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.
Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene
Meet the director and producer leading the charge for a new wave of Algerian cinema
Updated 23 min 38 sec ago
Rami Abu Diab
PARIS: Algerian director and producer Aissa Djouamaa (whose debut feature, “Cilima,” was helmed under his ‘artist name’ Aissa ben Said) may have chosen to keep his distances from the media, but he remains, nonetheless, a deeply committed artist, both behind the camera and on the ground. He is recognized as someone who has initiated a major and profound change in the movie industry of his native country, Algeria.
Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. When he was rejected by the School of Dramatic Arts in Algiers due to his unsatisfactory baccalaureate grades, he decided to study biology for four years, but his passion for cinema did not fade. So, in 2007 he took the decision to join the Tunis School of Arts and Cinema.
"I enrolled there with the intention of becoming an actor. But when I discovered the universe of the film industry, I started focusing on the picture, the frame and the writing,” he says.
Djouamaa ranked top of his class for two consecutive years before encountering a major problem. “I realized that I was attracted to disturbing social issues, to topics that were not supposed to be addressed,” he says. “I decided that for my final project I would make a movie about the aggressive police attacks that took place during the local derby between the Tunisian football teams Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Club Africain.” However, he was unable to get the necessary authorization, so his film was never completed.
In summer 2010, Djouamaa traveled to Algeria to produce his first short film “Un Cri Sans Echo” (A scream without echo), which focused on marginalized musicians living in Souk Ahras, the artist's hometown. The film was screened during the Doc à Tunis festival in April 2011, just months after then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted at the start of the Arab Spring, and it earned Djouamaa his diploma.
When he returned to Algeria, he encountered numerous problems, mainly financial. “I worked as a sales consultant for a multinational company. Every vacation I had, I would make a short film,” he says. “I also taught at the Office des Établissements de Jeunes, which produced my first film.”
Djouamaa’s second movie — “Colors, the Country and Me,” was about a hero of Souk Ahras: Taoufik Makhloufi, the only Algerian to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“It’s about the new generation that perceives Algeria from a different angle,” he says. “It was time to write a new page of Algeria’s history as seen through the eyes of this generation.”
In order to emphasize a different vision to that of traditional non-fiction filmmakers, Djouamaa next decided to take part in his own documentary. “Talking about Algeria’s 50th Independence Day does not necessarily mean talking about the Algerian revolution as such, but rather talking about what Algeria has experienced, from independence until today,” he says.
Djouamaa was beginning to make a name for himself in his homeland. In 2014, he participated in the first Algiers French Institute laboratory and his film “Makash Kifach No Way” was broadcast on French television. The following year, he quit his job and headed to Canada to participate in KINOMADA — a non-profit film production platform — and to shoot his first fictional film, the short “We Return to Paradise,” which featured a rabbi, a priest and an imam. “I have never thought of presenting it in Algeria, as the topic (exploring the merits of art vs. religion) remains taboo.”
In 2016, he took part in a summer program at Paris’ renowned La Fémis film and television school. There, he filmed the Place de la Republique square during the “Nuit Debout” (Up all night) protests against new labor laws. “It has always been the French producing documentaries about Algeria,” he says. “It was about time that an Algerian made a documentary about France.”
His experiences in Canada and France inspired Djouamaa — despite Algeria’s “suffocating bureaucracy” — to establish his own production company, Nouvelle Vague Algerienne (Algerian New Wave). And it was his second fictional short, “Un Homme, Deux Théatres” (One man, two theaters), that saw his reputation grow outside of Algeria.
“This film was the door to international recognition,” he says. “It got screened all over the globe. I even received an award for it in Madagascar.”
At the 2017 Carthage Film Festival, Djouamaa encountered members of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, which only served to reinforce his belief that he was operating outside of his country’s mainstream media business. “They were wondering, ‘Who is this stranger, so unfamiliar to Algerian society, who doesn’t seem interested in who we are?’” he says.
But he got on better with the director of the Algerian commission which allocates funds to filmmakers, obtaining funding for five projects. He went on to shoot his first feature film “Cilima,” which he has described as a “one-of-a-kind film” that combined stories created by four young filmmakers from across Algeria.
“Cilima” is typical of the ideals behind Nouvelle Vague Algerienne, aimed as it is at reviving Algerian cinema.
“I am an artist who recognizes the enormous potential of the young generation. The Algerian New Wave is not just about producing projects talking about present Algeria. It’s a whole educational project. We are trying to make a change”, he explains. “I am a staunchly committed artist, a member of the Hirak. I have always refused to be part of the ingrained system.”
That system in Algeria, he explains, “was based on revolutionary films, subsidized with huge amounts of public money. Algerian cinema reached its peak with the Palme d'Or awarded in 1975 to Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. Then came the black decade that saw the number of movie theaters fall from 500 to just 40.”
Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema rise again. Along with two other producers, he has set up the Basma Collective. “In this country we have a lack in film schools,” he explains. “It is extremely important not to cut corners. We are in the process of setting up Timi Lab — a writing development venture — in Timimoun, in the Algerian Sahara, with the help of funds from the international film industry. We are also preparing an African and Arab festival called Timi Film Days.”
As for his own filmmaking, Djouamaa is currently in the process of developing a documentary that he says will “destabilize the current system, especially its relations with France.” It is based around the story of the village of Reggane, the location of French nuclear tests between 1960 and 1968.
“I decided not to make a historical movie, but instead to bring in my creative touch,” he says. “The story is about an association that contacts an international law firm (in relation to the Reggane tests). The latter files a complaint before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”
Clearly, Djouamaa’s Algerian New Wave is set on making waves.
THE BREAKDOWN: Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan discusses ‘Wandering City #17’
The Lebanese artist discusses her 2021 mixed-media artwork, inspired by Beirut and showcased at the inaugural edition of Menart Fair in Paris last month
Updated 55 min 36 sec ago
DUBAI: I started the “Wandering City” series in 2018. It began with a piece of my diary that I wrote in 1975. I was writing every day in this diary, describing a lot of paths that I used to walk in Beirut when I was 13. I was really struck by that. We were extremely free at that moment; we could do whatever we wanted, but we were well aware of the political situation. I would write everything that was happening in Lebanon during the beginning of the Civil War.
I took my diary and started to play with maps of Beirut, mixing what I remember with what’s happening now. I left Lebanon a long time ago, but I still keep going back and forth. I trained as an architect in France and I never forgot this idea of maps and psychogeography. I was very much inspired by how you reconstruct your own geography. It’s not about nostalgia, it’s about how you keep searching for others, sensations, vegetation and light.
In “Wandering City #17,” the writing is based on my diary entry for June 28, 1975. I went to my parents’ office with my mother to pick up my passport because I was traveling. We had to meet my father at the temple, which was next to my parent’s office. There were a lot of bombs on the way. June 28 was a real trauma for everyone.
I picked pink because I wanted something happy. Even if the war was happening, we were extremely happy. Pink and orange were the colors of my teenage years in the Seventies, or at least what I remember when I visualize that time: the colors of the clothes, movie posters, record covers, store fronts.
The process is, I transfer my map onto the cotton canvas and I pin everything and then I draw on top of it with acrylic pencil, layer by layer. Only the writing is stitched. When I do my maps, it takes forever, but it’s a kind of meditation and I don’t want it to finish. It’s a way to stay in my childhood. I’m trying to say goodbye to Beirut, but it’s not working.
Arab News visits the recently opened Cup & Cat Café in As-Sahafah
Updated 18 June 2021
RIYADH: The cat café phenomenon — which began in Taiwan more than 20 years ago — has finally reached the Saudi capital.
The Cup & Cat Café is located in Riyadh’s As-Sahafah district. When we visited, we saw people of all ages coming to enjoy the cats, from university students studying on their laptops, to small toddlers running around petting their furry friends.
It is designed to be a calming place — from the relaxing music to the light, neutral colors of the walls and furniture. all of which immediately puts visitors at ease.
On the ground floor of the two-story establishment are booths and seating areas for guests, along with a coffee bar. The café offers a fairly standard selection of drinks, including coffees and blended beverages such as chocolate milkshakes and cold mojitos. There are also snacks on offer, including French fries, cakes and pastries.
The food is fine, but nothing to get excited about. But, let’s face it, no one’s visiting a cat café because they want to get a great meal. Instead, they’re going to grab their drinks and head up the stairs (or take the elevator) to the second story, where the main attractions await.
The cats’ ‘home base’ is sectioned off by a gate and is, happily, extremely well-maintained. There are plenty of resting areas for the cats, and even a separate ‘quiet room’ with glass walls where visitors can sit in a calm space with the animal(s) of their choice.
It’s worth mentioning that there are currently only three cats in the café, however, but the baristas did mention that they plan to expand and add more in the near future.
Potential visitors will likely have some concerns over hygiene and smells, but this was honestly one of the cleanest cafés we have visited in Riyadh; every surface was immaculate and there are sanitizer stations placed throughout along with a chart of procedures on every table to ensure the cats are being handled in a safe, hygienic manner that is enjoyable for both humans and animals. This is an all-ages café, and such advice is particularly important for young children who wish to handle the cats.
The Cup & Cat Café is actually a great place for kids to learn about interacting safely with animals and to learn more about pets’ needs. The whole place is very family-friendly, with a children’s section upstairs equipped with a selection of books, a TV, and several small cat toys.
But it’s also a good place to just hang out with some friends (it’s open until 2 a.m.) or to get on with some work, especially when it first opens at 4 p.m. It’s a quiet location with free wi-fi, so you can bring along your laptop, find a secluded corner and get to work — possibly with a cat on your lap.
Overall, our visit was a very therapeutic experience. It’s hard to feel stressed with a purring kitty next to you, and it seemed that the animals themselves were happy with the situation too — they were all very friendly with guests, allowing themselves to be petted and fussed over. Expect to see the Cup & Cat Café making plenty of appearances on social media over the summer.
What We Are Reading Today: Seeing Serena by Gerald Marzorati
Updated 18 June 2021
Seeing Serena is an in-depth chronicle of the return to tennis of Serena Williams after giving birth to her daughter, and an insightful cultural analysis of the most consequential female athlete of her time.
It is a riveting chronicle of her turbulent 2019 tour season and a revealing portrait of who she is, both on and off the court.
Author Gerald Marzorati shadows her through her 2019 season, from Melbourne and the Australian Open, to Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, and on to the US Open as she seeks her 24th Grand Slam singles title.
He writes about her tennis and her forays into fashion, investing, and developing her personal brand on social media.
Seeing Serena illuminates Williams’s singular status as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time and — in a moment when race and gender are the most talked-about topics in America and beyond— a pop icon like no other.
Marzorati observes her, listens to her, studies her, explores her roles in society and history— sees Serena fully, in all the ways she has come to matter.
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.