Saudi photographer Mohammed Jubran’s remarkable journey of self-discovery

Saudi photographer Mohammed Jubran’s remarkable journey of self-discovery
Left: Mohammed Jubran self-portrait. Top and bottom right: Jubran's black-and-white portraits capture life his hometown of Al-Ahsa. (Photos: Mohammed Jubran)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Saudi photographer Mohammed Jubran’s remarkable journey of self-discovery

Saudi photographer Mohammed Jubran’s remarkable journey of self-discovery
  • Native of Al-Ahsa quit unfulfilling corporate career to pursue his real passion and retrain as a therapist to help others
  • Thanks to a new creative outlet and a blissful trip to India, Jubran found himself on the road to recovery

DUBAI: Mohammed Jubran, 33, spent almost his entire youth afflicted with stomach pains and depression, which damaged his grades and drained him of all motivation.

It took quitting his career and even leaving the country to see the world through a camera lens to help turn his life around.

Today, Jubran is well-known among the locals of his native Al-Ahsa in eastern Saudi Arabia for snapping their portraits on black and white film and using the stark contrasts of light and darkness to capture their angular features and subtle emotions. In the process, he has exposed his own inner darkness to the light.

“What I like about taking portraits is that these are people I live with. They shared this earth with me, and I want to immortalize them,” Jubran told Arab News.




Jubran has recently relocated to Riyadh from his native Al-Ahsa to pursue his career in professional photography, having worked for a time in a studio to build up his portfolio. (Photo: Mohammed Jubran)

It was during middle school when he first laid his hands on a camera, but it was only years later, during a trip to Turkey in 2017, that his journey into photography really began. 

“I started walking around with my camera, taking pictures, and I really fell in love with it. When I came back (to Saudi Arabia), I started to explore more tricks in photography and started to shoot around me in my neighborhood, taking a lot of portraits.”

Born in Al-Ahsa but raised in Al-Khafji, a town bordering Kuwait, Jubran said his university days were among the darkest of his life, weighed down by a heavy cloak of depression. “It was a real obstacle for me. I got dismissed twice for low grades even though it was not about my intellect.”

Mental illness remains something of a taboo subject in conservative Arab societies. With limited outlets to discuss such conditions openly, particularly for young men, those grappling with inner demons often keep them bottled up inside.

Dr. Haifa Al-Gahtani, a pioneering Saudi psychiatrist, told Arab News in June that while there was an abundance of medical doctors in the Kingdom, the number of qualified therapists and mental-health professionals remains comparatively low.

Uncertain what to do with his life when he graduated in 2011, Jubran felt his way into the corporate world. Eight years on, he wanted out.

“I was diagnosed with depression in 2010, but I can trace the symptoms back to 2003. So, during that whole period I had no idea until I was diagnosed. It’s not a very easy thing at all. The culture we live in doesn’t shed light on this, so you’re oblivious,” he added.

The traditional sources of guidance provided little solace. “I visited so many sheikhs and religious people for help,” he said, but to no avail.

A SAUDI MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN

A major nationwide campaign entitled “Your Mental Health Comes First” was launched in Saudi Arabia in November. It is a joint initiative by the Saudi Sustainable Development Association (Talga) and the Ministry of Health’s National Center for Mental Health Promotion (NCMH). The goal is to raise awareness about anxiety, depression, and work burnout and ways to prevent and treat the conditions. By 2030 officials hope to train at least one-third of people living in the Kingdom as mental-health first-aid practitioners.

Talga and the NCMH recently hosted the first of their collaborative mental-health first-aid practitioner training courses. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training programs have been Arabized and adapted culturally by Saudi experts. Mental-health training is expected to help achieve socioeconomic targets of the Vision 2030 reform plan and Quality of Life Program’s goals.

Many people experiencing a mental-health disorder find it hard to pin down the exact cause. Often it is a combination of factors. Jubran thinks his conservative upbringing placed a particular strain on his psyche.

He said: “I was raised in a very conservative family and I’m not that conservative, so I had a clash there. I also had stomach issues, which, it can be argued, started the depression. Usually, they work in a vicious circle — one triggers the other right away.”

Jubran has Crohn’s disease — an inflammatory bowel condition which can cause frequent bouts of pain and discomfort. But he believes there is more to his mental state than the illness alone.

“I’m not really sure why but I believe it’s genetic and I was inclined to feel depressed. I can’t pinpoint it exactly because depression is vague. I was just depressed and not motivated at all.”

Something had to change. Burned out by his unfulfilling job, Jubran resigned to instead embrace his true passion for photography and retrain as a therapist to help others overcome mental-health disorders.

“I had a long journey with depression, and I feel I’ve accomplished my way out of it. I feel it could help people, which is why I wanted to get certified as a therapist. I’m done with corporate life. I can’t live as a capitalist anymore,” he added.

The light finally dispelled the shadows for the young Saudi when his relationship with photography flourished — and when he began to travel. It was during an adventure to the Indian subcontinent when he plucked up the courage to quit his job.

“My therapist suggested I do a yoga course in India for a month, and I fell in love with the country,” Jubran said. “I absolutely loved it. I came back home, quit my job and went back right away for three months until the pandemic hit, and the Saudi embassy provided us with a way out.”

He described his time in India as blissful, between backpacking and discovering himself, to meeting new people and taking as many pictures as possible.




Jubran is well-known among the locals of his native Al-Ahsa in eastern Saudi Arabia for snapping their portraits on black and white film and using the stark contrasts of light and darkness to capture their angular features and subtle emotions. (Photos: Mohammed Jubran)

“Because of depression, I wasn’t very social, so I struggled a lot when communicating with other people.

“To overcome this, I traveled alone so I had to interact with other people and get out of my comfort zone, which helped me a lot. I say photography is what got me out of depression, but it took me to India. Yoga helped a lot with depression, and it gave me the motivation to go back to India,” he added.

Along India’s popular tourism trails he was exposed to all walks of life, which helped him better understand himself, grow in confidence, and feel more comfortable in his own skin.

“Depression was keeping me in the same spot for a very long period. When I went to India, photography opened that for me and showed me the spiritual and philosophical parts of yoga. Photography really guided my way out of depression,” he said.

As the eldest son, and having lost his father at an early age, Jubran was worried his family would not accept his choice of work and lifestyle. He was pleasantly surprised by his mother’s support.




It was during middle school when Jubran first laid his hands on a camera, but it was only years later on a trip to Turkey in 2017 when his journey into photography really began. (Photos: Mohammed Jubran)

“A lot of things about my family were deluded because of depression but I’m now being myself with my mother, who’s very religious” he said. “When she saw the changes, she loved it. A mother will always love her children.”

Jubran has recently relocated to Riyadh to pursue his career in professional photography, having worked for a time in a studio to build up his portfolio. “There isn’t a bigger business opportunity than in the capital,” he said.

But his interest in black-and-white portrait photography continues to be a source of catharsis.

“Taking portraits is something I do for myself. I go out to souks and markets, and take photos based on the light available,” Jubran said.

“The essence of photography was just lights. Even as a child in art class at school, I never colored my pictures. It expresses what I need to express in the photo. Colors can be distracting.”

He hopes to one day publish his work in a coffee table book. After all, the mental health benefits of a creative outlet can scarcely be overstated.

“It’s part of identifying yourself through expression,” Jubran said. “It’s crucial for each individual’s personal experience, and as a community, to reflect their ideas.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese captures beauty of both worlds

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese captures beauty of both worlds
Noha Raheem says when she was younger, she discovered the three famous Japanese written scripts — including Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana — and she was awestruck. (Supplied)
Updated 23 June 2021

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese captures beauty of both worlds

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese captures beauty of both worlds
  • My enthusiasm for Kanji script started six years ago, says Saudi designer and calligrapher Noha Raheem

JEDDAH: Saudi artist, designer and calligrapher Noha Raheem ventured into the world of calligraphy in an unconventional way, fusing her interest in Kanji — the logographic Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system — with Arabic calligraphy.

The result has been a portfolio of unique and eye-catching works that capture the beauty of both worlds
“I’m fond of Arabic calligraphy and graphics in general. My enthusiasm for Kanji script started six years ago,” Raheem told Arab News.
“Any calligraphic font has its roles and system. When I was younger, I discovered the three famous Japanese written scripts — including Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana — and I was awestruck. The impressive vertical letters, the way they are formed and their meaningful symbols were like a secret code.”

FASTFACT

In Arabic calligraphy, writing proceeds from right to left and forms a horizontal line. Artists rarely confine themselves to convention, though.

In Arabic calligraphy, writing proceeds from right to left and forms a horizontal line. Artists rarely confine themselves to convention, though.
“For Kufic calligraphy and freestyle in Arabic, I was driven by passion. I was inspired by Hajji Noor Deen in my beginnings, and later on, I created Arabic calligraphy in the Kanji style to show the beauty and flexibility of this complex yet innovative mix,” Raheem said.


The self-taught calligrapher discovered the roles and philosophy behind the beauty of Kanji script. “It is said that the only rule for Japanese and Chinese calligraphy is that it is beautiful, no matter what is written. What matters is how it is written. That’s why I believe the Kanji style can be merged and fitted with our Arabic letters to create a masterpiece for both eye and mind,” she said.
She explained that Arabic letters are equally malleable. “They can be shaped in any way, and still keep their form and meaning. Today I wrote my letters in the Kanji style. Later, I might do it in Urdu just to show the world how flexible and beautiful Arabic letters are.”
Raheem’s artworks, including famous sayings and poetry in Arabic, are written freestyle — a tricky task.


She also writes Qur’anic verses in Kanji: “I love to write words that anyone can relate to, including poetry and short verses with iconic and universal messages. I can apply this art to any word, as long as it makes sense to me.”
Raheem is faithful to the cultures she draws inspiration from, using traditional Sumi ink and off-white, antique-style background colors with black script, or vice versa, to mirror the essence of the Japanese style.
She also uses Japanese calligraphy brushes, Xuan rice paper, and Kakejiku, a Japanese hanging scroll used to display and exhibit paintings and calligraphic inscriptions and designs.
Her love for and dedication to Japanese art drove her to share her knowledge and display her works at art cafes, galleries, and sushi restaurants in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
She encourages other Arab artists to explore the beauty and flexibility of the Arabic language and preserve it through art. Raheem can be found at her Instagram account @noha_raheem.


Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia
Health authorities urged the public to continue to follow all precautionary measures. (SPA)
Updated 23 June 2021

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia
  • Authorities urge compliance with health guidelines

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday recorded the highest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases since Aug. 13, 2020.
Authorities in the Kingdom reported an additional 1,479 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 476,882. Of these, 11,131 remain active and 1,487 patients are in critical condition.
The Health Ministry also said there have been a further 12 virus-related deaths, raising the death toll in the country to 7,703.
Makkah region has the highest number of new infections, with 431, followed by the Eastern Province with 280 and Riyadh region with 256.
The ministry said that an additional 920 patients have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 458,048. It added that about 16.8 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered, an average of 94,104 a day, which is a rate of 48.2 doses per hundred people.
Health authorities urged the public to continue to follow all precautionary measures and ministry guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. All ministries and other government bodies in the Kingdom are working together to ensure compliance with health guidelines.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia reported 1,479 new cases on Tuesday.

• The Makkah region reported the highest number of infections.

• With 12 new fatalities, the death toll has risen to 7,703.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development carried out 448,126 inspections of commercial establishments in the private sector throughout the country in the first five months of this year. The aim is to ensure employers are following all rules and regulations relating to pandemic-related health protocols and to Saudization legislation. The teams recorded 45,421 violations and issued 51,005 warnings.
The ministry called on employers to adhere to its decisions and legislation relating to the labor market, improve the working environment and implement localization rules, as well as precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Unannounced inspections of the private sector institutions will continue throughout the Kingdom, it added


Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official
Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh held a meeting with UNESCO’s top official Stefania Giannini in Italy on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 23 June 2021

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official
  • The UNESCO official said the Kingdom’s success in introducing distance learning in a short time has propelled it into a leadership role in this field

RIYADH: UNESCO’s assistant director general for education on Tuesday lauded Saudi Arabia for promptly switching over to online learning methods in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
During a meeting with Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh on the sidelines of the G20 education ministers’ meeting in Catania in Italy, Stefania Giannini said the Kingdom has achieved great success in e-learning and distance education during the pandemic.
She praised the swiftness of the Saudi authorities in switching over to online learning without compromising on the quality of education.
The UNESCO official said the Kingdom’s success in introducing distance learning in a short time has propelled it into a leadership role in this field. Giannini said the Madarasti online learning platform introduced by the Kingdom is among the top four global models.

FASTFACT

The Madarasti platform provides students with virtual classes, homework assignments, and delivery tools and is used in conjunction with the iEN YouTube channel and the iEN national education portal.

The fully interactive platform was developed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down schools across the Kingdom. It is designed so that students can log in and attend their lessons digitally, interact with their teachers and track their progress.
It provides students with virtual classes, homework assignments, and delivery tools and is used in conjunction with the iEN YouTube channel and the iEN national education portal.
School leaders consistently monitor the educational process via Madrasati, prepare class schedules, communicate with absent students, and provide technical support for students and their parents.


Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks
Saudis will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the Tawakkalna app. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 47 min 16 sec ago

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks
  • Countries are demanding travelers have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies
  • A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage

RIYADH: With summer vacations underway and more countries easing restrictions on international travelers, health risks from COVID-19 remain a source of concern.
Citizens are being encouraged to follow health precautions before departure to ensure a safe trip, while health insurance is also an entry requirement for some countries.
Pre-flight tests are required and more countries are demanding travelers to their countries have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies. Others require visitors to buy healthcare policies from their destination’s government.
For travelers under 18, health insurance that covers COVID-19 infection is mandatory. The 12 accredited health insurance service providers are following the guidelines.
In a joint press conference with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation last month, Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) spokesman Othman Al-Qasabi said that a new insurance policy in conjunction with the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) will include benefits that cover the risks of COVID-19 infection.
The policy is mandatory for those under 18 planning to travel.
Talal Albotty, regional director of the Central Region at Salama Insurance Co, told Arab News that the central bank initiative in collaboration with the CCHI aims to distribute risks and losses if these occur.
Comprehensive coverage is included for travelers on international flights against all risks related to travel outside Saudi Arabia, he said.
“A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage. The policy includes coverage of emergency medical expenses, personal accidents, or transportation of a deceased from or to Saudi Arabia and liability toward others as per the conditions and exceptions delineated in the unified insurance policy,” he said.
Albotty said the cost of an insurance policy does not exceed SR375 ($100) a month. However, if more services are added, these will be calculated proportionately as per the duration of the policy.

Saudis will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the Tawakkalna app. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

The policy is for people vaccinated against COVID-19 and is required for anyone under 18 traveling outside Saudi Arabia since they are not required to take a vaccine under global protocols, he said.
Husain Quhal, a senior executive with a leading insurance company, told Arab News: “The Saudi Central Bank has launched a campaign to educate people on the importance of travel insurance covering COVID-19 risks as well as reducing costs of traveling abroad.”
Feroz Khan, vice president of sales in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for Webbeds, a leading accommodation supplier to the travel industry, told Arab News: “Resumption of flights in May, opening of borders, and relaxation in travel and quarantine protocols have all resulted in positive travel sentiments.”
Webbeds is in touch with its partner company in the Kingdom and will make this travel insurance available for travel agents to book online shortly, he said.
Saudis travelers will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna.
Travelers who have received two vaccine doses, those who have completed two weeks since receiving the first jab, those who are immune by recovery no more than six months since infection and children under the age of 18 who have travel insurance obtained in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank will be the only groups allowed to cross international borders.


Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official
Saudi human rights chief meets top Philippines official in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 22 min 8 sec ago

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official
  • Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate

RIYADH: The president of Human Right Commission, Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad, held a meeting with Robert Eric Borje, chief of presidential protocol and presidential assistant on foreign affairs of the Philippines, in Riyadh on Tuesday.
They discussed ways to enhance cooperation in all field especially human rights.
Al-Awwad highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts in streamlining the local labor market and the steps Saudi Arabia has taken to ensure the safety of all in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate.