BENGALURU: We have never studied cinema or filmmaking, but we are heavily inspired by theater and by filmmakers like Majid Majidi, Michael Haneke, and Abbas Kiarostami.
The opening scene of our short film “One of us left the photo” is a table laden with different breakfast items, showing the assimilation of European and Arab cultures. The protagonist is a Syrian refugee who has fled to France, married a French woman, and started afresh in a new country. Soon, he receives an unexpected guest — his twin brother, who joins him from Syria.
As the story unfolds, we use heavy symbolism to provide clues to what is brewing between the brothers. In one scene, the protagonist looks at the camera and quotes Macbeth: “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” probing the audience to contemplate the moral cost of a killing.
Over the next 15 minutes, we also watch the protagonist’s resentment build. Eventually, he confronts his brother over a WhatsApp video where the brother is seen committing a war crime against civilians during the Syrian revolution.
The inspiration for the story is the trials that are currently taking place in Europe. There are refugees who arrived in Europe trying to escape the war and its atrocities, but recently we have also witnessed the presence of many Syrians who come here because of the poor living conditions in Syria. The authorities are trying to judge if those seeking asylum have been involved in war crimes in Syria.
We are asking: Does someone have the right to seek political asylum if he has committed war crimes in Syria? We don’t claim (to have the answer). We are just trying to raise a question and urging the audience to think about possible answers. Today, we see a widening gap in families and societies because of this divisive issue.
The audience will notice the frequent use of objects to symbolize a social issue. The last scene shows a dying flower pot, conveying the message that the only beautiful memory the protagonist retains of his brother is the flower pot he gifted to his hosts.
French-Lebanese illustrator Lamia Ziadé’s ‘My Port of Beirut’ addresses the devastation of the August 4 explosion
In ‘Mon Port de Beyrouth,’ the author and illustrator addresses the devastation wrought by the August 4 explosion
Updated 20 min 12 sec ago
PARIS: On June 6, portraits of Sahar Fares circulated widely once more on social media. With her long black hair and dazzling smile, she looked stunning in her evening gown. Fares should have been getting married that day, if she hadn’t perished in the Beirut Port explosion on the August 4, 2020. Called out with her fellow firefighters to extinguish the fire, she died on the port’s dock, having been caught in the explosion.
Ten months later, there have been no convictions and no culprits identified for the blast. Meanwhile, Fares’ fiancé continues to share photos and drawings of her on Instagram, keeping her memory alive.
In Paris, where she has been living since she was 18, Lamia Ziadé was intensely moved when she saw those pictures on her phone, as she had been by so many of the images of other victims.
The French-Lebanese author and illustrator published her book “Mon Port de Beyrouth” (My Port of Beirut) in April. In it, she looks back at the tragedy, combining text and drawings inspired by photos shared on social media or published in traditional media: memories and moments captured on the spot.
In January, putting the finishing touches to the book, she couldn't help but add one last drawing: one of Sahar Fares celebrating her final birthday at the fire station. "I finished working on the book a few days ago,” she wrote on the final page. “But this morning, a short video made me cry. It was impossible not to add this last drawing.”
Fares became, for Ziadé, “the heart of the tragedy.”
“That girl is a movie character, a full-fledged heroine straight out of a novel,” Ziadé tells Arab News. “Hers was the first of the victims’ faces to be shared on social media. She was so beautiful, so full of life… During the six months I was working on the book, pictures of her kept coming through. It felt like I knew her. This wasn’t the case for the other victims — most of them having just one shot of them being shared on social media. That girl is the one who filmed the last video of what was going on right before the port explosion. She took the photo of the three men trying to open the doors leading inside the hangar. I don’t know what other character could have been as strong.”
In the introduction to the book, Ziadé said she had been unable to sleep properly since the explosion at the port, and was liable to burst into tears throughout the day. When she speaks to Arab News, it is apparent that the emotions raised by the blast remain raw today, if slightly less immediate.
“I no longer cry every day, the way I used to during the six months in which I wrote the book,” she tells us. “But I still follow the news every morning and the situation in Lebanon — the economic crisis and the political situation — is hitting hard. People are hungry, they get shot and thrown in jail when they protest. It’s terrible. I am still very worried about the situation and not very optimistic. One of my book’s last drawings depicts the light of the setting sun on the silos, as a symbol of the end of an era. It would take a miracle.”
When respected French daily Le Monde first contacted Ziadé the day after the explosion to ask if she would be interested in producing an article for their weekly magazine, she declined.
“I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t well at all,” she says. “I had no intention to write at all. I didn't feel like I could do something on the spur of the moment. I felt so devastated.
“But the next day, I told myself that one could not just say no to 15 pages about Beirut in Le Monde,” she continues. “So I started drawing.”
Once the article was published, Ziadé’s editor suggested that the project should be expanded into a book. This was not a random proposal. As Ziadé explains, in all of her work, from her first book “Bye Bye Babylon,” her aim has been “to bear witness to Lebanon’s history. — whether I have lived it or not — and to keep a trace, shed light on unknown stories, dig in the archives.”
But “Mon Port de Beyrouth” was a little different, she explains: “My approach has always been about bearing witness, telling a story, but this was the first time I did that live, on the spot, as an event is unfolding. It was a quite difficult task because I didn’t have the necessary hindsight.”
The book is also, she says “quite personal.” Aside from the general research she did on the port, and the fact that her drawings are based on actual pictures, she also looked into her family history. The result is an intimate, revealing portrayal of events that at times feels like reading someone’s diary. “The fact that I worked on it while I myself was completely devastated (comes across) in the writing,” she says. “I was working 24/7. No distractions. No movies, no books, nothing that could take my mind off the tragedy for a fragment of time.
“Working on something tangible surely helped me,” she continues. “But, conversely, I was also immersed in this constantly. I couldn't get away from it.”
Her desire is that the book will stand as “a testimonial, a tribute to all the victims and to Beirut itself.”
And while her earlier admission that she is “not optimistic” still stands, Ziadé does have hope for Lebanon and its people.
“Without hope, you stop living and watching the news,” she says. “There are people who no longer want to hear about what is going on. But I believe there is always the possibility of doing something.
“The reconstruction work is well underway,” she continues. “We will get through this.”
Adapted from an article originally published by Arab News France: https://arab.news/wnywd.
A Chinese tea and dim sum masterclass at London’s Yauatcha restaurant in Riyadh
Experience authentic Oriental culture in the heart of Riyadh
Updated 14 min 23 sec ago
RIYADH: Yauatcha promises a “fine dining experience that fuses dim sum, mixology, tea, and European patisserie.”
Since opening its flagship location in London in 2004, Yauatcha has expanded globally, opening in Mumbai and Bengaluru too, and then in Riyadh just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year (it reopened in June 2020).
Now the restaurant is offering a new “Art of Tea” masterclass. It’s a perfect couple’s activity — but not a particularly family-friendly one as kids will likely get bored quickly — and a fascinating introduction to the complex world of Chinese teas.
The masterclass is a private 45-minute experience that takes guests through a selection of traditional, authentic Chinese teas. You’ll discover the soft and subtle notes behind the leaves, the proper brewing and serving techniques, along with dim sum pairings that help accentuate the flavor profiles of each tea. Apart from tasting a wide variety of teas, you’ll also learn about their origins and history, and the range of health benefits that traditional Chinese medicine attributes to each blend.
The exclusive one-on-one masterclass is hosted in the restaurant’s rooftop bar and focuses on five types of tea: white tea, green tea, blue oolong tea, black tea, and a flavored dark tea.
Our sommelier and beverage manager Jegaan was hugely experienced and took us step-by-step through the masterclass, answering questions and sharing personal anecdotes along the way. By the end of the class, we’d learned a lot of valuable information about the proper brewing techniques — such as the correct temperatures to bring out the true flavors and hidden notes of the teas. What made the masterclass so enjoyable was how interactive and personal it felt. This wasn't a lecture about teas and their origins; it was an experience that allowed us to immerse ourselves in Chinese culture.
The Art of Tea Masterclass is only available between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. through reservation and costs SAR250 (roughly $65).
For the same price, you can also treat yourself to the Yauatcha afternoon tea, which combines a classic European high tea with a blend of Eastern flavors. We would definitely recommend booking a table on the restaurant’s patio overlooking downtown Riyadh so that when the staff present a patisserie selection in an impressive ladder display you have the picture-perfect Insta-moment — especially if you time it for sunset.
From the variety of teas on offer, we selected the French Earl Grey (Golden Swan and Harmutty were also available), which is infused with citrus flavors and blue cornflower, giving an aromatic and soothing blend.
The afternoon tea included two types of dim sum platter. The classic steamed contained shrimp (har gau), scallops siu main and seafood black truffle dumplings, all of which were delicious, offering a blend of seafood and umami flavors with a hint of truffles and mushrooms — a great option for seafood lovers.
The baked dim sum platter consisted of sesame prawn toast, mushroom spring roll, and venison puff. The latter was the highlight — the warm venison nestled in the flakiest puff imaginable.
The extensive dessert options offered something for everyone. The lemon crème with sables Breton (salted-butter cookies) gave a sweet citrus hit, for example, while the pecan coffee cube was a deep, rich, nutty delight.
The standout dessert, though, was the hazelnut yuzu chocolate bag — a mini handbag made of chocolate and hazelnut with a yuzu bar tucked inside. Not only is it a delicious use of the East Asian yuzu fruit (a hybrid citrus fruit), but the floral-decorated mini chocolate handbag gives you another perfect Instagram picture.
The afternoon tea runs from noon to 8 p.m., and we would recommend booking after 3 p.m. if you’re going to sit outdoors.
With its blend of authentic culture and delicious flavors — topped off with several stunning photo opportunities — we’re sure Yauatcha will continue to be as popular in Riyadh as it has proved to be elsewhere.
The return of tourist season also brings a financial breath of fresh air to Los Angeles
Updated 24 June 2021
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 multidisciplinary designer discusses her collaboration with fellow Saudi artist Alya Al-Qarni, which was showcased at the third edition of Cairotronica in late April
Updated 24 June 2021
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
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
Updated 23 June 2021
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.