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
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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.


Model Gigi Hadid walks Tod’s runway in Milan

Model Gigi Hadid walks Tod’s runway in Milan
Updated 24 September 2021

Model Gigi Hadid walks Tod’s runway in Milan

Model Gigi Hadid walks Tod’s runway in Milan

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Gigi Hadid on Friday walked the runway for Italian luxury label Tod’s show at Milan Fashion Week.

For the opening of the fashion show, the catwalk star wore an off-white zip-up coat dress with camel pocket-detailing, pairing her outfit with a matching bag and bulky sandals.

The catwalk star wore an off-white zip-up coat dress with camel pocket-detailing, pairing her outfit with a matching bag and bulky sandals. (Getty)

Her closing look was a vibrant see-through orange raincoat that she wore over a plain white dress.

The brand presented its spring/summer 2022 women’s collection at the event that was attended by some of the Arab world’s leading celebrities including Tunisian model Rym Saidi Breidy, and TV presenter Diala Makki.

Mom-of-one Hadid, who recently made headlines for her 2021 Met Gala look, opted for a monochrome look by Italian label Prada.

look was a vibrant see-through orange raincoat that she wore over a plain white dress. (Getty)

The off-the-shoulder design was sleek and form-fitting, and Hadid rounded it off with a pair of black tights. In true vampy style, she relaced her usually blonde locks with flowing auburn hair, which was secured with a dazzling black brooch atop her head. Over-the-elbow black leather gloves completed the glamorous look.

The supermodel and her singer partner, Zayn Malik, also celebrated the first birthday of their daughter Khai.


Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen
Updated 24 September 2021

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

DUBAI: US superstar Beyonce is the latest A-list celebrity to step out wearing Lebanese footwear designer Andrea Wazen’s creations. 

The singer, songwriter and actress, who celebrated her 40th birthday earlier this month, shared a series of images on Instagram on Thursday championing Wazen’s Dassy PVC pumps, transparent pointy-toed heels with white detailing.

In the pictures, the “Crazy in Love” singer modeled a glittering green cocktail dress with floral appliqués by renowned Italian luxury label Dolce & Gabbana. 

She had her hair in a slicked-back ponytail.

The “Crazy in Love” singer modeled a glittering green cocktail dress with floral appliqués by renowned Italian luxury label Dolce & Gabbana. (Supplied)

The pictures showed Beyonce vacationing with her husband, US rapper Jay Z.

It’s no secret that Wazen is one of the most in-demand footwear designers today. The Lebanese designer launched her namesake label in Beirut in 2013 and has since gone on to grab the attention of world-famous superstars. 

Her strappy sandals, leather boots and tulle-ruffled slingbacks have been spotted on a broad spectrum of stars that include Hailey Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Addison Rae, Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and more.


Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats
Updated 24 September 2021

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats
  • Global ‘Catwalk’ scheduled for November will ‘form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles’

DUBAI: In an effort to raise awareness of endangered big cats and their ecosystems, the US-based independent non-profit foundation Catmosphere is hosting a worldwide ‘Catwalk’ on November 6 in a bid to get people moving and simultaneously benefit the world’s big cats.

Catmosphere was launched in July by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, who is on a mission to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of big cats. Catmosphere aims to magnify the efforts of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted to the conservation of 40 species of wild cats.

“Catmosphere is a catalyst for change. Its campaigns and activations are (intended) to build momentum globally around big cat conservation,” Princess Reema told Arab News. “I first understood the threat to the future of big cats when I learned about Panthera’s work in Saudi Arabia with the Royal Commission of AlUla, where they are researching the status of the Arabian leopard in the Kingdom with a view to forging a path for its recovery in the region.”

Catmosphere aims to magnify the efforts of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted to the conservation of 40 species of wild cats. (Shutterstock)

Many species of big cats are now facing extinction. Catmosphere focuses on Panthera’s conservation efforts covering seven big cat species: Tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, pumas, leopards, and snow leopards.

“The future of big cats is under threat, primarily due to diminishing habitats,” Princess Reema said. “Accordingly, Catwalk is striving for a healthy habitat for big cats, and healthy habitats start at home. A healthy and active lifestyle helps us respect our own bodies, and engaging with our environment gives us an appreciation for the fundamental role it plays in all of life. Catwalk invites us all to ignite physical movement locally, and in doing so trigger the big cat conservation movement globally.”

Princess Reema, who sits on the boards of both the Catmosphere foundation and Panthera’s Conservation Council, is actively involved in Catwalk as part of the leadership team.

Many species of big cats are now facing extinction. (Shutterstock)

It hopes to rally supporters around the world to take part in the global, mass-participation seven-kilometer walk on Nov. 6.

The event is open to everyone and can be completed in whatever way works best for the participant, wherever they are in the world. What is unique about the event is its link between building awareness about big cats, the environment and the importance of one’s own health, wellbeing and physical fitness.

“The global mass-participation activity aims to form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles, and brings together my own past experiences in campaign curation,” Princess Reema said. “I’m excited to work with different stakeholders all around the globe to map a path for scalable, inclusive campaign delivery that demonstrates how igniting a movement locally can result in meaningful change, ensuring the wellbeing and continuation of big cat populations globally.”

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud is on a mission to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of big cats. (AFP)

Princess Reema stressed that the pandemic has impacted the world’s experience of both wildlife and community.

According to the World Health Organization, 24 percent of all human deaths are attributable to environmental factors. A quarter of the world’s population is at risk due to insufficient exercise in increasingly sedentary societies. Big cats are even more dependent on their environments than humans.

Panthera has warned that important species are threatened by habitat loss, and that the tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah have lost between 65 percent and 96 percent of their historical numbers.

The seven-kilometer walk will take place on Nov. 6. (Supplied)

“The reality of the pandemic and the experience that the whole world has just had of separation and isolation from human communities due to COVID-19 is very much what was done to the big cats when we cut off their territorial corridors and isolated them from their natural habitats in nature,” Princess Reema said.

“Just as we have seen that impact on us, imagine what that impact has been on them. Catwalk is hoping to highlight a very simple fact: That our collective wellbeing is interconnected, and so it is incumbent on all of us to operate through empathy and provide spaces that we as humans would want to live and thrive in, and ensure the same for big cats,” she added.

As Princess Reema underlines, given the challenges presented by the pandemic over the past 18 months, now is the time to reassess our relationship with nature and as well as that “between a healthy person and a healthy environment, to showcase the potential that each of us has to ensure a healthy future for big cats, too.”


Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 

 Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 
Updated 24 September 2021

Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 

 Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 
  • ‘We have other stories to tell besides chaos,’ says Shahnaz Dulaimy

DUBAI: When Iraqi film editor Shahnaz Dulaimy was a university student, an academic counsellor advised her to pursue heavyweight majors such as economics and business management — the kind of thing a typical family would approve of — and not her desired option, film. 

Instead, Dulaimy, who was raised in Jordan, did the complete opposite. She moved to Rome, where classic movies including “La Dolce Vita” and “Roman Holiday” were shot, and studied film history and production. 

“There’s such a stigma around (working in creative sectors),” she tells Arab News. “When you hear people talking about actors and actresses, for example, they make it sound like such a demeaning job. But, at the same time, everyone sits in front of the TV, watching the latest TV series or films. There’s still this (disparaging attitude) towards the film industry. Luckily, there are more people pushing it, but I don’t think it’s 100 percent where it needs to be.”

Dulaimy was raised in Jordan. (Supplied)

In London, where she now lives, she co-founded the Independent Iraqi Film Festival along with like-minded cinema-loving Iraqis. The volunteer-run, online event launched last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and notched up around 5,000 views. Dulaimy calls it a “passion project,” highlighting talent from emerging and established Iraqi filmmakers. 

“We wanted to see films that reflect us and our identity. Iraqi cinema is generally underrepresented on the international circuit,” she says. “What we had aimed to do is to provide a platform dedicated to showcasing Iraqi films.” 

The organizers of the IIFF were so overwhelmed by support from both viewers and filmmakers that they decided to go for a second run. Between October 1 and 7, the IIFF will present a curated program of 15 feature films and a series of talks featuring three well-known industry figures: American-Iraqi visual artist Michael Rakowitz, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, and Iraqi set designer Mohammed Khalid. 

Among the featured films this year is “Iraqi Women: Voices from Exile,” made in the 1990s by London-based director Maysoon Pachachi. (Supplied)

This time around, more than 90 film submissions were received, which made Dulaimy and her colleagues realize more than ever the responsibility they bear. “I think it shifted from being just a passion project to more of a duty towards the Iraqi community in Iraq and the diaspora,” she says. 

To make the festival as accessible as possible, all its offerings will be freely available for streaming worldwide and subtitled in English. The filmmakers did not have to pay any submission fee either. 

“The moment you ask people to pay, there’s a wall. You’re kind of blocking people, you’re blocking talent,” she says. The selected independent films, created by both men and women who live inside and outside of the country, reflect the diversity of Iraqi society, as well as the struggles people encounter and their hopes and dreams. There is a particular focus on telling the stories of the marginalized — specifically women and minorities. 

“Iraq is not a one-layered country,” notes Dulaimy. “It’s a multi-dimensional, multi-textured culture. You’ve got everyone from the Kurds in northern Iraq to the Assyrians and Yazidis. It’s so important that everyone gets an equal voice. Iraqis are not just Arabic-speaking, Baghdad-born-and-raised Arabs.” Among the featured films this year is “Iraqi Women: Voices from Exile,” made in the 1990s by London-based director Maysoon Pachachi, and Ali Raheem’s 2015 documentary “Balanja,” about four Kurdish people overcoming the pains of the past. 

Over the past couple of decades, the image the outside world has of Iraq has been one of warfare, terror, and destruction. But, Dulaimy points out, Iraq has much more to offer to the world. 

“Iraq is not just a war-torn zone, where people are struggling on a daily basis. We have other stories to tell besides the political disarray and chaos. I think we’re ready to move on from that, we don’t want to keep playing the victims. I feel the time for us to move on is now,” she says. “I hope audiences also take into consideration how difficult it is to shoot a film. You’re not going to see a polished, dazzling film. What you’re going to see is raw, social, realist films. I just want people to go into the festival with open eyes and ears.”


REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 
Updated 24 September 2021

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

DUBAI: Growing up in a rural town in Australia, Robin Wiltshire was, in his own words, “the runt of the litter.” His authoritarian grandfather said he would never amount to anything, and Wiltshire — unable to read and write aged 10 — believed him. His grandfather was wrong, though. Wiltshire is now one of the most respected horse trainers in the world, and has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. 

The new short Netflix documentary “My Heroes Were Cowboys” tells how Wiltshire — inspired by a love of Westerns and a fascination with horses — moved to the US in the Seventies, dreaming of working with animals on movie sets. His timing was not great. “Star Wars” had just come out and Westerns were rapidly going out of fashion. However, Wiltshire found a home in Wyoming (director Tyler Greco shows, through sweeping panoramas of breathtaking landscape, why Wiltshire was so struck by Wyoming’s beauty), and began working with horses. In his understated drawl, Wiltshire explains how his third horse, Juniper, “changed my life completely” and briefly breaks down when describing his friend’s death. 

Wiltshire’s big break came with a commercial for Marlboro cigarettes, and he has gone on to work on countless advertising campaigns, TV shows and movies. But “My Heroes Were Cowboys” spends little time celebrating Wiltshire’s showbiz career and connections. Instead, it focuses on Wiltshire’s lifetime spent building an unparalleled understanding of horses. And the horses are its real stars.

Greco captures their majesty, grace and intelligence with the same empathy Wiltshire uses to build his relationships with animals that often arrive at his ranch traumatized and distressed. Wiltshire uses no physical coercion; he simply allows the animals to be themselves and shows them he can be trusted. They repay his trust by allowing themselves to be directed by him.

This beautifully shot doc packs more into its 27-minute runtime than many feature films manage in a couple of hours. It’s a triumph of storytelling and a tribute to the bond of unquestioning love that can exist between humans and animals when the latter are treated with the respect they deserve.