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.”  


Muslim comedians tour UK to help people get over the pandemic

Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
Updated 26 October 2021

Muslim comedians tour UK to help people get over the pandemic

Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
  • Starting in London, the Super Muslim Comedy Tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow
  • This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic

LONDON: After almost two years of lockdowns, restrictions, isolation, and highly contagious variants, could laughter be the best medicine?
The UK Super Muslim Comedy Tour hopes to prove just that, while celebrating the powers of Muslim comedy in aid of charity.
“We weren’t able to do the tour last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it was difficult for a lot of people because they couldn’t get their entertainment fix that they would normally get — their therapy,” the show’s host, British-Pakistani actor and comedian Abdullah Afzal told Arab News on the sidelines of the tour in Wembley.
“Also for us comedians, because we’re so used to being on stage and performing and suddenly, that was taken away from us, so all the energy that we missed out on last year, we’re bringing it forward into this year, so double the amount of energy, and hopefully we can entertain the crowd double the amount as well.”
Afzal, who is 32 and from Manchester, has hosted the show, which is in its sixth year, but it was canceled in 2020, much like everything else, due to the pandemic. 

(L-R) Comedians Salman Malik, Prince Abdi, Abdullah Afzal, and Fatiha El-Ghorri performed for crowds in east and west London. (Supplied)

Starting in London, the tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow — with all tickets sold out.
“We really hope people come out and really celebrate the diversity in our routine, in our stand up, and the people that come on the stage as well,” said Afzal, who features heavy audience participation in his sets and uses his origin to blend jokes about conventional marriage and modern romance.
This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic.
British-born Fatiha El-Ghorri, originally from Morocco, was back for the second time. Her career has taken off since 2019. She has performed on the Jonathan Ross show “Comedy Club” and on Comedy Central at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then, when the pandemic hit, she took on Zoom.
“The pandemic has been really difficult, but during that time, I was doing a lot of Zoom and online gigs,” she said. “It’s a completely different format, the stage is different, the audience is not in front of you, so it’s really odd when you first do it.”
Relieved and excited to be back to performing physical shows, the 40 year-old from east London is known for pushing the boundaries with her comedy and jokes about her experiences and observations of marriage, relationships, dating, and wearing the hijab.
“I do like to challenge people in my comedy and I like to break stereotypes, but obviously they’re halal jokes because it’s a Muslim tour,” she said, adding that she decided she was not going to use coronavirus as a basis for her jokes during the tour “because it was quite a difficult time for everybody, so I couldn’t see any humor in anything that was happening and I’m just glad it’s starting to get better.”
However, she admitted it was really nerve-wracking because they had not been performing live for a long time.
“You’ll always have nerves because we care about what we do so I’m always nervous on stage, but now I feel like we are all quite nervous being back on stage, but it’s nice to see that it’s packed out, lots of people are here, people have come to laugh.” 
Salman Malik, from south London, was relieved that Zoom shows were now reverting back to live ones, and he was happy to see audiences come out in “great numbers.”
In his first time participating in the tour, the 35 year-old Bahraini-Pakistani, who moved to the UK in 2004, uses his Arab-Asian background as a base for most of his material, along with his immigration experience, interracial marriage, and fathering three children.
“I perform comedy in four languages. I do Urdu, English, Punjabi, Hindi and it’s really nice to see that the opportunities are endless and working on my craft, (so) my comedy is basically about my journey coming into the UK, legally.” 

This is the first time that Bahraini-Pakistani comedian Salman Malik, from south London, joined the Super Muslim Comedy Tour. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)
 

Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign, which helps to provide safe and clean drinking water for deprived communities around the world.
Comedian Prince Abdi, 32, who is known for working with some of the biggest names in the game including Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah and Chris Rock, wowed the crowd with his impressions and anecdotes of his pranks and antics.
“I’m Somali-British, so I talk about growing up in the ghetto of south London, which is not really a ghetto because I’m from Somalia, you know,” he said.
Abdi came into comedy as part of a bet with friends and, after several failed attempts at the same brutal comedy club, he finally got his first laugh and then “never looked back.”
He has toured Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and has also performed in the UAE, and said he would love to go all around the Middle East and tell some Arab jokes one day.
“Nothing is easy in life, you have got to work for it, and even now, comedy is still hard and you’re only as good as your last show,” he said.
Abdi joked about his experience of being bored during the pandemic and playing pranks on people to test their racial and cultural curiosity, including walking around town with a picture of himself and asking white people if “they had seen this man?”

Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 and has been a growing success since. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“Everyone’s coming together, which is good because laughter is the best medicine. We all need to laugh, especially with all that’s going on around the world.”
Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 to see if his comedy would “transcend” from the US to Britain, and he has been a growing success ever since.
The fast-talking father-of-seven had the audience in stitches with his family-orientated jokes and audience interactions — and those “who could not keep up (it) was their own fault as they should have gone to university.”
Muhammad, 48, converted to Islam at the age of 17 and, nine years, later embarked on his comedic career. 
In 2004, he became one of the founding members of the very first Muslim comedy tour in the world called “Allah Made Me Funny,” which also featured Preacher Bryant Moss and Azhar Usman.
He said that, throughout the years with the tour, he had developed nuances to better translate to the UK’s predominantly Muslim audiences about what it’s like to be a Muslim from the US.
“And then to realize that no matter where we are from, the things that I talk about, which are marriage, divorce, children, jobs, health, the Sunnah (traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad), those particular things are relatable, they’re universal, and so what normally would separate us now brings us that much closer together.”

Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

Keyaan Hussain, who is 13 and from London, said he found the show really enjoyable, very funny, and quite entertaining, adding his favorite was Muhammad “because of how he interacted more with the audience.”
Ifrah Quraishi, also from London, said it was the first comedy show she had ever been to and was already inquiring about next year’s tour.
“I thought it was amazing, genuinely, my cheeks are hurting (because) I couldn’t stop laughing,” Quraishi, 26, said. “For sure I am definitely up for going to more comedy events like this (and) definitely hoping to come to the next one.”


Three-Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton to open fine dining restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Three-Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton to open fine dining restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla
The restaurant is located inside the Maraya Hall. Supplied
Updated 26 October 2021

Three-Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton to open fine dining restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Three-Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton to open fine dining restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

RIYADH: AlUla is set to get its first-ever permanent fine-dining restaurant. Maraya Social, helmed by three-michelin star English chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton, will cut the ribbon on its newest location at Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site on Oct. 27, 2021.

Atherton said in a statement that he “jumped at the chance to be one of the first permanent fine-dining venues in AlUla.”

He added: “My team and I are so impressed by the natural beauty, history and culture of AlUla. I jumped at the chance to be one of the first permanent fine-dining venues in AlUla. The beauty of the Ashar Valley, the native produce and the iconic Maraya architecture are all the ingredients we need for what is sure to be a sought-after destination dining experience.”

Maraya Social outdoor view. Supplied

Echoing his statement,  Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing offices, royal commission for AlUla  adds: “Maraya Social is set to be a destination restaurant for Middle East and the world. We are delighted for AlUla to be the home of Chef’s first restaurant in Saudi Arabia. AlUla presents a unique opportunity both in terms of the historical setting as well as the untapped pantry of produce and flavors.”

The venue will be located on the rooftop of the mirrored Maraya Hall, offering diners unparalleled 360-degree views of the stunning rock-strewn valleys and canyons of the Ashar Valley as they enjoy a hearty menu featuring seasonal fruits, vegetables and locally-produced ingredients.

The interior of Maraya Social. Supplied

 “AlUla has an amazing diversity of produce unique to the region and an incredible history and culture which I am excited to explore both in the landscape and in the menu,” said Chef Atherton.

 The not-yet-opened restaurant will feature an open-plan design with bespoke furniture made out of luxe fabrics and materials such as silk and cotton in a harmonic color palette, selected to reflect its environment.

Maraya Social will be the newest addition to the Michelin-starred chef’s portfolio of international restaurants as well as his first foray into the Kingdom.

Those who wish to dine at the new venue will be able to make reservations online.


Highlights from Arab Fashion Week so far: From evening gowns to celebrity appearances

Highlights from Arab Fashion Week so far: From evening gowns to celebrity appearances
Ihab Jiryis during Arab Fashion Week in Dubai. Getty Images
Updated 26 October 2021

Highlights from Arab Fashion Week so far: From evening gowns to celebrity appearances

Highlights from Arab Fashion Week so far: From evening gowns to celebrity appearances

Arab Fashion Week returned to a physical format this week in Dubai Design District. Read on for everything you may have missed from the first day of the five-day event.

Amato opens the season

Supplied


The latest iteration of Arab Fashion Week started with a bang, with Dubai-based Filipino designer Furne One of Amato opening the season with a glamorous fashion show punctuated with dramatic evening gowns and heavily-embellished jumpsuits.

Emirati label Euphoria steals the show

Supplied

 

Red carpet silhouettes, a harmonious pastel color palette and sparkling sequins made up Emirati label Euphoria’s latest offering, which stole the show on Monday evening.

Ihab Jiryis’s first IRL show

Supplied

Palestinian designer Ihab Jiryis debuted his first show on calendar last month during the digital edition of Arab Fashion Week. Yesterday, the couturier presented his eponymous eveningwear brand’s first physical fashion show.

Barbie is the new Fashion Icon

Maya Diab was last year’s recipient of the Fashion Icon accolade. Instagram

Lebanese singer Maya Diab presented the Fashion Icon award to Kim Culmone, Mattel's Vice President of Barbie Design. Diab, who performed on Sunday night, was last year’s recipient of the accolade.

American designer Jeremy Scott receives honor

Barbie x Moschino archival collection at Arab Fashion Week. Instagram

Moschino designer Jeremy Scott scooped up the Council’s Medal of Honor for Lifetime achievement followed by a fashion show presenting Moschino’s Barbie Spring 2015 ready-to-wear archive collection on Sunday.  

Jordanian-American soprano Emanne Beasha gives stunning performance

Emanne Beasha. Supplied


The 13-year-old Soprano, who is the winner of the fifth season of Arab Got Talent and finalist of the fourteenth season of America’s Got Talent, took to the stage, wowing audiences with a performance of two Opera songs on Sunday.

 


Jeddah arts hub Hayy Jameel announces 5-month opening season

Jeddah’s new arts hub Hayy Jameel is set to open with a five-month opening season on Dec. 6, 2021. (Supplied)
Jeddah’s new arts hub Hayy Jameel is set to open with a five-month opening season on Dec. 6, 2021. (Supplied)
Updated 26 October 2021

Jeddah arts hub Hayy Jameel announces 5-month opening season

Jeddah’s new arts hub Hayy Jameel is set to open with a five-month opening season on Dec. 6, 2021. (Supplied)

DUBAI: Jeddah’s new arts hub Hayy Jameel is set to open with a five-month opening season on Dec. 6, 2021, the Art Jameel foundation announced on Tuesday.

The opening season will run from Dec. 6 to April 30, 2022, and will feature a roster of exhibitions and art programs, including “Staple: What’s on your plate?” co-curated by Art Jameel and Delfina Foundation; “Illuminate: a Noor Riyadh Capsule,” featuring major light works by 11 Saudi artists; “Paused Mirror,” a newly-commissioned collection of portraits of Saudi artists by Osama Esid; and the inaugural Hayy Jamel Façade Commission, awarded to Nasser Almulhim.

Workshops, tours and talks will also take place throughout the five-month season.

The opening season includes more than 45 artists and researchers from around 20 countries and features existing and newly-commissioned works by 19 Saudi artists.

Hayy Jameel, a 17,000-square-meter cultural complex, is designed by waiwai, an award-winning multidisciplinary architecture studio with offices in Dubai and Tokyo. Hayy Jameel’s building design has received multiple architectural accolades, including Gold in the Hong Kong Design Awards and Silver in the New York Design Awards.

Fady Jameel, Chairman and Founder of Art Jameel, commented: “Hayy Jameel’s opening has been 20 years in the making and marks the celebration of over three-quarters of a century of Jameel philanthropic and community activities – manifesting at a dynamic moment and exceptionally exciting time for cultural life in Saudi Arabia.”

Director of Art Jameel Antonia Carver added: “Hayy Jameel opens in concert with a robust cultural calendar in Saudi, from coast to coast, including the launch of the first Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, Red Sea International Film Festival, Misk Art Week, Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium and many more. Since its early days, Art Jameel’s working model has always been collaborative, dynamic and cross-disciplinary, complementing existing infrastructures while creating opportunities for alignment and expansion. Hayy Jameel has come at the right time, in the right city where contemporary art meets a history shaped by trade and tradition.”


Swiss-Arab label Mouawad unveiled as official jeweler for Kristen Stewart-starring ‘Spencer’

Swiss-Arab label Mouawad unveiled as official jeweler for Kristen Stewart-starring ‘Spencer’
Kristen Stewart at the premiere of ‘Spencer’ in London. Getty Images
Updated 26 October 2021

Swiss-Arab label Mouawad unveiled as official jeweler for Kristen Stewart-starring ‘Spencer’

Swiss-Arab label Mouawad unveiled as official jeweler for Kristen Stewart-starring ‘Spencer’

DUBAI: Mouawad has been fashioning spectacular jewelry for its devoted royal clientele for decades, so it is only fitting that the Swiss-Emirati jewelry company was selected to provide the jewels for the acclaimed Princess Diana biopic “Spencer.”

US actress Kristen Stewart, who portrays the late people’s princess in the Pablo Larrain-directed movie, dazzles throughout the film wearing a lineup of sparkling pieces from Mouawad, including a blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring, featuring 1.82 carat of diamonds and 7.25 carat of sapphires, reminiscent of Princess Diana’s own iconic blue bauble.

Kristen Stewart portrays the late people’s princess in the Pablo Larrain-directed movie. Supplied

“It has been a pleasure to work on ‘Spencer,’ providing the jewelry for the role of an iconic princess known for her style as well as her powerful impact on the world,” said fourth generation Mouawad co-guardians, Fred, Alain and Pascal Mouawad, in a statement.

“Mouawad has an illustrious heritage in jewelry and watchmaking, and over the decades has been the choice for royalty and celebrities when seeking a unique statement piece or set of jewelry, as well as often being called on by royal protocol offices to create notable gifts to be presented to heads of state, presidents and prime ministers,” the jewelry house added in a statement.

The brand was founded 131-years-ago in Beirut, Lebanon, by David Mouawad.

Today, the company is headquartered in Dubai and Geneva.

“Spencer” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. Getty Images

Meanwhile, “Spencer” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last month.

The film, written by Steven Knight, is set over a three-day holiday at the British Royal family’s vacation home in the early 1990s, before Princess Diana split from Prince Charles.

Stewart, who received wide acclaim from critics for her portrayal of the highly-scrutinized royal, admitted she did a lot of research prior to emulating Diana onscreen.  

“I read everything, I wanted every photo... watched all the interviews that I could get my hands on,” she told the BBC.

“I watched ‘The Crown,’ I watched every iteration of interpretation. I just tried to absorb her in an emotional and general way, and then trust the process, and expect her to show up,” she added.