A vital tradition: female artists in Casablanca exhibition discuss significance of textiles

A vital tradition: female artists in Casablanca exhibition discuss significance of textiles
This artwork is by Moroccan artist Amina Agueznay. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 November 2020

A vital tradition: female artists in Casablanca exhibition discuss significance of textiles

A vital tradition: female artists in Casablanca exhibition discuss significance of textiles
  • Jardin en Soi, an exhibition at Loft Art Gallery, examines the key role of traditional textiles in contemporary art and design

DUBAI: Three female artists have joined forces in Jardin en Soi (Inner Garden) in a show running until Nov. 30 at the Loft Art Gallery in Casablanca to uphold the importance of traditional textiles from their homeland. In one of the first exhibitions dedicated to the use of African textiles in contemporary art, each work by Moroccan artists Amina Agueznay and Ghizlane Sahli, and Joana Choumali from Ivory Coast offers a powerful marriage of contemporary forms and artisanal traditions. The artists believe in the preservation of age-old textile techniques as a way of also preserving their country’s heritage and identity.

The Healers by Joana Choumali




The work is part of the Ivorian artist Joana Choumali’s body of work entitled Albahian. (Supplied)

Three children dressed in golden pleated outfits complete with golden bands around their head stand in a dreamy tropical landscape of lush palm trees with a vibrant mix of colors. Titled The Healers, as if in reference to the name of the artwork, the children appear to beam with joy and hope, signaling the dawn of a new day. The work is part of the Ivorian artist Joana Choumali’s body of work entitled Albahian, which in the Agni language of the Akan group in the Ivory Coast, means “the first light of day.” “Every morning, I start my day with a walk at dawn,” Choumali said. “I then immerse myself in what surrounds me, in what I see and feel. During these walks, I also listen to my emotions and to what I feel.”

The work, like Choumali’s other artworks, is close to her previous series Ça va aller and Translation. “The intention here is different,” she said. “It is more intimate and introspective.” Choumali, the first African to win the prestigious Prix Pictet photography prize, created Albahian using mixed media composed of embroidery, quilting, collage and photomontage. In the creation of the work, like others in the series, she superimposed layers of transparent fabric on photographs of passers-by, silhouettes and still-lives that she took during the early morning. Here, real and imaginary worlds are woven together with a heightened sensitivity to the surrounding natural and cityscape of Chouamli’s hometown of Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast. “Like the morning light at the beginning of each new day, I observe and become aware of the change in my thoughts and my perception of realities. It is like a daily pilgrimage,” said Choumali. “My work becomes the materialisation of memories and dreams I had while walking and exploring the city.”

A Garden Inside by Amina Agueznay




The installation is made of textiles incorporating traditional Moroccan techniques. (Supplied)

A garden made of various shades of green natural dye spun wool shoots up from the floor of the gallery. Made by Moroccan artist Amina Agueznay, the work, with its uneven sized rectangular forms in varying heights, could also be a cityscape, albeit colored green. Agueznay, who trained as an architect and is also jewelry designer, is dedicated to preserving the craft of skilled artisans from her homeland. The installation, with its intricate pathways between the symbolic green rectangles, is made of textiles incorporating traditional Moroccan techniques. “As soon as I have obtained from the material the infinite freedom that I am looking for, I begin the work from a manual approach,” said Agueznay. “It is the hand that tames the material and it is the hand that also freezes it.” The artist’s “garden” is individualistic in nature—no two forms are alike and yet they merge as part of a greater whole—just like the idea of preserving one’s heritage through contemporary art.

Histoire de Tripes by Ghizlane Sahli




The piece is a work by Moroccan artist Ghizlane Sahli made in silk threads on plastic and metal from her series Histoire de Tripes. (Supplied)

An unordered mix of red cell-like forms comes together to form an anamorphic shape, similar to that of a human organ. The piece is a work by Moroccan artist Ghizlane Sahli made in silk threads on plastic and metal from her series Histoire de Tripes, in which she collected recycled plastic bottles, cleaned and cut them up, and then coated them in vegetable silk thread with the help of local Moroccan female artisans. Sahli referred to these silk-wrapped bottle tops as “the Alveoles”, which is the French word for “cells” or “alveoli.” Sahli’s abstract sculpture refers to French author Antonin Artaud’s 1947 work Body without Organs, which challenged the human body or individual’s social call for status in society. Artaud, like Sahli, challenges the notion of behavioral conditioning in favor of a free individual not confined by preset physical or mental notions. “I imagine a great hand that would grasp the human body and shake it vigorously in order to rid it of all its pollution acquired through religion, education, society and gender,” said Sahli. “I wanted Histoires de Tripes to address the inner purity of being.”


Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care
Updated 18 May 2021

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

Startup of the Week: Tebr Jewelry; Each piece made with the utmost care

JEDDAH: Abeer Khafaji is a Saudi artist who designs and sells luxury jewelry for her brand, Tebr Jewelry. She discovered her love for the craft when she began experimenting with handmade jewelry.

“I began studying jewelry designing. It took several courses to hone my skills. Now I make sure that each piece is made with the utmost care, using the highest quality materials from the best suppliers,” Khafaji told Arab News.

Her jewelry is made with natural diamonds and precious and semi-precious stones that she chooses to match her designs. She also pays special attention to the packaging of her pieces, which is part of the “Tebr experience.” “My biggest challenge was finding manufacturers who could help me convert my ideas to physical products while maintaining the elegance I aim for,” she said. Tebr has participated in numerous local and international jewelry exhibitions. However, the designer said she gets the most joy out of her work when she sees her customers talking about her products and wearing them with pride. “My biggest achievement was opening a Tebr atelier in Jeddah,” she said.

Khafaji explained the process behind her work: “It takes a lot of time and effort to launch a new collection at the right time. We start working on these months in advance. It is a long process to choose stones that are compatible with my designs, so to ensure perfection we make the demos before the pieces are released. Then we arrange photography sessions with the crew, and then comes social media advertising. But thankfully, it’s all worth it in the end.”


Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments
Cult Gaia is a Los Angeles-based label founded by Jasmin Larian. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

DUBAI: Harvey Nichols Kuwait announced this week that they will no longer be stocking Cult Gaia products after the Los Angeles-based brand’s founder, Jasmin Larian, made comments on Instagram that were deemed by many on social media to be “anti-Palestine.”

Her post, which she shared with her 28,200 Instagram followers read: “I am seeing so much misinformation on social… One-sided and spreading hate. Please educate yourself on the full story before reposting. I’m praying for everyone on both sides who are a victim of this violence.” She also reposted a photo depicting the words “I support Israel’s right to defend itself.” 

Many in the region perceived her post as taking an anti-Palestine stance and engaging in “bothsidesism,” and urged local department stores and e-tailers to stop selling Cult Gaia products.  

In response to the backlash her post garnered, Larian, who is Iranian-Jewish, later shared: “I realize I am part of the problem by failing to share both sides.” She added, “I also want to be clear that I am in support of the Palestinian people and their rights but not of the leadership that uses them to incite violence and hatred for Israel and Jews. In a perfect world, Israel should be a place for all people and all religions.” However, a number of retailers have already made the decision to remove Cult Gaia from shelves.

Harvey Nichols in Kuwait took to Instagram on Monday to announce their decision to stop stocking the ready-to-wear label. “Our dear followers, due to the current escalation of events, the decision has been made to remove Cult Gaia from Harvey Nichols,” said the statement.

Galleries Lafayette in Doha followed suit, replying to a user calling for the boycott of the brand in an Instagram direct message that they are “in the process of taking the necessary action.”

Ounass, a leading luxury e-tailer in the region, has also stopped selling Cult Gaia products on its online platform as well as Bloomingdales Middle East.

The death toll in Gaza has climbed to a total of 197, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip this week, at least 1,235 Palestinians have been injured, with the number expected to rise, the health ministry said.


Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear
Updated 17 May 2021

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

DUBAI: While Arab womenswear designers continue to take the international fashion scene and celebrity red carpets by storm, menswear is still a work in progress. Understanding the need to fill the gap in the market, cousins Abla and Raneen Kawar launched ARAK, creating unique designs for men and also shining a spotlight on Arab culture. 

With sustainability and community at the forefront of the brand’s ethos, ARAK is a social enterprise, empowering local women and preserving their fading culture. Here, the duo discusses their label, fusing fashion with technology, and why showcasing Middle East traditions is so important. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

Tell us about the idea behind ARAK.

We launched ARAK (meaning “I see you”) with the aim to preserve our Arab heritage by using artisanal skills and techniques in the production of our pieces, namely cross stitch embroidery. We grew up in a family that values sustainability and caring for the environment, so it’s important for us to carry out those values. 

Why focus on menswear?

We noticed the visible gap in the market, particularly with Arab menswear brands. So, we wanted to fill that gap by incorporating traditional Levantine embroidery through our designs. As part of our sustainability efforts, we only want to offer consumers garments that are not offered in the market today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

You say ‘each garment narrates a wider narrative,’ how so?

Each collection we produce has an overarching narrative, which the designs are inspired by, and then each piece has a hidden narrative to tell – the story of the woman who spent endless hours creating it.                                                                                                                                  

Most of your artisans are underprivileged women in Jordan, why was this important to you?    

Part of ARAK’s ethos is female empowerment. We provide the women with jobs and the opportunity to be financially independent and to help them provide for their children, all from the comfort of their own home. It was important to support these women and destigmatize the taboo around women working in traditionally conservative households.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

How does your relationship work with the local NGO in Jordan?

ARAK works with a local NGO based in Amman, for the production and operation of embroidering the pieces in order to ensure quality and consistency. The local NGO launched in October 2020, aiming to help women build sustainable income as well as build their skills professionally. They work with a not-for-profit academy which offers 100 percent free artisanal courses for members in a bid to continue advancing their skills. We offer the women work with fair wages and ethical working conditions.

ARAK’s designs also fuse tech with tradition, tell us more.               

Today’s world is shifting towards being more tech-dependent. So, it was a no brainer that the initial step we would take as a brand was to implement a woven QR code attached to each garment. Our QR code allows purchasing customers to track how to care for their garment, be introduced to who made it, and identify our transparent practices. We hope to integrate more tech-savvy solutions to our brand in the future.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

What was the inspiration behind your SS21 collection?                     

Re-discovering our country from a new lens, particularly appreciating the little things as well as the beautiful landscapes that we took for granted pre-COVID-19. The designs in this collection, translate the beauty of the Jordanian landscape through embroidery.                              

What’s your opinion on the representation of Middle Eastern talent in the fashion industry?

The region is filled with incredible talent, many that are yet to be discovered. We believe that representation of the Middle East for what it is still has a long way to go to be perceived in the light it deserves. ARAK aims to do that by making sure all our work is supporting local talent, from the production down to the photographers, models and anyone involved in the creative process of our journey.


Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East
Demi-Leigh Tebow wearing Michael Cinco at the Miss Universe 2020 finals. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

DUBAI:  Filipino couturier Michael Cinco seems to be a favorite when it comes to beauty pageants. Miss Universe fans will recall that the Dubai-based designer created the gowns that Pia Wurtzbach and Iris Mittenaere, who were crowned Miss Universe in 2015 and 2016, respectively, wore to take home the crown.

This year, he was tasked with designing the dresses of some of the contestants, such as Nova Stevens of Canada, for the Miss Universe 2020 finals, which took place on Sunday evening at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, South Florida.

He also designed the dresses that Miss Czech Republic Klara Vavrushkova and Romania’s Bianca Tirsin wore to the preliminaries on May 14.

Miss Czech Republic stunned in a Michael Cinco gown at the preliminaries. Getty Images

Stevens announced the news weeks ago by posting a photo with the renowned designer on Instagram.

 “Boss! Michael Cinco needs no introduction! So grateful to have you as my official gown designer for Miss Universe,” she wrote alongside a heart-eyed emoji.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by NOVA (@thenovastevens)

Stevens wasn’t the only designer to don a frock by the Dubai-based label during the televised Miss Universe 2020 finals.

Demi-Leigh Tebow, who won Miss Universe in 2017, channeled 1930s Hollywood glamour in a gown designed by the Filipino talent during the 69th edition of the pageant in Florida.

Olivia Culpo wore an embellished Zuhair Murad gown to host the Miss Universe 2020 competition. Getty Images

Tebow served as an expert analyst and correspondent during the event which was co-hosted by the Miss Universe 2012 titleholder Olivia Culpo and American actor Mario Lopez.

For the occasion, Culpo chose a design from Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. The fashion influencer opted for a pink, heavily-embellished gown with a single shoulder from the Arab designer’s Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection.

Couturiers from our neck of the woods had a big night.

Rabiya Mateo, who represented the Philippines wore two glamorous creations by Dubai-based Amato for the preliminary show and for the finals.

Miss Philippines Rabiya Mateo wore a gown designed by Amato at the 2020 Miss Universe prelimenary show. Supplied

In March 2021, it was announced that the annual competition would be returning with a live broadcast after a number of safety precautions were put in place.

 Twenty-six-year-old Andrea Meza from Mexico was crowned Miss Universe 2020, while Miss Brazil, Julia Gama, was the runner-up and Miss Peru, Janick Maceta Del Castillo, secured third place.


Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 
Updated 17 May 2021

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

CHICAGO: The youngest writer —and the first debut author — to be shortlisted in the history of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is Saudi Arabia’s very own Aziz Mohammed for “The Critical Case of a Man Called K.” Hailing from AlKhobar, Mohammed’s novel follows a young man named K whose is hyper-aware of the monotony of his life. Everything, up until now, has been predictable, but when fatigue sends him to the hospital, K learns that he has leukemia. Translated into English by the award-winning Humphrey Davies, the story of K is a tale that takes an intimate look at a young man’s life when he is faced with illness and death.

K is introspective almost to the point of exhausting himself. He has a mother who has always taken care of him but equates reading books to being as harmful as smoking, a father who dies before he finishes high school and a sister and brother who do everything they are asked to do. K, on the other hand, fights the tedium while attempting to be a good son. Pulling references from his favorite authors, such as Kafka, Hemingway, and Tanizaki, he feels his life as an IT graduate, which was the chosen career path for financial reasons, is not what he wants to do, and he longs for something different.

Through K, Mohammed has created a character who is sensitive to how his presence affects everyone around him, as if he can see his sound waves rippling through people and altering them. He longs for inspiration to write a novel, but the environment does not concede to exploration or anything out of the ordinary.

Mohammed’s debut novel is a darkly humorous look into the life of a man who desires more in life when he is diagnosed with leukemia. The journey into illness is intimate and distressing, watching someone’s world turn upside down while at the same time offering an alternative to the mundane and predictable. There is rawness to life when faced with death, duty bound mothers, sons, and daughters, the tension and love between children and parents, and the fragility of the system when love and tradition don’t always move parallel to one another.