one that asks of his main character, why would you ever want to leave Beirut for the moon?

Because between Beirut and the moon, anything can happen. It is where life takes place.


Taylor Swift, BTS, Cardi B and more to perform at Grammys

Taylor Swift is set to perform at next week’s Grammy awards. File/AFP
Taylor Swift is set to perform at next week’s Grammy awards. File/AFP
Updated 08 March 2021

Taylor Swift, BTS, Cardi B and more to perform at Grammys

Taylor Swift is set to perform at next week’s Grammy awards. File/AFP

NEW YORK: Taylor Swift, BTS, Cardi B and Billie Eilish are set to perform at next week’s Grammy Awards.

The Recording Academy announced Sunday that Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa will also hit the stage at the March 14 event. The show will air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on CBS and Paramount+.

The Grammys were originally supposed to take place on Jan. 31 but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The academy said in a statement that “artists will be coming together, while still safely apart, to play music for each other as a community and celebrate the music that unites us all.”

Trevor Noah is hosting the show for the first time. Other performers include Chris Martin, John Mayer, Doja Cat, Maren Morris, DaBaby, HAIM, Lil Baby, Brandi Carlile, Roddy Ricch, Brittany Howard, Miranda Lambert, Mickey Guyton and Black Pumas.

Beyoncé is leading nominee with nine, followed by Swift, Lipa and Ricch, who each earned six nominations.


Bella Hadid stuns on Givenchy Fall 2021 runway

Bella Hadid wearing Givenchy Fall 2021 RTW. Instagram
Bella Hadid wearing Givenchy Fall 2021 RTW. Instagram
Updated 08 March 2021

Bella Hadid stuns on Givenchy Fall 2021 runway

Bella Hadid wearing Givenchy Fall 2021 RTW. Instagram

DUBAI: Matthew M. Williams presented the Givenchy Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection via an audience-free runway show at a 50,000-seat concert venue in Paris on Saturday. 

For his sophomore offering, the new creative director of the Parisian maison churned out a lineup of extravagant looks that were modeled by the likes of Adut Akech, Jourdan Dunn, Vittoria Ceretti and Bella Hadid.

Hadid closed the show, wearing a black deconstructed top and tailored black trousers.

She later posted a picture of herself on Instagram wearing a piece from the designer’s Fall 2021 collection — an angular leather bag, with a chunky silver chain strap.

“Right after walking the @givenchyofficial show,” she captioned the photo. 

Hadid, who was born in the US to a Dutch mother and a Palestinian father, is a Givenchy house favorite.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

She recently appeared in Williams’ first official campaign at the helm of the Givenchy brand.

For the campaign, the Parisian fashion house’s artistic director invited a few models and musicians to style themselves in key pieces from his debut Spring collection.

Hadid opted for a beige-toned dress with crystal-embellished cutouts at the elbows and a larger cutout in the back, paired with the brand’s marshmallow slides.

Late actor Paul Walker’s daughter, Meadow Walker, also made her runway debut for Givenchy this season, opening the show. 

The Givenchy Fall 2021 show was Williams’ first runway presentation for the house.

Celebrities Kim Kardashian, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Doja Cat and more all slipped into looks from Williams’ Fall 2021 collection as they watched the livestream of the show.

US actress Anne Hathaway posted a carousel of images, along with a sweet caption thanking Williams for the invitation and for sending her “these gorgeous threads.”

“How I look getting to see Givenchy’s virtual fashion show,” the Oscar winner wrote, referring to her outfit.

The founder of streetwear label 1017 Alyx 9SM was appointed as the creative director for the Parisian luxury label last June.

He became the French house’s seventh couturier, succeeding previous Creative Director Clare Waight Keller, who stepped down from the role in April after serving for three years.


Leading e-tailer Net-a-Porter makes its Middle East debut with localized platform

The luxury etailer offers a diverse range of brands. Supplied
The luxury etailer offers a diverse range of brands. Supplied
Updated 08 March 2021

Leading e-tailer Net-a-Porter makes its Middle East debut with localized platform

The luxury etailer offers a diverse range of brands. Supplied

DUBAI: This week, e-commerce platform Net-a-Porter made its official and highly-anticipated Middle East debut. 

The localized platform will be available in both Arabic and English and as a mobile app and website, which has been customized to fit the needs of the Middle Eastern consumer. 

Optimized features include dual language product search as well as local editorial content and product curation. Meanwhile, prices will be displayed in local currency according to the market. 

The localized platform will be available in both Arabic and English. Supplied

For those who have been paying close attention to the booming Middle Eastern market, the launch of a version of the website in the region is hardly surprising — the region is one of the largest luxury markets in the world.

Nisreen shocair, CEO of Yoox Net-a-Porter Middle East, said in a statement: “As the leading luxury platform, the launch of the localized Arabic site allows us to celebrate the unique beauty and talent of our community in the Middle East, bringing Net-a-Porter even closer to its customers,” adding “We will continue to realize exciting developments in future, including collaborations with local designers through to new personalized experiences supported by platform capabilities, to ensure we continue to offer best-in-class curation and service in the market.”

Net-a-Porter follows in the footsteps of other luxury brands, such as Farfetch, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, which have recently introduced Arabic versions of their websites in an effort to facilitate the online shopping experience of shoppers based in the region.


Meet the women educating their Instagram followers on female health, one post at a time

Nour Emam (L) and Dr. Deemah Saleh (R) run Instagram accounts where they share information on intimate female health. (Supplied)
Nour Emam (L) and Dr. Deemah Saleh (R) run Instagram accounts where they share information on intimate female health. (Supplied)
Updated 08 March 2021

Meet the women educating their Instagram followers on female health, one post at a time

Nour Emam (L) and Dr. Deemah Saleh (R) run Instagram accounts where they share information on intimate female health. (Supplied)
  • Dr. Deemah Salem and doula Nour Emam run Instagram accounts where they debunk myths and share information on female intimate health

DUBAI: Conversations around female intimate health have long been taboo or non-existent in Arab cultures. But a new crop of female doctors and healthcare practitioners on social media are aiming to destigmatize sexual wellness and educate women about their health, one Instagram post at a time.

“There are so many stereotypical taboos regarding women’s health in the UAE,” Dr. Deemah Salem told Arab News.

The specialist in obstetrics and gynecology in Dubai, who goes by @dr.deemahsalem on Instagram, said: “Being Arab-American myself I understood how some myths about women’s health could have developed, but I made it a mission to debunk them because some of these myths can lead to harmful practices.

She uses her platform to inform her followers about all aspects of sexual health, and talk about issues that many women might be embarrassed to discuss.

Salem believed that sexual education was still frowned upon in the region due to conservative cultural norms and that, while most UAE schools offered sexual education classes for young girls, a lot of females still felt uncomfortable about discussing intimate matters with doctors.

“It’s possible to educate women about their sexual and reproductive health while still respecting cultural and religious values. Women need to feel comfortable to discuss their intimate issues with their gynecologists.”

Egypt-based doula Nour Emam said there were popular misconceptions about what sex education actually entailed. “I think people think that if we have sex education, we’d be promoting sex and promiscuity, when in reality having sex education at primary and secondary levels in school usually means youth engage later in sexual activities and what’s more important is that they are safe (while) doing so,” she told Arab News.

She founded the Instagram page @thisismotherbeing in order to give women the information they need about their health and, with 173,000 followers, the message clearly resonates.

Many women are either unaware, or worse, misinformed about their sexual education because there is scarce access to accurate information. 

According to Salem, there are several myths and areas of concern that women in the region need to be educated on.  

“We need to teach women how to practice feminine hygiene in a healthy way, help them understand how normal female genitalia functions, to realize the role of preventative healthcare, to encourage women to discuss any sexual concerns with their doctors, and to educate about domestic and intimate partner violence.

“In addition to harmful practices, ignorance can lead to an array of problems for women, including unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, recurring vaginal infections, sexual dysfunction disorders, mental health disorders and marital issues… just to name a few.”

These female healthcare practitioners are no strangers to backlash despite - or perhaps due to - their engaging social media presence.

“I’m the most loved/hated woman in Egypt,” Emam remarked. “People think I’m leading young girls astray and that my information will ‘give them ideas.’ Of course, this is to be expected. No one wants to admit that the stuff I talk about is real and true, especially when this information enables women to choose.”

She described what she believed to be the most important areas for knowledge dissemination online.

“Absolutely everything,” she stated. “Reproductive and sexual health education is a continuum. It’s an entire spectrum and you can’t take one thing without learning the rest. Women just need to be certain that they have rights when it comes to their place in society, healthcare and maternity care.”