Art as a catalyst for human connection in the MENA region

Art as a catalyst for human connection in the MENA region
Yasmine Berrada inside her gallery in Casablanca. (Photographed by Lamia Lahbabi)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Art as a catalyst for human connection in the MENA region

Art as a catalyst for human connection in the MENA region
  • Co-founder of Casablanca’s Loft Art Gallery Yasmine Berrada discusses how she adapted her gallery’s program during the pandemic

DUBAI: Located in the trendy Le Triangle district of Casablanca, a step inside Loft Art Gallery is akin to visiting a white cube art space in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. That is exactly the experience sisters Myriem and Yasmine Berrada wanted to create when they opened the gallery in 2009. The largest and first white cube space dedicated to modern and contemporary art from Morocco and the African continent in Casablanca, Loft Art Gallery has, since its inception, played a pivotal role in the careers of some of the country’s most important artists, including Mohammed Melehi and Mohammed Hamidi. It has also shined a light on some of Morocco’s leading younger artists, including Amina Agueznay, Hicham Benohoud and Mohammed Lekleti.

In recent years, Loft Art Gallery has expanded its focus to Sub-Saharan African artists, such as Joana Choumali, winner of the Prix Pictet photography award and whose work is presently on view in the virtual exhibition “Hope.”

From its base in Morocco, a long-time strategic bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, Loft Art Gallery aims to display the talent of its artists to new collectors and institutions across the world.




Joanna Choumali, ‘Ablutions,’ 2020. Embroidery and collage manual on digital photo printing on cotton canvas. (Supplied)

“I am first and foremost a Moroccan art gallery owner, but my gallery is open to the world,” Berrada told Arab News. “I want it to serve as the artistic bridge between Morocco and the rest of world while always maintaining a focus on Africa. My goal is to enhance cross-cultural dialogue through art for my artists, collectors, and curators.”

Morocco has long served as a historical crossroads for many cultures. The country has been home to Jews, Muslims, Berbers, Africans, Europeans and people across the Mediterranean.

“Moroccan artists are inspired by their homeland, but their artistic language is universal,” said Berrada. “The multiculturalism of Morocco endows the country with its cultural richness.”

It is exactly the country’s multicultural depth that Berrada seeks to convey both within the MENA region and internationally.




Portrait of Yasmine Berrada. Photographed by Lamia Lahbabi

“I want the gallery to be seen as a whole,” she told Arab News. “I want my gallery to serve as a platform for the stories that these artists tell through their work.”

Until the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit, the gallery participated in international art fairs, including Art Dubai, Art Paris, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Marrakech and AKAA (Also Known As Africa), a fair dedicated to African art and design in Paris.

Loft Art Gallery regularly collaborates with international art institutions, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, the Giverny Museum in France and the Haus der Kunst in Munich, among others. It also has a publishing arm known as Loft Edition, which publishes books and catalogues on modern and contemporary Moroccan art history.




By Mohamed Melehi. Supplied

“This is the first time that the entire world is suffering from the same malaise. The art world has really been hit. Until recently, all museums were closed. Fairs have been cancelled, and sales are down. We all need to work together during this time,” Berrada said.

“What has been crucial for me is maintaining strong partnerships with collectors and with my artists. It’s vital for humanity that we stay in close contact. Art has a big role to play. It connects people and, most importantly, different cultures. It offers hope and beauty at a time when we need it most.”

Loft Art Gallery is one of the first Moroccan galleries to digitalize. The gallery now has an e-commerce platform on its website where it sells art, a weekly newsletter and online viewing rooms. It has also partnered with Artsy, another channel through which it promotes its Moroccan and African artists to the world.




‘The Hole,’ Hicham Benohoud, 2015. Instagram/@loftartgallery

“This period hasn’t been easy,” said Berrada. “I made sure I was always in contact with our artists and that we continued to work on future programs. It was crucial that we continue to nourish our artists with hope through the planning of new projects and exhibitions.

“It was vital that our creativity did not stop, neither for us as a gallery nor for our artists. Creativity must continue. That is the only way forward.”

In October ,the gallery plans to host its first physical exhibition on textile works by contemporary Moroccan artists such as Amina Agueznay, alongside more traditional takes on the craft.


Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini
Syrian refugees and swimmers Yusra and Sarah Mardini pose for photographers with the trophy at the Bambi awards on Nov 17, 2016 in Berlin. AFP
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

DUBAI: Netflix has announced that it has teamed up with Egyptian-Welsh director and screenwriter Sally El-Hosaini on a new film titled “The Swimmers,” based on the true story of Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians Sarah and Yusra Mardini.

The film tells the story of the two sisters and competitive swimmers and their miraculous journey as refugees from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Yusra competed as a swimmer as part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROT).

Lebanese actresses, and real-life sisters, Manal and Nathalie Issa will portray Yusra and Sarah Mardini in the upcoming movie.

They will be joined by Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, Syrian actress Kinda Alloush and “The Good Karma Hospital” star James Krishna Floyd, who starred in El-Hosaini’s last film “My Brother the Devil,” which won the World Cinema Cinematography at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  

Rounding out the cast are German actor Matthias Schweighöfer and YouTube star Elmi Rashid Elmi.

The forthcoming film will be produced by Working Title’s Eric and Tim Bevan, Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole. Stephen Daldry is the executive producer.

“The Swimmers” is set to begin production this week, shooting in the UK, Turkey and Belgium.

It is slated for global release on Netflix in 2022.


Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

 Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life
Updated 21 April 2021

Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

 Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

LOS ANGELES: The cinema adaptation of much-loved video game Mortal Kombat recently hit the silver screen — and fans can breathe a sigh of relief as it’s a fairly faithful take on the hugely popular game in that the plot and characters are mostly an excuse to string together a series of fight scenes.

For action fans and players of the famously gory fighting games — which featured the ominous and oft-quoted phrase “Finish Him” just before violent wins — while not flawless, the movie is a victory.

“A lot of people grew up with these iconic video games and these pop culture icons,” said Ludi Lin who plays series mainstay Liu Kang. “The more I grow the more I learn that I’m still a kid inside. I think a lot of adults pretend to be someone that they’re not. So, I want these characters and this story to tell people that ‘your childhood actually meant something.’”

The film features several of the franchise’s iconic characters testing their might in a tournament to defend Earth and earns its audience, and its R-rating, with its fight scenes, choreographed and expertly executed by experienced stunt performers, including members the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, a group of stuntmen and martial artists who work alongside the legendary actor.

“All the actors or most of them in this film have extensive martial arts training,” Max Huang, who plays fighter Kung Lao, told Arab News. “Acting or stunts, that’s all part of the whole process in order to create a great film. So having an understanding of creating action definitely helped me to then be in front of the camera and pull off certain types of movements.”

The cast is noteworthy not only for its fighting ability but also for mostly featuring actors of Asian descent — a definite positive in Hollywood, where filmmakers have long been accused of whitewashing.  

“It familiarizes people with the culture of who we are and with seeing us in a different light… we are telling and controlling the storyline,” said Lewis Tan, who portrays series newcomer Cole Young. “I think that that will have an ever-lasting impact eventually, but there’s obviously a lot more that needs  to be done.”


Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal
The BTS meal is coming to McDonald's in May. File/AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

DUBAI: US fast food giant McDonald’s has tapped Korean pop sensation BTS to promote a new meal, and Arab fans of the boy band can hardly contain their excitement.

Many supporters of the seven member group took to their social media to express their anticipation for the Grammy-nominated boy band's meal that will be launching starting next month in nearly 50 countries, including Oman, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Morocco in addition to the US, India, Singapore and more.

“From today, I will just eat at McDonalds,” wrote one Twitter user in Arabic.

Another user from Saudi Arabia mentioned McDonalds in their Tweet, urging them to make the meal available in the Kingdom.

“I am not a fan of McDonald’s, but I changed my mind because of this meal. Provide it to us like you did for the Arab countries on the list,” the user wrote.

Another Twitter user wrote in Arabic: “Wait a minute, I discovered something. A few days back, Suga said he is hungry and a few days later, they collaborated with McDonald’s. He was probably giving us a hint, but we were clowns. WE WANT THE BTS MEAL IN EGYPT (sic).”

Dubbed the “BTS meal,” it will include chicken McNuggets, fries and two dips.

The burger chain has seen its revenue outside the United States drop during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is tapping on promotional campaigns through celebrity endorsements and limited-time menu items to get customers back into restaurants as economies reopen with the roll-out of vaccines.

The BTS meal follows similar US-only deals with singers J Balvin and Travis Scott, which McDonald’s says boosted sales in the later half of last year.

The spike in demand during the Travis Scott promotion caused the company to temporarily run short of ingredients to assemble its signature Quarter Pounder burgers at some restaurants.


Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children
Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen stars in new Polo Ralph Lauren campaign with her children. Instagram
Updated 20 April 2021

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

DUBAI: Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen was recently tapped to front a new campaign for Polo Ralph Lauren, and she is sharing the spotlight with her family. Wazen features in the campaign images with her three children, twin girls Karlie and Kay, and her son George.

“Ah so happy to share with you our Family Campaign for @PoloRalphLauren!!” exclaimed the Dubai-based fashion blogger on Instagram, alongside the campaign images. “There are no words to explain the love and emotions I have for my family... they’re my biggest blessing and pride,” she added, thanking Polo Ralph Lauren for “capturing these beautiful moments together.”

It’s not the first time that the American brand has shone a spotlight on an Arab family for a major campaign.

Back in December, the label released a campaign titled “Family is Who You Love,” featuring a diverse cast of siblings, parents and children, among them Saudi sisters Sakhaa and Thana Abdul as well as British-Moroccan model Nora Attal and her family.


Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row
Jameela Jamil is well known for her body positivity organization ‘I Weigh.’ File/ AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil took to her social media account to defend US singer and actress Demi Lovato due to a body positivity controversy this week. 

Lovato, who is best known for her role in Disney’s musical “Camp Rock,” recently called out a popular Los Angeles-based frozen yogurt shop The Bigg Chill, stating that the store’s diet options could lead some people to feel uncomfortable.  

"Finding it extremely hard to order froyo from @thebiggchillofficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar free cookies (and) other diet foods before you get to the counter,” said the “Cool for the Summer” singer, who has been vocal about her struggles with eating disorders in her documentary “Dancing With The Devil.” The 28-year-old urged the business to “do better” along with the hashtag #dietculturevulture.  

Jamil was quick to come to Lovato’s support, after the singer’s comments garnered some backlash online. Taking to her Instagram Stories, the “The Good Place” star wrote, “Ok, I want to try to avoid making the story bigger than it already is. But if an eating disorder advocate says she sees products that are positioned as guilt free, and it is potentially triggering, that doesn’t mean she’s too stupid to remember that diabetics exist. It just means that we need to change the marketing of products that are for people’s medical needs.”

She added: “That’s all @ddlovato was asking for. It doesn’t make her a monster. It doesn’t mean she disregards people’s illnesses. She’s just one of few celebrities reminding us to look out for mental illness. Guilt free is diet culture terminology.”

The British-Pakistani-Indian actress is a major advocate for body positivity.

The 34-year-old, who became a household name with her activism and role as Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC’s “The Good Place,” routinely takes to her platform to encourage people to respect their bodies and often gets candid about her struggles with eating disorders and body dysmorphia that she grappled with in her teenage years.

Jamil is also well known for her body positivity organization “I Weigh,” that focuses on self-worth and body positivity beyond weight, encouraging people to weigh themselves by their positive attributes, as opposed to numbers on a scale.