Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters

Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters
The two sisters founded their multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio T Sakhi in 2016 and it has quickly become one of the most exciting creative studios in the region. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 November 2020

Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters

Reimagining design with the Sakhi sisters
  • Inside the increasingly influential Beirut-based design practice T Sakhi 

BEIRUT: Walk around Beirut long enough and you just may see some of Tessa and Tara Sakhi’s work; maybe an installation that questions the nature of public and private space, or a stunningly reimagined traditional Lebanese townhouse, or even bespoke pieces of marble furniture. 

Their creativity is matched by their ability to transcend boundaries — they veer into architecture, art, filmmaking and design — and their star has risen in recent years. The two sisters, born to a Polish mother and Lebanese father, founded their multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio T Sakhi in 2016 and it has quickly become one of the most exciting creative studios in the region. 

Their background, unsurprisingly, plays a major part in their work. “Growing up in a city like Beirut, rich in occidental and Arabic historical affluences, in a family where our mother comes from a Polish background while our father comes from a Lebanese one, helped us question the notion of home and our roots and drove us to be conscious of the hybridity of our culture,” Tara says. “These notions are at the core of each project we undertake as they bring back architecture and design to their essence: the influence of the human dimension in time and how to work with a contemporary approach while maintaining the traditional ones.”




Beirut played a large role in the sisters’ formative years. (Supplied)

Most architecture firms are not founded by siblings, and both sisters had to learn to adapt to their new working relationship. “In the beginning it was very challenging to work together because there were no obstacles and boundaries established between us as sisters,” says Tara. “So things tended to get very personal. It took us a couple of years to understand and calibrate the dynamics, and to establish healthy boundaries in order to be inspired and productive in our projects and in our sisterhood.”

Unsurprisingly, given the sheer range of the studio’s work, it’s hard for Tara to pinpoint a favorite project. “It’s like choosing a favorite child,” she says. “Our clients (come from) different sectors and with different types of projects, each very challenging in its own way: from transportable nightclubs, high-end restaurants to small épiceries, private residential projects to public urban interventions and installations, experimental workshops in glass-blowing in Murano as well as an ecstatic experimental dancing space in Tulum — our Lebanese pavilion for Abwab’s 5th edition for Dubai Design Week last November.




Most architecture firms are not founded by siblings, and both sisters had to learn to adapt to their new working relationship. (Supplied)

“We pour our heart and all our energy into working on each. You spend many months, sometimes years, building a relationship with these projects, the clients, the team you work with day and night. You even get attached to the context, and of course once it is erected, there is no greater feeling of pride and joy to experience an idea on paper come to life physically,” she continues.

“In the beginning, people often asked us whether we were architects, designers or artists. Our response was that we are sisters who simply do what we love and what moves us. We are curious (about) intersecting our different interests and watching the results. We do not emphasize a ‘discipline’ but rather a ‘way of thinking’ translated through different mediums, be it architecture, product design, installation or film. Each medium has its own form of expression and stimulates a different form of interaction.”

Witness ADAR, their stunning reimagining of a Levantine restaurant in Paris last year; a beautifully whimsical take on the Middle East’s textures and tones, that never lapsed into cliché. Or “Holidays in the Sun,” a series of public installations in Beirut that meditate on the city’s myriad security and military barriers. 

Indeed, Beirut played a large role in the sisters’ formative years; how could it not? It’s a city at once beautiful and cursed, filled with tales of despair, but also with resilience, creativity and hope. 

“We want to use our designs as a tool for re-questioning,” Tara says. “For instance, our Lebanon pavilion at Dubai Design Week last year, WAL(L)TZ, focused on transforming a wall into an activator of connection, sociability, and awareness. Lebanon is highly congested with (physical) walls, from security barriers and barbed wire embedded in the urban infrastructure, to fenced public spaces and privatized coastal and green spaces. Lebanon, as are most places, is primarily dominated by walls imposed by social-political norms and misinterpretations of religious and cultural values.

“Today, Beirut is unfortunately over-constructed — congested with buildings and construction sites, punctuated by private gardens, squares and beaches, and blocked by security barriers,” she continues. “There are barely any public spaces and greenery for the citizens to enjoy and to feel free in the city.”

That freedom was curtailed even further by the huge explosion in Beirut Port in August that wrecked large parts of the city. “There is hope for Beirut, there always has been and always will be,” Tara says. “It is a country that has raised itself from the ashes over and over again for many decades. It is constantly being destroyed by the corrupt political elite that has been ruling for the past 30 years, but the people and their love for the country are undoubtedly the pulse of the city and make it survive, revive and thrive. The blast destroyed in a split second all we have built and worked for. It is quite difficult to plan far in the future, we are living it out more organically.”


‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global
Updated 13 May 2021

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

DUBAI: From a fashion label to international brand collaborations, Dubai-based influencer Merihan Dobiea has been working hard to make a name for herself in the highly competitive fashion industry. 

The Egyptian blogger started her career four years ago, and already has garnered partnerships and brand deals with Swedish label Daniel Wellington and US footwear label New Balance among others. 

Dobiea, 23, recently launched the fashion label Threadz by Marmar. 

The brand, which went live in April, offers kaftans, dresses and abayas that can be worn by all women, not only conservative buyers, according to the young entrepreneur. 

“People say, ‘we see this stuff in the market, but every single piece has a different twist that you added that we can’t find in the market,’” Dobiea told Arab News. 

A month after the launch, the influencer said the feedback has been “amazing.” 

“I am getting orders from around the world — from the UK, Canada, Algeria, Egypt,” she said. “And a lot of customers are emailing me, praising the quality and packaging.”

To add a personal touch to the brand, Dobiea also sells two perfumes: Amani, named after her mother, and Layla, named after her niece.

Her passion for fashion and design goes back to her childhood. 

“I have pictures in my mom’s heels and her dresses. I always liked to apply lipstick as a kid. So, I feel like it was something that was just meant to happen after time,” she said. 

The idea for her fashion brand came after she struggled to find something for Ramadan to wear.

“I decided to start making my own stuff. I knew where the fabric shops were. So I went to get clothes that I liked and I used to take them to a tailor,” Dobiea said. 

After explaining her designs to the tailor, she began wearing the finished product. 

“People were like, ‘Wow, that’s so nice. Where did you get it from?’ and I’d always be like, ‘Oh, I just made it by myself,’” said Dobiea.

“Eventually my friends wanted to start wearing what I was wearing and I started making them pieces. Then it just got out of hand to be honest, but in a good way. So I started selling online.”

Dobiea began selling a few items on Instagram under a different brand name. But during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, she worked on the branding, quality and designs of her new brand, Threadz by Marmar.  

The designer is set to release a new Eid collection, just in time for the holiday. 


Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition
Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition
  • In ‘Before the Cypress Broke,’ 15 artists examine how their country reached its current juncture

BEIRUT: “After the explosion, I was ready to give away everything I’ve ever done if it made the situation better. I hopped on any opportunity to donate my work in exchange for raising funds,” says Lebanese visual artist Ayla Hibri. “A lot of good people put together these platforms of exchange and it really felt like it was helping. It confirmed to me that art carries a kind of transferable honorable energy that can push people to do good.”

Hibri is by no means alone. Following the lethal blast in the Port of Beirut in August, Mary Cremin, the director of Void Gallery in Northern Ireland, reached out to Beirut Art Residency (BAR), offering the organization her support. She was willing to host a fundraising exhibition at her space in Derry, with all proceeds going towards the BAR Support Fund, which provides emerging artists with small grants.

“Everlasting Massacre,” Ayla Hibri, 2018. (Supplied)

“It was a very stressful period for us, as all three of our spaces in Gemmayze (the residency, the Project Space and La Vitrine) were heavily affected by the blast, as well as our homes,” says Nathalie Ackawi, partner and co-director at BAR. “We were, however, very moved by the messages of support we received, and this gave us strength to work on this exhibition.”

The end result is “Before the Cypress Broke,” which brings together work from 15 contemporary artists and addresses the seemingly simple, yet immensely complex, question of how Lebanon reached its current juncture. Borrowing its name from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem "The Cypress Broke,” the exhibition includes work from Ali Cherri, Charbel Haber, Omar Khouri, Salah Missi, Sirine Fattouh, Stephanie Dadour, Sandrine Pelletier, Gregory Buchakjian, Valerie Cachard, Ziad Antar and Hussein Nassereddine.   

“Everlasting Residue,” Ayla Hibri, 2017. (Supplied)

Hibri’s "Everlasting Massacre” was the first piece to be selected for the exhibition, “mainly because of the strong duality it holds,” says Amar Zahr, founder and co-director of BAR. “At first glance it looks to be a beautiful view. However, upon closer inspection the viewer will notice the mountain is literally being scraped off for cement — an illegal practice whereby Lebanon’s mountains are being wiped off the map. The natural environment has been altered for the sake of profitable investments, to build skyscrapers and to export cement. It’s a strong statement on the corruption that was ignored for so long, but is now clearly visible in the altered landscape of the country.”

Another of Hibri’s photographs, “Everlasting Residue,” is also included in the show. Both are part of a series called “Acts of Violence.” They represent what Hibri describes as “unfortunate interventions” — acts of apathy, indifference or contempt that are sadly common in Lebanon.

Ayla Hibri’s “Everlasting Massacre” was the first piece to be selected for the exhibition. (Supplied)

“They range from a plastic chair left behind after a picnic, to a whole mountain being destroyed, and it gets worse and worse until it leads to the explosion of the port and the destruction of half the city,” she says. “It’s all connected. They are examples that capture arrogance, negligence and disregard — attitudes and sightings that we have learned to live with. These photographs carry the weight of the price we have to pay and the damage that will need to be reversed in order to transcend to a better place.” 

Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” features a lone figure blended into a complex but colorful environment. (Supplied)

Although she wasn’t in Beirut at the time, the explosion halted everything for Hibri and her priorities radically shifted. She concentrated on being available for her family and friends, raising funds, and talking about what had happened in an attempt to try and understand. On a creative level, however, she has struggled. “It’s actually been quite hard. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of Beirut after the explosion and I only managed to shoot one roll of film, which came out quite special but I will keep it to myself for now. It doesn’t feel right. Not much feels right to be honest when there is so much change to deal with and so many people suffering,” she says. “I spent most of my time the last few months researching, learning about our history, and trying to keep up with events as they occur, while maintaining my daily practice of going to the studio and working.” 

In contrast, Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” was an almost immediate response to the explosion — an attempt to recreate the destruction that he saw around him. It features a lone figure blended into a complex but colorful environment.

Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” was an almost immediate response to the explosion. (Supplied)

“I started painting it while the studio was in a chaotic state after the blast,” explains Vartabedian, whose studio is in the heavily damaged area of Mar Mikhael. “I just kept going to the studio for weeks, simply sitting there in the destruction and trying to digest it without moving a thing. I realized the need to recreate harmony with all the destruction around me by reimagining it in an aesthetic form.”

Vartabedian, perhaps, is in the minority. Daniele Genadry has also struggled creatively, not just with the explosion, but with all that has happened in Lebanon over the course of the past few years. She has found it “hard to react directly or even immediately on a creative level,” although she has been working on the idea of “first and last sight,” whereby perception is heightened through the knowledge of something’s potential loss. In other words, any given thing is only really seen for the first time when it is about to disappear.

“Familiar Mountains,” Daniele Genadry. (Harry Kerr courtesy of Void Gallery)

For the exhibition, which runs until June 5, Zahr and Ackawi chose a handful of prints from Genadry’s “Afterglow,” which features 20 photographs of a mountain view taken from Qartaba in Mount Lebanon. Shot over the course of 10 years, they vary in terms of timing, positioning, lighting and perspective, creating images that are “at once familiar and strange,” says Genadry, who also played with the distribution of light and color in each photograph. She then screen-printed them in black and white on mylar, a translucent material that changes appearance according to the light conditions in which the photographs are viewed.

“I think we are at a point right now where our perception of all nature is affected by a kind of bittersweet quality,” she says, “knowing that it is in danger and threatened due to the climate crisis and the shift in our relationship with it.” And because “Before the Cypress Broke” converses with grief and inevitability, says Genadry, “Afterglow” resonated “with the way I have approached the landscape motif in my work recently — as a bittersweet image.”

Daniele Genadry has also struggled creatively, not just with the explosion, but with all that has happened in Lebanon over the course of the past few years. (Supplied)

Although the question is left unspoken, all of the participating artists are faced with the same question: Where do they go from here? It’s almost impossible to answer.

“I believe that solidarity amongst the different players of the art scene both locally and internationally is essential,” says Ackawi. “Art and culture have always been essential pillars of the Lebanese identity, as well as its economy and tourism. It’s important for artists to continue to create and tell our story. As for us, as art practitioners and curators it is our job to support them in any way we can.”


No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey
Updated 13 May 2021

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey
  • The Palestinian singer-songwriter discusses her new EP, ‘Risha,’ and its ‘spirit of love, unity and exploration’

AMSTERDAM: UK-based Palestinian singer-songwriter Ruba Shamshoum has just released her second solo record, a five-track EP called “Risha.” It is, she explains, a record about “different shades of love.”

“Not the traditional love that we talk about in mainstream Arabic music,” she clarifies. “We usually just talk about romantic, sexual love. That doesn’t represent all that love is. There’s so much more: Love for a newborn, a partner, for unity and nature. Or self-love — going on the necessary journey of understanding yourself and not allowing anyone to dictate who you are. I really wanted it to be different shades, but all with the same spirit of love, unity and exploration.”

Shamshoum’s exploration of music began after finishing high school in Nazareth. Inspired by the acts she saw in MTV, she was a singer in a rock band. But when she started university, studying English literature, one of the modules was “Jazz in American Literature.” One day, the lecturer played Louis Armstrong’s version of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

“I was, like, ‘Oh my god! This is so playful. This is so happy.’ I just fell in love,” Shamshoum says. “It’s like the colors of the voice just appeared to me there. It made me realize a singer can do many things.”

Her association of ‘colors’ with voices and music is something that continues today, she explains. On the new EP, she says “Manara” is “a very dark, nocturnal forest kind of a song. It takes you into the woods,” while the title track is “pink-ish — it has more childlike qualities.”

After graduating, Shamshoum began studying music. And when her husband landed a job in Dublin, Ireland, she took the opportunity to sign up for a degree in Jazz Performance there. It was a big step. At the time, she didn’t play any instruments (she now plays keyboards) and knew nothing about music theory.

“It was a very demanding course,” she says. “But it was life-changing in so many ways. It was the first time I got real criticism, which is so important. A lot of musicians don’t get the privilege of getting good criticism of their work. That helped me a lot.”

Shamshoum’s genre-hopping blend of Western and Arabic influences is distinctive and striking. Its originality — the fact that it wasn’t a ‘safe’ sound based on things that were already popular — meant it required a certain degree of conviction from its creator, which Shamshoum says she may not have had without that “good criticism.”

“It really made me more resilient and confident in what I do, knowing that the people who were criticizing me wanted the best for me. They didn’t want to destroy me.”

Indeed, many of them helped her record her well-received first album, 2017’s “Shamat.” For a debut, it’s a remarkably self-assured work, on which she displays real faith in her own talent.

“I think since I wrote “Madeline” (released in 2015) — which was about dealing with self-loathing, and saying we’re not black-and-white, we are so many things, and that’s OK — I found my voice,” Shamshoum says. “When you see that other people are connecting with that, too, it gives you the confidence to say, ‘OK. I need to see what else is in there so more people can feel like they’re reflected in music and art.’”

The new EP builds on that record’s innovative take on Shamshoum’s influences, introducing electronic sounds and “tribal beats.”

“This record is definitely more groovy, more primal,” she says. “I would say it’s more upbeat, as well. We added a lot of layers, trying to get that celestial, atmospheric sound.”

The ‘we’ includes Grammy-nominated German-Turkish producer Alev Lenz.

“She really did an amazing job of connecting the dots (with musicians based in different countries). I feel like she took what I was doing and elevated it. It turned out much more powerful than I envisioned. It was such a beautiful journey.”

It’s a journey that began with that bold decision to take a music degree; a decision not everyone understood at the time.

“My mother was worried that I needed to start making money,” Shamshoum says. “I mean, she was right: There’s no money in music — especially as a niche artist singing in Arabic. In the West.” She laughs. “So she was worried about my future. But I have a partner who is really supportive. He was, like, ‘Don’t take half-steps. Just do the thing you want to do.’

“And with music, you either do it all the way or you don’t do it at all,” she continues. “You have to be committed. It needs to be part of your identity. Not your plan B.”


REVIEW: Superhero series ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ is overcomplicated and underwhelming

REVIEW: Superhero series ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ is overcomplicated and underwhelming
Updated 13 May 2021

REVIEW: Superhero series ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ is overcomplicated and underwhelming

REVIEW: Superhero series ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ is overcomplicated and underwhelming
  • Netflix’s attempt to grab some supe-cred falls well short of the mark

AMMAN: “Jupiter’s Legacy” has an intriguing premise and some serious pedigree behind it.

Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight’s source material is the eponymous comic-book series written by Mark Millar, the man who created two of Marvel’s most-beloved storylines: “Civil War” (The Avengers) and “Wolverine: Old Man Logan.” Millar’s knack for exploring the darker side of heroes and asking awkward questions about just how much freedom superbeings should be allowed to have in society is on display again here.

“Jupiter’s Legacy” focuses on a generation of superheroes who acquired their powers in the 1930s. The tale of how they did so is told in flashbacks (a misleading description given the painfully slow pace at which that story unfolds) intercut with the present-day storyline when those same heroes, or most of them at least, are looking to pass the torch to a younger generation of superpowered folks, some of whom are their own children, and some of whom have no wish to be superheroes.

The original heroes, led by The Utopian/Sheldon Sampson (basically Superman), played by Josh Duhamel, and his wife Lady Liberty/Grace Kennedy-Sampson (basically Wonder Woman), have all lived according to The Code — a set of ideals formulated by Sheldon when they first got their powers. The main two being not to kill and not to meddle in political affairs. The Code is being called into question in a world where supervillains have no such qualms about taking lives.

The show could have been — and occasionally tries to be — an intriguing meditation on parental dynamics (including the strain put on kids whose parents are the moral compass and defenders of the world), the transfer of power, the morality of killing to save lives or refusing to kill even though it may cost them, and the difficulty of remaining apolitical in an increasingly politically divided country/world.

Unfortunately, when the show does address those issues, it does so with all the subtlety and nuance of a foghorn. And by trying to cram so many hot-button topics into a show that also requires plenty of action, DeKnight presents the audience with an often incoherent story containing several jarring gear changes.

There is little time for any real character development either, so DeKnight falls back on genre tropes and stereotypes. There are peppy heroes, sardonic heroes, dumb-but-cute heroes… You get the picture.

And yes, it’s a superhero show — a genre that doesn’t lend itself to great dialogue, but even that low bar is too high for “Jupiter’s Legacy” to clear. You can almost see the actors wincing at some of the lines they have to deliver. Save them the embarrassment and watch something else.


Inside Dubai’s Guinness World Record-breaking hotel

Inside Dubai’s Guinness World Record-breaking hotel
Updated 13 May 2021

Inside Dubai’s Guinness World Record-breaking hotel

Inside Dubai’s Guinness World Record-breaking hotel

DUBAI: Address Hotels and Resorts will be coming to Saudi Arabia soon … but in the meantime, the company has been creating records in the UAE.

There was a lively vibe from the moment we entered the lobby of the Address Beach Resort in Dubai. The lounge was operating at full capacity (as per COVID-19 health and safety guidelines), serving teas, coffees, and light bites to tourists, groups of friends, and businesspeople.

At reception, we were welcomed by a friendly member of staff to assist with check-in. This was our first visit to the hotel, which opened in December, and we had high hopes – not only because of its excellent location and stunning views, but also for its Guinness World Record-holding features. But more on that later.

The brand currently runs nine hotels in the country. (Supplied)

The Address Beach Resort is the latest in the portfolio of Address Hotels and Resorts, part of the UAE’s Emaar Hospitality Group. The brand currently runs nine hotels in the country, plus one in Egypt. Its first in Saudi Arabia, the Jabal Omar Address Makkah, is set to open this year.

For people who experience ear-popping while riding an elevator, be warned, the Dubai hotel’s twin towers stand tall, 77 floors to be exact, featuring 217 guest rooms and suites, plus 443 furnished, and 478 unfurnished residences.

The hotel recently made headlines after receiving Guinness World Record titles for highest outdoor infinity pool in a building. (Supplied)

The resort offers different room types – mainly marina or sea view – and includes an exclusive two-bedroom panoramic suite, and three-bedroom presidential suite.

We opted for a humble deluxe sea-view room, but it was by no means subpar. Spaciously designed with neutral tones, and with just the right amount of furniture, the star of the room was without doubt the floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a glorious view of Bluewaters Island and Ain Dubai.

The only drawback was that the windows can get quite smudgy due to the humidity, and without window cleaning every day there can be times when the view is not crystal clear. So, for those wanting to take high-rise photos, booking a room with a balcony would be recommended.

The Dubai hotel’s twin towers stand tall, 77 floors to be exact, featuring 217 guest rooms and suites, plus 443 furnished, and 478 unfurnished residences. (Supplied)

Our spacious bedroom was accompanied by a similarly airy bathroom – with separate tub and shower (sadly, our rain shower was faulty) – and Lorenzo Villoresi Firenze toiletries.

While the Address Beach Resort is situated on the strip of The Beach in Jumeirah Beach Residence, the extent of the hotel’s facilities may for some make venturing out unnecessary.

Our inclusive breakfast was a hot and cold buffet at the all-day dining restaurant that opened up to the resort’s private pools and beach area. The only drawback was although the beach was security patrolled and just for hotel guests, a public footpath ran through the middle of it.

The resort offers different room types – mainly marina or sea view – and includes an exclusive two-bedroom panoramic suite, and three-bedroom presidential suite. (Supplied)

However, those wanting more privacy could opt for the infinity pool on the 77th floor – open to adults only. Unfortunately, our visit came just prior to the pool and its adjacent Asian fusion restaurant, Zeta Seventy Seven, opening to the public.

The hotel recently made headlines after receiving Guinness World Record titles for highest outdoor infinity pool in a building, and highest occupiable skybridge floor. And the pictures make it look quite special.

The smart casual Li’Brasil is located on the ground floor and has a relaxing outdoor area. (Supplied)

For more views, another great and unlikely observation point was the fitness center on the 75th floor, where watching the world pass by below sure beat looking at the treadmill’s TV screen.

For niche dining, we discovered the smart casual Li’Brasil, located on the ground floor and with a relaxing outdoor area. We shared plates of black bean dip, cheese cigars, coffee-rubbed beef fillet, and mixed marinated seafood with black rice. During our visit, the restaurant was hosting the birthday of a well-known Egyptian film director, an event attended by quite a few familiar faces. It certainly represented a marker of a hotspot.

The Address Beach Resort definitely offers more highlights than lowlights, but the building’s design can sometimes mean rather too many, at times slow, elevator trips. And now that Zeta Seventy Seven has opened, how will those who have just finished a workout feel about sharing a lift with well-dressed diners? Perhaps the perfect excuse to skip the gym.