Swiss exhibition pays tribute to acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid

Swiss exhibition pays tribute to acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid
Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid in her London office, UK, circa 1985. (GettyImages)
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Updated 04 June 2021

Swiss exhibition pays tribute to acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid

Swiss exhibition pays tribute to acclaimed Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid
  • Five years on from the acclaimed Iraqi-British architect’s death, ‘Zaha Hadid: Abstracting the Landscape,’ is a celebration of her genius

DUBAI: When the pioneering Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid died unexpectedly five years ago at the age of 65, countless heartfelt tributes poured in on social media. But one image poignantly stood out, reminding us of how accomplished she was through her bold body of work: In this drawing, Hadid wore a voluminous coat covered in a collage of her signature curved buildings. With a gentle smile and her head tilted down, she almost embraces her creations, with a hand over her heart, as if they were her children. Each one embodied a distinct purpose and character, ready to face the world.

Hadid came to be known as ‘The Queen of the Curve’ due to her unconventional approach of designing imposing, sweeping buildings with a futuristic look and feel. She experimented with edgy and angular or dream-like, floating shapes that seemed to defy gravity. “The world is not a rectangle,” she famously said.

Veteran British architect Sir Peter Cook once said of Hadid: “I think she has added an enormous amount of language to architecture. She’s devised shapes that we never thought we could do.” Through her decades-long career, Hadid created multifunctional projects around the world, from Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Bridge to Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Center, the spacious MAXXI Museum in Rome, and the opulent Guangzhou Opera House in China.




Mathias Rastorfer and Zaha Hadid. (Supplied)

Yet beneath this confident, world-famous persona lay an eternally curious innovator whose reputation was misconstrued by critics.

“I’ve been asked so many times how could I have worked with her as she was so aggressive. In 25 years, she was never once aggressive with me,” Mathias Rastorfer, the Swiss CEO of Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska and Hadid’s longtime friend, tells Arab News. “Zaha was a very sensitive person — very delicate on the inside and very tough on the outside. If you were a person who wasted her time, she became aggressive because her time was a precious commodity. It became a technique for her to fend off people who were just feeding on her fame.”

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hadid’s passing, Galerie Gmurzynska is hosting an exhibition entitled “Zaha Hadid: Abstracting the Landscape,” which runs until July 31. It explores a versatile and rarely seen selection of her works, going back to the dawn of her career in the 1980s.




Mesa Table. (Supplied)

“We wanted to show that you can’t put Zaha in one box. She did architecture, objects and designs,” says Rastorfer. True to his word, the display includes a double candleholder made of resin, a hand-tufted textile rug, a ‘Field of Towers’ chess set, and a cool, white fiberglass reception desk, made in 2021 by her namesake company.

A number of Hadid’s original sketches and canvases are also included, allowing us to understand her thought process for projects she had in mind for various cities and showcasing her artistic side. “Zaha was an artistic person, even though she denied that,” Rastorfer says.

The exhibition also shows how Hadid was profoundly influenced by early-20th-century art, notably the Russian avant-garde that birthed the geometric-focused art movement of Suprematism. Another major influence was the German Kurt Schwitters, a Dadaist. Indeed, one of Hadid’s last projects before her death was inspired by Schwitters’ “Merzbau,” a massive collage-like installation of found objects that was destroyed during World War II.

“When you think of the Russian avant-garde, it’s the only art movement in the early 20th century where men and women were literally equal,” explains Rastorfer. “You had Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova standing side-by-side with Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky. That’s certainly one thing that fascinated her. Suprematism, as a concept, is one where you have unlimited space because it floats into the cosmos. So you connect earth with the cosmos and you connect it with an unlimited element of possibilities — you are not bound by specifications. Suprematism allowed her to have this element of unlimited potential without being restricted by traditional means.”




Cellular hand-tufted rug - with liquid glacial console. (Supplied)

Rastorfer views Hadid’s buildings as akin to kinetic sculptures. “In a way, it’s moving,” he says. “Suprematism is two-dimensional and static yet the idea is moving and I think that’s what she wanted to do in architecture.” And so she did, despite some describing her work as impractical or too expensive. Several prominent projects of Hadid’s were cancelled. So, where did her inner drive to keep going come from?

“Any creative person that has a stroke of genius knows their vision is unstoppable. Because once you stop them, they are dead,” says Rastorfer.

He also suggests that her childhood, nurtured by her forward-thinking, art-loving parents in Baghdad, where she was born in 1950, played a huge role.

In 1980, Hadid opened her London-based firm Zaha Hadid Architects, which currently employs hundreds of people. As a woman in a male-dominated field, Hadid broke a lot of glass ceilings, becoming the first woman to win the esteemed Pritzker Prize and the Royal Gold Medal for architects.

As Hadid admitted, being a woman — particularly an Arab woman in the West — came with many challenges.




1986 sketch for Office Building West Berlin. (Supplied)

“You cannot believe the enormous resistance I've faced just for being an Arab, and a woman on top of that. It is like a double-edged sword. The moment my woman-ness is accepted, the Arab-ness seems to become a problem,” she told The Guardian in 2012. “I've broken beyond the barrier, but it's been a very long struggle. It's made me tougher and more precise – and maybe this is reflected in my architecture.”

However, she didn’t particularly appreciate being labelled as a ‘female architect,’ according to Rastorfer. “For her, it didn’t matter,” he emphasizes. “It was irrelevant if you were female, it, he, she — whatever you wanted to be; you were an architect.”

And, as this exhibition makes clear, Hadid excelled at that. As the number of her international designs mounted, so too did her fame, earning her the title of ‘starchitect’.

“When you think about the term ‘supermodel’ in the eighties, there were five supermodels,” says Rastorfer. “Zaha is one of the ‘super architects’ — there’s Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Richard Meier . . . During her lifetime, architects became superstars and I think she’s part of (the reason for) that.”


Vaccine drive boosts return of California tourism

As health guidelines are lifted, California is celebrating the return of the outdoors and welcoming back tourists. (Shutterstock)
As health guidelines are lifted, California is celebrating the return of the outdoors and welcoming back tourists. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2021

Vaccine drive boosts return of California tourism

As health guidelines are lifted, California is celebrating the return of the outdoors and welcoming back tourists. (Shutterstock)
  • The return of tourist season also brings a financial breath of fresh air to Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: The United States has distributed around 111 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, totaling just over 44% of its population fully vaccinated, the highest count worldwide. 

As health guidelines are lifted, California is celebrating the return of the outdoors and welcoming back tourists.

“As people are vaccinated and feeling more comfortable traveling, we’ve found that it’s not as a drive market-centric as it was in the last few months,” said Vanessa Williams, General Manager of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. “We’re starting to see people travel from other states. I think the exciting part is that we started to see a lot of movement out of the Middle East.”

An estimated 50% of summer tourism in Beverly Hills is comprised of Arabs, particularly in the luxury tourism sector. Between its natural beauty and iconic Hollywood sights, Los Angeles is in high demand for travelers looking for somewhere exotic, but COVID-19 safe.

“If I take safe practices, take the good precautions I think I’ll be good you know,” a Hollywood Blvd tourist told us. “But other than that you know the world? I really don’t know really don’t know. Can’t judge it.”

The return of tourist season also brings a financial breath of fresh air to Los Angeles. During the pandemic the tourism industry lost $1.3 trillion. While many furloughed hospitality employees have returned to their jobs, more than 120 million have not.

“California as a whole and in our cities,” added Williams. “There has been a very big push to support business and to actually get that messaging out that we’re open for business.”


THE BREAKDOWN: Multidisciplinary designer Sara Khalid discusses ‘Garden of Men’

THE BREAKDOWN: Multidisciplinary designer Sara Khalid discusses ‘Garden of Men’
Updated 24 June 2021

THE BREAKDOWN: Multidisciplinary designer Sara Khalid discusses ‘Garden of Men’

THE BREAKDOWN: Multidisciplinary designer Sara Khalid discusses ‘Garden of Men’
  • The multidisciplinary designer discusses her collaboration with fellow Saudi artist Alya Al-Qarni, which was showcased at the third edition of Cairotronica in late April

LONDON: “Garden of Men” was inspired by a previous project of Alya’s in which she ran different photos through an AI model that generates automated captions. One image was of her father and other male family members standing together wearing their shemagh (headscarves), but the AI recognized them as a group of women. We can’t really tell what went wrong, but the system probably confused the shemagh for actual hair.

That mix-up inspired my collaboration with Alya. We decided to test the AI’s ability (or lack of ability) to understand Saudi dress. The idea was to examine whether the AI model would keep misconstruing men wearing the shemagh. To do that, we inserted multiple photos into the model, and all the captions came out equally weird. There was one specific photo, however, which intrigued us the most. It was of some young men posing together in a stadium. The caption described them as “flower-filled vases.” Alya and I immediately chose this photo as the basis of our “Garden of Men” project.

We found the contrast the men being mistaken for flowers interesting. That the AI system inaccurately saw masculinity as a typically delicate, feminine object was particularly intriguing. We decided to take the contrast a step further and masked flowers into the men’s faces. We then inserted the edited image into a different AI generator called “Deep Dream,” which is supposed to add a dreamy touch to photos. In a way, we wanted to parody this mix-up. It’s like we insisted we were submitting to the view of the machine, but what we were really trying to do was to mock the system’s confusion.

“Garden of Men” was an attempt on our part to test the archival notion of AI technology, and I believe that the audience understood the main message behind it. We always speak of how biased this technology can be towards race or gender, but we wanted to reveal how culturally biased it can be too; how it can simply fail to recognize certain cultural objects, like the shemagh, abaya or niqab.


London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia

London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia
Updated 23 June 2021

London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia

London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia
  • Byers, who has a life-long passion for ballet, founded the academy after “falling in love with Islam” and converting
  • She is passionate about making ballet accessible to girls from impoverished backgrounds

LONDON: A Muslim ballet school in London that uses poetry to accompany dance has set its sights on expanding to countries with large Muslim populations, with “Saudi Arabia definitely on the list.”
Grace & Poise Academy aims to offer ballet to the Muslim community in an artistic way that allows girls to “train professionally within the boundaries of Islam.”
Poetry accompanies ballet movements instead of music and classes are female-only at the school which was established in 2019.
“We are hoping to expand to Muslim-majority countries to make ballet more accessible to the Muslim community, and Saudi Arabia is definitely on the list because of the population there. We’ve also had inquiries from countries such as Malaysia and we want to expand as much as we can,” said founder Maisie Alexandra Byers. 
“When I originally looked at opening the school, I couldn’t find anything that had been done in this way before and that’s why I want to expand internationally,” she added.


Byers, 26, who has a life-long passion for the artistic dance and a degree in ballet education from the Royal Academy of Dance, founded the academy after “falling in love with Islam” and converting to the religion three years ago. 
She set up the school so that she could continue her career in ballet teaching while practicing her newfound faith. Byers also wanted to make the dance “accessible to Muslims and accommodating of their values.” 
“It was an interesting change because I had lived a lifestyle working within ballet that might have been difficult for me to continue. Setting up this company has allowed me to have my professional development as well as pave the way for others to do the same if they are passionate about ballet,” Byers explained.
“I started exploring poetry and working with poetry — we have a ballet poetry syllabus and don’t work with music. For those Muslims who don’t listen to music, that’s fine as we don’t use it and for those who do listen to it then it’s still a unique and beneficial way of working as an artistic approach in its own right,” she said.
Byers said that while a normal syllabus would couple ballet movement with music, using “poetry complements the understanding of that movement development.”


The director writes the poetry herself and “it is written to actually work with the choreography specifically. We play a recording of the poetry, recited by myself, and the girls do the exercises to the poetry. It’s tailored to the movements.
“There are a lot of benefits of ballet in terms of the cognitive engagement with the poetry, also the physical development; you’re gaining posture, alignment, control, stability, coordination. With the poetry, we also have the emotional wellbeing of the child, the expression of telling the story, and the facial element, too. These are fundamental skills.”
Byers is passionate about making ballet accessible to girls from impoverished backgrounds and giving them transferable skills that will help them change their financial circumstances.
“There are a lot of children who can massively benefit holistically from physical, cognitive, emotional and social development through something like ballet but are not given that opportunity mainly because parents are not in a position to fund extracurricular activities outside of school,” she said.


“The big challenge is how to make activities that are beneficial to the Muslim community more accessible in terms of financing and things like that.”
Another challenge that she faces is the lack of value that some people place on the performing arts as opposed to academic subjects such as science and maths.
“Many people haven’t been exposed to ballet for various reasons and may not initially be able to see what the benefits are. Unless you work in education, some of the benefits of ballet may not be obvious, and sometimes there is a big emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) rather than creative subjects,” said Byers.
That hasn’t stopped Byers’ academy from flourishing and it operates from four sites across London.
She also works with Islamic schools that offer ballet classes as part of physical education.
“A lot of Islamic schools particularly like what we do because they understand the educational value of ballet. They see the depth of the learning and how it is cross-connected in various ways, and so they really value that on a deeper level, which is what I think we are slowly doing — educating many people about the deeper value,” Byers said.      


Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
Updated 23 June 2021

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
  • There will be 675 pavilions and 1,218 publishers, as well as foreign publishing agencies representing 25 countries
  • The fair will launch the “Your Book, Your Culture” initiative, which aims to encourage citizens to buy books and urge them to read

CAIRO: Despite the challenges of the coronavirus disease pandemic, the 52nd Cairo International Book Fair will run from June 30 to July 15, it was announced on Tuesday.

The Egyptian Ministry of Culture said the exhibition, under the slogan “Reading is Life,” will be held at the Egypt International Exhibition Center, covering an area of 40,000 square meters.

There will be 675 pavilions and 1,218 publishers, as well as foreign publishing agencies representing 25 countries.

The fair will launch the “Your Book, Your Culture” initiative, which aims to encourage citizens to buy books and urge them to read. The prices of books will range from one Egyptian pound ($0.064) to 20 pounds.

Enas Abdel Dayem, minister of culture, said that holding the fair this year was a challenge, describing this year’s event as “an exceptional one” and a clear indication of the Egyptian leadership’s keenness to encourage reading and publishing.

“We are entering a new era of digitization transformation and development. This year’s exhibition is the largest gathering of publishers in the world,” she claimed.

Abdel Dayem said entry will be free this year, and that prices will remain fixed, adding that the idea to increase the number of days for the fair would support the publishing industry.

“The maximum number of entries will be 100,000 visitors per day, and no one will be allowed to enter once we hit that number,” said Haitham Al-Haj Ali, head of the General Book Authority.

He said facilities have been made to accommodate people with special needs, which can be requested and booked electronically.


Saudi Arabia’s Misk Art Institute launches Masaha residency exploring the nature of art creation 

Saudi Arabia’s Misk Art Institute launches Masaha residency exploring the nature of art creation 
Updated 24 June 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Misk Art Institute launches Masaha residency exploring the nature of art creation 

Saudi Arabia’s Misk Art Institute launches Masaha residency exploring the nature of art creation 
  • Saudi artists create new interdisciplinary artwork to show how art connects with all sectors 

DUBAI: There is a garden that lies outside of time. It is where three portals, represented by plants, peer into the past, present and future of our world. This is the imaginary garden of Saudi artist Abdulmohsen Albinali created as an artwork during a three-month residency at the inaugural Masaha Art Space in Riyadh, formerly known as the King Faisal bin Fahad Arts Gallery, long revered as one of Riyadh’s most seminal spaces for contemporary art. For Albinali, the three plants serve as a means for discussing humanity’s relationship with the natural world through historical events, present cultural perceptions of the environment, and a science fiction understanding of the future.

“These green shelters, in their very conception and the marks they bear of human care and cultivation, undeniably stand as restorative, nourishing, and necessary havens where poetry, art, desires, love, and culture come to bloom and secrets come to eternally rest,” the artist told Arab News.  

“Eat Sand, Don’t Eat You,” by Bashaer Hawsawi. (Supplied)

Albani is one of nine Saudi artists showing their work in “Blurring Lines: Art & the Creative Industries,” an exhibition presenting work by artists with a cross-disciplinary practice with a particular focus on the crossover between the visual arts and other creative industries such as design, film, music, fashion, and food. The exhibition explores how artists, creatives, and other non-arts related sectors, including health, can collaborate in creative ways. 

Misk Art Institute designed the Masaha Residency as a way for artists to pursue new projects and ideas with the aid of dedicated mentors aiding artists through studio visits, workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, research, and regular masterclasses and critique sessions. The two guest mentors for this residency were Inti Guerrero, former curator at Tate Modern, artistic director of Bellas Artes Projects, and curator of the 2018 EVA International Biennale, and Maya El-Khalil, one of the region’s foremost independent curators who has championed Saudi Arabian art. 

“Synesthesia” By Nujood AlOtaibi. (Supplied)

The Masaha residency was established by the Misk Art Institute, a new artist-centered cultural organization founded in 2017 and operating under the auspices of the Misk Foundation, established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is fully funded, includes travel, accommodation and production costs, and is hosted in 10 purpose-built studios. It is open to regional, national, and international artists with the sole purpose of creating art that engages with local communities with the aim of contributing to new global art practices and experiences.

“We believe that art residencies are important because they broaden an artist’s experience and inspire cultural exchange,” Reem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, told Arab News. “Residencies encourage an artist to leave their comfort zone and push boundaries. In addition, residencies influence and expand an artist network within the field providing opportunities for exposure. What makes Masaha Residency unique is that we provide mentorship and critique sessions that aid an artists’ critical thinking and enhance their skill set.” 

Selected through an open call, the nine artists were invited to develop new works with support from creative practitioners spanning various industries in during an intensive program of studio-based activities. 

This is part of Sara Brahim’s work. (Supplied)

Many of the artists drew from traditional Saudi culture and symbolism, merging such references with digital technology and contemporary art practices.

Huda Al-Aithan, for example, created “Numinous Najd,” a work consisting of a 3D-printed pendant lighting fixture, a handmade lighting and clay sculpture and digital prints. The pieces borrows functional elements from Najdi architecture and re-interpret them into a contemporary lighting installation. 

By designing playful and contemporary forms that borrow from the essence of Najdi architecture, Al-Aithan seeks to participate in the preservation of her local heritage. 

“Can you be real with me?” by Artur Weber. (Supplied)

The lighting fixture and sculpture serve as studies on architectural forms and light. “The installation creates a conversation between the past and the future in terms of materiality and essence,” explained the artist who also created futuristic digital prints in which to place the lighting fixture as a piece of architecture itself. 

In similar nod to her native Saudi culture and Islamic faith, the work of Sara Khalid draws its inspiration from the traditional narratives of the Arabic language and Islamic methodologies in art and technology. Her work “Oral Platforms,” the third version of “HyperLink,” aims to bridge the gap between the distinct domains of cultural inclusivity and the status quo. It explores, like her contemporaries in the residency, the state of Saudi Arabia’s strong oral tradition and its surrounding aesthetics. In each new version of the work, Khalid aims to foster fresh perspectives on the nature of Arabic and Islamic language, culture—preserving elements from Saudi’s rich past while also innovating, just like the residency and exhibition demonstrate, through cross-disciplinary means.

Misk Art Institute designed the Masaha Residency as a way for artists to pursue new projects and ideas. (Supplied)

The next cohort of “residents” will be welcomed during the Fall of 2021 and will feature nine artists-in-residence and one writer-in-residence working around the theme of “HOME- Being and belonging.”

“Blurring Lines: Art & the Creative Industries” runs at the Masaha Art Space until June 30.