Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 

Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 
Experimental film photographer Abdullah Alhumaid has produced a piece of work called “Rats of Bat’ha,” a project capturing daily life in a Riyadh neighborhood. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 

Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 
  • Abdullah Alhumaid drives film photography’s revival at the crest of a wave of creative potential in the Kingdom
  • The experimental film photographer’s ‘Rats of Bat’ha’ project captures daily life in one Riyadh neighborhood

DUBAI: Experimental film photographer Abdullah Alhumaid is not your average 25-year-old Saudi. His creative journey, which began unexpectedly on the streets of Beirut, has flourished, resulting in “Rats of Bat’ha,” a project capturing daily life in a Riyadh neighborhood.

In the age of smartphones and Instagram filters, old-fashioned film photography is a dying art — limited by a finite roll of film and the patience required to develop it. But Alhumaid’s eye-opening work could provide the flash of inspiration needed for a wider comeback.

“The experimental experience started at the beginning of 2018 when I was going for a quick trip to Beirut,” Alhumaid told Arab News. “Two hours before my flight, I met a friend who had a film camera, which I had never operated. I borrowed it for the trip to experiment and to see how it goes.”

What stuck with Alhumaid after his trip were interactions with Beiruti locals who became his photographic subjects. While convincing them to shed their inhibitions and pose for portraits, he too was coaxed out of his comfort zone. Something had clicked.

“It was surprisingly beautiful, given I’d never operated a camera before, especially a film one, which was not at the top of my list,” he said. “The interactions were breathtaking — I allowed myself to interfere with people’s daily lives and tried to put them on the spot.”

Although many of his subjects were hesitant at first, the process of persuading them was central to Alhumaid’s experience, from careful first impressions to the questions he posed to put them at ease.

“It’s not about nagging, because that’s not comfortable,” he said. “I got to interact with different types of people, including homeless people, and got to know their stories. It’s about connecting in a human way. And when you open up to them, that gives you a worthwhile experience that you wouldn’t normally think of.”

Unfortunately, his first roll of film was damaged, erasing his earliest work. His second shoot, however, proved far more successful thanks to some valuable tips from an experienced Beirut photographer who took him under his wing.




Although many of his subjects were hesitant at first, the process of persuading them was central to Alhumaid’s experience. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

The end result is Alhumaid’s signature style of moody city snapshots, many of them employing the sharp dualities of light and shadow, while others mesh urban straight lines with a blur of motion. The dated quality of film lends the images a hue of nostalgia.

“What I love about the film camera is that you’re not attached to the results,” he said. “You don’t see results immediately, so you’re not distracted by the tool; rather you’re inspired to be in the moment and to place your focus on the interaction.

“You only get 36 images, so you’ll be pickier and more aware of what you shoot because you don’t want to waste your whole film on one subject.”

In the age of digital photography, where pictures can be captured, cropped, retouched and deleted faster than you can say cheese, it is surprising to see old film cameras making a comeback in modern Saudi Arabia.

However, there are now very few stores in the Kingdom fitted with darkrooms to develop rolls of film — just one in all of Riyadh in fact. As a result, Alhumaid is on the lookout for like-minded shutterbugs who want to rebuild the industry.

Al-Bat’ha is one of the oldest commercial districts of downtown Riyadh — increasingly diverse and always buzzing. In October 2018, after returning from Beirut, Alhumaid made this distinctive neighborhood his source of inspiration.

“It is unfortunately left behind, and now only expats live there,” Alhumaid said. “It used to be the downtown of Riyadh. Going there and seeing the contrast we live in, in terms of bubbles we create for ourselves, was mesmerizing — the simplicity, the colors, the fruits, the expats, and how they were shocked at how we were taking photos of them. It was lovely to touch base with the city.”

It was here Alhumaid framed the idea for “Rats of Bat’ha.” And in case you were wondering, he and his shoot team are the eponymous rats, weaving through the urban maze with rodent-like curiosity, he says.

“Al-Bat’ha is the street that pushed me again to take this passion forward and keep it as a funnel feeding itself with simplicity,” he told Arab News. “I didn’t want to plan anything; I wanted everything to be spontaneous and take it everywhere.”

And that he did. From Japan, Portugal, Versailles in France, and everywhere else his photography has taken him, Alhumaid has tried to connect with local street life by capturing people on film. In the process, he said he has evolved.




From Japan, Portugal, Versailles in France, and everywhere else his photography has taken him, Alhumaid has tried to connect with local street life by capturing people on film. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

Born and raised in Riyadh in a conservative household of academics and consultants, Alhumaid feels blessed to have grown up without technology. “They forbid it, not just because of religion, but because of how much it consumes you,” he said of his parents.

“And I’m grateful for that, because they allowed us the space to create, to generate ideas and to work with what you have so it reflects your intellect.”

As such, his five siblings ended up in fashion design, psychology, French literature, law and medicine. “It’s derived from not having a TV,” he said. “These elements played a role.”

After a six-month stint playing for Al-Shabab football club, Alhumaid’s interest turned to Riyadh’s art scene, which was burgeoning in 2013. There he met a whole new community. After working in Dubai for a short period with Careem Wallet, he moved back to Saudi Arabia in July 2019 and enrolled at the Misk Art Institute, in collaboration with the palace of Versailles.

“We went to Versailles for five weeks and it was unbelievable,” he said. “I worked in the cultural development department, where we did this program to attract Saudi tourists to Versailles, given that the smallest number of visitors come from the Middle East and the GCC.”




Alhumaid is continuing to build his photography portfolio and someday hopes to feature his work in local and international exhibitions. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

After completing his program, he worked in the brand team of the Al-Musafer travel agency in the Kingdom for seven months, before an opportunity with the content team at the Saudi Tourism Authority presented itself.

“We work with international agencies from New York and London in terms of development and content creation. I’m only six months in and I’m just ecstatic,” Alhumaid said.

“It’s beautiful, because we see the country opening up and people changing their behavior and their misconceptions. We, as a society, have so much to offer.”

In the meantime, Alhumaid is continuing to build his photography portfolio and someday hopes to feature his work in local and international exhibitions. Luckily for him, a great wave of creative potential is cresting in Saudi Arabia, bringing with it whole new industries in art, music and film.

“Some people started their own production houses, studying abroad and coming back to the country,” Alhumaid said. “Saudi Arabia is booming now more than ever — tourists have started visiting and that’s how you learn from each other, by being exposed.

“It doesn’t help anyone to be divided. And that’s how we move forward, as the bad apples start changing their behavior.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis
Updated 49 min 40 sec ago

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis

Saudi FM: Hezbollah’s power is the main cause of Lebanon's crisis
  • Prince Faisal reiterated the Kingdom’s continuous solidarity with the Lebanese people in times of crises
  • The minister said any aid provided to Lebanon by the Kingdom depends on serious reforms being carried out

RIYADH: Hezbollah’s insistence on imposing its hegemony on the Lebanese state is the main cause of Lebanon’s problems, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Speaking at an international conference on Lebanon marking the first anniversary of the Beirut Port explosion, Prince Faisal bin Farhan urged Lebanese politicians to confront the organization’s behavior in order to achieve the will of the Lebanese people to combat corruption and implement necessary reforms in the crisis-stricken country.
Prince Faisal added that any aid provided to Lebanon by the Kingdom depends on serious reforms being carried out while ensuring the money reaches its beneficiaries and not siphoned off by corrupt officials.
“We are concerned that the investigations into the Beirut port explosion have not yet yielded any tangible results,” the foreign minister said. 
He praised the efforts of France and the international community to support Lebanon and its people, stressing the need for these efforts to be accompanied by real reforms to overcome the economic and political crises sweeping Lebanon. 
Prince Faisal reiterated the Kingdom’s continuous solidarity with the Lebanese people in times of crises and challenges, and stressed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to its contributions to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon.
“The Kingdom was one of the first countries to respond to providing humanitarian aid to Lebanon after the horrific explosion that occurred exactly a year ago in the port of Beirut through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief). KSRelief continues to implement its programs in Beirut to this day,” Prince Faisal said.
The donor conference to raise emergency aid for Lebanon's crippled economy on Wednesday raised $370 million, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.


Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 511,318
  • A total of 8,284 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 14 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,043 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 214 were recorded in Makkah, 192 in Riyadh, 169 in the Eastern Province, 126 in Asir, 92 in Jazan, 65 in Madinah, 43 in Hail, 39 in Najran, 19 in Tabuk, 18 in the Northern Borders region, 16 in Al-Baha, and 11 in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 511,318 after 1,211 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 8,284 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 28.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
Updated 04 August 2021

Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
  • Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi aims to preserve the history of social and cultural life in Saudi Arabia
  • Makkah in those days was a beacon for writers, poets and scientists

MAKKAH: A Saudi agricultural engineer is spending his retirement years helping to preserve the Kingdom’s architectural and cultural history — in the form of extremely accurate models of important buildings and sites in Jeddah and Makkah.

Now Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi has turned his house in Jeddah’s Al-Rawdah neighborhood into an exhibition space to showcase his models, which represent a fascinating record of daily social and cultural life in the cities in the early-to-mid 20th century.
A good example of this is his model of a “writer’s cafe” in the Misfalah neighborhood of Makkah that was once popular with writers, intellectuals and poets. Through it, he said, he aims to immortalize the role these figures played in the development of literature in Saudi Arabia and the country’s cultural history.
“Knowledgeable people told me that the cafe where Makkah’s writers, poets and intellectuals used to go to was Saleh Abdulhay Cafe, located next to Bajrad Cafe,” 72-year-old Al-Hebshi told Arab News. “Similar cafes were found throughout Makkah’s Misfalah neighborhood in the past.”
He said culture and literature thrived in Makkah in those days, along with the study of science and the quest for knowledge. The city was therefore a beacon for writers, poets and scientists, and the Saleh Abdulhay Cafe was one of the places where they could gather for intellectual and cultural discussions.
“Among the cultural and intellectual figures that used to go to the writer’s cafe … was the Saudi Minister of Culture Mohammed Abdu Yamani,” he said, adding that such venues were the country’s first literary and cultural forums, where people could gather to discuss literary and intellectual issues.
With his models and exhibition, Al-Hebshi said he wants to depict and preserve this history of day-to-day life and culture in Makkah and Jeddah in days gone by. In addition to the cafe, his models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth.
In particular, he said he wants to immortalize the lives of the intellectuals and writers of the era by documenting their daily lives, the ways in which people interacted with them and how neighborhoods such as Misfalah developed as important cultural centers.
So far he has spent three years building his models of cafes, shops, houses and public squares. He has completed four and is working on a fifth. The task requires hard work and patience, he said. For example, it requires great effort to accurately recreate in miniature the rawasheen, the elaborately patterned wooden window frames found in old buildings in Makkah and Jeddah that maximize natural light and air flow. Great accuracy is required throughout the model making process when it comes to the sizes, dimensions and scale.
“One meter in real life is 10 centimeters in the models,” Al-Hebshi said, which represents a scale of one-to-10. “This measure seeks to maintain, as much as possible, the space’s real dimensions.”
The contents of rooms must also be in scale with the building and each other, he explained: “A bottle of Coca-Cola cannot be bigger than a watermelon and so on.” These are all important details in his models, he added, which ensure they are accurate and consistent.
Given the incredible detail and quality of the models, you would be forgiven for thinking Al-Hebshi is a trained carpenter; in fact he is an enthusiastic amateur with a true passion for the craft. Such is his dedication that even hand injuries — and the need for surgery after damaging a finger with a drill — have not kept him from his work for long.

HIGHLIGHT

Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi says he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets.

He said his model making began after he found some tools that had been abandoned in a carpentry shop, and for materials he used wood and discarded kaftans he found in stores he shopped at. Wood cutting requires great skill, he added, and while he makes most parts of his models, he said he imports some items from abroad to ensure the highest levels of accuracy. For example he buys miniature signs advertising popular international brands such as Pepsi, Miranda and 7-Up, which are difficult to recreate through woodworking.
Al-Hebshi was director of the Agricultural Bank in Jeddah when he was forced to retire in 2006 as a result of a back injury, and he found himself wondering what he could do with his time. A few years earlier he had developed an interest in woodworking but the demands of his job left him with little time to pursue it. A friend who was aware of this suggested he do something with the wood from a large felled neem tree that had been dumped in Jeddah.
“That tree turned out to be the start of me professionally building models,” he said. He added that he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets. The Saudi leadership has put a special focus on the area to showcase its history and splendor and Al-Hebshi said that this has helped him research his detailed designs.
He added that he welcomes all those who wish to visit his house, in Al-Rawdah neighborhood 3, to see his models. He plans to build more to add to his incredible picture of past life in the Kingdom, and the people who helped the country become the nation it is.


Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert
Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert
  • Head of UN Center for Counter-Terrorism ‘impressed by the pioneering research work’ carried out by Kingdom’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology
  • Center’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of extremism among people with hearing disabilities, singled out for particular praise

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) is a “world leader” in pioneering work to prevent and counter violent extremism, according to Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Center for Counter-Terrorism (UNCCT).

“Etidal is a world leader in this field and we are proud of it,” he said during a visit by a UNCCT delegation to Etidal’s headquarters in Riyadh on Tuesday. “We are very pleased … to be able to work closely with the center.

“We are impressed by the pioneering research work you are doing in this field. We have to follow your example on matters in which we need to cooperate.”

Khan in particular highlighted Eitdal’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness among people with hearing disabilities of the risks of extremism, saying he had never seen any other initiatives designed to reach people with disabilities in this way.

“I congratulate you on this project and we would like to know more about it,” he said. “As you know, we in the United Nations have specific agencies that deal with matters of concern to people with disabilities from a humanitarian side only, unlike your side, where I think we should see the whole picture.”

The UN delegation was welcomed to the center by Etidal’s secretary-general, Mansour Al-Shammari. During the visit the two sides discussed ways to enhance cooperation in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism and violent extremism.

The delegation also learned about the center’s monitoring and analysis mechanisms, the techniques it use and the models it is creating and developing, as well as the most prominent advanced technologies in the field.


Saudi Arabia to take part in G20 digital economy event

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi Arabia to take part in G20 digital economy event

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Saudi Arabia has realized qualitative achievements in this regard, mainly the unanimous approval of countries on a roadmap to measure and define the digital economy

TRIESTE: Saudi Arabia is taking part in a G20 digital economy event on Aug. 5.
The G20 Digital Economy Ministers Meeting will discuss key issues related to digital transformation ahead of a final communique that will be endorsed by heads of states and governments at the Rome Summit.
It is an extension of the role played by Saudi Arabia during its G20 presidency last year. The Kingdom aims to focus on empowering people, protecting the planet and forming new horizons.
Saudi Arabia has realized qualitative achievements in this regard, mainly the unanimous approval of countries on a roadmap to measure and define the digital economy, in addition to adopting artificial intelligence principles.
Communication and Information Minister Abdullah Al-Swaha is scheduled to take part in the event.
The G20 aims to take the lead in ensuring a swift international response to the COVID-19 pandemic – able to provide equitable, worldwide access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines – while building up resilience to future health-related shocks.
Each G20 presidency includes the organization of ministerial meetings on each of the main focus areas of the forum. These meetings are important opportunities to discuss and further develop issues of international relevance.