Saudi wins best actor award at Cairo International Film Festival

Faisal Al-Dokhei, right, and Abdulaziz Al-Shalahi, director of ‘The Tambour of Retribution.’ (Twitter)
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Updated 12 December 2020

Saudi wins best actor award at Cairo International Film Festival

Saudi wins best actor award at Cairo International Film Festival
  • In its first global screening, ‘The Tambour of Retribution,’ by Saudi director Abdulaziz Al-Shalahi, bags Special Jury Prize
  • More than 90 films from 40 countries, including 20 films in their international premieres, were featured at the festival.

JEDDAH: Faisal Al-Dokhei has been awarded the best acting performance prize at the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival for his role in the first Saudi film to enter the festival.

In its first international screening, “The Tambour of Retribution,” by Saudi director Abdulaziz Al-Shalahi, won the Special Jury Prize alongside the Best Acting Performance Award.

Al-Doukhei, who began his career in 2016 and features in a number of movies including the 2018 short film “Black Sand” and “Wasati” in 2016, was presented with the award during Thursday’s event.

The story takes place in the 1990s and revolves around the son of an executioner who falls in love with the daughter of a wedding singer. Between celebrating joy and marking death, the question arises of who will sacrifice their dream in exchange for making the world a better place.

Another Saudi movie that premiered at the event was “The Girls Who Burnt the Night” by filmmaker Sara Mesfer. The film follows two 13-year-old sisters preparing for a wedding party who experience a series of unexpected events after one decides to go on a shopping spree.

In a tweet, Saudi Ambassador to Egypt Osama Nugali said: “I congratulate Saudi arts and culture with the winning of the Saudi films at the CIFF: “The Tambour of Retribution” by Saudi director @EZ_ALSHLAHEI winning the Special Jury Prize and the best acting performance award to @Faiisall2, and the movie “The Girls Who Burnt the Night” by @Saramesfer. Congratulations to all members of the team.”

More than 90 films from 40 countries, including 20 films in their international premieres, were featured at the festival. The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) is one of only 15 festivals accorded category “A” status by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF).

It is the oldest and only internationally accredited cultural feature film festival in the Arab World, Africa and the Middle East.


Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’
Portrait of Ghizlane Agzenaï by Lamia Lahbadi. Supplied
Updated 29 July 2021

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

Meet Ghizlane Agzenaï, the Moroccan artist famed for her colorful ‘totems’

CASABLANCA: Born in Tangier in 1988, Ghizlane Agzenaï is a visual and street artist famed for her colourful and monumental ‘totems.’ She lives and works in Casablanca but also travels the world to create her brightly coloured art. 

Her geometrically-shaped pieces draw new perspectives along abstract lines. She is a self-taught artist whose totems are inspired by an inquisitive and generous spirit and available as paintings, paper collages and puzzles. 

Agzenaï uses a unique assembly process for her totems. Spray-painted, laser-cut and carefully sanded, they are then shaped by a cabinetmaker. Her works include murals and paintings in numerous urban art festivals and exhibitions — in Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Casablanca, Rabat, and beyond. 

Her works include murals and paintings in numerous urban art festivals and exhibitions. Supplied

In recent years, she has brightened up the Vigo Ciudad de Color wall in Spain, the US Barcelona street-art festival, the Mural Harbor in Linz, Austria, and the famed Oberkampf wall in Paris. During Rabat’s Jidar festival in 2019, one could admire her colorful geometric shapes on the walls of the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Q: How would you define yourself as an artist?

A: I am more of an urban and contemporary artist. My passion for urban art has naturally dragged me to the streets. Then, gallery work came to gradually complete my urban interventions. Today, I wander between these two. Both are extremely enriching for me.

Tell us more about your passion for colors. 

Colors have always been at the core of my work. They invigorate my art. I never stick to one color in my totems. I also like to use a wide range of colors for each artwork to create harmony and give positive energy.

The artist travels the world to create her brightly coloured totems. Supplied

Why do you call your works ‘totems’ and how are they produced?

My artworks are all called “Totem …” because the word can be defined as an object that represents a kind spirit. For me, the word totem was in perfect harmony with my vision and what I wanted to express through my art. So I use it to reinforce my message. A totem can take form through hand-drawing or a paper collage. Then I transfer one or the other to my computer to be able to pick a color palette and play with shapes. As soon as I’m satisfied with the result, I choose the totem support: wood, canvas, wall or plexiglass. 

Do the titles of your works have any great meaning for you? 

The majority of my works have titles, but they don’t necessarily give any indication as to the nature of the artwork. At first, I would use numbers. Then I started using the names of stars and planets, because I’m particularly fond of science-fiction. And sometimes I just use the name of the city where the totem was created. 

Her work has been displayed both at the 193 Gallery in Paris and the galerie 38 in Casablanca. Supplied

Your work has attracted international attention and has recently been displayed both at the 193 Gallery in Paris and the galerie 38 in Casablanca. How did your collaboration with the 193 Gallery come about?

They contacted me in early 2021 and asked me to join “Colors of Abstraction 2,” a collective exhibition. Fouzia Marouf, the curator, invited me, and I immediately found the gallery’s vision extremely interesting. What we have in common is curiosity, but also openness to the world. After some discussion, I agreed to be part of the exhibition along with Ivorian sculptor and designer Jean Servais Somian and visual artist Valentina Canseco.

Which painters and which art forms have most inspired you?

I am deeply inspired by (minimalist, abstract US painter) Frank Stella and (op-art pioneer) Victor Vasarely for their unique aesthetics, and by (contemporary Argentine-Spanish artist) Felipe Pantone for his vision and energy. (Environmental art luminary) Christo is also a great source of inspiration with his monumental and poetic installations. Last but not least, I draw inspiration from futurism, the Bauhaus movement and brutalism.


HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition
‘Final Destination’ by Sameer Al-Doumy (France). Supplied
Updated 29 July 2021

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition

HIPA winners explore the human condition in photography competition
  • Selected highlights from the prize’s tenth edition, held under the theme ‘Humanity’

DUBAI: The winners of the tenth season of the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum International Photography Awards (HIPA) were announced this week. The theme of this year’s awards was ‘’Humanity.” American photographer, and co-founder and director of the VII Academy, Gary Knight — one of this year’s judges, said in a press release: “Humanity is the most important thing a lens can capture … photography is a unique tool that gives us the ability to talk about others and show the conditions they are in and the feelings they are going through. It is clear that this year's winners have interpreted humanity in powerful and diverse ways.”

HIPA Secretary General Ali bin Thalith said: “This season we were humbled by the awe-inspiring and emotionally charged photographs we received that not only dug deep, but also unearthed, through photography, the essence of what it means to be human. In these photographs we felt a myriad of emotions ranging from absolute despair to pure kindness and joy.”

Aside from vying for the $120,000 Grand Prize, photographers could also enter the ‘General’ category (open to both black-and-white and color images); the ‘Portfolio’ category and the ‘Architectural Photography’ category. Here, we present a selection of highlights from the winning entries.

Grand prize winner

‘Duty’

Ary Bassous (Brazil)

‘Duty’ by Ary Bassous (Brazil). Supplied

Bassous picked up the main award for this striking, harrowing portrait of Dr. Juliana Ribeiro having just removed her personal protective equipment in order to have her lunch after an eight-hour shift in the COVID-19 emergency room at the University Hospital Clementino Fraga Velho in Rio de Janeiro. Bassous’ image seems to sum up the emotions of the past 18 months while also paying tribute to the extraordinary efforts of frontline healthcare workers around the world.

“Clear signs of prolonged and repeated use of this type of equipment appear on her face. Her features reflect great effort and extreme fatigue due to the human commitment to her moral duty. What grabs you is the hint of sadness in her face as she feels the pain for humanity, as deaths in Brazil exceeded half a million people due to the pandemic,” the caption for the image reads. In its press release, HIPA commented: “The marks on her face share the painful human stories that (have) consumed the entire world.”

Third prize winner: Humanity

‘Blast Scars’

Marc Abou Jaoude (Lebanon)

‘Blast Scars’ by Marc Abou Jaoude (Lebanon). Supplied

Abou Jaoude’s image was taken on August 6, 2020 — two days after the devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut that left at least 220 dead, 6,500 injured and 300,000 displaced from their homes. Here, an injured truck driver stands in same location he was in when the explosion happened. “Despite the massive destruction and the large number of dead and wounded, this driver was lucky enough to live and witness another day,” the caption says.

First prize winner: General (color)

‘Final Destination’

Sameer Al-Doumy (France)

‘Final Destination’ by Sameer Al-Doumy (France). Supplied

The Syrian photographer picked up first place in the ‘General (color)’ category for his beautifully timed shot of migrants caught in the “turbulent waters between Sangat and Cap Blanc-Nez (Cape Blanc-Nez), in the English Channel off the coast of northern France, as they try to cross the maritime border between France and the United Kingdom on August 27, 2020.”

Second prize winner: Architecture

‘Playful Moon’

Amri Arfianto (Indonesia)

‘Playful Moon’ by Amri Arfianto (Indonesia). Supplied

Dubai’s skyline proved a source of creative inspiration in the ‘Architectural Photography’ category, with Indian photographer Rahul Bansal winning fifth prize for an image of the ‘Eye of Dubai.’ Arfianto chose an even more iconic site for his winning image, which shows, HIPA says: “A creative fragmentation of the Burj Khalifa, in which the moon appears as if it is trying to hide behind the most famous tower in the world.”

Fourth prize winner: Portfolio

‘Pareidolia’

Yousef Al-Habshi Al-Hashmi (UAE)

‘Pareidolia’ by Yousef Al-Habshi Al-Hashmi (UAE). Supplied

Al-Hashmi was awarded for his collection of shots of microscopic organisms. “Pareidolia is the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns,” HIPA’s caption reads. “(This) collection attempts to find faces with unique characteristics under the microscope and within a tiny area that barely can be seen.”

Second prize winner: General (color)

‘Camille’

Fatima Zahra Cherkaoui (Morocco)

‘Camille’ by Fatima Zahra Cherkaoui (Morocco). Supplied

Cherkaoui’s use of black backgrounds on her portraits make them look like an old-master’s painting, as she herself noted on her Instagram post of this picture of an 11-year-old girl. “Looks like she's out of an old painting, she's just beautiful,” Cherkaoui wrote. HIPA’s caption for her winning entry praised the range of emotions the photographer had captured in her subject’s eyes.

First prize winner: Humanity

‘Hugs to Survive’

Mads Nissen (Denmark)

‘Hugs to Survive’ by Mads Nissen (Denmark). Supplied

As you might expect, the COVID-19 pandemic was a dominant theme in this year’s HIPA entries. In Nissen’s winning image, 85-year-old Rosa Luzia Lonardi is hugged by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza. “In March 2020, nursing homes across Brazil closed their doors to all visitors, preventing millions from visiting elderly relatives, as authorities instructed to reduce physical contact to a minimum. But in Viva Beam, a simple innovation called the 'hug curtain' was allowed, (through which) people could see and hug their loved ones without risking their lives,” the caption explains. This was “the first hug Rosa had received in five months.”


British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

 British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion
Completing "puzzle-work" of a smashed glass beaker at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum
Updated 28 July 2021

British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

 British Museum, TEFAF team up to restore glass artifacts damaged in Beirut explosion

DUBAI: It has been almost one year since two explosions rocked the port of Beirut, killing more than 200, injuring over 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands without a home. The incident, which occurred on Aug. 4, 2020, caused significant damage to buildings in Lebanon’s capital, including the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AMAUB), situated two miles away from Beirut’s port where the blasts occurred. During the explosions, many of the artworks on display were damaged.

Now, almost a year after the devastating event, the British Museum and The European Fine Art Foundation have announced that they will partner to help restore some ancient artifacts that were damaged by the blast.

The museum and the fair will restore eight glass vessels dating to Roman and early Islamic times.

The case of glass vessels displayed at the Archaeological Museum (AUB) before the explosion. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

During the explosion, the glass objects that were on display at the AMAUB shattered into hundreds of tiny shards. They will now be painstakingly pieced back together at the British Museum’s conservation labs in London.

Most vessels were shattered beyond repair with only 15 being identified as salvageable.  Of these, only eight are safe to travel to the British Museum to be conserved.

The restored glass works will go on view at the British Museum in a temporary exhibition before returning to Beirut.

Claire Cuyaubère, a conservator from the French Institut National du Patrimoine helped to collect and categorize the shards of ancient glass from the mixed debris, which included glass from the display case and surrounding windows, after the blast.

Conservator Claire Cuyaubère assisting with "puzzle-work" of shard from a glass dish at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum

She returned to Beirut in July 2021 to identify and match broken shards from each vessel, and identify those suitable for shipment to London. The puzzle-work was supported by the Friends of the Middle East Department at the British Museum.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said in a statement: “Like the rest of the world, we looked on in horror at the devastating scenes in Beirut in August last year. We immediately offered the assistance of the British Museum to colleagues in the city. As we mark one year since the tragedy, we’re pleased to be able to provide the expertise and resources of the British Museum to restore these important ancient objects so they can be enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come.”


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.”