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


Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque
Updated 28 September 2021

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

MAKKAH: President General for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais inaugurated the Field and Digital Saudi Expansions at the Grand Mosque Exhibition.

Al-Sudais said that the exhibition showcases the most prominent Saudi projects and expansions at the Grand Mosque. The exhibition also aims to enrich visitors’ experience and highlight the efforts of the Saudi leadership in this regard.


Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth
Updated 28 September 2021

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth
  • The average time spent training and following up with students reached 7,000 hours for some students

JEDDAH: Three thousand scholarships were granted to students by King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) during the foundation’s three-day Saudi National Day celebrations.
The educational and training scholarships covering various scientific fields are part of Mawhiba’s three-day photography exhibition, “A home for every talent ... a story for every passion,” held under the auspices of Dr. Saud bin Saeed Al-Mutahmi, secretary-general of the foundation, at Granada Mall in Riyadh.
Mawhiba students in the Kingdom who have undergone training programs have achieved significant international achievements: 453 international awards in scientific competitions and 83 awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair, the most important scientific competition in the world.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, students were granted scholarships after completing their training. The average time spent training and following up with students, from discovering their talent to their participation at an international level, has reached 7,000 hours for some students.
“The exhibition, which has witnessed a high turnout of visitors from different segments of society, chose to replace regular gifts and prizes by gifting participants opportunities to improve their future, raise the quality of their lives and work with them to discover, develop and guide their children’s talents properly,” Mawhiba said in an official statement.
The 91-picture exhibition followed the journey of some of the Kingdom’s talents, starting with scouting them to winning awards and the empowerment of talented students in institutions across
Saudi Arabia.
The Mawhiba exhibition was divided into three parts. The first is a photo exhibition for students who have won local and international competitions.
The second is an interactive theater with general competitions, various questions, and free scientific scholarships. The third included the “I am a talent” event for children, featuring activities on creative thinking skills, a drawing competition about the Kingdom, and documentaries by Mawhiba and its programs.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Who’s Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh
Updated 54 min 52 sec ago

Who’s Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Who’s Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil was recently appointed as secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh following Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah’s decision.

Al-Zamil is the former supervisor of the Deanship of Library Affairs at King Saudi University in Riyadh, where he worked for the past 20 years.

He joined King Saudi University in 2008 as an associate professor at the Department of Library and Information Sciences. He was promoted to associate professor in 2011 and then to professor in 2018.

Prior to that, Al-Zamil worked at the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, where he served as an associate professor between 2002 and 2008 and lecturer between 1991 and 1999.

Al-Zamil received his bachelor’s degree with a second-class honors in library and information studies from the Department of Literature at King Saud University. After that, he moved to the US to complete his higher education in library and information studies. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and his Ph.D. from the Public University of Florida. He participated in various regional and international conferences. His research interests include e-government, digital libraries, e-learning and distance learning, and research methodologies in the libraries and information field.

He is a member of several scientific and academic societies, including the Saudi Library and Information Association, the Saudi Computer Society, and the Beta Phi Mu International Honor Society for library and information studies.

The King Fahd National Library in Riyadh is one of the most prestigious libraries in Saudi Arabia. It was established as a monument on the occasion of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz ascending to the throne in 1982.

The library is one of the most important cultural buildings in Saudi Arabia and an architectural masterpiece. It was designed by Professor Eckhard Gerber and his Gerber Architekten team in cooperation with the Riyadh Municipality, which provided the land and technical, architectural, and administrative supervision.


Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey
Updated 28 September 2021

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey
  • They show how people of the city shaped a wealth of human knowledge through various epochs

MAKKAH: Ten museums in Makkah have opened their doors to showcase Makkah’s unique identity throughout history.

The museums house some of the rarest artifacts, illustrations, and collections that reveal the human experiences of the city.

They show how the people of Makkah managed to shape a wealth of human knowledge through various epochs and the progress made after the prophecy and its noble teachings came into existence.

The museums also contribute to raising cultural and humanitarian awareness with all their cognitive messages and elaboration of the life of fathers and grandfathers.

The Culture Ministry’s Museums Commission told Arab News that it is giving Al-Zaher Palace Museum special attention, hoping to reopen the museum to visitors as soon as possible after it was closed due to the pandemic.

The director of the Makkah History Center, Dr. Fawwaz Al-Dahhas, told Arab News that the museums have put in extraordinary efforts to further the Islamic, civilizational and cultural heritage of the city. 

The museums include Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era.

He added: “It’s best that the efforts are united under the auspices of one national museum called ‘Makkah throughout history,’ where visitors can expand what they needed to know about Makkah.” 

Al-Dahhas said that developing the Al-Saqaf Palace in the Maabad neighborhood would combine heritage and culture through its restoration. Once completed, it will become an Islamic museum.

In his book “The Presidential Palace in Maabad,” Al-Dahhas described the surface area of the palace and its rooms still have their original furnishings and design.

Saad Al-Sharif, a researcher in Makkah’s history, said museums are essential to educate societies and advance science and evolution. “A student can leave a museum knowing that they would like to become a scientist, a leader, a musician or a writer,” he said.

FASTFACT

The Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition is one of the most prominent museums in Saudi Arabia and is home to treasures and artifacts dating back more than 1,400 years. Opened in 2000 during the reign of the late King Fahd, it contains seven main halls highlighting Islamic civilization.

“Our society’s knowledge must be consolidated and presented through the museums to form a harmonious cultural structure. Some museums teach what the classrooms students do not teach,” Al-Sharif added.

The researcher said tourists always look for museums in new countries as “we believe them to be the true wealth of any people; ancient collections in those museums constitute an important source for society, as well as economic, social and cultural support, as they provide a rich and different experience for visitors, and express a person’s identity, existence and depth and authenticity of their culture.”

Al-Sharif said that Saudi museums inspire delight and that they illustrate a history they could only learn about through museums and their evidence, tools, places, and names.

Majdouh Al-Ghamdi, owner of the Museum of Human Heritage, said that Makkah’s museums complement each other and exhibit their rare heritage artifacts for all visitors.

Its exhibits include household appliances used in Makkah before electricity was introduced, a section on Saudi tribes, and displays on the role of the city’s residents in serving pilgrims and the history of the ancient Madrasah Al-Sawlatiyah, one of the oldest schools in the Arabian Peninsula.

It also includes Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era. Visitors will also discover weapons such as cannons, knives, daggers, swords and guns.

Al-Ghamdi said that museums offer full knowledge and satisfy people looking to feel passion about heritage. They feel content in the historical depth and wealth of Makkah in particular, he added. He said that all those museums seek to occasionally develop their exhibits by buying rare stamps, newspapers, maps, coins, rifles, swords, old household items, spears, and traditional clothes.


Saudi foreign minister invited by UAE counterpart to attend world decision-makers’ forum

Saudi foreign minister invited by UAE counterpart to attend world decision-makers’ forum
Updated 28 September 2021

Saudi foreign minister invited by UAE counterpart to attend world decision-makers’ forum

Saudi foreign minister invited by UAE counterpart to attend world decision-makers’ forum

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has received an invitation from his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to attend the 12th edition of the annual world decision-makers’ Sir Bani Yas Forum.

The invite was received on behalf of the prince by Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed bin Abdulkarim Al-Khuraiji when he met with the Emirati ambassador to the Kingdom, Sheikh Nahyan bin Saif Al-Nahyan, at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh.

The Sir Bani Yas Forum brings together senior decision-makers from across the Middle East and around the world to discuss some of the most crucial issues facing the region.