UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 
London dealer Peter Harrington Rare Books is taking part in SIBF for the second time. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 November 2020

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 

UK-based rare book dealer digs deep into Arabian history 
  • Highlights from Peter Harrington Rare Books’ offering at Sharjah International Book Fair

DUBAI: This month’s Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), which runs until Nov. 14, offers book lovers over 1.7 million titles from regional and international publishing houses. 

London dealer Peter Harrington Rare Books is taking part in SIBF for the second time. The company was founded in 1969 and has built a strong reputation in the antiquarian book industry for its rare and valuable first editions and manuscripts related to travel, literature, history, science, and more.

“A lot of these books come from a period before cinema and sound recording. There’s no other way to access what life was like (then) except through books,” the firm’s senior specialist and head cataloguer of the SIBF catalogue Adam Douglas told Arab News. “Perhaps paintings as well, but — in the orientalist field — you’re not sure if you’re seeing a realistic view of life (in paintings); you’re seeing romanticized views. Books quite often have more details and realism in them.”

Peter Harrington Rare Books is showcasing 40 of its works hailing from or inspired by the Arab world in Sharjah. “We’ve taken on experts in various fields and we’ve been able to deal in those books related to Arabia generally. It’s been exciting and a learning curve for us,” said Douglas. Here, he talks us through four of the highlights. 

Gulf Aviation photo albums (1948-55)




Engineer Freddie Bosworth set up his multiservice company ‘Gulf Aviation’ in 1950. (Supplied)

Photography and history enthusiasts will find these albums particularly fascinating and insightful. Containing more than 550 original color and monochrome images, they reveal the early days of commercial aviation in the Gulf region, Iraq and Persia at a critical time “when the region was just opening up to Western oil companies,” according to the firm’s fair catalog. Demonstrating the long relationship between Britain and the Gulf, one of the pioneers of regional aviation was British military pilot and engineer Freddie Bosworth, who set up his multiservice company ‘Gulf Aviation’ in 1950. It eventually developed into Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air. 

Aside from capturing landed planes and modest airport buildings, everyday scenes of locals and architectural towns are also portrayed in these photographs, which were taken with standard professional equipment by an unidentified British aviator. “He had a good eye and was going there at a key time for the foundation of aviation in the Gulf and of course, that’s really important now because there are major airports there. In his photographs, you can see small sheds and the contrast is fantastic,” explained Douglas. 

‘A Pilgrimage to Nejd, the Cradle of the Arab Race’ (1881)




This elegant pair of journals tells the tales of her travels through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the vast desert area of Nejd in the central part of modern-day Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

In the late 19th century, it was uncommon for a Western woman to travel in Arab lands. But Lady Anne Blunt, an aristocrat and passionate equestrian, was an exception. Blunt was born in England and spent the last years of her life in Egypt. This elegant pair of journals — accompanied by a foldable map and containing several sketches — tells the tales of her travels through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the vast desert area of Nejd in the central part of modern-day Saudi Arabia.

One charming illustration shows Blunt and her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt — who traveled with her and was also a writer — dressed in Bedouin garb and standing near an Arabian horse. 

“They made a striking couple,” remarked Douglas. “What drew them to the region was (a search) for Arabian horses. They were part of a tradition which was prevalent at the time among a lot of English people who were fascinated by the region. The distance in language and in culture was so vast that it was really exciting to go and explore Arabia.”

Monumental Qur’an (1870/1)




Meaning ‘copy’ in Arabic, the legible and simple Naskh format dates back to the 10th century. (Supplied)

In this massive, salmon-pink-toned manuscript, one can see rows and rows of miniscule Arabic writing, which actually represent the entire text of the Qur’an, marked with a few corrections. Douglas notes that it took one hand to carefully carry out this body of writing, executed in the Naskh style — one of the six major scripts of Arabic calligraphy. Meaning ‘copy’ in Arabic, the legible and simple Naskh format dates back to the 10th century and was commonly used by scribes to copy administrative, literary and Qur’anic texts.  

With its repetition of shimmering gold floral motifs, there is a subtle decorative element to this approximately six-feet-wide wall hanging. Its place of production was Mughal India — probably Delhi. The Mughal Empire lasted for nearly three centuries and achieved a level of refinement in its artistic and architectural landscape under royal patronage. Looking at the manuscript’s lower part, the colophon suggests that it was made for the Mughal Empire’s last emperor, Bahadur Shah II Zafar, who was also a Sufi poet and calligrapher. 

Varthema’s travel account (c. 1511)




The travel-themed gem’s author is the intrepid Ludovico di Varthema, who was one of the first non-Muslims to enter Makkah. (Supplied)

Another travel-themed gem, described as “one of the most remarkable travel books of the Renaissance.” It was translated into Latin (having originally been published in Italian) during the 16th century. Its author is the intrepid Ludovico di Varthema, who was one of the first non-Muslims to enter Makkah. He disguised himself as a mamluk called ‘Yunus’ escorting a pilgrim caravan. In addition, Varthema’s travels led him to Yemen, India, Persia, Somalia, and Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). 

“He was a great traveller and was as famous in his time as somebody like Marco Polo. He is so far in advance of any other description of Makkah by a Westerner — there’s no other printed account of Makkah that early,” Douglas explained. “There was a tendency in travel literature up to that date for people to cobble together travel narratives from different sources, so you never quite trusted those. Varthema actually went. And this is his sole narrative.” Aside from giving a first description of Makkah in Western literature, Douglas added that it also gives the first eye-witness account in print of what is now the UAE: "He mentions visiting Julfar — modern Ras Al-Khaimah. There is only one reference in print I can trace preceding that, which misdescribes Julfar as an island and is a compilation from earlier manuscripts by Fracanzano da Montalboddo, who did not visit the region himself." This work is also extremely rare. The firm claims it is “the only copy of the first Latin edition to have appeared at auction in 40 years.” 


US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans
Updated 24 July 2021

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

US-Egyptian jewelry label Jacquie Aiche snaps up celebrity fans

DUBAI: From British actress Emily Blunt, to US stars Justin Bieber and Khloe Kardashian, Egyptian-American jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche’s celebrity fan base expanded this week.

 The label has quickly managed to emerge as a A-lister-loved brand, with stars like Kylie Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and Shanina Shaik adorning themselves with the Los Angeles-based jewelry house’s signature diamond-encrusted body chains, anklets and stacked gemstone rings on the red carpet.

This week, Blunt showed off an ornate ring by the label while doing press interviews for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” her latest film in which she stars alongside Dwayne Johnson and Edgar Ramirez.

Blunt was dressed by Hollywood stylist Jessica Paster, who made sure to get mileage out of the ring by featuring it in several ensembles on the press tour, including outfits by Gabriela Hearst and Zimmermann.

For her part, Kardashian opted to show off a dainty body chain by the brand during a photoshoot for her label Good American’s latest swimwear release. She paired the jewelry, which wrapped around the torso, with a neon yellow swimsuit.

To wrap things up, Bieber showed off a pair of small hoop earrings by Aiche, which he paired with a red visor.

(Instagram)

Aiche, who was born to an Egyptian father and an indigenous American mother, launched her eponymous label from her garage in 2008. She has since amassed an impressive celebrity client list that includes the likes of Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry, whose stylists flock to her Beverly Hills showroom in droves to adorn their clients in her signature delicate earrings, finger bracelets and chokers ahead of red carpet events. The jeweler is also the brainchild behind Chrissy Teigen’s bespoke engagement ring from John Legend.

The part-Egyptian jewelry designer’s store in Los Angeles is full of jewelry items made from delicate raw quartz, tourmaline, moonstone and countless other special stones. Her pieces often feature Arab influences like hammered gold, amulets and the evil eye talisman, as well as natural elements such as turquoise, fossils and precious gemstones, which are a nod to her indigenous American ancestors.

 


New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
Updated 24 July 2021

New exhibition in Manchester explores nature through British-Arab eyes

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown. (Supplied)
  • Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora
  • Lead artist: ‘After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need’

LONDON: A new mixed-media exhibition exploring the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain through the lens of people’s relationship with nature and green space has launched in the north of England.

Free to visitors and run by the Arab British Centre, the Manchester-based installation highlights stories of migration, diaspora, and the intricacies of the Arab-British experience in all its intersections and diversity. 

Themed around the idea of nature and named “Jarda” — “garden” in Moroccan Arabic — artists will give audiences a chance to “walk in nature through Arab eyes.”

English-Moroccan creator Jessica El-Mal, lead artist and one of the co-producers of the installation, said her inspiration for the project came when the UK was still in lockdown and when parks, fields and forests became people’s only outing.

The women-led exhibition encourages visitors to appreciate the green spaces available to them, while also exposing audiences to the Arab experience in modern Britain.

“Working with this group of amazing women has made me appreciate Manchester, myself and my femininity in a whole new way. After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need,” El-Mal said.

Amani Hassan, program director at the Arab British Centre, said: “Since it was first launched in 2019, our Arab Britain theme has set out to explore the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain.”

The program aims to overturn preconceptions, challenge prejudices, retrace the ways the Arab world has influenced and shaped British culture and society, and celebrate the contributions of Arabs in the country, past and present. 

“Jarda highlights the universal comfort and connection we can all find in nature through intimate and personal reflections on home, belonging and the power of community,” Hassan said.

“We hope that visitors to the museum enjoy their walk in nature through Arab British eyes and are encouraged to reflect on their own connections to it.”

The physical exhibition will be accompanied by a digital offering that will give people free access to a host of creative activities that aim to encourage people to reflect on their own connections with green spaces.

“Jarda” is open now, and will run until Oct. 10 in Manchester’s People’s History Museum.


Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city
The text-based installation “Beirut Narratives” is currently in display in Lebanon. Supplied
Updated 23 July 2021

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city

Art installation ‘Beirut Narratives’ is a testimonial from a traumatized city
  • Text-based installation offered residents ‘a silent, anonymous way of protesting’ after the devastating port explosion

DUBAI: “I burst into tears.” “I was shaking.” “My chair flew me right above ground.” “No right to dream.” “Bitter feelings.” “Apocalypse.” 

These are some of the brief-but-harrowing testimonials from survivors of the catastrophic Beirut Port explosion of August 4, 2020, which are now being publicly displayed on the streets of the Lebanese capital as part of the text-based installation “Beirut Narratives.” The installation was conceived by Lebanese sisters, architects and co-founders of Architecture et Mécanismes, Celine and Tatiana Stephan. 

From the banking crisis to price inflation and fuel shortage, it has been a surreal year of lows for most Lebanese civilians. On the day we had arranged to discuss the sisters’ latest project, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned after failing to form a new government. 

The text-based installation was conceived by Lebanese sisters, architects and co-founders of Architecture et Mécanismes, Celine and Tatiana Stephan. Supplied

“Each one of us is thinking: ‘How can people still be so adapted to such a situation, in terms of the economic crisis and the socio-political situation?’ Everything is happening all at the same time,” Celine told Arab News. “People are, I believe, tired and frustrated. What we’re trying to do, as architects, with this urban installation is to rethink the city.”

Unlike many young professionals who are hoping to migrate or have already left the country for better opportunities abroad, Celine and Tatiana have decided to stay for now, for better or for worse, in their home country. “Beirut is like a parent to us,” said Tatiana. “When your parents are getting old, you just don’t leave them behind and go. You help them, support them and push them to be better.” 

Continuing the theme of family, Celine added: “I have two daughters. I would like them to live in Lebanon and see change happening and be part of that change. Despite its misery, chaos, and lack of infrastructure, it’s a city that inspires us at all levels.”

The Stephan sisters gathered testimonials from a diverse group of people, including friends and family, firefighters and healthcare workers. Supplied

In recent months, the pair turned their attention towards buildings and spaces in the neighborhoods of Gemmayze, Karantina and Mar Mikhael, which have been damaged and stand empty in the aftermath of the blast. In a commemorative manner, these silent and neglected buildings are given their own voice. 

“We wanted to make those buildings talk, because it’s somehow like a new way of manifestation,” explained Celine. “It’s a silent, anonymous way of protesting,” added Tatiana. 

The Stephan sisters gathered testimonials from a diverse group of people, including friends and family, firefighters and healthcare workers, all of whom were releasing pent-up anger and sadness and were willing to share their experiences of that horrific day. Children also contributed drawings to the project. 

Children also contributed drawings to the project. Supplied

For the Stephans, it was all an emotional and healing experience. “We sat with those people, we talked to them, we cried, we heard every single story. I still have goosebumps now,” said Celine. 

Divided into three categories — descriptions, emotions, and reflections — the testimonials were written out with red, black and white spray paint onto pieces of brown jute, later transformed by stitching into bold tapestries or “fragments.” According to the Stephans, who did the spraying and stitching, the use of jute was intentional, as it is accessible and serves as a reminder of the durable material used to transfer wheat into the silos at the Port of Beirut. 

The sisters and their collaborator, the Lebanese-Danish creative consultant Mira Hawa, went to different sites, personally hanging the fragments, which is in itself a risky task. “We had to go to the edge of a high building, on the 11th floor, and the wind was extremely strong. We had to improvise, we didn’t know how to install it because it was huge and there was a lot of wind,” Tatiana said of one of their challenging experiences near the port. 

The testimonials were written out with red, black and white spray paint onto pieces of brown jute, later transformed by stitching into bold tapestries. Supplied

Seeing the women lead the installation process on site was surprising for some. “Men were coming out in their sleeveless vests, with their big muscles, hanging over their balconies to see who these three girls were,” said Hawa. “One of the first comments we got was: ‘Who’s going to help you? Where are the guys?’” 

Despite encountering difficulties in accessing some buildings, they persisted and installed the work on 13 buildings. For some, the fragments proved to be too intense — akin to rubbing salt into a wound. 

“Some people were very disturbed when they saw the piece,” said Celine. “I remember one time we were not even installing; we were trying to talk to an NGO to discuss the possibility of installing. The owner of a building was there and he was really destabilized and he started crying. We felt really bad and asked ourselves so many questions: Are we making the right choice?” 

The project also tackles the notion of speaking up in an environment that often suppresses inner thoughts and feelings related to trauma. Supplied

Tatiana echoed Celine’s sentiments, highlighting how sensitive this whole project has been. “I felt that for some who were engaged in the piece, you feel in their eyes as if you put a knife into a wound,” she said. But overall, the project was positively viewed and embraced by locals. It brought out a sense of community, with many assisting the women during the arduous installation process. 

“We were touched by everyone who wanted to help, who offered us coffee, or water. They barely have anything to eat and drink,” remarked Celine. 

“Beirut Narratives” ticks a number of boxes, acting as a form of cultural activism, supporting the Lebanese people and offering them a sense of justice. The Stephans and Hawa hope that one day these fragments can also travel abroad, igniting empathy with the Lebanese diaspora. The project also tackles the notion of speaking up in an environment that often suppresses inner thoughts and feelings related to trauma. 

“We have a very painful habit in the Middle East, that every time something (bad) happens we just get on with it. I think it’s about time we stopped and made some noise,” said Hawa. “When you see the pieces on the street, it’s very bold, it’s very raw and prominent. You cannot ignore it.”


Pop-culture highlights from across the region

Pop-culture highlights from across the region
Photographed by Kishore Das. Supplied
Updated 23 July 2021

Pop-culture highlights from across the region

Pop-culture highlights from across the region

DUBAI: From indie electronica to live performances, and adorable animals to wilting trees, these are the pop culture moments you might have missed from the region.

Kishore Das 

The Indian photographer was one of five winners of the Dubai-based Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award’s (HIPA) June Instagram photo contest, the theme of which was “Your Pet.”

HIPA Secretary General, Ali bin Thalith explained the reason for the theme in a press release, saying: “The relationship between humans and their pets is deeply ancient. The quality of its emotions is complex; it’s rich in detail, situations and beautiful in its spontaneous reactions.”

Das won for this image taken in 2016 at the Sacribel Elephant Camp in India’s Karnataka state. “I was catching a scene in the distance when I suddenly noticed this little elephant playing with one of the caretakers near me. I wanted to capture this perfect emotional moment, so I had to use my 70-300 mm zoom lens. One of the reasons that I love this photo is because it was the baby elephant who approached and showed his closeness and interdependence,” Das said in the press release. 

It's a major win for Das, who only began a full-time photography career in February last year, after quitting his job in IT.

Gurumiran

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by miran gurunian (@gurumiran)

The veteran of the Beirut indie scene (real name Miran Gurunian) pays tribute to his Armenian roots with his latest single “Partsratsoum.” The song is based on a poem by Vahan Tekeyan, an Armenian poet and activist, known as The Prince of Armenian Poetry.

“I related a lot to the story — which is a popular poem in schools,” Gurunian told Arab News. “I composed the music to reflect the theme, which is about the advice offered by a father to his son: Aim, reach, and rise high, but take along your loved ones, because the higher up one reaches, the colder and lonelier it gets.” The track has a jazz-y, folk-y feel, with Makram Aboulhosn’s double bass, Delaney Stöckli’s cinematic string arrangement and Dani Shukri’s stuttering drum beat underpinning Gurunian’s typically tasteful guitar work. And it was written in a single day. “Everything fell into place effortlessly,” Gurunian said. 

Zahed Sultan 

“Born to a Kuwaiti father and Indian mother, I had the fluidity to straddle both cultures; navigating being bullied and feeling shame to find my (super)power,” the London-based multimedia artist wrote of his latest single, “Hindi Majnoon.” He described the track — auto-tuned vocals over a pounding Bollywood-style beat — as “a tribute to people who were ‘othered’ for being different in whichever way while growing up.” The accompanying video, shot between Kuwait and London, is, he said, “a journey through industrial crevices and societal tropes laced with nostalgia to bring you closer to the experience of migrant ‘workers’ living in Kuwait.”

Tayar

The Arabic indie duo (singer-songwriter Ahmad Farah and producer and filmmaker Bader Helalat) have released a new two-track EP called “Khams Sneen.” The title track started out as a folk song, according to Farah, but has since morphed into a largely synth-driven indie-pop number. It’s heavily inspired by US duo MGMT, Farah told Arab News, because “they wrote a lot of songs that discussed childhood and also had a sense of absurdity.”

Sara Naim

The Dubai-based photographer’s striking 2019 image “Broken Palm” is part of “Chemistry of Feeling,” a community exhibition of analog photography that runs until Sept. 21 at Dubai’s Gulf Photo Plus. “Drawing on the delicate connections between a tumultuous past year for human relationships and photography, this exhibition locates moments of slowness, micro- and macro- revolution, introspection, and the folding priorities of the present, captured in film format,” the gallery says of the show. “We invite viewers to engage with these varied personal stories, and in the process, meditate on what it is to feel, care, and see in a fraught contemporary landscape.”

LUMI 

The much-lauded, often-inactive Lebanese duo — Marc Codsi and Mayaline Hage — dropped the title track of their new EP “Eternity,” a four-track record written between 2019 and 2021 “while our home country Lebanon and the rest of the world went through unprecedented turmoil,” the duo said on social media. The record is “rooted in the feelings and emotions triggered by these strange times.”

On the title track, Hage’s dramatic vocals float over increasingly urgent instrumentation, which, they said, “resonates like an ode to transcendence, to what is above and beyond human experiences and resides inside of us, in a longing to stay connected to that energy. We find ourselves transported in a frenetic and delicious race, suspended between a wild and aggressive electronic rhythm and a transcendent voice coming from another dimension.”


REVIEW: ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ — Navot Papushado’s thriller is all froth, no flavor

REVIEW: ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ — Navot Papushado’s thriller is all froth, no flavor
“Gunpowder Milkshake” was directed by Navot Papushado. Supplied
Updated 23 July 2021

REVIEW: ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ — Navot Papushado’s thriller is all froth, no flavor

REVIEW: ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ — Navot Papushado’s thriller is all froth, no flavor
  • What could have been a celebration of female empowerment delivers condescension and confusion

AMSTERDAM: “Gunpowder Milkshake” director Navot Papushado is clearly a fan of the “John Wick” movies, in which Keanu Reeves stars as a stoic, multi-talented assassin facing off against hordes of other assassins in a series of staggeringly executed, stylishly shot fights, set in a world with its own hierarchy and rules, and a few neutral zones where violence is prohibited. And why not? The three “John Wick” movies are great.

In “Gunpowder Milkshake,” Karen Gillan stars as a stoic, multi-talented assassin facing off against hordes of other assassins in a series of stylishly shot fights, set in a world with its own hierarchy and rules, and a few neutral zones where violence is prohibited. Sadly, that’s where the similarities end.

The film stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey and Angela Bassett. Supplied

Unlike the “John Wick” movies, the fight scenes in “Gunpowder Milkshake” are not staggeringly executed. They are clunky affairs that feel overstaged — like an amateur-dramatics group’s interpretation of a Hollywood fight scene. And Gillan, so popular as Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is disappointingly uncharismatic as this movie’s heroine.

She plays Sam, the daughter of legendary hitwoman Scarlet (Lena Headey) who was forced to forsake Sam 15 years ago to go on the run, having killed someone who was ‘off-limits.’ In the present day, Sam is herself a stellar contract killer working for The Firm — the shadowy cabal for whom Scarlet was a regular Employee of the Month.

The movie is supposed to be a fun 90 minutes or so of great action sequences. Supplied

When a contract goes wrong and Sam kills the son of the boss of another criminal enterprise, The Firm decides it can no longer protect her. So she must also go on the run, accompanied by a young girl whose father she has just shot and who has no other relatives to look after her.

Pursued by a plethora of angry men (none of them a three-dimensional character or a worthwhile opponent), Sam and the young girl, and Scarlet (who turns up when Sam needs her most), and three female “librarians” (actually arms dealers for assassins) must fight for their lives. Women vs. men, see? But the women are the better fighters, yeah? It’s so transparent that it’s kind of insulting.

The movie is supposed to be a fun 90 minutes or so of great action sequences. Certainly, the lack of effort apparent in the dialogue and character building backs that up. And that’s fine. But when those sequences are not particularly thrilling (at no point is there any suggestion that the women are in danger of losing), what’s left?