New exhibition explores how Arabic comic books have reflected the socio-political culture of the region

New exhibition explores how Arabic comic books have reflected the socio-political culture of the region
“Library Circles” program will showcase comics and graphic novels from librarian David Hirsch’s collection. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 February 2021

New exhibition explores how Arabic comic books have reflected the socio-political culture of the region

New exhibition explores how Arabic comic books have reflected the socio-political culture of the region

LONDON: The world of comic books and graphic novels has long been a staple of arts scenes across North America, Japan and parts of Europe, yet its prominence in, impact upon, and reflection of Arab cultures has tended to be more limited. Dubai’s Jameel Arts Centre is looking to throw light on this creative scene, however, with the latest in its “Library Circles” program, which will showcase comics and graphic novels from librarian David Hirsch’s collection.

Philadelphia-born Hirsch is the advisor for the Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Al-Jaddaf, Dubai. A librarian for 34 years, and an avid fan of comics, graphic novels and manga, Hirsch first began to collect books in Middle Eastern languages when working at UCLA in 1993. Having lived, studied and worked across the Arab world throughout his career, Hirsch has become a leading expert on the Middle Eastern comic scene. The “Library Circles” exhibition includes titles from his own collection, as well as materials acquired by the Jameel Library.




The “Library Circles” exhibition includes titles from his own collection, as well as materials acquired by the Jameel Library. (Supplied)

“In terms of graphic novels, the Middle East is not nearly as developed as many other places in the world,” Hirsch tells Arab News. “That was one of the things that made it interesting. It was a challenge to put together the collection: these graphic novels are quite ephemeral and fugitive. I describe them that way because they are difficult to find, and are not published by mainstream publishers. However, Kalimat publishing in Sharjah has started producing their own, and I am thankful to them for trying to bring Arabic comics into the mainstream.”

Algeria publishes a lot more titles, Hirsch adds, in terms of the wider Arab world. “I think they publish more than any other Arab country, but most are in French. There’s very little in Arabic published in Algeria.

“After that, Lebanon is doing quite well. They have comic-book awards and festivals, and teach it as a university subject at AUB, which I believe is an essential step towards giving prominence to Arabic comics. There are examples from Lebanon in the exhibition. Other festivals such as Comic Con in Dubai and Manga Con in Saudi Arabia have also given additional prominence.”




Philadelphia-born Hirsch is the advisor for the Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Al-Jaddaf, Dubai. (Supplied)

While comic books remain a somewhat nascent art form in the Arab world, Hirsch believes it is a vital one, capable of offering a unique take on the region’s social, political and cultural nuances.

“Comics in the Arab world are reflections of different socio-political issues,” Hirsch says. “For example, ‘Hijab Girl’ explored how female empowerment issues are discussed. Many of the titles were published by government entities, or with government support, and you can read how they encourage a specific sense of national pride.”

Kuwait’s “The 99” also serves as a vital window to the Arab world, Hirsch explains. “It was a good way of attracting youth in terms of them understanding religion and making it more accessible. It’s also unique in that it is available in different languages, and the comics even inspired a theme park.”




Hirsch first began to collect books in Middle Eastern languages when working at UCLA in 1993. (Supplied)

And given the fondness in the Middle East for comic book series from more established markets, Hirsh remains a strong believer that there is an appetite for local content if the authors, artists and publishers exist to produce it.

“I gave a talk about Arabic comics in Saudi Arabia,” Hirsch recalls. “All the attendees, men and women, were singing along with (Lebanese singer) Sami Clark’s rendition of the famous (Japanese series) ‘Grendizer’ song. It was such an incredible feeling.”

A key aim of the exhibition is raising awareness of the existence of this art form in the Arab world. But Hirsch also stresses the importance of archiving.




Kuwait’s “The 99” also serves as a vital window to the Arab world, Hirsch explains. (Supplied)

“It’s an unfortunate fact that many publishers don’t have archives of their issues,” he explains. “I faced this with one of the publishers who did not have any copies of the graphic novel they produced. Keeping and maintaining archives is a challenge in general in the Arab world, and also applies to graphic novels.”

As a result, when putting together the exhibition, a sizeable issue Hirsch faced was getting hold of as many titles as possible. “Some of them were rather last-minute additions that I picked up at the Sharjah Book Fair,” he admits.

Of the publications on display, there are a number that he regards as particularly important. Here, Hirsch talks us through some of the highlights.

‘Corniche’

“Corniche” is an anthology of comics from the UAE, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation’s Focal Point (the annual art book fair). The publication is the result of a series of workshops led by artist Nassir Nasrallah and includes the work of 15 local artists and illustrators. The title and cover pay homage to the Sharjah Corniche, along which many of Sharjah Art Foundation’s spaces are housed.

‘Shamma’

This comic, by Emirati author Hamda Saad, narrates the day-to-day encounters of its main protagonist, Shamma, who is promoted to become the head of her department at work. Whilst she is incredibly career-driven, Shamma must navigate the challenges this promotion brings, while maneuvering the realities of her home life. Saad writes in the afterword about the importance of having the story be based on Emirati characters and the cultural challenges behind drawing Emirati national dress.

‘Hijab Girl’

This story, by Sarah Al-Hazmi, begins when the protagonist is hit by a car and hurtles through the air to then land in a pair of green underpants! A young boy named Fady witnesses the accident and is convinced she is a superhero, eventually becoming her sidekick. Saudi journalist Mohammed Alshoaiby wrote: “Hijab Girl does not face alien invaders, mechanical monstrosities or genetically-altered bullies, but instead fights against ignorance, apathy and complacency — foes that have proven far more resilient than the efforts of most superheroes.’”

‘The 99’

Created by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, this series follows a team of superheroes with special powers influenced by the 99 attributes of God in Islam. The comic has had a contentious journey since its inception. On the one hand, it was celebrated with multiple awards and plans of Hollywood adaptation. However, the comics have also faced strong opposition from Islamic conservatives, lawsuits, and even a Twitter hashtag that threatened Dr Naif. Despite these challenges, the series had a far-reaching audience and was translated into eight languages including Arabic, English, Turkish, Spanish and Indonesian. Over 25 issues were published.

‘The Locust Effect’

In his introduction to “The Locust Effect,” Dr. Ahmed Khaled Tawfik writes a beautiful passage on what comics mean to contemporary society: “It is thought that comics can constitute the ninth form of the arts through which cinema, plastic art and literature all come together. It is indeed disheartening that comics are still disregarded in Egyptian society and, as usual, only appreciated by the youth. We need ‘The Locust Effect’ and its storyline more than ever to escape Orwellian media, document justice and absolve our martyrs and their sacrifices and stories.”


‘Wuf,’ a fantastical love story narrated by a canine

‘Wuf,’ a fantastical love story narrated by a canine
Updated 12 April 2021

‘Wuf,’ a fantastical love story narrated by a canine

‘Wuf,’ a fantastical love story narrated by a canine

CHICAGO: A fantastical novel that took the Turkish literary world by storm, Kemal Varol’s “Wuf” is a love story narrated by a canine. Translated into English by Dayla Rogers, the novel takes place in the 1990s amid a war between the southerners and northerners. Mikasa, the main character and a young street pup, learns about life and how to survive between the big city and the mountain town where he attempts to find shelter, food, friends and love. His journey will transform him into a legend and an enigma.

With a politically charged backdrop of the conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the state, Varol layers his surrealist novel with humor, tragedy, friendship and the horrors of war that befall places, people, animals and the natural landscape. He keeps a politically realistic and emotional novel accessible to everyone, according to Rogers in the translator’s statement, as she points out that Varol “manages to capture multiple perspectives in the conflict thanks to myriad characters who straddle social divides.” Varol creates his main character as a bridge to opposing worlds, and in doing so allows for the story to reach eyes, ears and hearts on all sides of the conflict.

Readers first meet Mikasa at a shelter along a mountain road. He arrives half alive, wounded and bloody, and sleeps for seven days as his fellow kennel-mates speculate about who he is. They are in the middle of a war, as is evident by the army trucks and soldiers that pass on the road day and night. There are rumors among the dogs about what is going on in a world that they are kept from, but Mikasa fills in the gaps as he recalls his life, the war, the destruction and hardship, and Melsa, his love.

Varol’s novel references real political events that inundated the country in the 1990s. In Mikasa, a dog who has been forced to survive his entire life without his family and as a minesweeper during the conflict, Varol captures the devastation of war and the comradery between creatures when fighting for life. Through the eyes of his canines, Varol writes about life that surrounds war, those who want to fight, those who do not want to fight, and those who are caught in the middle.


Palestinian DJ duo Simi, Haze Khadra show support for Lebanese creatives

 Palestinian DJ duo Simi, Haze Khadra show support for Lebanese creatives
Updated 12 April 2021

Palestinian DJ duo Simi, Haze Khadra show support for Lebanese creatives

 Palestinian DJ duo Simi, Haze Khadra show support for Lebanese creatives

DUBAI: US-Palestinian twins and DJ duo Simi and Haze Khadra showed support for Lebanese creatives this week by wearing merchandise from Ya Habibi Market, an online streetwear store designed to support artists from the Middle East.

Simi championed the brand’s Laurel Soap Official Stamp sweater and wrote on her Instagram Stories: “All proceeds go to Impact Lebanon.” 

(Instagram/@simihaze)

The duo, whose real names are Sama and Haya, were born in Palestine, but grew up between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They are the younger sisters of Fai Khadra, who first made waves when he accompanied model and reality television star Kendall Jenner to Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin’s wedding in September 2018. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Simi & Haze (@simihaze)

Ya Habibi Market started after the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut’s port area, with the aim of uniting artists in the region and helping those affected by the blast.


Singer Katy Perry steps out in Alaia creation on ‘American Idol’ set

Singer Katy Perry steps out in Alaia creation on ‘American Idol’ set
Updated 12 April 2021

Singer Katy Perry steps out in Alaia creation on ‘American Idol’ set

Singer Katy Perry steps out in Alaia creation on ‘American Idol’ set

DUBAI: US singer and songwriter Katy Perry this week championed a dress by renowned luxury label Maison Alaia, which was founded by late French-Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaia. 

The superstar wore the brand’s Panther Print Velvet Jacquard Gown on Monday’s episode of “American Idol,” which she judges alongside Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Ryan Seacrest. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by KATY PERRY (@katyperry)

Not only did the 36-year-old singer step out in an Arab label, but she also rocked a new darker hair color.

Fans quickly took to social media to comment on Perry’s new look.

 “Is it just me or is @katyperry hotter than normal tonight?” one Twitter user asked. 


Ramadan gift guide: From tea to beauty buys, these sets will brighten your day

Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied
Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied
Updated 12 April 2021

Ramadan gift guide: From tea to beauty buys, these sets will brighten your day

Huda Beauty Ramadan advent calendar. Supplied

DUBAI: From a fragrant bouquet of flowers to a selection of the world’s finest tea, read on for seven gift sets to give (and get) this Ramadan. 

 

Huda Beauty Ramadan Gifting Calendar


Treat your loved ones (or yourself) to a curated advent calendar filled with Huda Beauty’s top 10 products. The calendar has been designed to be opened every evening after breaking one’s fast during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Lakrids by Bulow Love Selection Box


This gift box features the Danish confectionery’s popular chocolate-coated liquorice and is perfect to end your iftar and suhoor on a sweet note.

Tania’s Teahouse Ramadan advent calendar


Celebrate each day of the Holy Month with a cup of some of the world’s finest tea. From black tea to fruity infusions tucked inside the drawers, this is every tea lover’s dream. 

Kiehl’s Ramadan Set

The curated collection of the brand’s best-selling products delivers intense hydration and skincare benefits that cover all your needs.

Bateel Luna gift set


Filled with Bateel organic gourmet dates, this crescent-adorned box set makes for a healthy and thoughtful gift this Ramadan. 

 

Maison des Fleurs gift set


This tray with a small box of Medjool dates and a faux flowers arrangement is not your typical bouquet.

Sugargram Ramadan candygram box

To celebrate Ramadan, Sugargram has  launched a a gift box filled with locally-produced candy cubes you could gift or just enjoy for yourself. With an assorted mix of 10 artisanal flavors, each box is guaranteed to satisfy.


Lebanese influencer, designer Karen Wazen launches mobile game app

The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied
The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied
Updated 11 April 2021

Lebanese influencer, designer Karen Wazen launches mobile game app

The free-to-download game launched today on iOS and Andriod app stores. Supplied

DUBAI: Lebanese-British fashion blogger and eyewear designer Karen Wazen has just launched her very first mobile game app. Available on iOS and Android, the new mobile app is titled “Karen Wazen: My World,” and arrived on all app stores today.

The interactive game is based on the Dubai-based fashionista’s real life and is similar to “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” a highly addictive app that mythologizes Kardashian West’s ladder climb to the A-list. 

The free mobile app is a role-playing game with multiple levels that allows users to re-live Wazen’s journey and most memorable milestones, such as graduating in London, getting married and becoming a mother and an entrepreneur in Dubai. 

The interactive game is based on the Dubai-based fashionista’s real life. Supplied

Wazen reveals that the new game came about during lockdown last year, when playing games with her family was a major source of stress-relief during the uncertain time.

“Like so many people during lockdown, we had to think of creative ways of having fun and stay positive during those uncertain times. What sparked the idea for developing the app was discovering how stress relieving playing games with the family was — both online and offline,” Wazen said in a released statement.

“And with this, we’re so excited to be introducing ‘Karen Wazen: My World,’ a free app where we can connect with our followers beyond Instagram and around the world, where users can get to know my story and be a part of my world through a fun, lighthearted game,” she added.

The story-driven game features characters such as the influencer’s husband, Elias Bakhazi. Supplied

The story-driven game also features characters such as the influencer’s mother and her husband, Elias Bakhazi.

In order to advance, users are tasked with decorating Wazen’s home, playing wedding planner and styling her looks.

The new mobile game app, which was developed with NiM Games, is available in both Arabic and English.

It marks the mother-of-three’s first foray into the technology industry.

She follows in the footsteps of regional It-girls, who go by The Real Fouz, Model Roz and Noha Style Icon on Instagram, who featured in the free mobile app “StyleCity,” an iOS and Android role-playing game made by Dubai-based tech company Dubzplay, that launched in Jan 2020.