What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs

What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs
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Updated 30 March 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs

What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs

If you appreciate antiques and are into the Arabian boho look, check out Desert Designs.
An authentic Saudi furniture shop that has been in business since 1990, it celebrates and promotes the beauty of artisanal work in the Kingdom, drawing on local culture while keeping today’s needs in mind.
Its wares are inspired by local art, heritage and culture. The most interesting part of the way they design furniture and interiors is how Saudi heritage is incorporated in such a way that it enhances a piece of furniture or art object.
The brand is reviving the forgotten arts and encourages artisans to continue their handcrafting skills so people can appreciate one-of-a-kind furniture and high-quality work.
Desert Designs pieces can be custom-made, and are ideal as heirlooms of the future.
Nineteen percent of their products are handmade and some modern technologies are applied. The collection includes old carvings, mosaics, antique doors, Bedouin heritage jewelry and Arabian hand-painted items.
Carpets, tableware, decor and lighting, storage and organizing products are also on offer.
For more information, visit Instagram @desertdesignssa.

In the line of fire: Angelina Jolie on ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’

In the line of fire: Angelina Jolie on ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’
Updated 12 min 44 sec ago

In the line of fire: Angelina Jolie on ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’

In the line of fire: Angelina Jolie on ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’
  • Angelina Jolie and co-stars discuss shooting Taylor Sheridan’s latest movie

DUBAI: It has been two decades since Angelina Jolie, one of the world’s top movie stars, began dedicating herself to helping the people of the world most in need, working with the UNHCR to visit refugee camps across the Middle East and the world.

As renowned as she is for her acting and directing, it is her humanitarian work that is closest to her heart, and through all the tumult that she has gone through in her life, it’s the one thing that has kept her grounded.

“We’re all connected,” Jolie tells Arab News. “A life in service of others makes us better. It makes us grow.”

Jolie’s latest film, “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, may not, on its surface, mirror the mission that Jolie has been following for the most important decades of her life, but it shares those same themes.

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. (Supplied)

In it, she plays Hannah, an elite firefighter called a smokejumper based in the wooded hills of Montana in the northern United States who risks her life at the first sign of a forest fire by parachuting directly into the flames. She’s plagued by the memory of a group of young boys she wasn’t able to save from a fire years earlier. While camped out in the woods, she comes in contact with a young boy on the run from two hitmen, and by helping save the boy, she saves herself.

For Jolie, while the arc of the character is ultimately about the importance of selflessness, she had to keep first and foremost in her mind that Hannah was a troubled character who lacks the maternal instincts that Jolie herself, the mother of six children, has in spades.

“[At first], they are both struggling to be around each other. She doesn't actually hold him closer to her. But it's that interesting moment we see as he says, ‘Are you someone I can trust?’ I think in that moment, she has no idea who she is. If you're somebody that feels like you've failed in your life and you're in grief and somebody comes to you and says, ‘Are you somebody who can help me? Can I trust you? Can you be the person that protects me?’ You want to be, but you can't imagine you are,” says Jolie.

It’s no surprise that Hannah is so broken—after all, she has walked through the fire both literally and spiritually, over and over. While the title of the film seems to be a reference to the hitmen in pursuit of the young boy, Jolie interprets it as being about Hannah.

“It's funny, during filming we used to joke, after Hannah gets hit by lightning, what else can happen to her? It's like the universe is trying to kill her — it’s the universe that wishes her dead. I think most of us have felt that in life. You feel for a moment that you're just completely up against it and what more can be thrown at you or who else can attack? But yes, definitely, we grow stronger. We grow stronger if we survive it,” says Jolie.

While the phrase ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is oft repeated, for Jolie, the concept of what ‘stronger’ means needs to be more deeply interrogated.

“You go through the fire, but how do you come out the other end? Did you come out bitter, angry, broken, at a loss and overwhelmed? Or did you come out of it where your spirit got stronger, you confronted your fears, you protected others? And within that fire you found something that made you stronger,” says Jolie.

The fires were not only both literal and spiritual for her character; they were in fact a real part of the shoot. Director Taylor Sheridan avoided using computer-generated imagery to add to the film’s realism.

“He's amazing. He built a fake forest to light it on fire instead of using CG, because he wants to immerse his actors in what's going on and make them understand what the character's going through,” says Finn Little, who plays Connor, the young boy Hannah protects.

The realism extended past the flames. Through Sheridan’s films “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River,” he has become his country’s premiere chronicler of rural America, with “Those Who Wish Me Dead” continuing that mission with a keen eye and a true heart.

That’s something that has kept actor Jon Bernthal, who plays a police officer named Harrison in the film, coming back to work with Sheridan, with whom he previously worked on “Sicario” and “Wind River.”

“I think Taylor Sheridan is a great American storyteller. He understands the West, he understands the wilderness and what it means to live off the land. If you look at all his films, there’s a richness and authenticity to them,” says Bernthal.

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai discusses conceptual artwork ‘Brand 14’

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai discusses conceptual artwork ‘Brand 14’
Updated 30 min 21 sec ago

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai discusses conceptual artwork ‘Brand 14’

THE BREAKDOWN: Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai discusses conceptual artwork ‘Brand 14’

DUBAI: The Saudi artist discusses his conceptual artwork, recently displayed at Art Dubai through Jeddah-based Hafez Gallery, fueled by the theme of modern day consumerism.

I come from an academic background; even though I loved art before academia. I grew up in a village and, at one point, my father was an art educator. From an early age, he gave me the confidence to make art and I used to design things in the house. I graduated with degrees in art in Makkah and I’ve been teaching art for around 20 years.

I’m one of those people that likes to think outside the box. I don’t like traditional art. In the past few years, I’ve leaned towards using art as a medium of expression, knowledge, enlightenment and an embodiment of things that affect our daily lives.

In the Gulf, we are living in a time of rapid development, which is due to the presence of oil and people’s need to have a better quality of life. This rapid change leads to changes in different aspects of life, including art. I always focus on change in its social and collective context. I’m always keen that my work is visually attractive and conceptually deep.

My ‘Brand’ series discusses how humanity has been cheapened in the face of global organizations and world economic trade. I’m not against organizations, but I’m against organizations taking advantage of people. A person has become cheap — like a second-or third-class citizen. It’s like you’re telling a person that you’re just a number in this organization. The problem isn’t the consumer; it’s these organizations that are brainwashing us. People have this stunning will to buy. They’re always working on this idea that you work to buy a new television; you work to buy a new car.

In “Brand 14,” I focused on the consumption of cleaning and decorating products as seen on supermarket shelves. The cases in the front are made of plastic, which were used as supermarket crates. I’ve used light in many of my works. As you can see here, I always place light in the background of the artwork and not in the front. Light isn’t there just to see the work, but it is a main component. I feel that light has a filtering that creates another story.

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global
Updated 13 May 2021

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

‘I’m getting orders from around the world’: How Merihan Dobiea took her new fashion label global

DUBAI: From a fashion label to international brand collaborations, Dubai-based influencer Merihan Dobiea has been working hard to make a name for herself in the highly competitive fashion industry. 

The Egyptian blogger started her career four years ago, and already has garnered partnerships and brand deals with Swedish label Daniel Wellington and US footwear label New Balance among others. 

Dobiea, 23, recently launched the fashion label Threadz by Marmar. 

The brand, which went live in April, offers kaftans, dresses and abayas that can be worn by all women, not only conservative buyers, according to the young entrepreneur. 

“People say, ‘we see this stuff in the market, but every single piece has a different twist that you added that we can’t find in the market,’” Dobiea told Arab News. 

A month after the launch, the influencer said the feedback has been “amazing.” 

“I am getting orders from around the world — from the UK, Canada, Algeria, Egypt,” she said. “And a lot of customers are emailing me, praising the quality and packaging.”

To add a personal touch to the brand, Dobiea also sells two perfumes: Amani, named after her mother, and Layla, named after her niece.

Her passion for fashion and design goes back to her childhood. 

“I have pictures in my mom’s heels and her dresses. I always liked to apply lipstick as a kid. So, I feel like it was something that was just meant to happen after time,” she said. 

The idea for her fashion brand came after she struggled to find something for Ramadan to wear.

“I decided to start making my own stuff. I knew where the fabric shops were. So I went to get clothes that I liked and I used to take them to a tailor,” Dobiea said. 

After explaining her designs to the tailor, she began wearing the finished product. 

“People were like, ‘Wow, that’s so nice. Where did you get it from?’ and I’d always be like, ‘Oh, I just made it by myself,’” said Dobiea.

“Eventually my friends wanted to start wearing what I was wearing and I started making them pieces. Then it just got out of hand to be honest, but in a good way. So I started selling online.”

Dobiea began selling a few items on Instagram under a different brand name. But during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, she worked on the branding, quality and designs of her new brand, Threadz by Marmar.  

The designer is set to release a new Eid collection, just in time for the holiday. 

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition
Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition

Lebanese artists address their country’s crises in new exhibition
  • In ‘Before the Cypress Broke,’ 15 artists examine how their country reached its current juncture

BEIRUT: “After the explosion, I was ready to give away everything I’ve ever done if it made the situation better. I hopped on any opportunity to donate my work in exchange for raising funds,” says Lebanese visual artist Ayla Hibri. “A lot of good people put together these platforms of exchange and it really felt like it was helping. It confirmed to me that art carries a kind of transferable honorable energy that can push people to do good.”

Hibri is by no means alone. Following the lethal blast in the Port of Beirut in August, Mary Cremin, the director of Void Gallery in Northern Ireland, reached out to Beirut Art Residency (BAR), offering the organization her support. She was willing to host a fundraising exhibition at her space in Derry, with all proceeds going towards the BAR Support Fund, which provides emerging artists with small grants.

“Everlasting Massacre,” Ayla Hibri, 2018. (Supplied)

“It was a very stressful period for us, as all three of our spaces in Gemmayze (the residency, the Project Space and La Vitrine) were heavily affected by the blast, as well as our homes,” says Nathalie Ackawi, partner and co-director at BAR. “We were, however, very moved by the messages of support we received, and this gave us strength to work on this exhibition.”

The end result is “Before the Cypress Broke,” which brings together work from 15 contemporary artists and addresses the seemingly simple, yet immensely complex, question of how Lebanon reached its current juncture. Borrowing its name from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem "The Cypress Broke,” the exhibition includes work from Ali Cherri, Charbel Haber, Omar Khouri, Salah Missi, Sirine Fattouh, Stephanie Dadour, Sandrine Pelletier, Gregory Buchakjian, Valerie Cachard, Ziad Antar and Hussein Nassereddine.   

“Everlasting Residue,” Ayla Hibri, 2017. (Supplied)

Hibri’s "Everlasting Massacre” was the first piece to be selected for the exhibition, “mainly because of the strong duality it holds,” says Amar Zahr, founder and co-director of BAR. “At first glance it looks to be a beautiful view. However, upon closer inspection the viewer will notice the mountain is literally being scraped off for cement — an illegal practice whereby Lebanon’s mountains are being wiped off the map. The natural environment has been altered for the sake of profitable investments, to build skyscrapers and to export cement. It’s a strong statement on the corruption that was ignored for so long, but is now clearly visible in the altered landscape of the country.”

Another of Hibri’s photographs, “Everlasting Residue,” is also included in the show. Both are part of a series called “Acts of Violence.” They represent what Hibri describes as “unfortunate interventions” — acts of apathy, indifference or contempt that are sadly common in Lebanon.

Ayla Hibri’s “Everlasting Massacre” was the first piece to be selected for the exhibition. (Supplied)

“They range from a plastic chair left behind after a picnic, to a whole mountain being destroyed, and it gets worse and worse until it leads to the explosion of the port and the destruction of half the city,” she says. “It’s all connected. They are examples that capture arrogance, negligence and disregard — attitudes and sightings that we have learned to live with. These photographs carry the weight of the price we have to pay and the damage that will need to be reversed in order to transcend to a better place.” 

Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” features a lone figure blended into a complex but colorful environment. (Supplied)

Although she wasn’t in Beirut at the time, the explosion halted everything for Hibri and her priorities radically shifted. She concentrated on being available for her family and friends, raising funds, and talking about what had happened in an attempt to try and understand. On a creative level, however, she has struggled. “It’s actually been quite hard. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of Beirut after the explosion and I only managed to shoot one roll of film, which came out quite special but I will keep it to myself for now. It doesn’t feel right. Not much feels right to be honest when there is so much change to deal with and so many people suffering,” she says. “I spent most of my time the last few months researching, learning about our history, and trying to keep up with events as they occur, while maintaining my daily practice of going to the studio and working.” 

In contrast, Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” was an almost immediate response to the explosion — an attempt to recreate the destruction that he saw around him. It features a lone figure blended into a complex but colorful environment.

Jacques Vartabedian’s “Prelude to Reversal” was an almost immediate response to the explosion. (Supplied)

“I started painting it while the studio was in a chaotic state after the blast,” explains Vartabedian, whose studio is in the heavily damaged area of Mar Mikhael. “I just kept going to the studio for weeks, simply sitting there in the destruction and trying to digest it without moving a thing. I realized the need to recreate harmony with all the destruction around me by reimagining it in an aesthetic form.”

Vartabedian, perhaps, is in the minority. Daniele Genadry has also struggled creatively, not just with the explosion, but with all that has happened in Lebanon over the course of the past few years. She has found it “hard to react directly or even immediately on a creative level,” although she has been working on the idea of “first and last sight,” whereby perception is heightened through the knowledge of something’s potential loss. In other words, any given thing is only really seen for the first time when it is about to disappear.

“Familiar Mountains,” Daniele Genadry. (Harry Kerr courtesy of Void Gallery)

For the exhibition, which runs until June 5, Zahr and Ackawi chose a handful of prints from Genadry’s “Afterglow,” which features 20 photographs of a mountain view taken from Qartaba in Mount Lebanon. Shot over the course of 10 years, they vary in terms of timing, positioning, lighting and perspective, creating images that are “at once familiar and strange,” says Genadry, who also played with the distribution of light and color in each photograph. She then screen-printed them in black and white on mylar, a translucent material that changes appearance according to the light conditions in which the photographs are viewed.

“I think we are at a point right now where our perception of all nature is affected by a kind of bittersweet quality,” she says, “knowing that it is in danger and threatened due to the climate crisis and the shift in our relationship with it.” And because “Before the Cypress Broke” converses with grief and inevitability, says Genadry, “Afterglow” resonated “with the way I have approached the landscape motif in my work recently — as a bittersweet image.”

Daniele Genadry has also struggled creatively, not just with the explosion, but with all that has happened in Lebanon over the course of the past few years. (Supplied)

Although the question is left unspoken, all of the participating artists are faced with the same question: Where do they go from here? It’s almost impossible to answer.

“I believe that solidarity amongst the different players of the art scene both locally and internationally is essential,” says Ackawi. “Art and culture have always been essential pillars of the Lebanese identity, as well as its economy and tourism. It’s important for artists to continue to create and tell our story. As for us, as art practitioners and curators it is our job to support them in any way we can.”

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey
Updated 13 May 2021

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey

No plan B: UK-based Palestinian singer Ruba Shamshoum’s jazzy journey
  • The Palestinian singer-songwriter discusses her new EP, ‘Risha,’ and its ‘spirit of love, unity and exploration’

AMSTERDAM: UK-based Palestinian singer-songwriter Ruba Shamshoum has just released her second solo record, a five-track EP called “Risha.” It is, she explains, a record about “different shades of love.”

“Not the traditional love that we talk about in mainstream Arabic music,” she clarifies. “We usually just talk about romantic, sexual love. That doesn’t represent all that love is. There’s so much more: Love for a newborn, a partner, for unity and nature. Or self-love — going on the necessary journey of understanding yourself and not allowing anyone to dictate who you are. I really wanted it to be different shades, but all with the same spirit of love, unity and exploration.”

Shamshoum’s exploration of music began after finishing high school in Nazareth. Inspired by the acts she saw in MTV, she was a singer in a rock band. But when she started university, studying English literature, one of the modules was “Jazz in American Literature.” One day, the lecturer played Louis Armstrong’s version of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

“I was, like, ‘Oh my god! This is so playful. This is so happy.’ I just fell in love,” Shamshoum says. “It’s like the colors of the voice just appeared to me there. It made me realize a singer can do many things.”

Her association of ‘colors’ with voices and music is something that continues today, she explains. On the new EP, she says “Manara” is “a very dark, nocturnal forest kind of a song. It takes you into the woods,” while the title track is “pink-ish — it has more childlike qualities.”

After graduating, Shamshoum began studying music. And when her husband landed a job in Dublin, Ireland, she took the opportunity to sign up for a degree in Jazz Performance there. It was a big step. At the time, she didn’t play any instruments (she now plays keyboards) and knew nothing about music theory.

“It was a very demanding course,” she says. “But it was life-changing in so many ways. It was the first time I got real criticism, which is so important. A lot of musicians don’t get the privilege of getting good criticism of their work. That helped me a lot.”

Shamshoum’s genre-hopping blend of Western and Arabic influences is distinctive and striking. Its originality — the fact that it wasn’t a ‘safe’ sound based on things that were already popular — meant it required a certain degree of conviction from its creator, which Shamshoum says she may not have had without that “good criticism.”

“It really made me more resilient and confident in what I do, knowing that the people who were criticizing me wanted the best for me. They didn’t want to destroy me.”

Indeed, many of them helped her record her well-received first album, 2017’s “Shamat.” For a debut, it’s a remarkably self-assured work, on which she displays real faith in her own talent.

“I think since I wrote “Madeline” (released in 2015) — which was about dealing with self-loathing, and saying we’re not black-and-white, we are so many things, and that’s OK — I found my voice,” Shamshoum says. “When you see that other people are connecting with that, too, it gives you the confidence to say, ‘OK. I need to see what else is in there so more people can feel like they’re reflected in music and art.’”

The new EP builds on that record’s innovative take on Shamshoum’s influences, introducing electronic sounds and “tribal beats.”

“This record is definitely more groovy, more primal,” she says. “I would say it’s more upbeat, as well. We added a lot of layers, trying to get that celestial, atmospheric sound.”

The ‘we’ includes Grammy-nominated German-Turkish producer Alev Lenz.

“She really did an amazing job of connecting the dots (with musicians based in different countries). I feel like she took what I was doing and elevated it. It turned out much more powerful than I envisioned. It was such a beautiful journey.”

It’s a journey that began with that bold decision to take a music degree; a decision not everyone understood at the time.

“My mother was worried that I needed to start making money,” Shamshoum says. “I mean, she was right: There’s no money in music — especially as a niche artist singing in Arabic. In the West.” She laughs. “So she was worried about my future. But I have a partner who is really supportive. He was, like, ‘Don’t take half-steps. Just do the thing you want to do.’

“And with music, you either do it all the way or you don’t do it at all,” she continues. “You have to be committed. It needs to be part of your identity. Not your plan B.”