Author Salar Abdoh’s ‘Out of Mesopotamia’ journeys through the labyrinth of life

Author Salar Abdoh’s ‘Out of Mesopotamia’ journeys through the labyrinth of life
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Updated 12 December 2020

Author Salar Abdoh’s ‘Out of Mesopotamia’ journeys through the labyrinth of life

Author Salar Abdoh’s ‘Out of Mesopotamia’ journeys through the labyrinth of life

CHICAGO: “Out of Mesopotamia,” by Salar Abdoh, journeys through a labyrinth of life, from warzones to non-warzones. Abdoh’s profound novel follows a middle-aged man named Saleh, an Iranian journalist who has embedded himself on the frontlines of the wars in Syria and Iraq against Daesh. Taking every opportunity to escape from life in Tehran where he writes for the art section of a newspaper and avoids his state handler and most of the people in his life, Saleh finds himself teetering between life and death as he witnesses the atrocities of combat and befriends men who live to die.

Readers first meet Saleh in Syria where evil lurks around every corner of the war. Traveling with squadrons of soldiers, some of whom he can call friends, Saleh attempts to understand the war, or the chaos of it, where death is but a moment and ever-rolling replacements for soldiers are always near. He is surrounded by men who are protecting their holy sites, preserving the land of their forefathers, and by those who only wish to become martyrs. To them, the fight is their duty and because of their lack of options, they leave behind their families in the hope that they will bring prestige to their name when they are gone. The fighters are “vultures perched on Mesopotamia’s tired bones.”

Abdoh weaves Saleh’s story and the war seamlessly, the juxtaposition of writing about war and actually fighting in it forces predicaments on Saleh’s life. How can he go back to living life when he has witnessed men who live to die? He is living and writing history simultaneously as it happens and losing himself while doing so. He distances himself from life when death is always so close. And he struggles with his own career in the media, where these men who live to fight and die are the ones that bring him and his colleagues the most prestige.

With first-hand experience with militias in Iraq and Syria, Abdoh travels between war and peace in his novel, picking up on the in-between moments, the ones that are not glorified and where suffering is silent. He insightfully encompasses war’s surroundings, the stories that deal with the consequences of war and patriarchal society, where fighters and survivors, much like the art Saleh writes about, lose and gain value with life and death. Where courage is not sought after but mimicked. Through his restless main character, Abdoh explores life and its moments, the value of those moments, and their ever-quiet passing.


Bella Hadid proves vaccination status for ‘concerned’ fans

Bella Hadid proves vaccination status for ‘concerned’ fans
Updated 16 September 2021

Bella Hadid proves vaccination status for ‘concerned’ fans

Bella Hadid proves vaccination status for ‘concerned’ fans

DUBAI: US-Palestinian model Bella Hadid this week confirmed to her fans that she had been vaccinated against COVID-19, following speculation on social media that she missed the 2021 Met Gala because of the event’s safety rules. 

The catwalk star shared a picture from her camera roll, which dated Aug. 6, on her Instagram story on Wednesday of a nurse giving the model an injection in her arm. “For anyone concerned,” wrote the 24-year-old supermodel.

Instagram/@bellahadid 

Hadid’s older sister, Gigi attended the highly anticipated event in New York, and for the occasion she opted for a monochrome look by Italian label Prada.

The regulations state that all Met visitors must provide proof that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Guests were also required to wear masks inside the venue if they were not eating or drinking.


The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast
Updated 16 September 2021

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

The language of movement: 3 practitioners examine the state of contemporary dance in the Mideast

LONDON: A little over a year ago, Mira Majzoub was approached by the videographer Mansour Rachid. He had an idea. He wanted to produce a film of her dancing to a particular piece of music in a certain location. That location would be the Old Silk Factory in Damour, Lebanon. The music would be Ibrahim Maalouf’s “Overture II — Alf Leila Wa Leila.”

“We were discussing whether it would be choreographed or whether it would be improvised and I decided to do it as an improv because it was an evolving process, so I wanted it to be very genuine when we were there,” explains Majzoub. “We actually took no more than two or three shots of the whole thing, just for it to be genuine and for me to portray where I was at at that moment in time. To make it sincere.”

The end result was a mesmerizing translation of the music’s complex cultural identity. Majzoub, who recently enrolled at ACTS/Ecole de danse contemporaine de Paris and is a relatively new member of Beirut Contemporary Ballet, has an intense yet joyful fluidity to her movement. Maybe that’s why the performance helped to open a rare public window into the world of contemporary dance — a world that is as much misunderstood as it is underappreciated. 

Mira Majzoub has an intense yet joyful fluidity to her movement. (Supplied)

For Majzoub, contemporary dance, with its focus on improvisation and versatility, has allowed her to dig deeper into herself, to uncover meaning, and to cope with extreme circumstances. “Sometimes I spend more than an hour just repeating the same move or repeating the same concept again and again because I discover more feelings, I discover how my body moves in a certain way, and this process is not just happiness, it’s not just joy; it kind of takes me from one place to another,” she says. “It’s like taking another step, digging inside how my body and how my brain connect with each other to create.”

Dance has also helped her adapt to the turmoil that has engulfed Lebanon. The day after the explosion at Beirut Port last year, she went to her room, closed the door, and began to move her arms up and down in a certain way. There was no music, just this articulated movement and an irregular form of breathing. 

“I realized something,” she says. “That even in good times or bad times, even after an explosion or at a wedding, I’d be moving. This is the first thing I would go to. The first thing my body would go to. For the first time my mind was at ease when I did that small thing in my room. Dance is a tool for me to adapt, dance is a tool for me to be mentally stable, and I’m glad I have learned how to navigate this. How to use this thing that I have.”

Hamza Damrais is originally a breakdancer. (Supplied)

The same is almost certainly true for the movement artist, performer and choreographer Sarah Brahim, whose work covers themes including loss, identity, race and migration. Identity is a big one, largely because of her own complex background — a combination of US and Saudi cultures. 

“From a young age I was always confronted with questions of misunderstanding — ‘Where are you from?’ being the most standard and then the questions moving on from there,” she says. “It came from both cultures I belong to. So many people have transcultural experiences and stories. So to make work about this feels like I’m able to create a space where those of us who feel like we don’t belong or have a place that is ‘home’ can exist and are welcome.”

For Brahim, bringing a project to life begins with a personal sense of urgency — a feeling or an idea that “overwhelms my mind and body.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by sarah brahim (@sahrab)

“It starts with a core, always something I think feels important, unseen, and should be amplified,” she explains. Some projects, such as “Roofless,” were developed from ongoing research into the relationship between the human body and architecture. Others, such as “Body Land/Back to Dust,” involved nine months of moving, researching and writing about how her body held pain and grief. The latter, produced during a residency at Performance Works NorthWest, dealt specifically with the hands and became the seed of her current work.

“I use structured improvisation constantly as a tool because it allows me to develop grounded material, but also to surprise myself and experiment at the same time,” says Brahim, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2016. “I use this approach with the many mediums I work with because I care about capturing a specific feeling or experience and having it resonate in others. Being open to the medium that works to communicate and being open enough to listen deeply to where things are coming from keeps me grounded in what I do, no matter the subject or presentation.”

Brahim, who is currently working on a number of projects, including a performance commission and a few exhibitions, is keen to combine her textile practice with performance. That will mean creating sculptures and installations that exist on their own but are also integral to experimentation and performance. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by sarah brahim (@sahrab)

The reasons why she dances, however, have been redefined since the beginning of the pandemic. Like many others, she found it important to look at everything in her life and to reassess what was truly important. “Art and movement saved me and so many others throughout this difficult time and it was not just the practices or media,” she says. “I looked around at the communities in my life and the beautiful ways they were coming together and offering time, conversations, free classes, holding space, and I realized how incredible the people in my life were, all of which had blossomed from pursuing a career in creative work. 

“For me, it is about the people, but also what we are doing is questioning and pushing our experiences further with each project and I find this fascinating. There is not anything else I would rather be doing. When I watch a great performance, hear or see something that resonates with me, that feeling of light and interconnection is irreplaceable.”

This is equally true for Hamza Damra, who grew up in Balata on the outskirts of Nablus. Originally a breakdancer, for him dance was, and still is, a way to react to the feelings generated by the environment he grew up in. “Dance taught me the meaning of those feelings,” he says simply.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hamza (@hamza_damra)

Last year he received funding from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) for “Me and I,” a project centered on his experience of living between Palestine and France. Still a work in progress, he has chosen angry, sharp movements to represent his time in France (in contrast to the peace and freedom he experiences there), and more fluid movements for Palestine, “despite the harsh situation, the unstable emotions, the uncertainty.”

“I have created a language of movement that has been extracted from my own circumstances,” he explains. “Circumstances that I have been through and I’m still going through.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mira (@miramajzoub)

Despite its vitality and relevance — and the myriad benefits experienced by its practitioners — contemporary dance remains misunderstood in the region, sometimes deeply so. The likes of AFAC and Sharjah Art Foundation may support performance, but it is often regarded as inaccessible or even elitist. And that perception is unlikely to change without greater emphasis being placed upon its cultural value. 

“I think contemporary performance as a whole can be undervalued all over the world,” says Brahim. “Therefore also less engaged, documented, and publicized. Performance is quite difficult to commodify or (monetize) compared to other creative fields, which is exactly what makes it special, alive, temporal, but also probably why there is less interest in it. My work specifically has found homes inside industries like music, design, film, and contemporary art. Moving forward, hopefully there is space for all forms of expression to be less rigid in definition and more integrated in form.”


REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality
Updated 16 September 2021

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

REVIEW: Yassin Adnan’s ‘Hot Maroc’ explores Marrakech, and the influence of the digital world on reality

CHICAGO: Longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2017, and published in English for the first time in July this year, Yassin Adnan’s novel “Hot Maroc” is a glimpse into Marrakech, Morocco through the eyes Rahhal Laâouina, a university student desperate both for the degree that will allow his life to match the legend he has made of himself in his mind, and to make his father proud. While this contemporary story begins with Rahhal’s journey, it is also a tale of the generations since Morocco’s independence, university life, identity politics, protests, and the Internet. When Rahhal learns that he can control certain aspects of life using the latter, he becomes obsessed.

Rahhal, named after a martyr, sees his counterparts as animals and himself as a squirrel. It helps him make sense of the city around him. From Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, where he is studying for a degree in Arabic language and literature from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rahhal can put aside his upbringing in the Ain itti neighborhood outside the city walls. He can join the National Union of Students in Morocco and can drown himself in a narrative that he lives in dreams but that plays out quite differently in real life. When he finds himself managing the Atlas Cubs Cyber Café, Rahhal revels in hiding behind his anonymity in the virtual world and pursuing outcomes he could never imagine in real life.

With Morocco’s rich history as a backdrop and set against a modern-day distrust among Marrakech’s residents of secret police, politicians, and each other, Adnan creates a space where a person’s identity and past can mean everything in the real world and nothing on the Internet. Online, every opinion, if it garners enough attention, matters, and Rahhal does not let opportunity pass him by. Adnan’s main character can steer the narrative to fit his liking, as long as he is careful.

Adnan introduces every character with a wit and ease, their eccentricities and most intimate desires laid out on the page. Each personality is carefully crafted to create an extraordinary stage of characters. Translated into English by Alexander E. Elinson, Adnan’s novel highlights the Red City’s modern and ancient stories, its heroes and villains, its takers and givers, creating a seamless line between its inhabitants and their city, paying homage to Marrakech and its bustling streets, resolute residents, and cyber avenues.


Madame Tussauds Dubai announces opening date

Madame Tussauds Dubai announces opening date
Updated 16 September 2021

Madame Tussauds Dubai announces opening date

Madame Tussauds Dubai announces opening date

DUBAI: Madame Tussauds announced on Thursday that the highly-anticipated opening of its Dubai edition will take place on Oct. 14.

The world-famous wax attraction is the first of its kind in the Gulf region and is the 25th edition of the attraction globally.

The iconic attraction will be home to 60 replicas of celebrities from around the world, with 16 brand-new figures from the Middle East including the recently revealed statues of Emirati-Yemeni singer Balqees Fathi and Palestinian music sensation Mohammed Assaf.

The line-up of figures also includes sports heroes such as Irish boxer Connor McGregor, historical figures including the Queen Elizabeth II, models such as British catwalk star Cara Delevingne, actors like Indian superstar Kareena Kapoor and many more.

With seven designed themed rooms and a wax figure library, the star-filled museum will welcome guests seven days a week on Bluewaters Island, close to Dubai’s ferris wheel, Ain Dubai.


Meet Emirati Abz Ali: Dentist by day, comedian by night

Meet Emirati Abz Ali: Dentist by day, comedian by night
Updated 16 September 2021

Meet Emirati Abz Ali: Dentist by day, comedian by night

Meet Emirati Abz Ali: Dentist by day, comedian by night

DUBAI: Wearing a yellow t-shirt with “Bebsi” scrawled on it, comedian Abdulla Ali — aka Abz Ali — squints into the spotlight on stage and admits that people have a hard time believing he is Emirati.

“Friends come over and say, ‘What, no second floor in your house? No maid?’ I’m pretty sure my Emirati friends have tried to call the police to report a fake citizen.”

The half-Emirati, half-Omani stand-up has been performing gigs in the region for a decade and is now opening for international acts, including American comedian Wayne Brady in September. Other notable performances include The Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Dunedin Fringe Festival in New Zealand, and an opening slot for Lebanese headliner Nemr Abou Nassar in Dubai. Ali is not afraid to broach sensitive topics and tease anyone brave enough to sit in the front row.

“I market myself as an Emirati comedian because I love being part of a progressive narrative, showing the world how much we can achieve in just a few years,” he tells Arab News.

Ali is a dentist by day, and says that his comedy has helped put patients at ease. In truth, the 31 year old compartmentalizes his professional life and his hobby. Most of his clients are Arabic speakers based in Abu Dhabi, while he performs standup mainly in English in Dubai. 

He got his first taste of comedy by accident aged 13. He was in a video-game store in Dubai that was playing a Dave Chappelle special. 

He got his first taste of comedy by accident aged 13. (Supplied)

“I watched it and thought, ‘Wow, someone’s job is to stand up on stage and make people laugh?’” he says. “At that point, I looked like Harry Potter with nerdy glasses. Being the funny guy in my group of friends became my ‘thing,’ a way to stand out and feel good.”

A few years later, he heard of an open call for amateur comedians at the American University of Dubai with the powerhouse group behind Axis of Evil, a global tour of Arab comedians that sold out in the Middle East. Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader and Ahmed Ahmed, together with producer Jamil Abu-Wardeh, inspired Ali to give it a shot.

There was just one problem: the audition was open to AUD students only. Ali had received a scholarship to study dentistry in New Zealand and was not eligible.

Ali says that his comedy has helped put patients at ease. (Supplied)

“I bumped into Maz Jobrani while washing our hands in the bathroom and had a fangirl moment,” he recalls. “I asked him if I could please audition despite not being a student and, miraculously, he said yes.”

Ali was the final person to take the stage. He moved to New Zealand shortly afterwards to begin his dentistry studies, but that audition gave him the courage to perform in Dubai during summer and winter breaks. Despite the distance, he became part of a local community of comedians and was invited to headline for Aron Kader of Axis of Evil a few years after that first audition.

“Being chosen to open for a professional American comedian was so validating,” he says. “The hardest part was having to leave just as everything was kicking off.”

Most of his clients are Arabic speakers based in Abu Dhabi, while he performs standup mainly in English in Dubai. (Supplied)

Travelling back and forth to New Zealand was unsettling, but gave Ali a chance to be part of a local scene in his student town of Dunedin, too — performing gigs in an abandoned cinema and headlining for international comedy acts. 

“Sometimes I had to test the restaurants in New Zealand: ‘Beef is halal?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Chicken is Halal?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Pork is Halal?’ ‘Yes.’” He laughs.

As his star was rising, the thought of committing himself fully to comedy crossed his mind, but he says he loves dentistry too much to quit. So he completed his degree and returned to Dubai in 2017, but then took a four-year hiatus from stand-up, following an emotionally draining divorce.

Travelling back and forth to New Zealand was unsettling, but gave Ali a chance to be part of a local scene in his student town of Dunedin. (Supplied)

Ali went through depression and withdrew from live performance. He talks about it now in the hope that other young Arabs will be more open to discussing their mental health and seeking help.

“Going back to comedy (eventually) after my divorce was pure therapy for me,” he says. “That first set back on stage, I couldn’t look the audience in the eye. But when I heard the laughter wash over me, it revived me.

“Every time I step away, I keep coming back to comedy,” he continues. “It’s my identity. The sound of laughter is my favorite sound in the world.”