Virtual exhibit ‘Turath’ explores artistic impact of Arabs in the US

Virtual exhibit ‘Turath’ explores artistic impact of Arabs in the US
In 1891, Assad Ghosn specialized in portraiture and landscapes. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 January 2021

Virtual exhibit ‘Turath’ explores artistic impact of Arabs in the US

Virtual exhibit ‘Turath’ explores artistic impact of Arabs in the US
  • ‘We wanted to show that Arabs are part of America’s cultural scene,’ says Akram Khater, co-curator of ‘Turath’

DUBAI: They say that history repeats itself. The political turmoil in Lebanon and the ongoing civil war in Syria have led to an alarming exodus of thousands of young, educated Arabs seeking safety and better opportunities abroad. It’s a familiar pattern; a similar mass migration from the Levant took place a century ago.

By the early 1900s, the United States was a major destination for immigrants from around the world. It is estimated that around 100,000 Arabs, hailing predominantly from modern-day Syria and Lebanon (collectively referred to as ‘Greater Syria’ and under Ottoman rule at the time) — made their way to America between 1880 and 1940, seeking economic prosperity.

A new virtual exhibition — entitled “Turath” (heritage in Arabic) — sheds light on the narratives of the early Arab American community and pays homage to their accomplished but little-known artistry, from painting to performance.

“Turath,” which runs online throughout 2021, has been organized by North Carolina State University’s Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies. The center’s director is Lebanese professor of history Dr. Akram Khater, who arrived in the US in 1978 shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. He told Arab News why the theme of “Turath” is crucial and relevant in this day and age.

“Arabs in America are not really part of the narrative of America,” says Khater, who co-curated “Turath.” “We’re not part of the building of what America is today. Rather we only emerge in the minds of most Americans as the quintessential anti-American — the terrorist, the religious extremist — and 9/11 only reemphasized that and magnified it so that we became alien. We wanted to show that not only have we been here for 150 years, like a lot of other immigrants, but that we are also part of the cultural scene in America.”




‘Kawkab Amirka,’ 15 April 1892, Khayrallah Center Archive. (Supplied)

To demonstrate this point, the center has joined forces with a number of established institutions, including Michigan’s Arab American National Museum and Lebanon’s Gibran National Committee, to make a varied array of historical objects and archival imagery accessible to the public. The result is fascinating, and may be surprising to some. Exhibits include an 1892 newspaper spread of North America’s first Arabic newspaper ‘Kawkab Amirka’ (Star of America), an early and sophisticated Remington Arabic typewriter, a rare Vogue photograph of actress Mary Nash in the 1920s wearing jewelry by the journalist-turned-designer Marie Azeez El-Khoury.

“Women have been part of immigration from the very beginning,” explains Khater on the exhibit’s strong female presence. “Women were always working — they were working in textile factories, and — certainly in culture — they were entrepreneurs and producers. That’s not to romanticize and say they were all strong; some women were not, just like some men were broken by immigration. It was hard — you just leave things you know to (go to) a place that, at best, tolerates you.”

Through the five sections of the exhibit, “Turath” includes writers, artists, and musicians who flourished through their craft but did not receive the same recognition as their popular contemporaries — intellectuals Ameen Rihani and Kahlil Gibran, who were members of New York’s The Pen League, known in Arabic as Al-Rabita Al-Qalamiyya.

“I think Gibran is very impressive and he accomplished a lot, but he wasn’t the only person,” says Khater. “He was part of a movement and that’s what we wanted to emphasize.”

Here, we present a selection of Arab cultural figures who made a name for themselves in America and are featured in “Turath.”

The novelist

Afifa Karam (1883-1924)

“You have no right to my body, which you bought from my father with money. It used to be his right but now it has become mine,” this impassioned women’s rights advocate, who published her first novel in her early twenties, once wrote. Born into a Maronite family, Karam departed her seaside Lebanese town of Amchit at the age of 14, traveling to live in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Karam’s literary and journalistic career is impressive, she contributed articles to Al-Hoda Newspaper concerning women’s issues and inaugurated the first Arab women’s journals, including “The New World: A Ladies’ Monthly Arabic Magazine” for the diaspora. Her novels openly railed against patriarchy and arranged marriages and supported the right of women to live freely. Over the years, Karam has been dubbed “Defender of the Syrian Woman” and “Princess of the Pen.”

The artist

Assad Ghosn (1877-1941)

In 1891, Ghosn, who specialized in portraiture and landscapes, studied oil painting at Italy’s prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma. He moved to the United States in 1904, setting up an atelier in Brooklyn, New York and eventually settling in Richmond, Virginia. The Khayrallah Center has worked closely with the Ghosn family to preserve valuable material from the artist’s estate.

Aside from Ghosn’s classical portrait of three unknown women sitting side by side, one work of his that also stands out is his formidable early-19th-century portrait of the notable Mount Lebanon-born publisher Naoum Mokarzel. Averting his gaze, Mokarzel holds a pen — signifying his long-time dedication to the written word — over the Arabic newspaper ‘Al Hoda’ (The Guidance), which he founded in Philadelphia in 1898.

The performer

Rahme Haidar (1886-1939)

An interactive map in “Turath” indicates that between the 1910s and the 1930s, the Baalbak-born, public orator (and princess) Haidar delivered lectures about Greater Syria and the Holy Land in churches all across America — from Washington to Florida — and Canada. Haidar often dressed in oriental attire and performed musical biblical scenes. She was also a film director, helming and starring in “Gems of the East.”

In 1927, a review in Ontario’s “The Windsor Star” published these vital words of hers: “My motive in appearing before you tonight is to give you a clearer knowledge of Syria and the Syrians and to correct numerous false impressions that are current as to my country. It is a tiny land, dear to the heart of every Christian, but a land that has been tossed from hand to hand, robbed and overthrown by many nations.”

The musician

Alexander Maloof (1884-1956)

Old-school music lovers are in for a treat as “Turath” includes an eclectic collection of vinyl records from old Arabic labels such as Cleopatra Records and Arabphon. Maloof, an accomplished oudist and pianist and composer who lived in New York, founded an eponymous record company and orchestra. One of his best-known pieces is “America Ya Hilwa” (O Beautiful America), which he composed in 1912 in response to President William Taft’s call for submissions for a US national anthem.

Because of the evocative rush and emotional accessibility of their music — and the fact that they toured around the country — musicians like Maloof, Khater believes, had a far greater influence on Arab-American society than poets, who tended to move in elite circles. “If you’re (an immigrant) in Shreveport, Louisiana, or somewhere in Wisconsin,” he explains, “you don’t hear Arabic that much, except in the kitchen with your family. You keep your traditions inside your place of worship or home, but outside you have to become assimilated — more American — so people aren’t threatened too much. And then you go (out somewhere) and hear the oud… I think people must have been moved to tears by that.”  


Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal
The BTS meal is coming to McDonald's in May. File/AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

DUBAI: US fast food giant McDonald’s has tapped Korean pop sensation BTS to promote a new meal, and Arab fans of the boy band can hardly contain their excitement.

Many supporters of the seven member group took to their social media to express their anticipation for the Grammy-nominated boy band's meal that will be launching starting next month in nearly 50 countries, including Oman, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Morocco in addition to the US, India, Singapore and more.

“From today, I will just eat at McDonalds,” wrote one Twitter user in Arabic.

Another user from Saudi Arabia mentioned McDonalds in their Tweet, urging them to make the meal available in the Kingdom.

“I am not a fan of McDonald’s, but I changed my mind because of this meal. Provide it to us like you did for the Arab countries on the list,” the user wrote.

Another Twitter user wrote in Arabic: “Wait a minute, I discovered something. A few days back, Suga said he is hungry and a few days later, they collaborated with McDonald’s. He was probably giving us a hint, but we were clowns. WE WANT THE BTS MEAL IN EGYPT (sic).”

Dubbed the “BTS meal,” it will include chicken McNuggets, fries and two dips.

The burger chain has seen its revenue outside the United States drop during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is tapping on promotional campaigns through celebrity endorsements and limited-time menu items to get customers back into restaurants as economies reopen with the roll-out of vaccines.

The BTS meal follows similar US-only deals with singers J Balvin and Travis Scott, which McDonald’s says boosted sales in the later half of last year.

The spike in demand during the Travis Scott promotion caused the company to temporarily run short of ingredients to assemble its signature Quarter Pounder burgers at some restaurants.


Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children
Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen stars in new Polo Ralph Lauren campaign with her children. Instagram
Updated 20 April 2021

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

DUBAI: Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen was recently tapped to front a new campaign for Polo Ralph Lauren, and she is sharing the spotlight with her family. Wazen features in the campaign images with her three children, twin girls Karlie and Kay, and her son George.

“Ah so happy to share with you our Family Campaign for @PoloRalphLauren!!” exclaimed the Dubai-based fashion blogger on Instagram, alongside the campaign images. “There are no words to explain the love and emotions I have for my family... they’re my biggest blessing and pride,” she added, thanking Polo Ralph Lauren for “capturing these beautiful moments together.”

It’s not the first time that the American brand has shone a spotlight on an Arab family for a major campaign.

Back in December, the label released a campaign titled “Family is Who You Love,” featuring a diverse cast of siblings, parents and children, among them Saudi sisters Sakhaa and Thana Abdul as well as British-Moroccan model Nora Attal and her family.


Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row
Jameela Jamil is well known for her body positivity organization ‘I Weigh.’ File/ AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil took to her social media account to defend US singer and actress Demi Lovato due to a body positivity controversy this week. 

Lovato, who is best known for her role in Disney’s musical “Camp Rock,” recently called out a popular Los Angeles-based frozen yogurt shop The Bigg Chill, stating that the store’s diet options could lead some people to feel uncomfortable.  

"Finding it extremely hard to order froyo from @thebiggchillofficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar free cookies (and) other diet foods before you get to the counter,” said the “Cool for the Summer” singer, who has been vocal about her struggles with eating disorders in her documentary “Dancing With The Devil.” The 28-year-old urged the business to “do better” along with the hashtag #dietculturevulture.  

Jamil was quick to come to Lovato’s support, after the singer’s comments garnered some backlash online. Taking to her Instagram Stories, the “The Good Place” star wrote, “Ok, I want to try to avoid making the story bigger than it already is. But if an eating disorder advocate says she sees products that are positioned as guilt free, and it is potentially triggering, that doesn’t mean she’s too stupid to remember that diabetics exist. It just means that we need to change the marketing of products that are for people’s medical needs.”

She added: “That’s all @ddlovato was asking for. It doesn’t make her a monster. It doesn’t mean she disregards people’s illnesses. She’s just one of few celebrities reminding us to look out for mental illness. Guilt free is diet culture terminology.”

The British-Pakistani-Indian actress is a major advocate for body positivity.

The 34-year-old, who became a household name with her activism and role as Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC’s “The Good Place,” routinely takes to her platform to encourage people to respect their bodies and often gets candid about her struggles with eating disorders and body dysmorphia that she grappled with in her teenage years.

Jamil is also well known for her body positivity organization “I Weigh,” that focuses on self-worth and body positivity beyond weight, encouraging people to weigh themselves by their positive attributes, as opposed to numbers on a scale.


From Riyadh to Dubai, why is good coffee in the region so expensive?

A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/Instagram@nightjar.coffee
A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/[email protected]
Updated 19 April 2021

From Riyadh to Dubai, why is good coffee in the region so expensive?

A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/Instagram@nightjar.coffee

DUBAI: Buying a cup of coffee in the Gulf can be quite expensive.

Coffee lovers often bemoan the fact that their latte costs double in Dubai or Riyadh what it does in other countries.

What we might not realize, however, is that we are paying for a lot more than milk and beans in that cup of coffee.

Last week, social media was set alight by a complaint over the price of a $7 flat white in Dubai. Coffee lovers from Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar chimed in on whether the cost was justified. It begs the question: Why is coffee so expensive in this region?

We spoke to cafe operators to find out.

Leon Surynt, owner of Nightjar Coffee, one of Dubai’s most popular coffee brands and cafes, said that it is “really hard” to keep his coffee affordable.

Nightjar imports its own beans directly from farms around the world, roasts them at its Alserkal Avenue roastery and sells to hotels and cafes across the country. 

“You need to have multiple avenues, which is a bit of online, a bit of wholesale and a bit of cafe, to make money here,” Surynt says. 

“We live in a society that has a low tax rate, but we also have many compliance costs.”

If we were to break down the cost of a latte at Nightjar ($5), Surynt says, the ingredients — milk and coffee — and the cup only account for about $1 or 20 percent. He estimates that staff wages and expenses, on the other hand, make up a whopping 30 percent, while rent is another 15 percent. Other overheads, such as government fees, marketing, admin and logistics mean his profit from that one latte is about AED 4 (or $1). And that’s not accounting for the cost of delivery aggregators, his salary and kitchen operations.

“There are a lot of hidden costs here,” Surynt said. 

The story is the same for many others.

Samer Harkous, business development manager for Cypher Coffee, supplies hundreds of cafes in the UAE and overseas with green and roasted beans. 

Cypher does not operate a cafe but offers samples at its roastery.

When pricing Cypher’s products, Harkous said rent and municipality fees must be built into the price of beans, and a profit needs to be made on top of that. The cafe selling those beans must then add on its own costs.

And roasting beans is a costly — and difficult — process.

Equipment is imported from overseas. Each bean requires a different roasting method, which is meticulously recorded on charts by staff, from monitoring the necessary temperature and gas levels to listening for the “first crack.” 

Beans themselves command a range of prices. Cypher’s most expensive roast is from Yemen (up to $136 per kilogram) and its cheapest, and most popular, is from Brazil (between $16 to $82 per kilogram). 

Brazilian beans are therefore used by cafes wanting to keep costs down. More expensive beans, usually used by specialty coffee houses, will command a higher price.

Ali Al-Fahad, founder of Earth Roastery, which was established in Kuwait in 2014 and has spread across the region since, adjusts his coffee prices depending on the country he operates in. 

He said that Kuwait is the most expensive and logistically difficult location for a cafe business, while Dubai is the easiest and cheapest. That is why it took them until 2019 to open a café. Before that, he was solely selling wholesale coffee beans.

“Business here is very risky. Very few people can be successful,” he said. “When we opened the coffee shop, we understood that.”

Al-Fahad said their highest costs go on salaries and visa costs, followed by rent and logistics.

“Customers travel. They want the same quality and experience as they have in Europe. But to be on that level, you need to invest more.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@crustandcrema)

Cyrus Woo, deputy director at Bahrain’s Crust and Crema, said pricing was a “sensitive” subject when they opened.

“We had to be very careful. We only had other coffee shops to compare to, so we did market research and then did our own costing.”

Of the $4 it costs for an Americano or $5 for a latte, Woo agreed that what the customer is mostly paying for is staff salaries.

“If you factor in how much of the coffee and milk you’re going to use for one drink, those are the minimal costs involved,” Woo said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@crustandcrema)

“You’re paying for the atmosphere, overheads, marketing, utilities, rent, insurance, equipment and labor costs. The market is saturated, and baristas are in high demand, so you have to pay more for them.”

Woo said that while coffee makes more money than food at a cafe, for coffee to be profitable, a cafe has to “sell a lot.”

“We are a for-profit business. We need to be able to survive, but we don’t want to be greedy. 

“I hope that when people come in and have coffee, they appreciate there’s a lot more involved, that they’re paying for the experience.”

So, when you’re handing over $7 for your latte, lamenting the expense, remember: You’re not just buying a coffee. You’re paying for your surroundings and for your barista’s wages. And actually, for $7, that’s pretty reasonable.


Moroccan-Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi stars in new Hugo Eyewear campaign

The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram
The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram
Updated 19 April 2021

Moroccan-Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi stars in new Hugo Eyewear campaign

The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram

DUBAI: There’s no slowing down Malika El-Maslouhi. This week, the Moroccan-Italian model was selected to star in the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign, which was shot by fashion photographer Matteo Montanari.

Featuring alongside model Parker Van Noord, the catwalker appears in a video and campaign photographs wearing key pieces from the German label’s most recent eyewear collection. For the campaign, the 22-year-old posed on a rooftop wearing the brand’s newest range of optical frames and sunglasses, paired with a mustard yellow double-breasted suit and a black, logo emblazoned Hugo Boss top.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HUGO (@hugo_official)

The campaigns keep on rolling in for the rising star, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father.

In addition to her latest work with Hugo Eyewear, El-Maslouhi also recently appeared in campaigns for Zadig & Voltaire, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Swim, Jacquemus and Mango alongside fellow Moroccan model Nora Attal.

Memorably, she was the star of designer Peter Dundas’ most recent collection. The Norwegian designer selected the breakout model to  showcase the brand’s glamorous new offering for Fall 2021, which was digitally presented in a look book format.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MALIKA (@malika.elmaslouhi)

And when she’s not modeling different collections for brands, she’s helping design them.

She recently teamed up with London-based retailer Ishkar on a range of necklaces delicately handcrafted by jewelers in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

According to the online store, founded by former UAE residents Edmund Le Brun and Flore de Taisne in 2016, the Malika x Ishkar collection is set to drop soon.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by I S H K A R (@ishkar.co)

El-Maslouhi, who is signed to VIVA Model Management, made her modelling debut when she was 18 years old at the Alberta Ferretti Fall 2019 show and went on to walk for the Dior Cruise 2020 show held in Marrakech a month later.

She would go on to quit her university studies to pursue modeling full-time, gracing the runways of storied fashion houses such as Hermes and Chanel.

The model, who splits her time between Italy, France and the Netherlands, also has a few editorials under her belt, including Vogue Russia, British Vogue, Dazed Magazine and Elle France, for which she recently served as the cover star.