Culture ‘offers hope in post-pandemic world,’ Saudi forum told

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Tourists and visitors view antiques at the Louvre art and civilization museum in Abu Dhabi, the UAE. The COVID-19 crisis is seen as an opportunity within an unfortunate situation to experience new adventures. (Photo/Shutterstock)
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Tourists and visitors viewing and admiring antiques at in the art and civilization museum Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, UAE. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 June 2020

Culture ‘offers hope in post-pandemic world,’ Saudi forum told

  • Panelists say the crisis has pushed people to engage more in artistic content as they adapted to a virtual existence

JEDDAH: A virtual debate exploring a new world of art and culture in a post-COVID world was hosted by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in partnership with UNESCO.

The forum, titled “Dystopia to Utopia: Our Changing Cultural Landscape,” included six panelists from around the world, who discussed the post-pandemic cultural landscape in the Arab world, given the importance of cultural and creative industries in developing economies and promoting social cohesion.
“People need culture. Culture makes us resilient and gives us hope,” said Anna Paolini, director of the UNESCO Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council and Yemen.
She added: “The International Labour Organization estimated that in the first quarter of this year, the loss of employment will total 305 million jobs compared with 22 million last year. The creative sector is one of the most affected.”
The pandemic has affected the entire creative value chain, including creation, production, distribution, and access, she said.
It has also weakened the professional, social, and economic status of artists and cultural professionals.
According to a UNESCO report, 90 percent of museum had closed their doors in the pandemic, including all 370 museums in the Arab region. More than 10 percent may never reopen.
As a response to the impact on the cultural sector, UNESCO launched the ResiliArt campaign and social media movement to support artists and the cultural sector. The discussion, moderated by writer and curator Laura Egerton, aimed to re-imagine the future of an industry clouded in uncertainty.

Virtual existence
On a positive note, panelists said that the crisis had pushed people to engage more in artistic and cultural content as they adapted to a virtual existence.
Dr. Nada Shabout, an associate professor of art history and the director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Studies Institute at the University of North Texas, said the crisis had been an opportunity within an unfortunate situation to experience new adventures.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Panelists highlight the importance of creative industries in developing economies and promoting social cohesion.

• According to a UNESCO report, 90 percent of museums had closed their doors in the pandemic, including all 370 museums in the Arab region.

• As a response to the impact on the cultural sector, UNESCO launched the ResiliArt campaign and social media movement to support artists and the cultural sector.

“As a professor of art history, we had to shift immediately without notice to teaching online. I was surprised to see how useful this method is. We are able to engage in more focused discussion,” she said.
As part of the transition toward a virtual world, Shabout said there was a greater focus on offering virtual products, with many exhibitions and events moving online.
However, Shabout believes that initiatives need to be based locally before becoming globally connected, in an attempt to preserve and understand local context.
Dr. Linda Komaroff, department head of Arts of the Middle East at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said: “What I am hoping is that we learn from this time in being creative with new online experiences and incorporate that in the way we think about exhibitions, especially for archival purposes.”
Akram Zaatari, a Lebanese archival artist and curator, said solidarity among members of the art community is essential in allowing the art and cultural sector to recover from the crisis.
Zaatari believes that there is no place for competition in a time of crisis. He said artists from different generations should get together and support one another.
“The practice is more important than the quality, especially in a time where art functions as a historical record for the future,” he said, adding: “You may not like it now, but someone might come in the future and see in it something exceptional that you could not see today.”
Sheikha Hala bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, culture and arts director of Bahrain’s Authority for Culture and Antiquities, shared Zaatari’s sentiment on the role of individuals in the community.
She said the primary role for public cultural institutions is to inspire.
“These institutions play a huge role in nurturing the youth through education and social initiatives that target young artists,” she added.


Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

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Updated 6 min 48 sec ago

Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

  • Due to pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine

RIYADH: Chinese video platform TikTok is under fire once again, as rumors of the app being a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on users resurface online.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing site similar to the now-defunct Vine, where users share short clips of themselves which can be altered using AI technology.
Lip-syncing along with a track, using filters, and adding special effects give users the chance to create short clips that can be shared and downloaded in several social media platforms.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users downloaded TikTok to watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine. The app has also gained significant popularity in the Middle East with influencers such as Saudi model Roz, UAE-based content creators Khalid and Salama, and Saudi top TikToker iimeeto, who recently celebrated reaching four million followers on the platform.
Rania Mohammed, a fourth year medical student at Dar AlUloom University in Riyadh, said that TikTok was “the only thing keeping her sane” as she struggled with the pressures of school and quarantine.
“As a med school student, my attention span and free time are both severely limited,” she told Arab News. “Taking a 15 minute break to watch silly TikToks has helped me keep motivated. The specific brand of humor on that app is the fastest way to make me laugh.”
Mai Alhumood, a government employee, said that she downloaded the app while she was bored and became “quickly addicted” to the platform’s fun short videos.
“People are so creative on TikTok, and the challenges that keep going viral are so interesting,” she told Arab News.
However, the app has long-suffered from accusations of spying and gathering users’ private information on behalf of the Chinese government, leading to both temporary and permanent bans in countries around the world.
Recently, it was reported that Amazon requested that employees remove the app from their smartphones in an email over “security risks.” The company later retracted its directive.
Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber believed that concerns over the security of TikTok’s collected data stemmed from the app’s country of origin and its rules and regulations.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a ‘threat to the sovereignty and security of the country’ following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.

• Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding ‘illegal content’ such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.

• Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. He said that banning the app would be ‘punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.’

“TikTok collects data in a very similar way to US applications,” he told Arab News. “However the main concern is that the US has regulations and compliance that must be met when collecting customer data, such as GDPR data privacy regulation. In the case of TikTok, we don’t know as much about how the data is being used or stored because we don’t know their regulations.”
Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the country” following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.
Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding “illegal content” such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.
Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. In an interview with Gray Television, Trump said that banning the app would be “punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.”
“Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to announce a ban of any kind of TikTok, local users and followers are trying to practice caution while using the app anyway.
Alhumood considered making videos on the platform, but dismissed the idea and only uses it to follow other people’s videos.
“I have ideas for it, sure, but I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t even have a username or a registered account, and that’s one of the better things about TikTok. I only have the app, but I can still watch all the videos without giving them my private information.”
Mohammed also said that she had no interest in creating videos herself, though she did have a registered account in order to comment on videos and keep track of her favorites.
However Al-Jaber said that, in his opinion, registering an account on TikTok did not necessarily pose more of a risk than using other social media.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.