DUBAI: The Lebanese-American artist discusses her 2003 painting, ahead of her virtual presentation at the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies on February 18.
My father is the ‘hakawati’ (storyteller), so he has told us stories and memories about his childhood in Damascus and later Lebanon his whole life as an education for us. In my book “Stories My Father Told Me,” “Coming to America” is the very last story. It’s his journey from beginning to end, when he finally emigrated to America. It is very timely, especially with the whole concept of what’s going on with immigration in America. Hopefully some of these restrictions will be loosened up with the new administration. When I read that little story, I start to cry every time.
In the story, the Vulcania is an Italian ship that the Americans seized during World War II and they repatriated it — that’s why I put the Italian flag. That was the ship that came and picked up people from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to come to America. What stood out for me were the sacrifices that people made to come to this country. I was evacuated twice in 1967 and in the civil war. When you’re forced to leave somewhere, it’s extra painful.
Colors are very important to me. The paint that I use — gouache — has such a beautiful, pure quality that you can’t get from acrylic and oil paints. When I attract you to my painting — even if my message is painful — I’m attracting you to look at patterns, bright colors and the beautiful aesthetics of the painting. If it’s horrible-looking, you’re going to turn away; you’re not going to look at what I’m trying to tell you.
This way, at least I’ve gotten you to shift your thinking a little bit and stand in my shoes. The bright colors and patterns are part of my agenda to bring you into my world and be a passenger on that boat: Imagine what they must have felt like when they stayed up all night and saw the Statue of Liberty and what that represented to them. My father is 93 now and he remembered, all those years back, that it was a beautiful, clear day.
DUBAI: Jordanian-Romanian designer Amina Muaddi has been the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s go-to designer this week.
On Wednesday, one of Muaddi's Instagram posts showed reality TV star and entrepreneur Kylie Jenner — carrying her three-year-old daughter Stormi, from her relationship with rapper Travis Scott — stepping out in a pair of white boots by Muaddi called “the Pernille bootie.” The Kylie Cosmetics founder also accessorized her look with the brand’s Pernille handbag from the designer’s newly launched line.
Earlier in the week, Jenner’s older sister Kim Kardashian shared a series of images with her 228 million Instagram followers of herself in a green suit by French fashion label Jean Paul Gaultier and a daring corset by London-based Spanish designer Luis De Javier, which she paired with Muaddi’s green Karma pumps.
Muaddi’s brand — famous for its signature flared heels — has garnered a loyal following of famous fans, including Dua Lipa, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin Bieber, and many more.
Building bridges: Saudi designer Nawaf Al-Nassar discusses the inspirations behind his work
Updated 17 June 2021
DUBAI: Interior design has a much deeper meaning for Nawaf Al-Nassar than for many others out there. For the Saudi designer, looking to the outdoors is what allows him to create the indoors.
Growing up in Jeddah, Al-Nassar travelled to London for his studies, where he was mentored by design icons including Zaha Hadid, Philippe Starck and Gianfranco Ferré. “It was amazing,” he tells Arab News.
After graduating in 1990, Al-Nassar returned to his hometown to work as an interior designer, starting his studio, 3N Jeddah (the three Ns being his name, his father’s name — Nahar — and their family name). It quickly gained popularity, acquiring residential and commercial projects in Jeddah, Riyadh, Cairo, Beirut, London, Paris and the south of France.
In 2017, Al-Nassar established Tasmeem Fair — a Saudi-based art platform for young designers to showcase their creativity. The fair became an instant hit, attracting 9,000 guests in its first week alone. He describes it as “my favorite — and the best — project of my life so far.”
His family’s origins — from a small village north of Riyadh in the center of the Kingdom — played a major role in Al-Nassar’s inspiration. He remembers his grandfather taking him out into the deserted Saudi countryside as a child.
“These were our family gatherings,” he says. “When I used to look at old houses in the beautiful desert, it attracted and relaxed me. When I’d go inside old palaces or any interior space, I always felt more relaxed.
“Since I was young, I’ve always felt more like I’m talking to myself when I'm inside an interior,” he continues. “Then, when I went to high school, I always felt comfortable sitting inside a space that was complete. All of us live in an interior space, but sometimes when we look around, we don’t feel comfortable. When I’d feel that in my youth, I’d find out it was because it was not made by a designer, but by a person who has expertise with walls and ceilings. not with proportion.”
Soon after, he attended a couple of summer schools in the United Kingdom to dive deeper into the world of interior design. And his calling towards the industry only grew. “When I sit with people, I love to know their interior, the outside doesn’t mean anything to me,” he explains. “The interior is the core to know the person more. So I started wanting to know more about the interior of things, which helped me a lot with product design. I really do believe that if the interior of where a person works or lives is not reflecting their character, they can never be themselves.”
For Al-Nassar, an artist should reflect his surroundings and his feelings towards them. As such, he began infusing local Saudi motifs into his designs to pass on to generations to come. “I love the space of my studio,” he says. “It really talks to me. As an interior designer, I use soft materials for the interior, such as fabric furniture, and I deal a lot with European companies.”
Although he owns many fabrics with European motifs, he had been longing to find a Saudi designer with his own design on a fabric. He collaborated with manufacturers to print the first Saudi design on a French fabric company’s products.
“It's very important when you go inside a space and you see details around you that reflect the surrounding of the city where you are,” Al-Nassar says. “Paris, Cairo and others have that, but in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t see any Saudi motifs, so I started to create this line of fabric design and we started manufacturing pieces.”
In May, he designed some furniture for the Kingdom’s Misk Institute. His brief was to use inspiration from a historical building in the country, so he turned to the historic Salwa Palace — the original home of the Al-Saud royal family, located northwest of Riyadh.
“I started to enjoy its smooth elements and I looked at it as an architectural designer,” he says. “It’s as if I was in an orchestra, it was like silent music and it was so beautiful to see.”
From that visit, he created “Takkei” (meaning ‘Let’s sit’), inspired by the stones that form the base of the palace. He used new material to achieve a more industrial look that he believed would be more attractive to younger generations. “It’s about speaking their language,” he explains.
Al-Nassar’s creative process happens in the outdoors. Whenever he is struggling for inspiration, he jumps in his car and drives to the mountains, two-and-a-half hours away from Jeddah. He is revitalized by the surrounding landscape and old houses, some of which date back 200 years.
“I can almost read the culture and the type of life they used to live there,” he says. “I’m definitely inspired by Saudi Arabia — but also by everywhere. You have to go to the location and smell old places to be inspired.”
He mentions the picturesque village of Qaryat Al-Dehin, which is made up of 49 houses built from white mountain marble and quartz. After much research, he visited with a friend who came from Qaryat Al-Dehin. Four hours of driving later, he was immersed in its beauty. He compares it to a moment when he was 16 and he and his father watched the great opera singer Luciano Pavarotti sing in Milan. “Honestly, the same feeling came to me when I looked at these 49 beautiful houses on top of this beautiful mountain,” Al-Nassar says. “It was the same energy — the same music; it was amazing.”
His passion for the outdoors has also extended to his teaching as a guest lecturer in universities. He will often take the students on field trips — something he deems vital for today’s youth. “They have to go there themselves and see the reality on the ground,” he explains. “I have done field trips everywhere in Saudi Arabia for students, and lately it has become for others as well.”
Al-Nassar sees great potential and talent in young Saudi architects and interior designers. He admires their creativity, but suggest they need the right curator.
Ultimately, he hopes such people can build a bridge between the Kingdom and the rest of the world. “Design and art are a message of peace,” he concludes. “I’m already building that bridge, and hopefully it will be finished soon.”
‘Letters from Beirut’ addresses the crises in Lebanon
The Sakhi sisters’ Venice installation gathers messages from survivors of the Beirut Port blast
Updated 17 June 2021
DUBAI: Let’s talk about it. That is the simple message the Lebanese-Polish architects and sisters Tessa and Tara Sakhi are hoping to convey through their poignant installation running until November 21, in parallel with the Venice Architecture Biennale. “Letters from Beirut” is a six-meter wall of 2,000 handwritten letters. Peeking out of pouches, they reveal personal thoughts of survivors from the Beirut Port blast in August 2020, which claimed over 200 lives.
Although Lebanon has witnessed a series of intense conflicts in its recent past, it is fair to say that this recent calamity, along with a prolonged financial crisis and a non-existent government, has left a mark on the Lebanese unlike any other previous event. “Our life flipped from one day to another. We felt uprooted,” Tara told Arab News. “Our parents told us that during the civil war the country was working economically, but with the pandemic and everything that happened with the central bank, Lebanon has really crashed this time.”
To start afresh, the sisters — co-founders of the design and architecture firm T Sakhi —decided to move to Venice. The more time they spent there, the more similarities they recognized between the historical centers of Beirut and Venice in terms of their open Mediterranean culture, housing layouts, and proximity to water. “We feel that maybe now we can give much more to Lebanon from outside and hopefully one day we will eventually come back,” said Tessa.
One of their ways of ‘giving’ to the Lebanese community back home is by spreading their voice. “It’s a healing process,” said Tara, who, with her sister, was in Beirut during the explosion. “We didn’t get any acknowledgement. There hasn’t been any active decision made by the government, or economic reforms to make things advanced, to give people a glimpse of hope. Nothing has been done.”
To bring their project to life, the sisters set up an online platform, inviting civilians to share their messages, which would later be written out by Tessa and Tara on pieces of recycled paper. The letters — in Arabic, English and French — contain grief, anger, resistance, and stories of love. “How does it feel to be born elsewhere?” one asks. “Why is humanity so destructive?” “No to resilience, yes to resistance.” One simply states: “Beirut kills.”
“It was ups and downs,” remarked Tessa of this cathartic practice of writing the messages out. “Physically, it was very tough. You can feel people’s pain in their letters.” Each pouch also contains a tiny yet symbolic seed of a vegetable or herb, notably Lebanese-grown coriander and zucchini.
The pouches were donated by the UAE-based Irthi Contemporary Craft Council, a heritage-preserving organization that advocates female empowerment socially and economically. Made of felt, the pouches were created by 37 Emirati craftswomen living in Sharjah. Their skilled manner of hand weaving, adhering to similar techniques utilized for producing baskets, is native to their culture. Three Emirati female university students were also involved in producing the recycled pieces of paper.
This isn’t the first time the Sakhis have explored the timely idea of walls and their restrictive, political implications in their body of work. “It’s an element of separation and segregation that’s used in Lebanon a lot,” explained Tara. “We want to actually take that and turn it into our advantage and see how we can communicate with a surface of separation.”
“Letters from Beirut” is meant to be an interactive and uniting memorial, where biennale visitors can take a pouch until they all disappear from the wall. In a way, this engagement enables the victims’ voices to be heard and remembered around the world. “There were people who decided to frame the letters in their homes,” noted Tara. “For us, this is incredibly beautiful to see that our creation has a life that’s continuing.” Visitors are also invited to scan a barcode at the site, allowing them to donate money to Lebanese NGOs that are supporting restoration efforts and children’s education in post-blast Beirut.
The installation is a response to the central theme of the biennale: How will we live together? In the case of Lebanon, according to the Sakhis, the way to live together is for citizens of different generations and professional backgrounds to collaborate — a sense of unity that was heightened in the aftermath of the blast. It’s about sharing ideas and having conversations again.
REVIEW: Tom Hiddleston returns for more mercurial Marvel mischief in ‘Loki’
Hiddleston is clearly having a ball as the beloved villain in the latest Marvel TV show
Updated 17 June 2021
AMSTERDAM: “Loki” has issues. That’s true of both the central character — a not-so-evil-really villain desperate for paternal approval and maternal affection — and the show itself.
The main problem with the first couple of episodes (all that were available for review of the six in the season) of Marvel’s latest TV show is that there’s so much explanation required as to why it exists in the first place that it can seem at times as though the viewer is attending a lecture on theoretical physics.
Loki, Thor’s brother and the Norse god of mischief, is played here — as he was in six Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies — by Tom Hiddleston, Robert Downey Jr.’s closest rival in the MCU for quick-witted repartee.
In “Avengers: Infinity War” (spoiler alert) Loki died, but was ‘resurrected’ in 2012’s “Avengers: Endgame” before escaping in a farcical mix-up involving the portal-creating Tesseract stone. That’s where this series begins.
Appearing in a different time and place (the Gobi desert), this particular variant of Loki is quickly captured by soldiers from the Time Variance Authority (TVA) — an organization tasked with ensuring that the one true timeline (the Sacred Timeline) progresses as intended without pesky variants like Loki running around messing with the TVA’s plans. He is captured and taken to TVA headquarters (an amusingly bland and bureaucratic place, but also, crucially, a location where Loki’s — or anyone’s — magical powers have no effect).
There, he is set to be wiped from history until Agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) steps in to suggest that Loki may, in fact, be of some use to the TVA in helping his team apprehend a rogue variant who is murdering TVA members during their time-jumping missions. A variant he believes to be… Loki.
So, you can see why the first episode, in particular, is so exposition-heavy. Fortunately, Wilson is in fine form and his long dialogue scenes with Hiddleston — in which much of the heavy lifting is done explanation-wise — zip by, thanks to the clear chemistry between the pair and their individual confidence in their own abilities. Whether that’s enough to carry the series remains to be seen.
There are signs of some genuinely interesting themes emerging — particularly an exploration of Loki’s true nature: Is he a murderous egomaniac? A misunderstood, misguided anti-hero? Something in between? And what use is a Norse god whose powers are removed (as in the TVA’s world)?
Finding out, as long as Hiddleston and Wilson continue in the same vein, should at least be fun.
In a lengthy Instagram post, which she shared alongside images from the event, Khalil wrote: “It is truly an honor to be a UNFPA Honorary Goodwill Ambassador. I hope I make my family proud. I hope I make my loved ones and friends proud. And I hope to make my country proud.”
The actress has been an active advocate of women and their health in Egypt.
“I promise to do all I can on this journey to bring positive change to my country,” her post read. “I promise to wholeheartedly put all the effort I can to show women and girls, that yes we have a voice, yes we have rights, and yes we all stand united.”
The announcement came after UNFPA’s open-air ceremony held on Monday. The event was attended by international co-operation minister Rania Al-Mashat, president of the National Council for Women Maya Morsy and more.