Indian grandma, 78, conquers martial arts, hearts to keep ancient practice alive

Indian grandma, 78, conquers martial arts, hearts to keep ancient practice alive
Meenakshi ‘Amma,’ Raghavan, 78, executes the Kalari martial arts technique at the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham school in the southern state of Kerala. (Jaimi R.J)
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Updated 07 October 2021

Indian grandma, 78, conquers martial arts, hearts to keep ancient practice alive

Indian grandma, 78, conquers martial arts, hearts to keep ancient practice alive
  • Meenakshi Raghavan is India’s first woman grandmaster in Kalaripayattu

NEW DELHI: As she wiped off the beads of sweat from her forehead with the tail of her crisp cotton saree before wrapping it around her waist and tucking it back in, Meenakshi Raghavan signaled Neha D. to launch her next move.

Both were barefoot in a muddy pit, their bodies hunched and eyes locked, ready to fight, only Raghavan had one advantage over her 13-year-old opponent.

At 78 years old, and India’s first woman grandmaster of Kalaripayattu — a near 3,000-year-old martial arts technique — she has been training in the craft from the age of seven.

But her tutor’s experience did not faze teenager Neha, who has trained with Amma (mother) at her school in Kerala, in southern India, for more than a year.

“Amma inspired my family and me to train in Kalaripayattu,” Neha told Arab News from Vadakara village in a district of Kerala where Raghavan’s late husband founded the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham martial arts school in 1949.

“For me, Kalaripayattu is a lifestyle. It not only helps me gain physical strength and confidence but makes my body supple and flexible for dance,” she added.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, Raghavan trains hundreds of students similar to Neha in Kalaripayattu (also known as Kalari and which means, art of the battlefield), reviving the practice and empowering her community by teaching self-defense techniques.

The first written reference to Kalari dates back to the third century B.C. It originated in Kerala and is a mix of dance and yoga based on speed, rhythm, balance, sharpness, and other factors, but can include weapons such as swords, shields, and staffs.

FASTFACT

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, Raghavan trains hundreds of students similar to Neha in Kalaripayattu (also known as Kalari and which means, art of the battlefield), reviving the practice and empowering her community by teaching self-defense techniques.

British colonial rulers had banned the practice in 1804 to limit potential resistance fighters trained in Kalari, but it continued to be taught in secret before becoming a mainstay after India’s independence in 1947.

There are now Kalaripayattu schools throughout India and around the world, with Raghavan being credited with reviving the craft and earning a national award for her role in 2017.

The mom-of-four and grandmother of eight, told Arab News: “I started Kalari at seven when my father inspired me to take up this art form. Then, at the age of 17, I married a man who was the practitioner of Kalari. Now I’m 78 and still practicing, learning, and teaching it.

Neha noted that her tutor “transformed into a warrior” the moment she stepped into the sandpit, wielding swords, shields, and staffs, the skill and suppleness of her body defying her age.

“Kalari is a mix of dance and yoga, and the practice makes you adept in wielding the sword but also keeps your body flexible and healthy,” Raghavan said.

She began teaching Kalari in 2009 after the death of her husband, Raghavan Gurukkal.

“Until then, I had played a supportive role and avoided the center stage with him keeping the tradition alive. The tradition needs to be preserved, and legacy needs to continue,” she added.

She trains between 150 and 200 local and foreign students every year but since March last year has been forced to limit classes due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

“Some foreigners visit to train now, and people in India are taking a keen interest in the art too, that’s why you have Kalari schools in other parts of the country. More and more women are learning Kalari to defend themselves in these times.”

India was ranked as the world’s most dangerous country for women in a 2018 global survey, with a rape taking place every 15 minutes in the country of 1.36 billion people.

About one-third of Indian women have suffered domestic violence, the Oxfam India report said, citing government data.

Raghavan’s son, Sajeevan Gurukkal, also teaches Kalari at the school, which functions as an ayurvedic massage center and trains students for free.

“This is an ancient practice, and we want to keep it alive,” she said, adding that her entire family, including her grandchildren, were trained in the martial art.

One of them, Jaimi R. J., 27, a business professional, said: “Amma has trained me well, and my heart is in the art. I want to keep the legacy alive.”


‘The Houses of Beirut’ — preserving a city’s architectural heritage

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
Updated 22 sec ago

‘The Houses of Beirut’ — preserving a city’s architectural heritage

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. (Supplied)
  • Why two sisters chose to republish their mother’s children’s book following the Beirut Port explosion

DUBAI: Twenty-four years ago, Nayla Audi published her only book: “The Houses of Beirut.” It was created for children — an oversized book in the shape of a house — but at Dubai Design Week last month, adults, too, were opening the ‘doors’ of its cover to reveal the old-school watercolors (created by Audi’s friend, the painter Flavia Codsi) within. 

The book’s current revival was made possible by Audi’s two daughters, Yasmine and Julie, who published a new edition in the wake of the Beirut Port explosion last year, having found a copy of the book — a nostalgic memento of their childhood — that had survived the damage inflicted on their family home in the city’s Gemmayze neighborhood.

Nayla, Yasmine and Julie Audi. (Supplied)

“It really affected us personally,” Julie, who lives in London, told Arab News. “We thought we needed to do everything we can to preserve this book — to re-edit and try our best for these houses to stay. We grew up taking all these things for granted. But now, with a bit of maturity and age, we also realize that it’s important for us to continue what our mom started.”

The original version of the book, published in both English and French, was, Julie said, popular among the Lebanese. 

“A lot of people in our generation kind of grew up with this book,” she explained. “Through this project, people sent us messages saying: ‘It reminds me of my childhood.’ Or, ‘This was my favorite book growing up.’”

The book’s detailed and idyllic images take the reader through small-but-significant moments of daily life: Students arriving home from school, youngsters running around with the Lebanese flag; a street vendor filling a basket with vegetables, and the serene blue of the sea beside the corniche.

(Supplied)

But, as the name suggests, it is the tall traditional houses with their red-tile roofs and triple arches, which can be seen throughout the streets of the Lebanese capital, that take center stage. 

“She realized how important the heritage houses were in Beirut and how important it was for us — we were very little at the time — to have them as a memory,” Yasmine said.

Many of those heritage houses, some of which were built over a century ago, were seriously affected by the explosion and the sisters have stipulated that all proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Beirut Heritage Initiative, launched in 2020 to restore badly damaged historical buildings.

(Supplied)

Apart from the fact that their mother wrote it, “The Houses of Beirut” is intensely personal to the sisters in other ways. Julie and Yasmine (and their cat) actually feature in the charming, colorful pages and they grew up in one of the depicted heritage houses — the ‘White House’ of the book. 

“The interior has an open, traditional layout — the living room in the middle and the rooms on the side,” Yasmine said. “When we were growing up, the balcony was our favorite place. It was kind of like our playground.”  

For the reprinting of the hand-bound book, the sisters kept the story as it was, (although they printed the English version only) and even turned to the same family-run printing press — Anis, established in the late 1950s — that published it in the first place. Like many businesses in Beirut, Anis was practically destroyed, so getting things off the ground has been a struggle. 

(Supplied)

“We kept coming back to the fact that we’re doing this, also, to help Lebanon,” Yasmine said. “So, why would we print the book somewhere else and not help the actual artisans in Lebanon, who have been affected by the economic crisis and everything that’s been happening?”

Both Julie and Yasmine were born in the US, but feel a strong attachment to Lebanon. They flew to Beirut after the explosion and that experience reinforced their belief in the necessity of chronicling the city’s architectural traditions. 

“It’s this cycle, which is sometimes a bit sad when you’re from Lebanon, of how every generation has to go through these hardships,” said Julie. “There are so many issues nowadays, but preserving our heritage is really important.”


At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow
Updated 03 December 2021

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow

At Jeddah’s Qasr Khuzam, Argentina art event BIENALSUR enthralls with sight, sound and shadow
  • More than 30 creative contemporary artworks, including 5 by Saudis, highlight a wide range of themes

JEDDAH: BIENALSUR 2021, the second edition of the cultural event of contemporary art from Argentina to the world, arrived in Jeddah, and residents are in for a breathtaking cultural experience.

Twenty artists from 13 countries are showcasing their work at the exhibit that opened its doors on Dec. 1 at Qasr Khuzam. Hosted by the Ministry of Culture, the exhibition titled “Echoes: A World Between Analogue & Virtual” is composed of immersive works, which play with the visitors’ shadows, the echo of their voices, and the reverberations of the surrounding sounds.

Qasr Khuzam served as the first residence in Jeddah for King Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The palace is characterized by its unique architectural style featuring art nouveau and art deco influences, with large entry halls and symmetrical staircases succeeded by interconnected wings. These attributes serve as a striking backdrop for the exhibition, addressing the acoustic phenomena of echo and reverberation, utilizing them as metaphors for how people naturally move in the world between analog and virtual situations. 

Saudi artist Ahaad Al Alamoudi displays her artwork at the exhibition.

With more than 30 works by artists being showcased, including five by Saudis, the display deals with themes ranging from environmental awareness, artistic politics to transit and migrations.

Organized by the Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero in Buenos Aires under the direction of its rector and passionate art collector, Aníbal Jozami, and the event’s creative director, Diana Wechsler, the second edition of the International Biennial of Contemporary Art of South America was based on a global network of institutional collaboration that erases distances and borders, as well as upholding singularity in diversity.

Both Wechsler and Jozami told Arab News that its presence in Saudi Arabia is part of the dialogues for peace and international integration through art and culture, which BIENALSUR contributes to.

It will be the first time that an exhibition of visual arts, designed to converge with other ways of thinking, is presented to the Saudi public. 

“We want to change the art map of the world, the paradigms. We believe that there are cultural and artistic expressions that have always remained,” said Jozami. “BIENALSUR is the proof that there’s still space for surprising and innovative ideas.”

Wechsler added: “The exhibition seeks to convey to the viewer a reflection on this way of inhabiting the present. This varied selection of artists and works aim to recreate such a flow of the contemporary individual from a poetic dimension. 

“We invite visitors to explore spaces that are not fully acknowledged and to identify images that will arouse surprise and reflection.”

The exhibition “recovering stories, recovering fantasies” occupied most parts of the restored Jeddah Regional Museum architecture building — considered one of the best museums in Jeddah — with works by Saudi artists Ahaad Al-Amoudi, Lina Gazzaz, Felwa Nazer, Muhannad Shono, and Daniah Alsaleh. 

There are also works by Tony Oursler and Chris Larson from the US, Darren Almond from Britain, Argentina’s Matilde Marin; Carola Zech, Hugo Aveta, from Spain. Daniel Canogar and Tanja Demanrom will feature from Croatia. From Switzerland, there is Sève Favre, and from Mexico, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Polish artist Angelika Markul will attend alongside French artists Anais Lelievre, Cecile Bart, and photographer Valérie Jouve. From South Korea there’s Sujin Lim, and Joel Andrianomearisoa from Madagascar.

Among all those international artists, Darren Almond’s work offers two altered modalities of one of the latest ways to display hours as a mode of expressing time digital clocks.

Saudi artist Ahaad Al-Amoudi tries to understand the correlation between light and darkness through her video. “In the piece itself, I am studying how sometimes light is projected to us whether through family or friendships or personal needs and how we stripe toward the light,” she said.

Al-Amoudi introduces the premises that give rise to her video installation, which are focused on how information is shared and at the same time defines us as subjects in society.

South Korean artist Sujin Lim explores the dimensions of change in the natural environment and, along with it, the landscape on another horizon from another island.

While entering her dark exhibition room, Saudi artist Lina Gazzaz’s project “Shadow/Light Room” explores and seeks to capture the action of light on the elements to activate ideas from these lights in different manners.

“The room is part of a larger study that includes different artistic applications such as glass, sculpture, drawings, prints and experiments are still ongoing. The room also is arranged according to the echo system between the 40 images and the number of woods around 2,000 slow careful movements which is part of the experience,” she said.

The exhibitions travel the world to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, and others.


Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works
Updated 03 December 2021

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works

Young Saudi Artists exhibition presents contemporary calligraphy works
  • Artists from across the Kingdom answered the open call for the event and the judging panel selected 19 artists to participate

JEDDAH: The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers showcasing the wonders of the written form.

The current edition is called “Contemporary Calligraphy” and was curated by Dr. Rawaa Bakhsh. The exhibition falls during the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Year of Arabic Calligraphy. “We thought it would be appropriate to join the celebration,” Bakhsh told Arab News.

Artists from across the Kingdom answered the open call for the event and the judging panel selected 19 artists to participate. Some already had original works ready to be exhibited, while the others presented their proposals and received help from experts at the gallery to develop and execute their ideas.

Artist Hind Alghamdi carved a wooden wheel-shaped sculpture decorated in Kufic script with the Quranic verse, “Guide us to the straight path,” and was inspired by driving around the Kingdom. “I chose this verse because humans will always be searching for the right path,” Alghamdi said. “This was my first time using this medium and my first time using Kufic script.” 

The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers. (Supplied)

Another participant, 37-year-old Sama Bahajri, exhibited a piece called “As Promised.” It consists of an embroidered textile that is bright white at the top and becomes progressively darker towards the bottom. The darkness, she explained, represents “evil thoughts,” while her embroidered circles reflect how such thoughts can gather.

“This is a visual interpretation of the verse where God promises Prophet Mohammad that He will protect him against the people who were plotting to kill him,” Bahajri explained to Arab News.

Not all the pieces on display were inspired by Quranic verses. An eye-catching work by Zainab Alshibani titled “1001 Nights” was inspired by anthropomorphic and zoomorphic Arabic scripts. 

The seventh edition of Athr Gallery’s Young Saudi Artists exhibition includes masterpieces by young artists and calligraphers. (Supplied)

The YSA program, which began in 2011, aims to promote Saudi-based artists on the international stage. The program is designed to help young artists conceptualize their work and develop their projects while allowing them to exhibit in a professional context, collaborate with a curator, and expose their work to criticism and the marketplace.

“YSA has had many contemporary artists that are now big names in the art world. Our founders contributed in creating a beautiful batch of contemporary artists that are now internationally known,” Bakhsh said.


‘Jews of the East’ Paris exhibition traces group’s centuries-long presence in Arab world

A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)
A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)
Updated 02 December 2021

‘Jews of the East’ Paris exhibition traces group’s centuries-long presence in Arab world

A Jewish wedding party on the street next to the synagogue in Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut, June 2 1957. (João Luis Koifman)

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron recently attended the opening of an exhibition in Paris that traces Jewish presence in the Arab world.

“Jews of the East, a Multi-Millennial History,” hosted by the Arab World Institute (IMA), has been billed as a “cultural event of international significance.” It includes displays of archaeological remains, liturgical objects, jewelry, costumes, ancient manuscripts, paintings, and photographs, along with music and audiovisual installations.

For Macron, the show provides a “great lesson” about “coexistence, mutual enrichment and exchanges between monotheisms.” He said: “Identity is always more complex than we think and feeds of other identities.”

A Jewish girls school in Baghdad around 1900. (Photothèque de l’Alliance Israélite Universelle (Paris), n° 165, Collection Liliane Alazraki)

The exhibition, which runs until March 13, contains works from collections in France, the US, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Brazil, and Morocco, and highlights the ancestral cohabitation between Jewish and Muslim communities. It focuses on periods of rich artistic and intellectual creativity as well as erratic violence.

Of particular interest to Saudi visitors will be three photographs of the Khaybar Oasis — located on a major caravan route in the Hejaz. In ancient times, it was home to Jewish tribes. “Today, there is a French team of archaeologists undertaking research on the spot to better understand this complex history of Jews and Muslims in this historic place, with the consent of the Saudi authorities,” IMA president Jack Lang told Arab News.

The curator of the exhibition, Benjamin Stora, is a university professor and historian specializing in the Arab Maghreb. He explained that Jews were present in North Africa before the arrival of Christianity. “The Jewish community in the Arab Maghreb spoke only in Arabic, except in certain regions where they either spoke Berber or a mixture of Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic,” he said.

This intersection of the three languages reflects the cohabitation of communities which included expatriate rabbis from Andalusia who settled in Tlemcen, Constantine, and other cities in the Maghreb. 

Jewish people, he said, left an “undeniable imprint” on the culture of the region, especially when it came to craftsmanship. “My ancestors, originally from Constantine, were jewelers and made snake-shaped objects that women wore at parties and weddings,” he explained.

The Jewish Bride of Rabat-Salé, Salé (Morocco), 1934-1939. (IMA: Jean Bescancenot)

Discussing political and religious tensions between the two communities, he said: “The period of French colonization and the Cremieux Decree of 1870 (granting French citizenship to Algerian Jews but not to Muslims) marked the separation of these two native groups, Muslim and Jewish.” That separation was exacerbated by Algeria’s war of independence, he added, which saw many Jews side with France.

The subject of a Jewish presence in the Arab world is, of course, an emotional and thorny topic for many, and Lang stressed that “the exhibition absolutely does not address the political questions of today.” But Stora, who has spent more than 40 years researching the contemporary history of the Maghreb region, stressed the need to preserve cultural history. “We cannot reduce this to the Palestinian issue, to colonization, or to the departure of the Jews. It is also a question of preserving memories, which cannot wait for all political questions to be resolved.”

His sentiments were echoed by Lang, who said: “This institute can only truly fulfil its vocation if it is open to all the spiritual and intellectual heritages that have marked the history of the Arab world.”

A postcard from 1910 showing the inside of the Grand Synagogue in Aleppo. (Gross Family Collection trust)

Denis Charbit, a professor of political science at the Open University of Israel and a specialist in 20th-century Jewish history, said the exhibition had an important role to play in the fight against ignorance and pointed out that the Jewish presence alongside Arab and Berber populations dated back 2,000 years, adding that it was “necessary” to integrate the exile of Jews from Arab countries into the exhibition and to ensure that the region’s cultural history is passed on to future generations.

“It is not a question of a single history, a single religion, a single culture, but a plurality of interventions, cultures, civilizations of languages, as well as a passage of populations,” he said.

“Never before has the history of the Jews in these countries, which have become Arab countries today, been told on a millennial scale,” Lang said. “It is a way of repairing ignorance, of showing that the Arab world has a rich religious and cultural history, which fashioned its originalit


Jeddah’s new Hayy Jameel arts hub is on a bridge building mission

The center’s opening exhibition opens December 6 in collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation. “Staple: What’s on your plate?’ examines the thought-provoking complexities of food culture. (Supplied)
The center’s opening exhibition opens December 6 in collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation. “Staple: What’s on your plate?’ examines the thought-provoking complexities of food culture. (Supplied)
Updated 02 December 2021

Jeddah’s new Hayy Jameel arts hub is on a bridge building mission

The center’s opening exhibition opens December 6 in collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation. “Staple: What’s on your plate?’ examines the thought-provoking complexities of food culture. (Supplied)

JEDDAH: As a Saudi arts professional, Sara Al-Omran has first-hand experience of the booming artistic scene in her home country. Since the establishment of its Ministry of Culture in 2018, Saudi Arabia has launched an international film festival, hosted concerts by internationally renowned musicians, and is creating the world’s largest open-air museum at the ancient Nabatean site of AlUla. 

“The last five or six years have seen a transformation,” Al-Omran tells Arab News. “It’s been really exciting for all of us involved in this scene to see this growth in cultural production and the establishment of new institutions and initiatives.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hayy Jameel (@hayyjameel)

Al-Omran describes the port city of Jeddah as Saudi Arabia’s ‘capital of art.’ Like everywhere else in the Kingdom, it is undergoing some major changes, but it also has its own unique modern cultural history. Back in the 1970s, the late mayor of Jeddah, Mohammed Said Farsi, decided to turn it into a ‘city of sculpture.’ Jeddah’s streets, squares, corniches and fountains were lined with around 600 works by renowned artists including Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, and Julio Lafuente. Jeddah is also the headquarters of the Saudi Art Council and is home to a number of contemporary art galleries, including Hafez and Athr.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hayy Jameel (@hayyjameel)

And now there’s a new kid on the block. Hayy Jameel has the ambitious aim of becoming Jeddah’s home for the arts. The 17,000-square-metre, pearly white complex is an offshoot of the Art Jameel organization, set up independently by the Jameel family to support the arts in the region and to collaborate with foreign cultural institutions. In recent years, Art Jameel has opened the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and Atelier Cairo, which provides artisanship workshops and preserves traditional arts in the Egyptian capital. 

Visual and performing artists, filmmakers, photographers, designers, entrepreneurs and art enthusiasts are all welcome to join the Hayy Jameel community, its organizers say. With its state-of-the-art facilities and wide scope of interests, this creative hub is a first for the country.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hayy Jameel (@hayyjameel)

In Arabic, the term ‘hayy’ means neighborhood. It’s a fitting name, as the new center will be located in an accessible residential area, Al Muhammadiyah, which contains a number of other smaller cultural venues. 

“We’re trying to build bridges with everybody that’s here,” says Al-Omran, who is the center’s deputy director. “There are two wide sets of stairs that take you inside Hayy Jameel. There are no gates. Everybody is encouraged to come into the building and just wander around, any time of day.” 

Designed by the Tokyo and Dubai-based architectural firm waiwai, Hayy Jameel is wrapped around an airy main courtyard — called Saha — that is dotted with trees. “The way it’s built takes inspiration from traditional Levantine houses in Syria and Lebanon, where you have a central courtyard and everything surrounds it. That is really exciting for us, because it allows us to share audiences,” explains Al-Omran. Four different spaces surround the courtyard: Hayy Arts, Hayy Cinema, Hayy Learning, and Hayy Studios. There is also an integral focus on championing Saudi-based entrepreneurs — those who’ve started a baking institute, or a comedy club, or a concept store selling handmade goods, for example — who can become partner-tenants at the center.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hayy Jameel (@hayyjameel)

Hayy Arts will host temporary exhibitions as well as works from Art Jameel’s collection, while Hayy Learning is dedicated to research and in-person virtual education. Hayy Studios will provide bespoke spaces for makers selected for participation in the center’s residency program, which will begin in 2022. Hayy Cinema is a game-changer, billing itself as the Kingdom’s first independent cinema. It houses a 200-seat theater and a screening room. 

The facility will not only support aspiring film directors from the region, but also highlights the deep-rooted changes happening in Saudi society. 

“In 2017, the ban was lifted on cinemas in Saudi and that allowed for the cinema industry to be established,” Al-Omran says. “So far, there has been a big focus on commercial cinema. We’re very excited to offer something slightly different — a space that really looks to support independent and more experimental film productions. It’s a space where filmmakers can meet their peers and research, learn, and develop their scripts.” 

The center’s opening exhibition opens December 6 in collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation. “Staple: What’s on your plate?’ examines the thought-provoking complexities of food culture and its impact on the world’s communities. It features 21 artworks — including installations and sculptures — by artists from the Gulf, Europe, and South Asia, and delves into the entanglements of food, industry, trade, colonialism, and labor. It is in keeping with Hayy Jameel’s programming ethos of “having a conversation that is rooted locally, but contributes to a global conversation,” according to Al-Omran. The exhibition will be accompanied by food tours and a few culinary workshops, enlightening participants on, for example, Jeddah’s traditional cuisine. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hayy Jameel (@hayyjameel)

In addition, Hayy Jameel will host a special installation for three months, in which 11 Saudi artists, including Manal Al-Dowayan, Rashed Al-Shashai and Dana Awartani — will present large-scale light works. It is adapted from the recently launched “Noor Riyadh,” a festival of light that takes over the Saudi capital. 

While it is very much a part of the ambitious plan of cultural enhancement currently underway nationwide in Saudi Arabia, Hayy Jameel manages to be an intimate, contained space. But the purpose behind it and the ideas and activities it promotes are expansive. 

It’s specific but universal in its goal of providing a platform for creatives, enthusiasts and learners. And it serves the very necessary function of bringing art lovers together in a permanent single location. 

“One of the center’s main objectives is to establish a much-needed infrastructure to support the growth of different creative entities and enterprises,” says Al-Omran. Hayy Jameel works on a circular model: Inspiring and nurturing local talent and, ultimately, giving back to the community. Its slogan is telling, then: ‘From Jeddah to Jeddah.’