Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin wants you to question everything

Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin wants you to question everything
Amin’s work is known for its examinations of ways in which society engages with technology. Supplied
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Updated 18 October 2020

Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin wants you to question everything

Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin wants you to question everything

LONDON: For many artists, the final installation of an exhibition is the culmination of months or years of work — and the moment when their involvement in the artistic process, for the most part, comes to an end.

But for Egyptian artist Heba Y. Amin, the opening of her first UK solo exhibition, “When I see the future, I close my eyes” — which runs at London’s Mosaic Rooms until the end of March 2021 – marks a starting point for her work. The exhibition consists of a series of ongoing projects, showcasing the Berlin-based multimedia artist’s examination of how technology engages with society in a political and territorial sense.

“What’s so exciting about this for me is that, because my work is so research intensive and requires collaboration in terms of how I mine material, (curator Anthony Downey and I) are exploring how we use the exhibition as a tool through which we produce knowledge with others,” Amin tells Arab News. “How do we use the exhibition to create new content by putting forward questions or ideas that will be developed throughout the duration of the show, as opposed to presenting them in a static, finite format?”




The opening of her first UK solo exhibition, “When I see the future, I close my eyes” runs at London’s Mosaic Rooms until March 2021. Supplied

Amin’s work is known for its extensively researched, detailed examinations of ways in which contemporary society engages with technological tools, and how associated hierarchies and dynamics of power have developed, particularly in the Middle East. Delayed from its originally planned start in May of this year, “When I see the future…” forms the core of an extensive program of ongoing events, running over the next six months.

“There are events happening almost weekly, including panel discussions, conferences, podcasts film screenings, a book launch, journal launches and much more,” Amin explains. The COVID-19 pandemic, which is the reason for the delayed launch, informed the way in which some of these events will be held and plays a role in the ongoing interactivity of the exhibition.

“We’re looking at ways in which things that happen in the online space are relayed differently to the physical space,” she says. “So instead of looking at this situation — of having to do things remotely — as a restriction, we’re embracing it, to see what it means to engage in this way moving forward. We’re attempting to conceptually focus on the technological tools, not just because we need to, but to see where they actually lead us.”




One of the exhibition’s works — “The General’s Stork” — is a striking project about surveillance. Supplied

That means placing some of those tools within a historical context — a characteristic of Amin’s work — as well as looking back at instances when such devices and capabilities, that are now ostensibly promoting communication during the global lockdown, have played a more problematic role.

“One of the works I’m showing is called ‘Project Speak2Tweet.’ It’s loosely about the internet shutdown during the initial days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, and it reflects on how these tools – which were, at that point, presented as a democratic means of emancipation – have been used against us,” Amin explains. The notion that such technologies may not have lived up to their initial, utopian promise is also explored in another of the exhibition’s works, “Operation Sunken Sea,” which sees Amin playing the role of a dictator behind a quasi-scheme to drain the Mediterranean Sea in a borderline surreal look at how technological promise can hide dependence behind a mask of language and rhetoric.

“Our imagination of techno-utopian visions has hardly changed in 150 years,” Amin says. “Through the restrictions placed on us because of this pandemic, I’m reflecting on where the power dynamics are embedded in the technologies that we are dependent on. How do we talk about this while we’re in the middle of it?”

Another of the exhibition’s works — “The General’s Stork” — is a striking project about surveillance, recounting the remarkable-yet-true story of a migratory bird detained by the Egyptian authorities for espionage in 2013.




‘Project Speak2Tweet’ is loosely about the internet shutdown during the initial days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Supplied

“It’s an allegory to address the development of drone warfare with the Middle East as its backdrop, and the ways in which these mechanized birds are being used to surveil citizens around the world,” says Amin. “Now, the pandemic serves to further justify the use of these technologies while we are in a moment of hysteria and panic.”

Exploring the context and implications of these technologies takes on an even greater significance during an interview conducted over video-meeting software. “We’ve now become so dependent on online platforms for educational contexts too,” she adds. “Universities and schools are giving classes via services which ultimately control how we pass down information. What happens when we’re being surveilled through these platforms and are being told what we can and can’t teach, and in which ways? Who does this serve?”

All three works in “When I see the future…” showcase the kind of intense curiosity that shines through when Amin talks. It’s a trait that has endured from her childhood in Egypt. “From a very early age I have been questioning with a sense of skepticism,” she recalls. “And an art education really honed and developed those skills.”




“As Birds Flying” (2016) is a response to the media narrative in Egypt that has turned a bird into a symbol of state paranoia. Supplied

Amin’s family was supportive of her aspirational curiosity and encouraged her to express herself. She moved to Minnesota for her Bachelor’s of Studio Art, and has remained active academically in conjunction with her work. She currently lectures at Bard College Berlin, is a doctorate fellow in art history at Freie Universität and a Field of Vision fellow in New York, as well as visual arts curator at Mizna in Minneapolis, co-curator of the biennial residency program with Italy’s Ramdom Association, and co-founder of The Black Athena Collective — an arts and research project that explores artistic practice as a means for recording history.

Amin currently lives and works in Berlin, a city she feels allows for the kind of artistic experimentation places such as New York or London couldn’t offer. It’s also a place that attracts a lot of displaced talent from across the Arab world.

“As a result of all these failed revolutions, much of the Arab intellectual and artistic scene has transplanted here,” she explains. “There’s something incredibly sad about that — but, under the circumstances, we use this space to construct our lives anew and continue to fight for the ideas we believe in.”




Portrait of Heba Amin. (Getty Images)

It’s another example of a duality that fascinates her. And as “When I see the future…” continues to grow and evolve in situ, Amin is excited by the possibilities offered by the discourse she hopes to provoke through the exhibition, with audiences in London and beyond.

“This is an opportunity that’s so rare — to engage my work specifically as part of an extensive public program like this, one that I get to be integral in shaping. There will be new works that emerge from the discussions and events, we’ll be publishing a lot of materials including peer-reviewed journals.”

And there’s a sense of liberation in the final installation being anything but final. “Towards the end of the show, it might look quite different. And that’s exciting because it allows me to engage in my own show,” she adds. “Often, you don’t get that opportunity. To install my work in an exhibition, and have a public show around it with the purpose of developing it further? That’s very exciting.”


‘Historic night’ as Somalia screens first film in 30 years

Viewers wait for the first screening of Somali films at The Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu, on September 22, 2021, which has been opened for the first time to public after its inauguration in 2020. (AFP)
Viewers wait for the first screening of Somali films at The Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu, on September 22, 2021, which has been opened for the first time to public after its inauguration in 2020. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2021

‘Historic night’ as Somalia screens first film in 30 years

Viewers wait for the first screening of Somali films at The Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu, on September 22, 2021, which has been opened for the first time to public after its inauguration in 2020. (AFP)
  • Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, with the national theater also hosting live concerts and plays, the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991

MOGADISHU: Somalia hosted its first screening of a movie in three decades under heavy security on Wednesday, as the conflict-ravaged country hopes for a cultural renewal.
Built by Chinese engineers as a gift from Mao Zedong in 1967, the National Theatre of Somalia has a history that reflects the tumultuous journey of the Horn of Africa nation.
It has been targeted by suicide bombers and used as a base by warlords.
And it has never screened a Somali film. Until now.
"This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people, it shows how hopes have been revived... after so many years of challenges," theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf said before the screening.
"It's a platform that provides an opportunity to... Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly."
The evening's programme was two short films by Somali director IBrahim CM -- "Hoos" and "Date from Hell" -- with tickets sold for $10 (8.50 euros) each, expensive for many.
According to sources contacted by AFP, the evening passed off without any security incidents.
Although Mogadishu was home to many cinema halls during its cultural heyday, with the national theatre also hosting live concerts and plays, the seaside capital fell silent after civil war erupted in 1991.
Warlords used the theatre as a military base and the building fell into disrepair. It reopened in 2012, but was blown up by Al-Shabaab terrorists two weeks later.
The Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers entertainment evil.

After a painstaking restoration, the authorities announced plans to hold the theatre's first screening this week.
For many Somalis, it was a trip down memory lane and a reminder of happier times.
"I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the national theatre during the good old days," said Osman Yusuf Osman, a self-confessed film buff.
"It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start," he told AFP.
Others were more circumspect, and worried about safety.
"I was a school-age girl when my friends and I used to watch live concerts and dramas at the national theatre," said a mother-of-six, Hakimo Mohamed.
"People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished -- but now, I don't think it is so safe," she told AFP.
The jihadists were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago, but retain control of swathes of countryside.
Attendees had to pass through several security checkpoints before arriving at the theatre, inside a heavily guarded complex that includes the presidential palace and the parliament.
But for some, the inconvenience and the risks paled in comparison to the anticipation of seeing a film in a cinema after such a long wait.
"I was not lucky to watch live concerts and or movies in the theatre (earlier)... because I was still a child, but I can imagine how beautiful it was," NGO employee Abdullahi Adan said.
"I want to experience this for the first time and see what it's like to watch a movie with hundreds of people in a theatre."


Culinary celebrations: Where to eat in Riyadh this Saudi National Day

Culinary celebrations: Where to eat in Riyadh this Saudi National Day
Updated 22 September 2021

Culinary celebrations: Where to eat in Riyadh this Saudi National Day

Culinary celebrations: Where to eat in Riyadh this Saudi National Day

RIYADH: A host of restaurants in Riyadh are celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National Day in style with special menus and entertainment.

The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh

The hotel is offering its usual festivities with a twist, inviting a Saudi celebrity chef to cook for guests in Al-Orjouan restaurant. Social media-famous chef Abdulelah AlRabiah is set to host a cooking station while guests will be serenaded by live Saudi music.

Lunch will be held from 12:30pm - 5pm, priced at $120 (450 SAR)

The dinner buffet runs from 6:30pm-12am, priced at (450 SAR) $120 for adults and $60 (224 SAR) for children.

Four food trucks will be stationed outside serving coffee, ice cream and burgers along with face painting and gifts for children.

Yauatcha Riyadh

The dim sum restaurant and tea house is offering a special set menu inspired by the Kingdom’s national colors until Oct. 2.

The $66 (250 SAR) per person menu features chicken spinach soup, a section of dim sum, and main dishes consisting of chicken, seabass, and pak choi, as well as dessert.

La Brasserie

Riyadh’s La Brasserie is offering their traditional international brunch and dinner buffets with additional Saudi dishes to celebrate National Day.

The brunch buffet will run from 12:30pm-3:30pm and is priced at $101 (379 SAR).

The dinner buffet will be held from 7:00pm-11:00pm and is priced at $73 (275 SAR), excluding drinks.

Al-Bustan Restaurant

Al-Bustan restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh is offering a dinner buffet that includes a clutch of international favorites, including grilled lamb with traditional Saudi spices.

Running from 7:00pm-12:00am on Thursday, a local performer will entertain guests to celebrate the occasion and dinner priced at $89 (335 SAR) per person.  

Four Seasons

Elements restaurant in the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh is offering an international buffet with a focus on regional favorites, including lamb kabsa rice, mandi varieties, mixed grills, cold mezze and, of course, Um Ali.

Live music will be played during the Thursday night dinner buffet between 7:00pm-12:00am.  

The dinner buffet is priced at $83 (311 SAR), excluding beverages.  

La, Gais

The Instagram-perfect, newly opened breakfast and specialty coffee spot will offer a selection of Saudi-themed breakfast and brunch items, along with live music.

Perfect for family brunch, the restaurant will be open from 4:30am-7:00pm during the National Day weekend.

Each menu item is priced separately, including tax.


Arab label Mrs. Keepa heads to Paris for fashion week

Arab label Mrs. Keepa heads to Paris for fashion week
Updated 22 September 2021

Arab label Mrs. Keepa heads to Paris for fashion week

Arab label Mrs. Keepa heads to Paris for fashion week

DUBAI: Dubai-based label Mrs. Keepa is set to present its Spring/Summer 2022 womenswear collection on the sidelines of Paris Fashion Week, as part of France’s Féderation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s “Welcome to Paris” initiative with the Arab Fashion Council.

The show is slated for Sept. 28 at Paris’s Palais De Tokyo and the label will also take part in Paris Fashion Week’s trade show partner event, TRANOI, which will take place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the same location.

Mrs. Keepa is known for its strong silhouettes and bold colors, as seen in this look from the label's 2019 show in Dubai. (Getty Images)

Helmed by half-Egyptian half-French designer Mariam Yeya, the label is inspired by a patchwork of evolving identities and her own dual heritage, which she explores through fashion.  

Launched in 2016, the label is a regular on the Fashion Forward Dubai circuit — an annual showcase of regional talent — and is known for its celebration of the female form, with a focus on defining silhouettes, voluminous details, striking patterns and kaleidoscopic colors. 

The label is helmed by Egyptian-French designer Mariam Yeya. (Getty Images)

For the Spring/Summer 2022 collection, titled “Harmonious Chaos,” the designer plays with organic shapes and opulent colors. Think cut outs and strappy maxi skirts, wide-leg camouflage cargo pants and larger-than-life sleeves.

 The collection will also feature pieces that traverse the boundary between recognizable separates — kimonos that work as skirts, dresses that can be worn as shirts and scarves that can be styled as waist-synching belts.

The show is slated for Sept. 28 at Paris’s Palais De Tokyo. Pictured is a 2019 show by the label. (Getty Images)

It is not the first time Arab designers have found a platform at Paris Fashion Week. To ensure that regional designers get the recognition they deserve, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode first teamed up with the Arab Fashion Council in September 2020 to host an exclusive showroom and presentation on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar that shines a light on Middle Eastern designers.

“The project is in line with the Arab Fashion Council’s vision to build an Arab economy based on creativity and to promote the Arab talents on a global scale,” said Mohammed Aqra, chief strategy officer of The Arab Fashion Council, in a statement at the time. “This is the first strategic alliance project with our French counterparts,” he added.


Ithra celebrates Saudi National Day with new cultural programs 

Ithra celebrates Saudi National Day with new cultural programs 
Updated 22 September 2021

Ithra celebrates Saudi National Day with new cultural programs 

Ithra celebrates Saudi National Day with new cultural programs 

DUBAI: In celebration of Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) launched a collection of Saudi cultural and heritage programs and activities to highlight the Kingdom’s diversity.

Under the slogan of “Melodies of the Homeland,” the celebratory activities will start on Sept. 22 and will run until Sept. 25. 

The National Day activities aim to present a collection of interactive cultural activities, music and art performances, traditional local crafts, various workshops, knowledge-based games for all age groups and more.   

The activities will include the Coffee Tales exhibition, which will shed light on the practice of farming coffee and the traditions associated with it, particularly in the Jazan region, as well as Saudi Aramco’s efforts to preserve it.

Another exhibition, called Tafaseel, will take its visitors on a cultural journey to embody the unity of the people and their interdependence from north to south and east to west. 

This colorful space will express the diversity of fashion as part of the cultural heritage across the local regions and tell stories about the civilizations that inhabited them.

Arab music sensation Ahmed Alshaiba will perform on Ithra’s stage and is expected to play his unique music that combines Eastern and Western genres.


Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 
Updated 21 September 2021

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

Emirati artist Aisha Juma takes part in ‘Beyond Belief’ exhibition in Germany 

DUBAI: Emirati visual artist Aisha Juma is showcasing her work at an exhibition titled “Beyond Belief” in Berlin, Germany. 

Supported by Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), Juma is taking part in the exhibition that brings together a variety of artworks from more than 35 artists. 

Aisha Juma is an Emirati visual artist. (aishajuma.com)

Open until Nov. 21, “Beyond Belief” explores the rise of modern-day spirituality, its origins, diverse manifestations and unique contemporary attributes. 

Juma, on her Instagram account, shared images of her drawings that are “inspired by the concept of art and spirituality.

“So happy to be part of this fundamental creative conversation,” she wrote. 

The inauguration of the event was attended by Hafsa Al-Ulama, the UAE ambassador to Germany. 

In her speech at the event, Al-Ulama praised the strong cultural ties between the UAE and Germany, and commended ADF’s commitment to participating in art exhibitions and festivals in Germany. 

She added that the festival’s sponsorship of “Beyond Belief” reflects Abu Dhabi’s role in promoting art worldwide.