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

London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia
1 / 2
Grace & Poise Academy aims to offer ballet to the Muslim community in an artistic way. (Photo: Guy Corbishley)
London ballet school looks to expand to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia
2 / 2
Grace & Poise Academy aims to offer ballet to the Muslim community in an artistic way. (Photo: Guy Corbishley)
Short Url
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.      


Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced
Winner of the 2020 Ithra Art Prize, “Rakhm” by Fahad Bin Naif. Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

DUBAI: The jury for the 4th edition of the Ithra Art Prize has been revealed.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has announced a panel of seven international art experts as the jury for the prize.

They are Abdullah K. Al-Turki, board member of the Ad-Diriyah Biennale Foundation; Dr. Ridha Moumni, historian of art and archaeology; Brahim Alaoui, former director of the museum of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and  Salwa Mikdadi, Director of Al-Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art (NYUAD).

They will be joined by Amal Khalaf, curator, artist and Director of Programs at Cubitt and Civic Curator at the Serpentine Galleries in London; Clare Davies, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museums and Exhibits at Ithra.

The jury are responsible for evaluating submissions for the contemporary art prize, which is open to artists from or based in the 22 Arab League countries, with the winner receiving a financial grant of up to $100,000 in commission of a singular work of art. 

Individual artists and collectives are invited to submit a proposal for the Ithra Art Prize by Aug. 13, 2021, with the winner being announced on Aug. 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, the winning piece will be unveiled at Ad-Diriyah Biennale, the Kingdom’s first biennale, scheduled to be held between Dec. 7 and March 7, 2022.

The winner will join the likes of UAE-based Saudi artist Ayman Zeidani, whose project “Meem” won the inaugural edition of the Ithra Art Prize in 2018, 2019 winner, Dania Al-Saleh and Fahad Bin Naif, who won the 2020 prize for his artwork “Rakhm.”


Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition
Ard El Ewa (2015/2016). Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

DUBAI: Two large, brightly colored textile-based sculptures hang like gigantic carpets. The only thing distinguishing them from what could be a meticulously woven rug is that various textiles are sewn together and supported by structures, like sails. These artworks by Cairo-based Ibrahim Ahmed are some of the main features in his first solo US museum show “It Will Always Come Back to You” at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The show features a thematic selection of Ahmed’s work from 2013 to 2020, produced using a variety of media, including primarily textile-based sculpture, painting and photo collage exploring issues related to migration, colonialism and the Global South — regions outside of Europe and North America that have historically been politically and culturally marginalized.

Only Dreamers Leave (2016). Supplied

Two works of art are the most expansive in the show: “Only Dreamers Leave” (2016) and “Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Embroidered onto the conglomeration of diverse textiles are gold patterns that refer to baroque and arabesque iron gates, symbols of wealth and power in Egypt. Staged in opposite areas of the exhibition, the works are in dialogue with each other while also relaying Ahmed’s missive for the exhibition: to explore the myths surrounding migration to the Global North and contemporary representations of the nation-state.

The artist himself is a product of such migration. Born in Kuwait in 1984 and of Egyptian heritage, Ahmed spent his childhood between Bahrain and Egypt, before moving to the US with his family at the age of 13. In 2014, he moved back to Cairo, where he currently lives and works in the informal working-class neighborhood of Ard El Lewa. 

Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Supplied

The first work visitors see is the multimedia “Does Anybody Leave Heaven,” located in the foyer of the museum and comprising a textile-based piece, video, sound and a series of photographs. It was inspired by Ahmed’s return from the US to Egypt in 2014. The work, in the form of an assemblage tapestry (32x10 feet), is made with textile found in Egyptian streets, such as bags, clothing and other items, which have then been printed onto the “flag” in addition to other miscellaneous elements from the US.

In the Ard El Lewa neighborhood, Ahmed lives among Egyptians who have not been able to travel outside of Egypt. “When I tell them I chose to leave the US, they always ask me: ‘Does anybody leave heaven?’” he told Arab News. “The piece looks at the US as an empire and a cultural soft power, which is reflected in the objects accumulated over a period of time in Egypt that have US flags on them.”

Displayed outside the museum is the artist’s 2016 installation “Only Dreamers Leave,” an installation made of 30 sails, first displayed in Dakar, Senegal in 2018 during the Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Incorporated into the sails are 30 flags representing countries — the 28 EU members in addition to Canada and the US. Through this work, Ahmed demonstrates how the fantasies and dreams the countries evoke lure migrants away from their communal homes to other nations. The sails are made from porous and heavy materials associated with domestic and manual labor —jobs that migrants usually obtain as soon as they arrive in their new land.

Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020). Supplied

The exhibition also includes a specially commissioned work for VCU titled “Nobody Knows Anything About Them” (2019). The largest of the chandelier series to date, it is also constructed from found materials. A common practice in Cairo, says Ahmed, is to store unused materials on rooftops, a habit driven by the uncertainty of the future. “People have a tendency to conserve things that would otherwise have been discarded,” he explained.

In another room, works from Ahmed’s masculinity project can be found. These include “Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020) and “Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020), works that move from the physicality of the artist’s body to incorporate social and historical frames of reference, largely through the use of archival family photos that span 50 years. The images, the majority of which were taken by Ahmed’s father, show cars, national monuments, military parades, and museums. The photographs date from the Nasser era and map the artist’s father’s trajectory from farm boy in the Nile Delta to banker in the US, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other locations throughout the north and south of Egypt that his many business trips took him to.

Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020). Supplied

“These works, like the title, aim to show how these macro-politics exist because we are all carrying these legacies with us,” he tells Arab News. “My practice has been to look at myself closely to manifest the discourses that I come across through my art. I am looking at this idea of falsified borders, past and present, and how they negate the idea of division because, in the end, everything in the world is very much interconnected.”

“Ibrahim Ahmed: It Will Always Come Back to You” runs until Nov. 28, 2021.


Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 August 2021

Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
  • Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them

JEDDAH: Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues.
Art can be a calming activity that some take on as a hobby or make a living, while it can also be part of a therapeutic approach used by mental health professionals to heal and treat those in need.
The stigma of seeking professional help has declined in the past few years in the Kingdom and psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.
Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them.

Anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses.

Rawan Bajsair, Art therapist

Rawan Bajsair, a registered and board-certified art therapist in Jeddah, described it as a playful, non-threatening and non-invasive approach to tap into someone’s psyche.
“Art therapy is super effective. It’s a field that’s very hard to explain in words how effective it is, but I think anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses,” she told Arab News.
She spoke of two cases she helped to treat while in the US early in her career. One of her earliest clients in art therapy was a 55-year-old woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

HIGHLIGHT

Psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.

“She’d been hospitalized a number of times and went through different kinds of therapy until she landed on art therapy, which she continued practicing for 12 years. She truly showed me the therapeutic power of creativity and art through her work and experience with this form of therapy,” she said, adding that the success lay in how the client felt protected while having the freedom to express herself.
One of the most significant cases she worked on was with a 19-year-old male, who chose to be called Felix, who she treated in rehab.
She said clients that come to the clinic are usually defensive due to their court mandate. “When Felix first joined my art therapy group he was like most of the clients — none of them really wanted to make art, they thought it was childish.”
After offering some tools and explaining the process of experimenting without any expectation of the product, “some people would just play around with the tools and not actually make anything out of it, and that on its own is therapeutic.”
In the case of Felix, one of the things she offered him was a rubber stamp that printed out jars.
“I just demonstrated how he could use it and I noticed week by week he would place a print on more jars and he would experiment on different kinds of paper and it was really therapeutic at the time for him because when you think about printmaking, you really put the weight of your body into it, and there’s some kind of release that comes with painting that can be really healing, especially for past traumas.”
Felix printed jars that stayed empty for weeks and then would add something little inside the jar every week using different art materials.
“As the weeks went by, I looked at his artwork and I would see him putting his materials in these jars and he’d put some of his graffiti tag names onto them,” she said.
“Towards the end he looked at me and said: ‘So this is a safe space?’ He was talking about the jars and that’s when I got the idea of a whole book chapter that I wrote (Art Therapy Practices for Resilient Youth) about how clients can find safe spaces within these jars, whether its substance use patients or those who suffered trauma, a safe space is one of the biggest and most important component of psychotherapy.”
Educating the public through art is another aspect of using art as a medium.
Shahad Al-Sonare, 27, a clinical psychologist, believes that art is a tool to relay information and get your message across. “I usually draw to express my own feelings, so I decided to express the feelings of my patients. I convey their pain through my art to educate the world on these cases. I’ll be their medium,” she told Arab News.
Over the past two years she has drawn six pieces of art that embody her patients’ experiences, and said she will use the art as a means of education.
For issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities, she has found that by incorporating it into her work she is able to embody her patients struggles in a way that can be understood without the need for words.
In 2020 and 2021, Al-Sonare’s experience of teaching an autistic child in a classroom full of non-autistic children motivated her to raise awareness about autism.
“The school and other teachers didn’t understand his condition; he is actually very smart. It was sad to witness that I was the only one (teacher) who knew that there is nothing wrong with the child’s learning ability.”
“I was his eyes, ears and tongue. I was trying to educate all teachers, admins and principals on such cases. I experienced his pain through this experience and when I drew the autism piece, I wrote, ‘I’m not different, I’m just unique,’” Al-Sonare said.
“I feel like the best way someone could explain psychological cases is through pictures. Just like the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ it’s more descriptive and opens the viewer’s heart to the case,’ she said.


UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
Updated 31 July 2021

UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

DUBAI: Curators Sarah Daher and Anna Bernice just unveiled a playful exhibition in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue featuring 38 UAE-based artists.

The exhibition, titled “After the Beep,” was the culmination of a two-month long creative exercise with the artists, in which they were asked to participate in a reactive creative exercise where they responded with new work to the work of another artist in the spirit of the childhood game “Broken Telephone.”

All artists only saw the one work that was produced directly before them in the chain and were given 48 hours from seeing the work to submit their new artworks.

The show, which closed on July 31 and was staged at Satellite gallery, featured 40 artworks from artists including Andrew Riad, Athoub Albusaily, Rabab Tantawy, Danabelle Gutierrez, Mashael Alsaie and Maryam Al-Huraiz, among others.

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

Co-curator Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. Meanwhile, Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai who also graduated with a BA from New York University Abu Dhabi.

According to the press release, “the organizers were intrigued to discover what creating looks like without the pressure of perfection, and to explore how creative inspiration transcends through different artworks and artists.”

The open call for artist participation was released in May 2021 via Instagram under the title “Telephone.”

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

“Three months of working with a very special group of 38 artists has produced a fantastically rich body of new work culminating in what might be the largest group show Dubai has seen in recent years,” Daher commented on Instagram about the show.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

 


What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 31 July 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Singularity

Photo/Supplied
  • The bars and wafers used are locally made and come in an array of different sizes

Singularity is the creation of Nourah Al-Naim, a young Saudi artist who aims to spread her admiration and love for art through chocolate.
Al-Naim presents chocolate bars and wafers packaged in wrappers decorated with an array of watercolors.
The arty chocolate is entertaining, decorative, and very suitable for use as gifts. Each one has a unique hand-painted wrapper for different occasions and seasons, and Al-Naim also offers customized designs.
The bars and wafers used are locally made and come in an array of different sizes. Larger orders can even be delivered with a platter stand for display. For more information visit Instagram @singularity_chocopaint