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)
Short Url
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.”


UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
Updated 19 June 2021

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
  • Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd
  • She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, after it finished a close second

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended the final day of the Ascot races on Saturday, where environmental protesters urged the monarch to press politicians to act faster against climate change.
The 95-year-old queen, a keen racing fan and racehorse owner, has attended Ascot almost every year of her seven-decade reign. She was absent last year, when the event was held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her return came two months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, at 99.


Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd as she arrived to cheer on four horses she owns that were racing on Saturday. She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, Reach for the Moon, after it finished a close second.
The annual racing meeting west of London is a heady mix of horses, extravagant headwear, fancy dress, champagne and strawberries with cream.
Protesters from environmental group Extinction Rebellion unfurled a banner reading “Racing to Extinction” at the racecourse on Saturday. The group said four women glued themselves to their banner and chained themselves to the fence in a protest intended to be seen by the queen. She was not nearby at the time.


Moroccan-British model Nora Attal turns heads at Dior Cruise 2022 collection

Moroccan-British model Nora Attal turns heads at Dior Cruise 2022 collection
Nora Attal showed off a sporty look during the Dior 2022 Cruise collection show in Athens. Getty Images
Updated 19 June 2021

Moroccan-British model Nora Attal turns heads at Dior Cruise 2022 collection

Moroccan-British model Nora Attal turns heads at Dior Cruise 2022 collection

DUBAI: French fashion house Dior this week returned to live audience shows with an extravagant presentation of its partly-sports inspired 2022 Cruise collection in Athens’ Panathenaic stadium, the 4th-century site of the first modern Olympic Games, 70-years after an iconic Dior shoot at the Acropolis.

Dior’s Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri enlisted models, including Moroccan-British star Nora Attal, to showcase the sport-infused designs that made up the collection in the presence of celebrities that included film star Catherine Deneuve, model Cara Delevingne and “The Queen’s Gambit” actress Anya Taylor Joy, as well as Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Nora Attal showed off a sporty look during the Dior 2022 Cruise collection show in Athens. Getty Images

Dior also broadcasted the event live on social media, television and in public areas in Greece.

For Chiuri’s first focused foray into athleisure, Attal wore a striped, waterproof unitard with an attached hood, paired with matching shorts and futuristic sneakers. A pair of scuba-inspired goggles, studded wristbands and an oversized bowling bag completed the look.

“The Queen’s Gambit” actress Anya Taylor Joy was one of the stars in attendance. AFP

The 22-year-old, who made her runway debut in 2017, is a catwalk fixture at the house of Dior. She has walked in plenty of shows for the Parisian maison, including the most recent Fall 2021 ready-to-wear show in March. 

She also turned heads at the French maison’s socially-distanced Spring 2021 ready-to-wear show in Paris, as well as at the brand’s Spring 2019 couture, Spring 2018 ready-to-wear and Fall 2018 couture shows, among others.

Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri focused on athleisure for the cruise collection. AFP

The Dior Cruise 2022 collection — which featured a color palette of mostly black, white, grey, gold and blue — also boasted suits inspired by jackets and pants worn by iconic German-American actress Marlene Dietrich.

Peplos, the robe traditionally worn by women in ancient Greece, was also a major source of inspiration for the show’s eveningwear components.

The work of Greek artisans was featured in the collection, including a tailor and embroiderer from Argos in the Peloponnese, a silk factory in the northeastern town of Soufli, and a maker of fisherman’s caps from the port of Piraeus.

The work of Greek artisans was featured in this collection. AFP

Additionally, after receiving the green light from Greece’s top archaeological advisory body to have photoshoots in some of the country’s cherished ancient sites, such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the temple of Poseidon at Sounio and the temple of Zeus at Nemea, Dior presented the photographs from the shoot during the runway show.

 


French fashion house Balmain seeks inspiration from Arab divas for Resort 2022 line

French fashion house Balmain seeks inspiration from Arab divas for Resort 2022 line
Balmain resort 2022. Supplied
Updated 19 June 2021

French fashion house Balmain seeks inspiration from Arab divas for Resort 2022 line

French fashion house Balmain seeks inspiration from Arab divas for Resort 2022 line

DUBAI: Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousteing grew up not knowing who his birth parents were. He was adopted by a French couple from the region of Bordeaux when he was a baby. It wasn’t until very recently that the young designer discovered his genetic heritage. His mother is from Somalia and his father is Ethiopian. His parentage is set to be explored in a forthcoming Netflix documentary, “Wonder Boy,” launching on June 26. It will follow Rousteing’s 10-year tenure at Balmain, in addition to his search for his biological parents.

Due to the pandemic, Rousteing has been unable to visit Somalia or Ethiopia, though he has been vying to go. Instead, he has taken to researching the Horn of Africa and was particularly moved by a visit to the exhibition “Arab Divas: From Oum Kalthoum to Dalida” currently taking place at the Arab World Institute in Paris for Balmain’s Resort 2022 collection. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BALMAIN (@balmain)

The exhibition’s influence is palpable throughout the new collection, which Rousteing has dubbed “perhaps his most personal offering to date,” especially when it came to the jewelry.

The designer also reflects on his Ethiopian and Somali heritage in the collection by way of loose silhouettes, strong patterns and rich textures.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BALMAIN (@balmain)

The offering comprises 60-looks, and offers both womenswear and menswear in the form of roomy ponchos, silky kaftans and mini dresses for women as well as bomber jackets, loose trousers and sharply-tailored, embellished blazers for their counterparts.

The new collection marked the 75th anniversary of Pierre Balmain’s debut presentation with Balmain’s 2022 Resort Collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BALMAIN (@balmain)

In celebration of the milestone, the designer chose to revive the archival labyrinth print, invented by Pierre Balmain and reintroduced by Rousteing, splashing it on oversized hobo bags, floor-length coats, palazzo pants, wrap skirts and crop tops. “The clients really like it, so we played with it even more,” he said.

Another highlight of the collection is a pair of fur shoes that are notably cruelty free– the footwear consists of a mix of faux fur and long-haired goat fur sourced from the goat-milk industry.


Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume
Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied
Updated 19 June 2021

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

Lebanese label Azzi & Osta dedicates its Fall 2022 couture collection to perfume

DUBAI: Perfume has the special ability to conjure up cherished memories, stimulate emotions and transport you to faraway locations. So powerful is scent, that Lebanese design duo Assaad Osta and George Azzi decided to pay homage to the art of perfumery for their joint label Azzi & Osta’s Fall 2022 couture collection.

It all started with a visit to France. The couturiers took a trip to a perfume museum in the French town of Grasse, known for its long-established perfume industry. There, they discovered a vast universe of essences, that included everything from Osmanthus flowering plants from Japan, pine needles from Canada and sandalwood from India.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

The design duo were especially struck by all of the different territories, civilizations, talents and cultures that can intersect in a single bottle of perfume. Thus, they decided that their next collection would be dedicated to fragrance.

The idea was to utilize different materials and shapes in order to evoke the lightness and volatility of perfume.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

They embroidered precious ingredients including orange blossom, peach bud, patchouli, magnolia, fig, neroli and myrtle, that compose a typical fragrance, with subtle petals of fabric molded and colored by hand, accompanied by ribbons of tulle stitched together edge-to-edge in frills.

The 23-piece offering also boasts custom-made floral fabric, printed in 3D with verbena and patchouli; a corset inspired by the 1950s from which the embroidered flowers of a dress pour out and dresses cut in the shape of a vase.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

In an effort to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their designs, the couturiers opted for faux fur and feathers in the collection. Adding to this conscious practice, the couturiers also utilized raffia, a natural and renewable woven fiber, in the looks.

The collection culminates with three striking wedding gowns.

Azzi & Osta Fall 2022 Couture. Supplied

One is made of tightened velvet ribbons and tulle and features a skirt embroidered with myrtle flowers.

Another is embroidered with tuberose on Chantilly silk, under a layer of lace dotted with organza flowers and spangled with crystals, while the third wedding gown boasts a sprinkling of sequins and organza feathers on the shoulders that would make any bride say “I do.”

 


International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 June 2021

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

In honor of International Sushi Day celebrated on June 18, here are six sushi spots to try in Saudi Arabia, rounded up by Arab News Japan.  

Chez Sushi

This modern and casual restaurant on Prince Saud Al-Faisal Road in Jeddah feature custom dishes such as a Japanese burrito and attractive lunch offers.

Oishii Sushi

Owner Khulood Olaqi turned this home-based online store into a fully-fledged restaurant where she is both a chef and manager. Cozy, warm and welcoming, Oishii Sushi is located in Riyadh.

Sushi Centro

Promising sushi that is “rolled to perfection,” the restaurant also provides traditional Japanese food that is rich in flavor and flair. Sushi Centro has two branches in Saudi Arabia, one in Jeddah in Centro Shaheen Hotel, and the other in Riyadh’s Centro Waha Hotel.

Nozomi

Nozomi’s menu is internationally renowned and award-winning, offering an unrivaled fine-dining experience on Riyadh’s Dabab Street.

Wakame

A hip restaurant that plays host to business meetings, gossip and fast-paced service at a dimly lit sushi bar, Wakame has three branches in Jeddah: In Ar Rawdah district, in Obhur and on Al-Malik Road.

Sushi Yoshi

A franchise with branches in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar where guests can enjoy anime with their sushi.