Keeping the past alive online

Keeping the past alive online
Iraq Photo Archive - Ayah Wafi’s dad Muafaq Wafi with his friends at a university trip to Saddat al Hindiyah dam,1964. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Keeping the past alive online

Keeping the past alive online
  • Arab News talks to the founders of three online platforms dedicated to preserving personal histories from the Islamic world

BENGALURU: Born Lady Eveyln Murray in 1867, Zainab Cobbold was the first Scottish noblewoman to convert to Islam in the Victorian era. She went on to become the first woman born in the UK to perform the Hajj, in 1933, when she contacted Hafiz Wahba — then ambassador for the Kingdom of Hejaz and Najd to the United Kingdom — who wrote to King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who granted permission for her to perform her pilgrimage.

Cobbold died aged 96 and was buried on a hill in Scotland, facing Makkah, with words from the Qu’ran engraved on her tombstone.

Cobbold’s remarkable story is just one of many that are available on The Everyday Muslim Heritage and Archive Initiative, a platform that documents Muslim heritage in Britain through photographs, oral histories, films, artifacts, and heritage walks.




Iraq Photo Archive - An anonymous user’s father with his geology classmates at the University of Baghdad in the 1960s. (Supplied)

For Sadiya Ahmed, founder of The Archive, the project started as a means to connect with her diverse identities. Ahmed wanted to pass on her experience of growing up as a Muslim in Britain to the next generation, but also to document stories of the previous generation. 

She came across old photographs of her parents in their youth — a carefree man standing in Trafalgar Square and a young woman by a stream in Nairobi, each with their own ambitions and dreams, before the cultural pressures of migrating to a new country. It inspired her to preserve the “human” story behind the Polaroids. 

“Those photographs were pivotal because I could see a generational disconnect,” Ahmed says. Speaking with other communities from diasporas, she realized she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In 2014, she started crowdsourcing oral histories and personal narratives.

While the scope of The Archive’s work is much wider than oral histories and offers many avenues for community involvement (including exhibitions and classroom resources), the Instagram account generates a lot of engagement from second- and third-generation diaspora communities.




Sadiya Ahmed’s father in Trafalgar Square. (Supplied)

“Social media has opened up a whole world of knowledge which would otherwise have been accessible to only a few, like academics, or in cultural spaces where Arab, South Asian or other communities haven’t been historically represented,” Ahmed says.

“Instagram is a venue that allows people to share bite-sized information without feeling intimidated or out of place,” she adds. While The Archive shares personal narratives of diasporic Muslim communities, it also highlights the role these communities have played in British history.

Their heritage trail, for example, includes a self-guided tour of the oldest Muslim burial grounds in Surrey, where Muslim soldiers from World War II and prominent Muslim thinkers are laid to rest. “It comes back to why it is important for us to document our experiences and take ownership of it,” Ahmed says.

On Gulf ⇄ South Asia, a popular Instagram account that documents the history and personal stories of South Asians in the Gulf and Khaleejis in South Asia, Ismail Noor writes: “Since I was born in Dubai and lived there for a few years, I thought of it as home. Even while living in Karachi, there are vignettes of memories — bits and pieces.”




A picture shared on Gulf ⇄ South Asia by Ismail Noor. (Supplied)

Noor reminisces about summer vacations spent in Dubai in the streets behind Deira Tower. The account also includes stories like that of Sindhi entrepreneur Rao Sahib Jashanmal, who set up the first general store in Kuwait’s Safaat Square in 1934. Today, the Jashanmal Group is run by the fourth generation of the family, and has stores across the GCC.

For Ayesha Saldanha, founder of Gulf ⇄ South Asia, the impetus to start documenting personal stories was similar to Ahmed’s with The Archive. “My grandfather worked in the Gulf nearly all his life. First in Muscat, then in Doha. But I didn’t give his experiences much thought until I moved to Bahrain in 2001,” Saldanha says. 

She lived there for 12 years, during which time the writer and Arabic translator became very interested in Gulf history, particularly the connections between the Gulf and South Asia. “For a long time, I wanted to share the material I found on Gulf-South Asia connections — in books, academic papers, and archives — in an easily accessible, non-academic format,” she says.

Saldanha also wanted to invite people to share their stories, and an Instagram account seemed the best way to combine the historic and the personal. “I think Instagram is a great way for individuals to share their own stories, with small details that cannot be found in newspaper articles or academic papers. These details are what touch us and help us connect to other people’s experiences,” she says. 




A wedding in Hyderabad Deccan in 1958, from The Everyday Muslim Heritage and Archive Initiative. (Supplied)

However, Saldanha didn’t anticipate that the younger generation of South Asians who grew up in the Gulf would be so happy to share their stories with a wider audience. “There hasn’t been much attention paid to those narratives before,” she says.

On the Iraq Photo Archive website and Instagram account, an anonymous user shares a blurry photograph, but the exuberance of the subjects is crystal-clear. The caption reads: “My grandparents and aunt dancing at my parents wedding reception. Baghdad, 1978.” Ayah Wafi shares a sepia photograph of her father Muafaq Wafi with his friends at a university trip to Saddat Al-Hindiyah dam in 1964. 

The Iraq Photo Archive is a simple recollection of life before the 1980s — spending time by the lake or documenting relationships with friends and family — Irish-Iraqi founder Basil Al-Rawi explains.

He says that having his platform on Instagram engages a younger audience, which generates interesting intergenerational dialogue. His project also includes oral histories and housing archival photographs and narratives in a virtual-reality environment.




Members of the Walthamstow Asian Centre in London on a trip to Margate in Kent. (Supplied)

For Al-Rawi, the idea of the Iraq Photo Archive came from a practice-based PhD research project that uses archival photographs and films as a starting point to create an immersive artwork that will rearticulate memories of the Iraqi diaspora. However, his only personal connection to Iraqi culture was through his father. 

“My father had photo albums from the time he had lived in Iraq. As I was growing up in the West during the 1980s and 1990s, there were three major conflicts happening in Iraq,” Al-Rawi says. “The visual landscape of the country — as (presented in the) media — was dominated by images of conflict and trauma. But these photographs that I was looking at spoke of something very, very different.”

Listening to his father speak of his time growing up in Iraq and his hometown showed Al-Rawi the everyday, human side of the country. 

His reasons for continuing to develop his project could equally apply to Saldanha and Ahmed: “It is a platform for people like me, who have a longing and a desire to connect with a culture that they have been disconnected from,” he says.


Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
Updated 28 February 2021

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
  • The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years
  • Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions

DUBAI: A haven for humans craving furry feline company, a cat cafe in Dubai also doubles as an adoption center for some of the United Arab Emirates’ many strays.
The Ailuromania Cat Cafe, which was the Middle East’s first cat cafe when it opened in 2015, hopes the relaxing properties of its 25 rescue and shelter cats will help find them their forever homes.
“Anyone who is stressed just has to find a cat. All your stress will go away,” said Omnia Fareed, whose two cat-loving sisters Allaa and Iman started the cafe after university, taking inspiration from similar establishments in Korea and London.
The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years. Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions.
The cafe’s name Ailuromania is a play on the Greek-derived English word for a lover of cats: ailurophile.
The cafe has regular customers who come seeking relaxation from the stresses of life, or because they cannot keep a cat at home.
“They are so cute, they love playing,” said visitor Shaasthra. She said she appreciates how the cafe looks after the cats’ welfare by advising people not to hold them or wake them up.
Another regular visitor, a street cat who would stare in through the window, was also invited and eventually adopted.
Since Dubai began lifting coronavirus lockdown measures last summer, the cafe re-opened with capacity and sanitization restrictions.
Dubai has a large number of stray cats, with many abandoned on the streets by their owners. In 2018 UAE authorities made it illegal to abandon animals, but animal welfare activists in Dubai have for years called for a large-scale trap-neuter-release scheme and feeding programs to bring numbers down humanely.
In August, Dubai municipality issued a circular restating a policy of fining anyone caught feeding strays, saying it increases the spread of diseases.


Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied

DUBAI: The latest collaboration between Casablanca x New Balance dropped yesterday on casablancaparis.com and, naturally, it sold-out within minutes – Footwear designer Amina Muaddi took to Instagram to show off her pair – But, if you didn’t manage to click “add to cart,” then we have some good news for you: You can still get your hands on a pair of the highly covetable footwear when they drop in the region next week.

Drop III comes in two silhouettes. The 327 boasts an octopus-like outsole that extends up the shoe and an interlocking Moroccan tile print that stays true to the French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer’s North African roots.

New Balance x Casablanca 327 silhouette. Supplied

Meanwhile, featuring a wedge heel, suede, mesh and nylon upper, as well as Casablanca’s signature monogram design, the 237 is an entirely new silhouette. Unlike the 327 style, the lugs on the outsole are less bold and don’t extend up the back of the shoe. 

Both trainers feature a clean white, pink and green colorway and an oversized “N” logo on the upper.

It’s not the first time the Paris-based apres-sports fashion house and the footwear company have joined forces. In fact, this recent drop marks their third footwear collaboration together.

New Balance x Casablanca 237 silhouette. Supplied

Casablanca’s first collaboration with New Balance debuted last year, when the 327 dropped in zesty orange and green colorways, inspired by Moroccan sweet oranges and tennis uniforms, respectively. 

The Casablanca x New Balance 327 and 273 sneakers will be available to purchase on March 5 at 9am (KSA time) on newbalance.co.ae and will be retailing for $163 for the 327 and $150 for the 237. Given how quickly the shoes sold out online on Feb. 27, we suggest setting an alarm.


Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied

LONDON: “White Eye” — a short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan — serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. After all, the pivotal moment at the heart of Shushan’s semi-autobiographical (and recently Oscar-nominated) short involves little more than a dispute over a stolen bicycle, with no lavish set pieces or special effects required to create an enthralling atmosphere. Furthermore, “White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike.

The short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. Supplied

The camera buzzes around Omer, sometimes looking over his shoulder, then backing up to show events unfolding in front of him, or circling to show the audience what he can’t see. It makes for an intense 20 minutes of cinema, and it’s no surprise that “White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.

“White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike. Supplied

Shushan keeps the scale of the film small. “White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. As Omer’s attempts to get his bike back escalate into a far more high-stakes situation, there’s a palpable sense of rising tension and, without giving away too much of the story (which would undo the strength of the narrative), Shushan begins to ask a number of uncomfortable questions — about assumption, about prejudice, about empathy and retribution.

“White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. Supplied

The 20-minute runtime flashes past in a heartbeat as the tiny world the film inhabits becomes both more familiar through repetition, and more uncomfortable as the severity of the situation dawns on Omer — and, by extension, the audience. Thanks to an understated performance from Gad, we see Omer begin to ask himself the hard questions about the strength of his own character. And by that point, we’re so taken in by Shushan’s carefully crafted microcosm that we can’t help but ask ourselves the same of our own humanity.


Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Updated 28 February 2021

Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid offered fans a glimpse into how she treats her autoimmune disorders in an Instagram post this weekend.

On Friday, the 24-year-old posted a series of photos showing her hooked up to an intravenous drip. “Living with a few chronic autoimmune disease = always finding time for my IVs,” she captioned the post.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012 alongside with younger brother Anwar, 21, and their mother, Yolanda, 57.

In 2016, Bella opened up to People magazine about dealing with Lyme disease while being in the spotlight.

“Life isn’t always what it looks like on the outside, and the hardest part of this journey is to be judged by the way you look instead of the way you feel,” she said at the time.


Part-Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi is the star of the Dundas Fall 2021 collection

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied
The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Part-Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi is the star of the Dundas Fall 2021 collection

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

DUBAI: Norwegian designer Peter Dundas presented the Dundas Fall 2021 collection this week with a little help from Malika El-Maslouhi. The fashion heavyweight tapped the Moroccan-Italian rising model to showcase the glamorous new offering, which was digitally presented in a look book format.

The 22-year-old, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, features in the look book, shot by fashion photographer Charlotte Wales in London, wearing 31 looks that range from draped minidresses and velvet pantsuits to slender duster coats and the brand’s newest category — hosiery.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MALIKA (@malika.elmaslouhi)

“If we’re ever allowed to go out at night again, I promise I’m stepping out in @dundasworld,” wrote El-Maslouhi on Instagram alongside a carousel of videos and photos that included backstage clips from the shoot. “What a fun day it was and loved to rock these looks. Thank you for having me,” she added.

Indeed, the collection is perfect for post-lockdown revelry.

Inspired by the glamour of the 1930s and the 1970s, the collection was punctuated with flowy wide-leg trousers, tailored jackets worn over lavish dresses, fringed tops and skirts, feathered cardigan dresses and lots of animal print.

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

The London-based designer chose rich and luxurious fabrics such as velvet and charmeuse and details like ostrich fur and sequins to dream up the latest offering.

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, and completely captivate the fashion industry in the process.

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

In addition to gracing the runways of storied fashion houses such as Hermes and Chanel, the rising fashion star has also appeared in international campaigns for the likes of Jacquemus and Zadig & Voltaire, and was selected as the face of Calvin Klein swimwear.

Meanwhile, the model, who splits her time between Italy, France and the Netherlands, was also recently selected as the cover star of the latest edition of Elle France.