Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
Meshal Al-Obaidallah, Carolin Schnurrer, Dina Khatib and Ollie Cameron will discuss online the Connect ME Digital Residency program and their creations on March 3. (Arab British Centre)
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Updated 25 February 2021

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future

Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
  • Young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi creator Manal Al-Dowayan
  • They were participants in Connect ME program, which fosters UK-Gulf artistic exchange

LONDON: An upcoming artist from Saudi Arabia has revealed the results of his collaboration with a British counterpart, launching digital artwork that “seeks to recalibrate viewers’ perception of ‘the other’ culture.”

Riyadh-based Meshal Al-Obaidallah worked with artist Carolin Schnurrer to produce the work, called “FAREWELL ARABIA: A Bold New Vision,” as part of the Connect ME Digital Residency program run by the Arab British Centre.

The initiative pairs young artists from the Gulf with British counterparts to foster artistic collaboration, and to consider how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the program, the young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan.

The work by Al-Obaidallah and Schnurrer explores Saudi Arabia’s rapid development during the 20th century and how it changed society, as well as looking ahead at what the future might hold for the Kingdom.

“Through our exchange, we collected found footage, sound bites, quotes, symbols and other fragments,” said Al-Obaidallah.

“These re-appropriated fragments were processed, destroyed, accelerated, decelerated and rearranged,” he added, describing it as a “mishmash of fact and fiction.” 

Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director for Saud Arabia, congratulated Al-Obaidallah on representing the Kingdom in the residency, saying: “It is an incredible, interesting time for artists to explore different mediums of collaborations to create and innovate despite the physical restrictions during COVID.” 

Also selected to participate in the Connect ME program were Emirati artist Dina Khatib and British artist Ollie Cameron.

They collaborated to create a work that explores “how visualizing the unseen space between them could become a means for connection and exchange.”

All four artists and their mentor Al-Dowayan will host an online talk on March 3 to discuss the program and their creations in-depth.


Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony
Updated 15 October 2021

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

EL-GOUNA: The fifth edition of El-Gouna Film Festival (GFF) in Egypt kicked off on Thursday, bringing together international filmmakers, producers, actors, industry insiders and cinema enthusiasts who all flocked to the Egyptian resort town for a lavish opening ceremony.

Despite the fire that broke out in the site’s main hall on Wednesday, just a day before the event was scheduled to begin, the show still went on. Organizers managed to reconstruct and repaint the structure that was engulfed in flames in 24-hours.  

Egyptian actress Shereen Reda descended upon the red carpet wearing a luxurious gown from Maison Yeya. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

Celebrities, including Egyptian actress Shereen Reda and Lebanese singer Maya Diab, descended upon the red carpet wearing luxurious, eye-catching evening gowns to the event that has quicky become one of the most important film festivals in the MENA region.

The opening ceremony, which started at around 10 p.m., featured speeches by Samih Sawiris, founder of GFF, Amr Hanafy, governor of the Red Sea Governorate and Egyptian icon Youssra, who is also a member of GFF’s International Advisory Board.

Lebanese singer Maya Diab wore an eye-catching dress with a giant red hat from Jean-Louis Sabaji. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

During the ceremony, Egyptian actor Sayed Ragab presented a video that paid tribute to the works of stars and filmmakers who passed away earlier this year, including Samir Ghanem, Dalal Abdel Aziz, Wahid Hamed, Ezzat El-Alaili, Ramses Marzouk, Moufida Tlatli and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Later on in the evening, Tunisian-Egyptian award-winning actress Hend Sabri introduced GFF’s Career Achievement Award, which was presented to Egyptian actor Ahmed El-Saka, who made a special red carpet appearance with his family.

Egyptian actor Ahmed El-Saka made a special red carpet appearance with his family. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

The opening day came to a triumphant close with a live performance from Egyptian singer and actor Mohamed Ramadan, who took to the stage to perform his new song “Gaw El Banat,” alongside Moroccan-Swedish record producer RedOne and Amsterdam-born singer Nouamane BelAiachi.  

Also at the star-studded event was Canadian-Lebanese musician Massari, Chilean-Palestinian singer Elyana and Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur Wassim Slaiby, who manages The Weeknd and founded the record label XO. 

This year, the festival, which launched in 2017, will screen films from countries around the world including France, Germany, Russia, Finland, Australia and more. 

The festival will also show a selection of award-winning Arabic movies from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia and others. 

Here we have rounded up some of our favorite gowns from the opening night.

Yasmine Sabri wearing Rami Kadi. (AFP)
Mona Zaki wearing Maison Yeya. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Dorra Zarrouk wearing Georges Chakra. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Yousra wearing Georges Hobeika. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Bushra Rozza wearing Michael Cinco. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Hend Sabri wearing Fouad Sarkis. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Amina Khalil wearing Salma Osman. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Laila Elwi. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

 


How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping nations discover cultural connections

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping nations discover cultural connections
The Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai. Instagram
Updated 15 October 2021

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping nations discover cultural connections

How Expo 2020 Dubai is helping nations discover cultural connections

Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan is an ambassador for Culture for ALECSO

DUBAI: When we talk about sustainability, we must reference culture because identity and sustainability both depend on accumulative communal practices. The pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai express these links and values.

Many types of green innovations are featured at Expo 2020, with innovations on show that aim to solve global energy problems — such as the portable U-light — and examples of international corporations that are working to be more sustainable — L’Oréal’s perfume refill system for example. One of the more technologically advanced is Source, which makes clean water from air and sunlight by way of their innovative hydro panels.

The Morocco pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Instagram
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The idea of sustaining identity and culture is exactly why, for the first time, the 192 participating countries at Expo 2020 Dubai all have separate spaces to freely showcase these concepts in their own way and why Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum promised that this would be the best expo held in 170 years. The pavilions of Poland and Morocco are two of the many countries that look to tradition for developing the future. Poland’s use of wood and timber in the design is extremely alluring, similar to Morocco’s use of earthen methods, the sandy exterior honors nature, as does Azerbaijan’s leaf design and Oman’s frankincense tree. Italy’s pavilion, co-designed by Carlo Ratti, is a Renaissance factory that connects with visitors through its beauty. Carmen Bueno, the deputy commissioner and director of the Spanish pavilion, explains other connections through the evolution of chess and common architectural heritage between the Arabs and Spanish in Andalusia. The question is not how we view the future, it is how we view ourselves and others in it.  

Recently Dr. Mohammed Ould Amar, director-general of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), presented me with the honor of a cultural ambassadorship. Their main aspiration is to enhance our Arab culture regionally and internationally. The sense of “ourselves” is a generational idea originating in set traditions over time. In Arabic, we say “bearers of a habit are unable to drop their habits” — cultural continuity, just like sustainability, is a natural way to progress individually and collectively. The calligraphy benches scattered around at Expo 2020 honor the Arabic language and calligraphy as an age-old tradition, inviting family-sized groups of loved ones to take in the splendor of their surroundings.

Al Wasl Plaza. Supplied

Al Wasl Plaza is the grand feature of the Expo 2020 site. Al Wasl means “the link,” a link between all people and ideas.

“The theater (Al Wasl Plaza) is going to be a permanent monument for residents and locals alike, to look back to as a proud memory,” said Nahla Al-Fahad, the woman behind the popular “wain sayreen” Expo 2020 commercial. The film director added: “Al Wasl Plaza will present lots of Arabic poetry in various shows. It is also a park, and the materials used on top give perfect shade, successfully reducing indoor temperatures by up to three degrees.”

An illuminating dome that emulates the Bronze Age ring found in the Saruq Al-Hadid archaeological site in Dubai, with its round shape and twenty orbiting spheres, symbolizes the event as if the countries are planets revolving around the center of this spectacle of dialogue.

Al Wasl Plaza. Instagram

Dunes are another splendid feature of Expo 2020 that creep into the design of various pavilions — a coffee scented trail in Italy’s pavilion, a red uphill entrance to the Swiss pavilion, the color of which will keep changing during the coming months. Then there is the steep, breathtaking ascent into Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and renewed spirit, inaugurated by the Vice Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri. The UAE’s pavilion, “A Story About the UAE’s Dream,” which Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed shared on Twitter, displayed actual audio and visual depictions of dunes. A few expressions of the desert theme are representative of social participation and similar views.

The UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Supplied

Views of ourselves or others are developed by way of interaction. In the opening ceremony, while we were watching, my mother Sheikha Fakehra Bint Saeed turned our attention to the young star in a pink and golden Khaleeji gown, delightfully performed by model Mira Singh. Her movements on the stage, mixing one by one with the various groups and emphasizing cooperation as a universal value, neither dissolved the uniqueness of any of the groups nor erased the girl’s representation of Arabia’s past and present.

Another host of shows will take place in the Jubilee Park, where the Kapa Haka dancers from New Zealand, with their big smiles and decorative chin tattoos, will represent an old Maori spiritual tradition marking passages of life and a commitment to their ancestral identities. In the deserts of the Arab world, different and comparable to the Maoris during the early 20th century, simple tattoos were a beauty trait for the Bedouins — an example of age-old ideas springing from diverse mindsets. Nowadays meanings differ and methods change in the ways we all honor our past and still fulfill our futures. Societies depend on understanding our we-dentities, in turn, development is dependent on us valuing our cultural bonds and diversity.


Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji kicks off return of events at AlUla

Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji kicks off return of events at AlUla
Hiba Tawaji is performing in AlUla on Oct. 29. Supplied
Updated 14 October 2021

Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji kicks off return of events at AlUla

Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji kicks off return of events at AlUla

DUBAI: Lebanese star Hiba Tawaji will appear live in AlUla’s Maraya Concert Hall on Oct. 29 in a performance that marks the return of music and public events to the Saudi city following the global pandemic.

Tawaji, a renowned Lebanese singer, actor and director with a career spanning 14 years, has performed in leading venues around the world, and has a huge regional and international fan base.

In 2017, she performed for a Saudi audience as the first female singer to bring music back to the live stage in the Kingdom.

It will be the hitmaker’s first performance in AlUla.

“I have always wanted to perform in AlUla, a place with such history and creative legacy,” the Lebanese soprano said in a statement.

“To sing in Maraya is such an honor. We had to think carefully about this performance to do the destination and venue justice; it will be a special event.”

As pandemic restrictions in Saudi Arabia continue to ease, live events, including concerts and art exhibitions, are making a return at AlUla, with a series of cultural events due to take place in the historic city in coming weeks and months.

The last artists to perform at the Maraya Music Hall were US singer Lionel Richie and a Persian Nights trio of regional performers in March 2020.

Tawaji will be the first in a series of exciting regional and international artists to perform in the striking mirrored structure and as part of the AlUla Moments calendar.

Attendees do not need a COVID-19 test, but all appropriate safety measures and national health regulations will be implemented.


Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai hosts workshops on traditional crafts

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai hosts workshops on traditional crafts
Updated 14 October 2021

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai hosts workshops on traditional crafts

Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai hosts workshops on traditional crafts

DUBAI: The Saudi Pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020 has been an important stop for visitors since the much-anticipated event opened to the public last week. 

The rectangular facade, which features a 1,320 square-meter inclined mirrored screen, is designed to showcase the Kingdom’s ancient culture and heritage, the wonders of its natural landscape, as well as the rapid drive of its present and future ambitions.

Among the cultural offerings that the pavilion boasts are workshops aimed at teaching international guests and children traditional Saudi crafts, including palm leaf weaving and Al-Qatt Al-Asiri. 

Al-Qatt Al-Asiri is an art form deeply rooted within the identity of the Kingdom’s southern region — and it is practiced exclusively by women.

To demonstrate this art form, Saudi artist Afaf Dajam was on site this week painting on a clay pot to demonstrate how these beautiful objects are created. 

In an interview with Arab News, the artist said that she particularly looking forward to praciting the craft with the children who visit Expo 2020, adding that she had created templates for children to paint on using various coloring techniques, including water paint and acrylics.

Dajam fascination with Al-Qatt Al-Asiri was sparked when the art form was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017. After that, she undertook extensive research into the craft.

“This research turned to love and passion,” she said. “I started searching for it in old homes in Asir, and I documented it in my own studio.” 

Her “documentation” examined how the art form started and how it developed. “Around 100 years ago, they used to only use two colors: black and red… Now, they use the five famous colors for Al-Qatt Al-Asiri: yellow, red, green, white and blue,” she told Arab News.  

To teach visitors about the craft of the palm leaf weaving, the pavilion invited Saudi creative Habib Abdullah Al-Farhan to display colorful baskets, bowls and mats.

The artist, who has created more than 5,000 items in his career, first started weaving when he was 13-years old, before he took a hiatus. For the past 14 years, he has dedicated his career to creating versatile objects from palm leaves.

Al-Farhan has worked with regional restaurants and international brands, including Mothercare and Turquoise Mountain. 

The workshops take place every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the pavilion’s Palm Garden and from 5 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. in the building’s Open Square.  


Films to screen at El Gouna Film Festival’s 5th edition  

Films to screen at El Gouna Film Festival’s 5th edition  
Nour Shams. Supplied
Updated 14 October 2021

Films to screen at El Gouna Film Festival’s 5th edition  

Films to screen at El Gouna Film Festival’s 5th edition  

EL GOUNA: Egypt’s annual El Gouna Film Festival is returning this week with its fifth edition.

The star-studded event, which will kick off on Oct. 14 in Egypt’s resort town, will screen films from countries around the world including France, Germany, Russia, Finland, Australia and more. The festival will also show a selection of award-winning Arabic movies from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia and others. 

From narratives to documentaries and short movies, here is a list of the films that the festival will present. 

‘Nour Shams’

“Nour Shams” is directed by Faiza Ambah, an award-winning writer, director, and producer based in Saudi Arabia. 

Her film is about an Uber driver in Jeddah named Shams, a single mother with two obsessions: her only child, Makki, and her African desserts. 

Her son enters a hip-hop competition that could lead him to win an extended trip to France and could separate them for the first time. As the story unfolds, she is forced to choose between her son and finding herself.

‘Casablanca Beats’ 

Directed by renowned French-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, the film tells the story of a former rapper, Anas, who takes a job at a cultural center in a working-class neighborhood in Casablanca.

Encouraged by their new teacher, his students try to free themselves from the weight of restrictive traditions in order to live out their passions and express themselves through hip-hop. 

The film, which was in competition for the prized Palme d’Or, had its world premiere in the official competition of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

It is competing for the feature narrative award at El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Captains of Za’atari’

Egyptian filmmaker Ali El-Arabi’s “Captains of Za’atari” is competing for the feature documentary award. 

Set in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, the film follows best friends Mahmoud and Fawzi, who remain hopeful of becoming professional soccer players and practice day in and day out to this end. 

When a world-renowned sports academy visits, both friends get a chance to make their dream come true. At that point, their stories take an unexpected turn. 

El-Arabi’s first feature documentary, the film was nominated for multiple awards, including the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. 

‘Full Moon’

“Full Moon,” which will premiere at the event, is directed by Egyptian filmmaker Hadi El-Bagoury, the director behind the Coco Chanel play led by Egyptian star Sherihan. 

While following social media, radio presenter Mourad comes across multiple stories, including that of Dr. Alia, who was sued after being accused of having an affair with an assistant professor. His research draws attention to something called the “full moon,” which is rumored to destroy love.

‘Feathers’ 

Egyptian director Omar Al-Zuhairi’s film won the Nespresso Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week in July. 

The 115-minute film tells the story of a magic trick gone wrong at a children’s birthday party, with the authoritative father of the family turning into a chicken.

The film, competing for the feature narrative award, is an Egyptian-French-Dutch-Greek production and Al-Zuhairi’s first feature-length work.