Playwright Sara Shaarawi on her ‘revenge drama’ ‘Niqabi Ninja’

Playwright Sara Shaarawi on her ‘revenge drama’ ‘Niqabi Ninja’
The origins of “Niqabi Ninja” lie in a monologue Shaarawi created having been asked to write a piece on women in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 July 2021

Playwright Sara Shaarawi on her ‘revenge drama’ ‘Niqabi Ninja’

Playwright Sara Shaarawi on her ‘revenge drama’ ‘Niqabi Ninja’
  • Fantasy about a vigilante superhero was written in response to mob sexual assaults in Cairo

AMSTERDAM: “It’s not a happy story.” Scotland-based Cairo-born playwright Sara Shaarawi is talking about “Niqabi Ninja,” her two-person play that is currently being ‘staged’ in London as part of Shubbak Festival — a celebration of contemporary Arab arts and culture — before moving on to five cities in Scotland. “It’s a revenge drama.”

The origins of “Niqabi Ninja” lie in a monologue Shaarawi created in 2013, having been asked to write a piece on women in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. At first, Shaarawi says, she was “wary, particularly because I wasn’t one of them.” She had been in Cairo at the time of revolution, but “I wasn’t on the frontline.”

“I’m not trying to exploit anyone’s trauma to make audiences feel bad or guilty — I’m not into that type of theater at all,” she stresses. “And I didn’t want to play into the Western gaze of people from the Middle East and North Africa — the very narrow roles of refugee, or revolutionary, or terrorist — I didn’t want to slot into that.”

'Niqabi Ninja' writer Sara Shaarawi. (Beth Chalmers)

But having heard about the mob sexual assaults that were rife in and around Tahrir Square at the time of the uprising, and in many of the protests over the years that followed, she decided to write a piece “about a young woman who’s (listing) all of the things that have happened to her throughout her life — the constant stares and cat calls and humiliation and objectification and sexualization — and who decides, when the mob sexual assaults happen, to buy a niqab and go out there and get her revenge.”

The monologue was well-received, and Shaarawi was encouraged to turn it into an hour-long piece, which is when it began to morph into its current form.

One of the illustrations created by Gehan Mounir for the play. (Supplied)

“I’d written the monologue in a moment of fury,” Shaarawi says. “But I realized that what I was interested in, and what I’m trying to do, is connect how we’ve normalized behaviors like commenting on a stranger’s body… these things that people see as harmless because they haven’t physically hurt you, these things where we’ve said, ‘Well, boys will be boys. This is how things are.’ And by normalizing all of this, of course something like the mob sexual assaults in Tahrir were going to happen. It’s the natural end (when) they keep getting away with it until they think they can do whatever they want. That’s really what the play became about.”

In “Niqabi Ninja,” Hana, an illustrator who is creating a comic book about all of her scariest experiences of being sexualized or objectified by men, especially in public spaces, is ‘in conversation’ with the title character she has created, who is, Shaarawi says, “her shadow self, her fantastical alter ego — incredibly violent, really egging her on. A character that says all the things she wouldn’t say, basically. A narcissistic superhero. She’s very obsessed about how she looks and what weapons she’s going to have and what she’s going to do to the men —smashing people’s faces in and stuff like that. It’s a really dark character. But it’s a fantasy, at the end of the day. The whole play is really about her journey to becoming this superhero vigilante that she’s created in her head. So by the end she becomes the Niqabi Ninja.” She pauses. “Spoiler, sorry.”

Juliana Yazbeck recording her role in 'Niqabi Ninja.' (Supplied)

The current ‘theater’ for “Niqabi Ninja” is actually the city streets. The audience is equipped with MP3 players and headphones and guided through a set route while listening to a recording of the play performed by Rebecca Banatvala and Juliana Yazbeck, soundtracked by Egyptian composer and oudist BalQeis. The route is dotted with illustrations from Hana’s comic book by Egyptian artist Gehan Mounir.

As Shaarawi said, “Niqabi Ninja” is not a happy story. But there is humor in it, albeit very dark. And Shaarawi takes pains to stress that it is a fantasy, rather than a proposal for a practical solution to the issues it addresses.

Rebecca Banatvala recording her role in 'Niqabi Ninja.' (Supplied)

Still, even though the play was written in response to a very particular moment in Egypt, it has clearly resonated with women from outside of the Arab world too. And while any writer should be proud that their work can strike a chord with so many, Shaarawi isn’t especially glad about it.

“Every year the subject matter is still urgent and relevant. It just doesn’t stop,” she says. “Every reading it’s had, both in Scotland and in London, women come up to me and thank me afterwards. No matter what background or heritage they have, they relate to it. It has that universality. Its themes are still fresh in our experience, and that makes me really sad.”

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala
The menu for this year's Met Gala is a collective effort by10 New York-based chefs. Supplied
Updated 10 min 27 sec ago

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

DUBAI: For the first time, the Met Gala is introducing a sustainable plant-based menu for its annual event taking place this year on Sept. 13, 2021. 

Guests will be treated to a healthy dinner curated by a group of 10 notable New York-based chefs and Instagram influencers, handpicked by Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson and Bon Appétit.

Among the chefs selected is US-Ethiopian Fariyal Abdullahi and American-Iranian Nasim Alikhani.

Abdullahi is the culinary manager of R+D Kitchen in Dallas, while Alikhani spearheads a hot spot in Brooklyn, New York, called Sofreh.

They join other New York-based chefs, cookbook authors and culinary enthusiasts Emma Bengtsson, Lazarus Lynch, Junghyun Park, Erik Ramirez, Thomas Raquel, Sophia Roe, Simone Tong and Fabian von Hauske.

“I am honored to participate in an initiative that highlights the incredible work of these 10 New York chefs at the Met Gala,” said Samuelsson in a press release issued from the Met. 

“After a difficult two years for the restaurant industry, this will showcase the work and tell the stories of a dynamic group of chefs while presenting an exciting menu of delicious, plant-based dishes. The gala offers an incomparable opportunity for emerging talent to elevate their careers and share their perspectives and craft.”

In the weeks leading up to the gala, the 10 chefs will share plant-based recipes via Instagram Reels, powered by a partnership with the photo-sharing social media platform.

The Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala that celebrates New York’s the Costume Institute’s new exhibition on a changing theme. It typically occurs on the first Monday in May, however, due to COVID-19, it is set to take place as a smaller affair on Sept. 13.

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad
Bella Hadid is one of the most in-demand models in the world at the moment. File/ Getty Images
Updated 03 August 2021

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

DUBAI: Noughties fashion is back, and it doesn’t appear like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Whether it was Blumarine’s Paris Hilton-inspired Fall 2021 collection or the recent resurgence of Ed Hardy, the fabulously gaudy and over-the-top aesthetic of the 2000s in fashion is inescapable. Some of the decade’s most notorious brands have also made a return, including denim label Miss Sixty, which is now being fronted by Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid. 

This week, the brand unveiled its Fall 2021 campaign, which featured the 24-year-old catwalk star rocking a blond bob and striking various poses while wearing pieces from the label’s most recent collection, which included a long-sleeve striped T-shirt emblazoned with the brand's name on the bottom paired with form-hugging black pants and a silver chain belt.

Bella Hadid for Miss Sixty's Fall 2021 campaign. Instagram

The Miss Sixty brand was one of the top labels to define millennium-era style and was wildly popular in the 2000s, with celebrities including Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton and Hilary Duff rocking their low-rise jeans and statement belts.

After fading out of style in the last decade, the denim brand made a resurgence earlier this year, tapping Hadid to serve as the face of Miss Sixty last February.

Hadid announced the exciting news via Instagram earlier this year. 

“Just signed my newest contract as the face of @misssixty,” she wrote at the time. “I have so many vintage pieces that I have collected over the years and I can’t wait to pair it all with the new! This is a dream, I’m so excited to see what we do together in the future!”


A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Indeed, Hadid certainly is a fitting choice for the revival of Miss Sixty.

In addition to being one of the most in-demand models in the world, Hadid is also known for taking past, and often-times polarizing, fashion trends from the early 2000s and making them look fresh again.

From bedazzled cropped T-shirts and flared jeans to monogrammed baguette bags and newspaper boy caps, there’s almost no defining Y2K fashion trend that Hadid hasn’t rocked in weeks past. All that is really needed to complete her looks is a hot pink Motorola Razr or an iPod Nano.

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.”

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood
Model Josephine Skriver has walked the runway for a variety of high-end labels. Instagram
Updated 02 August 2021

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

DUBAI: Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver is the latest celebrity to be spotted toting a design by Dubai-based accessories label L’Afshar.

Each of L’Afshar’s covetable box bags and clutches are meticulously handcrafted by Esmod graduate Lilian L’Afshar in her Dubai-based studio. 

The label’s handmade lucite clutches are instantly recognizable by their unique, structured designs and use of marbled resin and intricate mirror-work.

The brand’s clutches have been sported by everyone from Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid to Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

The British-born Iranian designer founded her eponymous label in 2014.

She discovered her flair for bag design accidentally while making a last-minute black and red, transparent acrylic clutch for her graduation collection while studying at Esmod.


A post shared by L'AFSHAR (@lilianafshar)

Today, her mini-bags are a constant on international red carpets.

Skriver, 28, attended the 2021 Sports Illustrated issue release celebration at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, and for the occasion wore a metallic feather-trimmed mini dress, which she paired with L’Afshar’s Elle bag in silver mirror.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Danish model.

Shortly after the Sports Illustrated issue release event, Skriver touched down in Croatia with fellow models Shanina Shaik, Sara Sampaio, Lais Ribiero, Romee Strijd and Taylor Hill to celebrate close friend Jasmine Tookes’ upcoming marriage with Snapchat’s Juan David Borrero.

The stylish friend group attended the future bride’s bachelorette party this week in Hvar, an idyllic island in Croatia. 

Tookes and Borrero got engaged in September 2020 and are set to get married in Borrero’s home country of Ecuador, but due to COVID-19 the exact wedding date is yet to be announced.  

Tookes is set to tie the knot in a wedding gown by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. 


A post shared by Jasmine Tookes (@jastookes)

The model originally teased the news following Murad’s Fall 2021 couture show in Paris, where she was sat front row. “Ten years ago, I used to walk his couture shows and now I wear his dresses on almost every red carpet. Something even more special is coming very soon,” she wrote on Instagram.

More recently, the model revealed via Instagram that she got to “see and try on my finished wedding dress. It is beyond everything I ever imagined.” 

The Raas Balbek-born couturier simply commented with three red heart emojis.

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.