Kuwaiti visual artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein discusses some of his favorite work

Kuwaiti visual artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein discusses some of his favorite work
This artwork is from “Sawaber” project, named after a modernist housing development (in Kuwait) based on a design by the Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Kuwaiti visual artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein discusses some of his favorite work

Kuwaiti visual artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein discusses some of his favorite work

LONDON: Tarek Al-Ghoussein has an ability to immerse himself in projects that require commitment over an extended period of time.

Al-Ghoussein — a Kuwaiti artist of Palestinian origin — is currently on a quest to visit every one of the 215 islands that form the archipelago of Abu Dhabi in the UAE. So far he has visited 30, and the resulting images — recently on show in his exhibition “Odysseus” at Dubai’s Third Line gallery — compel the viewer to pause and enter into his imaginative journey.




Al-Ghoussein is a Kuwaiti artist of Palestinian origin. (Supplied)

He put the same kind of tenacious energy into the series of images he created of the abandoned Al-Sawaher housing estate in Kuwait. In hundreds of visits over three years he entered the deserted apartments and offered a poignant glimpse into the lives of the people who once called the estate home.

Al-Ghoussein is now a professor of visual arts at New York University in Abu Dhabi, but his chosen subject was not always his greatest passion, he explained. “I came to the visual arts gradually, through my passion for literature and classical music, particularly Beethoven,” he said. “My first loves were Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse and Günter Grasse and, later, Japanese haiku poets such as Matsuo Kinsaku. Clarity and cleanliness of form is something I really appreciate.”

Here, Al-Ghoussein offers some insights into a selection from his extensive body of work.

‘L1003672’

This is from my “Sawaber” project, named after a modernist housing development (in Kuwait) based on a design by the Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. It’s now gone. There were 33 buildings each with eight apartments — two on each floor. For about three years I went maybe 400 to 500 times and entered each of the apartments where I gathered objects and photographed what was on the walls. What fascinated me about that place was that you had Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Kuwaiti citizens and expats all living together in this community. I brought the framed painting you can see in this work back to photograph in my studio in Abu Dhabi. You also see wallpaper from one of the houses. This whole project is a kind of archiving. It was a wonderful experience.

‘Abu Dhabi Archipelago (Hami Rohah Gassar)’ (2016)

This project started in 2015.  One day I read an article explaining that the planning council was in the process of naming the 215 islands of Abu Dhabi. That was mind-blowing to me. I had no idea that Abu Dhabi had so many islands. I had just completed the “Sawaber” project, so I was looking for a long-term project and that article triggered my desire and imagination to go out and visit as many of these islands as I could in a spirit of discovery.

This image shows me on the bow of the boat. It was early morning — and I came across a gassar — a mini-island — named Hami Roha which means ‘protector of the soul.’ I thought it was an appropriate image to start the series with. The series is ongoing. I plan to finish it within a year or two. I have been working on this for five years. I hope it will be shorter than the journey of 10 years that Odysseus went on!

‘Untitled 2’ (Self-Portrait Series)

This was the first time I ever saw Palestine – you can see it in the background along the Dead Sea. In this series I am wearing the hattah (the Palestinian headscarf also known as the keffiyeh) that — in the West especially — has mistakenly been related to terrorism. This whole series is about challenging Western, and even some Middle Eastern, perceptions that Palestinians are terrorists.

‘K Files 735’

This was part of a project I did when I was asked to represent Kuwait in the Venice Biennale. I was living in Abu Dhabi  – I had just joined NYU –and  there was very little time for me to allocate to it. This was the first project where I did a lot of the research on places before I went. Normally it’s a mixture of visiting and looking and reading, but because I had precious little time I had to come up with an idea before I set out. So, talking to the curator, I saw one potential idea was mapping — and interacting with — the development of Kuwait. I went to several buildings, including the parliament, Kuwait Towers and the World Bank. I used this image because it was one of Kuwait’s earliest sports clubs and as a child I used to play basketball for that particular club.

‘(In) Consideration of Myths 966’

I took this image on Saadiyat Island. It kind of references the myth of Iron John – an old fable (written by the Brothers Grimm) about somebody going into the world on a journey of self-discovery. It’s referential to where I am. Much of my work is like an arena for me to interact with or interrupt a given scene. I took this image on Saddiyat Island. I shoot on a tripod and the setting up takes time. It really affects the interaction with the space. It becomes much more of an extension of your vision. It forces me to consider things a little bit more. It’s not about quick intuition. There is intuition involved but setting up becomes much more of a ritual and it slows the pace.

‘(In) Beautification 1713’

Around 2010, I was commissioned by the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to produce a series of images on Saadiyat Island and the development of the museum. Because of the delay of the museum I had all these images and I wanted to get them out there. For me a work is not complete until it is out there in the public. That’s also when I discover my relationship to the work. My work is open to interpretation. I don’t really feel comfortable – nor do I wish to — forcing the viewer (to follow) a particular narrative.


Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
Updated 28 min 5 sec ago

Plans for movie on New Zealand mosque attacks draw criticism

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne (L) was set to play Ardern, with New Zealander Andrew Niccol (R) writing and directing. (AP/File Photos)
  • The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques

WELLINGTON: Tentative plans for a movie that recounts the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to a gunman's slaughter of Muslim worshippers drew criticism in New Zealand on Friday for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.
Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in the movie “They Are Us,” which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers.
The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.
Deadline said the movie would follow Ardern's response to the attacks and how people rallied behind her message of compassion and unity, and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.
The title of the movie comes from the words Ardern spoke in a landmark address soon after the attacks. At the time, Ardern was praised around the world for her response.
But many in New Zealand are raising concerns about the movie plans.
Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussein was killed in the attacks, wrote on Twitter simply “Yeah nah,” a New Zealand phrase meaning “No.”
Abdigani Ali, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said the community recognized the story of the attacks needed to be told “but we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.”
Tina Ngata, an author and advocate, was more blunt, tweeting that the slaughter of Muslims should not be the backdrop for a film about "white woman strength. COME ON.”
Ardern’s office said in a brief statement that the prime minister and her government have no involvement with the movie.
Deadline reported that New Zealander Andrew Niccol would write and direct the project and that the script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.
Niccol said the film wasn't so much about the attacks but more the response.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world," Niccol told Deadline. "It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”
Byrne's agents and FilmNation did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The report said the project would be filmed in New Zealand but did not say when.
Niccol is known for writing and directing “Gattaca” and writing “The Terminal" and “The Truman Show,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Byrne is known for roles in “Spy” and “Bridesmaids.”


French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix
Omar Sy plays the artful protagonist Assane Diop (right). Netflix
Updated 12 June 2021

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

French star Omar Sy gives magical touch to season two of ‘Lupin’ on Netflix

CHENNAI: The second season of Netflix’s “Lupin” is exhilarating, high on style and full of swagger. Its lead star Omar Sy, who plays protagonist Assane Diop, is a classy master of disguise and disappearance, modelled on the “gentleman burglar” Arsene Lupin, a fictional character created in 1905 by French novelist and short-story writer Maurice Leblanc. Loved to bits by international viewers — the French show’s first season entered Netflix’s Top 10 in most countries around the globe in 2021 — Lupin seems a good contemporary counter to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues. Netflix

Season one, which premiered in January, had all the excitement to banish pandemic lockdown blues, beginning with a daring heist in the Louvre in Paris, going on to narrate the ups and downs of a Senegalese immigrant, who dies in prison after being falsely accused of a crime he never committed. 

His son, Assane, swears to clear his father’s name and take vengeance on the rich and nefarious aristocrat, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre), responsible for the tragedy. Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son, Raoul (Etan Simon), and his ex-partner Claire (Ludivine Sagnier). 

Director Louis Leterrier and creator George Kay left the season on a nail-biting cliff-hanger centering on Assane’s son and his ex-partner Claire. Netflix

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off, with whirlwind chases and a touching love story between Assane and his childhood sweetheart Juliette (Clotilde Hesme) on the banks of the Seine, and his emotional bonding with Raoul. 

The narrative is tightly edited and the episodes are knitted together seamlessly, taking us back and forth between Assane’s boyhood and adulthood. Mamadou Haidara, who plays Assane in his schooldays, is delightfully mischievous, and carries all the attributes of the adult “gentleman burglar.” A scene where he “borrows” an expensive violin to help a very young Juliette is moving. In fact, the one big difference between the two seasons is that the second is high on emotions, which makes it even more appealing. 

The five-episode second season, with screenplay by François Uzan, takes off from where it left off. Netflix

Shot in Paris, the city becomes a character itself. Warmly glowing during the day and twinkling brightly at night, it has irresistible romanticism. The grand finale leaves us craving a third season, and more of the brilliant lead character so wonderfully portrayed by Sy.

 


Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner
The model moved back to America in February. Instagram
Updated 12 June 2021

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

Model Shanina Shaik celebrates becoming a homeowner

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik is officially a homeowner. The 30-year-old this week took to her Instagram Stories to share the exciting news that she just purchased a home in Hollywood, California.

She wrote: “I’m officially a homeowner!” alongside a trio of the emoji wearing a party hat and blowing a party horn.

“Thank you @deniserosnerhomes, the best real estate agent,” she captioned an image of herself posing in front of a kitchen island. “If you need a home, this is your gurl (sic),” she added.

Shaik moved back to the US from London, where she spent the majority of quarantine, in February.

Shaik purchased a home in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Instagram

The supermodel, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Lithuanian and Australian descent, moved to London after more than a decade in the US.

In February, she obtained a visa to enter America, thanks to US Immigration Attorney Carlos Rosas who helped her and made “the unimaginable happen,” according to an Instagram post.

“Congratulations @shaninamshaik on becoming a homeowner — you were a dream to work with and I’m so lucky to call you (a) friend,” wrote Shaik’s real estate agent on Instagram, adding “now let’s get #Choppa back so he and #Penelope can have a playdate,” referring to Shaik’s pet dog who is still in the UK.

It appears that Shaik’s new home is not all the model has to celebrate as the Victoria’s Secret star is finally going to be reunited with her beloved French bulldog after months of trying to bring her furry friend home.

“I had a lot of issues with Choppa’s situation but at the end of the day I found out that Choppa is coming home tomorrow,” said Shaik in a video posted to her Stories. “And you’re going to see a really, really happy woman. I’m going to cry my eyes out when I see him so I’m going to keep you guys posted on that video,” she added.

Back in May, the part-Arab model took to social media to ask fans to help reunite her with her pet dog who was unable to undertake the trip with her across the Atlantic for reasons unknown.

She asked if any of her friends or followers are traveling to the US from the UK and would be able to help return her pet pooch home.

The model regularly takes to social media to gush about her dog and even set up an Instagram account for her canine companion, which she has had for several years.


A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
Updated 12 June 2021

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’
  • A spirited new anthology of poems and stories by Arab women down the ages overturns common expectations of gender 
  • ‘We Wrote in Symbols’ celebrates the literary works of 75 female writers of Arab heritage spanning five millenia

DUBAI: British-Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh hopes a new book featuring 75 stories of love and desire penned by Arab women will help pave the way for more female authors to emerge from the Middle East region.

The English-language anthology “We Wrote in Symbols,” edited by Dabbagh, was published in April this year, marking a literary first in showcasing the works of women from the region on subjects many might consider bold.

Spanning several millennia, the volume includes the works of classical poets, award-winning contemporary authors and emerging writers.

“It brings together a diverse range of voices who are writers in English, French and Arabic, coming from all of the three main monotheistic religions, as well as those that are not religious at all,” Dabbagh told Arab News.

‘We Wrote in Symbols’ editor Selma Dabbagh. (Courtesy of Sussana Baker Smith)

The idea arose after Dabbagh stumbled on an anthology called “Classical Poems by Arab Women,” which contained writings from the pre-Islamic period up to the fall of Andalusia in 1492.

The collection left a lasting impression. “Some were what you would expect. There were poems lamenting the loss of a brother in battle,” Dabbagh said.

“But other women were talking about sexuality in a way that was very self-assured. Some were being a bit provocative, but others were just content with that aspect of their life. The voices were surprising, but they also felt fresh, contemporary and spirited.”

Dabbagh began to notice similar themes in the work of contemporary female authors discussing issues of love and desire — in some cases dealing with the disconnection between the two in relationships, which were portrayed with remarkable sensitivity.

As a fiction writer, Dabbagh had always found this a difficult topic to handle, partly due to self-censorship stemming from her own notions of shame.

“There is a universal insistence on associating the actions of a character with the behavior of an author, which we need to be freed from,” she said.

Sabrina Mahfouz. (Courtesy of Greg Morrison)

“To be a writer who is able to depict those delicate shifts in mood and connections between people takes an enormous amount of skill and imagination. So, the collection is basically a combination of the older, classical poets and the newer voices looking at this difficult terrain.

“A lot of them are very funny, some are quite daring and explicit, and it’s just a different way for women identified with the region to have their writing viewed — through matters of the heart and the body.”

Dabbagh said there is an expectation among English readers that most Arab fiction is slightly depressing, political or downbeat. In the words of Nathalie Handal, one of the poets featured in the anthology, “people think Arabs don’t love with a beating heart.” The book aims to challenge this misconception.

“It tries to bring that sense of emotional excitement and tenderness to a vast, diverse and varied region through the writing of women,” Dabbagh said.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate about women in Arab literature, which actually predates anything published by a female author in the English language. One of the earliest poems included in the anthology dates back almost 5,000 years.

“You have this tradition, mainly in poetry, of writing and letter writing by Arab women before women started writing in Europe,” Dabbagh said. “I really wanted to show that, because it’s not something that is associated with the Arab world in terms of having higher levels of advancement in female literacy.”

Hanan Al-Shayk. (Supplied)

For Dabbagh, whose debut novel “Out of It” was nominated as a Guardian book of the year in 2011-12, navigating the affairs of the heart is not something that necessarily becomes easier with age.

Although she read the works of Hanan Al-Shaykh and Ahdaf Soueif avidly in her 20s, she wishes there had been more Arab women writers in her youth. “Sadly, I only read fluently in English,” she said.

“It was really radically life-changing for me to read accounts by women of a similar background. I grew up between the Gulf and Europe mainly, and I always found it such a difficult subject matter for me to find my voice.”

Reading their stories made Dabbagh more articulate about her own feelings.

“It just gives you a set of tools with which to negotiate this tricky emotional terrain,” she said. “I think (my book) might help to provide a level of self-knowledge because there are so many different characters in it that readers should be  able to relate to.”

Having read the works of critically acclaimed American writers, whose brash depiction of the hook-up culture she found dulling, her interest returned to the writings of women of Arab heritage to see how their interpretations of romance, sentimentality, vulnerability and desire affected her.

Laura Hanna. (Supplied)

In these works, she found creativity, humor and craft. “We’re always being told to see these two worlds I come from (the West/Europe and the Arab world) as almost antithetical to one another,” Dabbagh said.

“But with the language of love and looking at the Mediterranean as a kind of sea of stories, we can see how there’s been influence over time between Europe and the Arab world.

“In the 19th century, you had a lot of writers and explorers who came to the Arab world because it was a place of freer sensuality. It seemed to be less restrictive than the puritanical backgrounds these writers came from.

“Now that pattern has, to some extent, been reversed.”

During the Abbasid period, the topic  was written about and seen almost as a scientific study. “You could have a book which dealt with astrology and physics as well as expounding on sensuality, because sensuality and getting that harmony right between a couple was something that was indicative of how you can have harmony in the society as a whole,” Dabbagh said.

Elif Shafak. (Supplied)

“So, it was a way of ensuring that the community was in balance and that, to me, is such a beautiful idea. But it’s something that is rarely associated with the religion anymore.”

Nowadays, any associations between religion, women and sexuality appears to be overwhelmingly negative. “I wanted to show that range, to try to break up that stereotype,” she said.

And although one book is unlikely to change opinions overnight, Dabbagh believes women’s voices are gradually subverting traditional methods of censorship.

“The region has been engulfed with images, films and TV for the past 70 years, and most of it was state-run,” she said. “But now with Netflix and online streaming, we have a lot more content coming in and it’s hugely influential.”

Nevertheless, the depiction of Arabs and the Islamic world in Hollywood has improved little in the past century. “There is a kind of mass absorption of negative images of the region from outside, which is going to influence behavior,” Dabbagh said.

“We need to find ways of writing stories which are connected to regional history, cultures, which are exciting, dramatic, sleek and sexy. It’s just about being trained up, opting into it and starting to influence the way these stories are told.”

___________

Twitter: @CalineMalek


British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
Riz Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business. File/AFP
Updated 12 June 2021

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies

British actor Riz Ahmed leads bid to change way Muslims seen in movies
  • Ahmed is the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination
  • The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee

LONDON: British actor Riz Ahmed on Thursday launched an effort to improve the way Muslims are depicted in movies after a study showed that they are barely seen and shown in a negative light when they do appear.

Ahmed, the "Sound of Metal" star and the first Muslim to get a best actor Oscar nomination, said the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion would include funding and mentoring for Muslim story tellers in the early stages of their careers.

"The representation of Muslims on screen feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded," Ahmed said in a statement.

"The data doesn't lie. This study shows us the scale of the problem in popular film, and its cost is measured in lost potential and lost lives," he added.

Titled "Missing and Maligned," the study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that less than 10% of top-grossing films released from 2017-2019 from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand featured at least one speaking Muslim character.

When they did, they were shown as outsiders, or threatening, or subservient, the study showed. About one-third of Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence and more than half were targets of violence.

"Muslims live all over the world, but film audiences only see a narrow portrait of this community, rather than viewing Muslims as they are: business owners, friends and neighbors whose presence is part of modern life," said Al-Baab Khan, one of the report's authors.

Ahmed, 38, who was born in London to Pakistani parents, said that offering funding would be game changing in getting more Muslim actors, writer and producers into the movie and TV business.

"Had I not received a scholarship and also a private donation, I wouldn't have been able to attend drama school," he said.

The $25,000 fellowships for young Muslim artists will be decided by an advisory committee that includes actors Mahershala Ali and Ramy Youssef and comedian Hasan Minhaj.