Waiting to fly: Palestinian artists Nisreen, Nermeen Abudail on their ‘nostalgia for unlived moments’

Waiting to fly: Palestinian artists Nisreen, Nermeen Abudail on their ‘nostalgia for unlived moments’
Wa Mashat, 2020. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 October 2021

Waiting to fly: Palestinian artists Nisreen, Nermeen Abudail on their ‘nostalgia for unlived moments’

Waiting to fly: Palestinian artists Nisreen, Nermeen Abudail on their ‘nostalgia for unlived moments’

LONDON: A woman strides purposefully through a field of golden wheat. She exudes confidence and joy. Her richly embroidered gown and distinctive Smadeh (headpiece) identify her as coming from Gaza, Palestine. She carries a basket of gifts including the famed grapes from her region.

Who is she and where is she going? Those are the first questions that come to mind when viewing “Wa Mashat” by artists and sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail, co-founders of Naqsh Collective.

“She is supposed to be going from Gaza to Amman, Jordan,” Nisreen tells Arab News. “The trip should take no more than a couple of hours walking. But with what is happening right now in Gaza with the sanctions and all the difficulties that Gazan people are experiencing, the trip is impossible.  It is impossible even to think about crossing borders from Gaza to Amman. Living in Gaza is agony because of the situation.”




Sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail are the co-founders of Naqsh Collective. (Supplied)

The sisters say that, as second-generation refugees from Palestine, they sometimes see themselves in the image of the Gazan woman.

“We embody this lady from time to time through our Naqsh journey. This journey is peaceful, joyful and full of determination and pride. She is determined to push though all the obstacles, carrying her basket of goods on her head out of the Gazan siege, to share them with the world,” says Nermeen.

Nermeen indicates the little bird perched in the bottom-right of the image.




“The Bride’s Carpet” is currently on show as part of the Naqsh Collective’s “Unlived Moments” exhibition at the Gazelli Art House in London. (Supplied)

“The sunbird — which is the national bird of Palestine — is symbolic of waiting and hope; it is an icon of freedom. It is not flying, but sitting and waiting for the woman,” she explains.

Nisreen studied architecture at Jordan University of Science and Technology. After working for a time in the US, she is now based in Jordan. Her younger sister, Nermeen, currently based in Dubai, studied graphics.

They are particularly inspired by the intricate embroidery (tatreez), which, for many Palestinian women over the centuries, has been a powerful way of communicating important information about themselves — including their hometown and their marital or financial status. Passed from mother to daughter, this silent language stitched meticulously on their garments speaks volumes.




“Unit and Diaspora” is an open-air, 180-piece exhibit. (Supplied)

Nisreen and Nermeen have taken the delicate silk threads and reimagined them in unexpected, contemporary forms using wood, metals, stone and marble.

The intricate work “The Bride’s Carpet,” currently on show as part of the Naqsh Collective’s “Unlived Moments” exhibition at the Gazelli Art House in London, is a good example.

It tells the fictional story of a mother who gifted her daughter a hand-woven carpet for her wedding. Fearing that Israeli forces would break into her house and steal the precious gift, the mother buried it in her garden.

The story of hurriedly burying precious family treasures would be familiar to many of the 700,000 Palestinian Arabs forced to flee their homes in 1948 when Israeli forces stormed through their towns and villages. Echoes of this traumatic past came vividly alive for Nisreen and Nermeen when they discovered a carpet buried in a garden.

“The Bride’s Carpet,” made up of hundreds of pieces of volcanic basalt stone, is engraved with stitch patterns from all over Palestine and presented as partly buried under shavings of upcycled brass. Details in the work include the bride as the moon and the scene where she faces her mother-in-law, represented by two peacocks.

“We wanted to shed light on stories from our heritage and people suffering from the occupation,” explains Nermeen. “Many families buried their belongings next to a well, or a fig or olive tree, intending to retrieve them upon their return.”

The main theme of “Unlived Moments” is a thread that runs through their work. You see it in pieces such as “Akka,” which shows Palestinian youths standing at the edge of Akka’s famous wall in the old harbour preparing to leap into the Mediterranean waters below — a rite of passage marking the transition from boyhood to manhood. For the young Palestinian boys of the diaspora this is a moment they only get to live through stories told by their grandfathers.

“We are nostalgic about living unlived moments that we have never experienced,” Nermeen says. “We are celebrating at the same time as shedding light on the challenging and even unliveable circumstances experienced by the people of Gaza on an everyday basis.”

Another powerful story is told through their installation “Unit and Diaspora” (WihdehWaShatat). This open-air, 180-piece exhibit captures the relationship of the Palestine people with the passage of time.




“Unit and Diaspora” captures the relationship of the Palestine people with the passage of time. (Supplied)

In it, a series of sundials indicate eight key locations of the Palestinian diaspora; Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, the UK, the US, Chile, Libya and Kuwait.  The dials are made of limestone and the gnomons (the part of a sundial that casts a shadow) of brass.

“The sundials are made of local stone which is strong but can get chipped or eroded if moved from one place to another,” Nisreen says. “It can get distorted and damaged, just like refugees who can be scarred forever when they are relocated. The brass piece, which incorporates elements of Palestinian embroidery, symbolizes cultural heritage; brass represents durability, richness and an everlasting effect that won’t fade but grows deeper and richer with time.

“The minute the sun hits the gnomon we get the reflection on the stone,” she continues. “This reflection adds value to the place where the sundial is located, which is exactly the effect Palestinian refugees have on the places they move to. They add value to everywhere by reflecting their culture.”

The installation will be placed on the roof of the new Naqsh studio opening next year just over the border from Palestine, the sisters say.

“The new location will be called Naqsh Experience. People can come and visit the studio and see thobes and art, and connect to nature and with the whole aura of the Palestinian story,” Nermeen says.

The sisters say they want their exiled and trapped compatriots to spread their wings and “fly free,” like the bird patiently waiting in the field of golden Gazan wheat.

“We are always waiting for a solution to go back to our land — waiting for stability and better life chances,” Nisreen says. “I remember my grandparents used to wait for the news around 8 p.m. every day to update themselves about the political situation — the peace treaties, the conferences. They are still waiting to go back. Until now Palestinians all over the world are still waiting.”


Lebanese-Australian model Jessica Kahawaty explores Saudi Arabia

Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahawaty is no stranger to jetting around the world. File/ Getty Images
Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahawaty is no stranger to jetting around the world. File/ Getty Images
Updated 05 December 2021

Lebanese-Australian model Jessica Kahawaty explores Saudi Arabia

Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahawaty is no stranger to jetting around the world. File/ Getty Images

DUBAI: Australian-Lebanese model, entrepreneur and influencer Jessica Kahawaty is treating her one million Instagram fans to a tour of Saudi Arabia.

This week, the model hopped between Riyadh and Jeddah, with a pitstop in the Saudi desert, for a number of events.

She hit the ground running in Riyadh with a visit to the Times Square entertainment destination in the capital and stopped off at the Echo Beauty department store and the We Cre8 department store in The Boulevard.

“Riyadh. Wow. What a welcome. Thank you #VedaHolding a pioneer in entrepreneurship in concepts like @wecre8.sa and @echobeauty.sa, for your hospitality and thank you to the people of Riyadh who found me in a quick and quiet visit to Times Square late last night after the desert and gave me the funnest welcome ever!!! Can’t wait for what’s to come soon Saudi (sic),” Kahawaty posted on Instagram alongside a carousel of images and videos of her visit.

For the occasion, she showed off a dazzling pink dress by Miu Miu.

Before her 3 a.m. trip to the mall, Kahawaty enjoyed a traditional dinner in the desert and shared a cozy-looking carousel of photos in which she can be seen enjoying kabsa in a desert camp complete with a roaring fire.

“My first Saudi desert experience with a traditional kabsa dinner (rice with lamb),” she captioned the post on Instagram.

The model, who is also an avid humanitarian, then hopped on a plane to Jeddah, during which she was treated to a meal she had been craving — a McDonald’s burger.

“They asked what cuisine I wanted, I said ‘Le McDonald’s’,” she joked on her Instagram feed.

In Jeddah, Kahawaty received a warm welcome as she arrived to stay with Saudi designer Arwa Al-Banawi before the pair enjoyed a spread of pastries and homemade goodies.

When she’s not jetting around the world, the Dubai-based 32-year-old can be found setting up charitable endeavors — evidenced most recently in her online fundraiser to support those struggling in Lebanon amid the country’s shortage of fuel, medical supplies and food in August.

“My name is Jessica Kahawaty and I, like many Lebanese expats, feel helpless watching my country and people drown in despair,” she wrote at the time.

Kahawaty said that money raised was distributed among nonprofit organizations that she personally vetted, individual families and students.


Review: Final episodes of ‘Money Heist’ are emotional and action-packed

The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2021

Review: Final episodes of ‘Money Heist’ are emotional and action-packed

The final episodes of ‘Money Heist’are now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: A runaway hit, the last five episodes of Spanish series “Money Heist,” created by Alex Pina, were just released on Netflix to international fanfare.

Readers be warned, this review contains spoilers for the first part of season five, which was released three months ago.

Audiences were left on a cliff hanger, with the shocking death of Tokyo (Ursula Corbero) and the emotional run continues in the second part of the season, with the Professor (played by Alvaro Morte) displaying heightened sadness, triumph and nerves in the final episode.

With Tokyo’s death, the Professor is shattered and loses his grip on the situation, which opens him up to risks from all angles. Of particular interest is the developing relationship between detective Alicia Sierra (Najwa Nimri) and the Professor, all with Sierra’s newborn baby in tow. Featuring a newborn innocent in the heady mix of precarious action ups the ante and introduces a heightened level of risk for audiences who will no doubt watch with bated breath.

In the final episodes, the Professor also sees his reasoning questioned by some members of the gang, including Rio (Miguel Herran) who harbors doubts about the morality of stealing gold from the country’s reserves.

On the opposing side, Colonel Tamayo (Fernando Cayo) lost many of his men when he attempted to storm the bank, but is undeterred. He has made his life's mission to get the Professor and his group down on their knees and will stoop low to achieve this, as we come to see. 

“Money Heist” is gripping to the core, and we are so taken in by what is happening on screen that we are willing not only to forgive the misdeeds of the robbers, but also cheer them on. The emotional notes in the final episodes make it all the more magnetically appealing, and allow audiences to wave off the artistic liberties taken by the director with regards to some of the less than believable scenes. 

A particularly noteworthy focus of the latest run is Berlin (Pedro Alonso), whose life is revealed through flashbacks that make up a marvelous character study.

Audiences will be relieved to find a lot of questions are answered, and due the way it ends this global phenomenon is sure to be remembered for a long time.


US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan gets engaged

Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)
Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 04 December 2021

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan gets engaged

Mona Kattan is the founder of the Kayali fragrance empire. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: Friends and fans flooded US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan’s Instagram account on Saturday, after the Huda Beauty global president announced her engagement to Dubai-based businessman Hassan El-Amin.

“Forever Ever,” Kattan captioned a carousel of images posted late on Friday night, showing the Kayali fragrance founder posing with a diamond ring on her finger and alongside her soon-to-be husband.

Influencers, beauty entrepreneurs and celebrities took to Kattan’s comments section to send their well wishes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mona Kattan (@monakattan“Congrats baby, (you) deserve the world,” doctor and influencer Sarah Al-Madani commented, while Faryal Makhdoom, wife of British boxing star Amir Khan, wrote “congrats cutie.”

According to El-Amin’s LinkedIn account, he is the head of facultative at Middle East and Africa at Aon Reinsurance Solutions and relocated to Dubai after studying at Cass Business School in London and graduating with a Masters of Science.

It seems Kattan’s new fiancé is as family-focused as she is — he even runs an Instagram account together with his two siblings called @the.elamins.

The siblings feature heavily in the carousel of images shared by Kattan, with snaps including both Sally and Ahmed El-Amin.

With a background in graphic design and illustrating, Sally boasts a portfolio of clients that includes  Huda Beauty, leading some to speculate that she could be the link between the loved-up couple.

The good news tops off a busy year for Kattan, who, alongside her sister Huda, announced a number of new investments and initiatives in 2021.

In the summer, the sister duo announced Ketish as the first brand to be launched by Huda Beauty Angels — which falls under HB Investments, their venture capital firm. Ketish, a feminine care label, is spearheaded by Eman Abbass, a former Huda Beauty product developer.

Since then, Mona has focused heavily on the sisters’ fragrance range, Kayali, of which she is the founder and creative head.

The latest Kayali product was launched this week and is called Eden Juicy Apple — a “playful, vibrant and super juicy” scent that is based on “crisp and juicy red apples, sweet berries and fresh floral notes,” according to the brand.

In October, Kayali won the coveted Niche Product of the Year prize at the Beautyworld Middle East Awards for its Sweet Diamond Pink Pepper fragrance.


What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency
Updated 04 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency

Authors: Stephen J. Collier & Andrew Lakoff

From pandemic disease, to the disasters associated with global warming, to cyberattacks, today we face an increasing array of catastrophic threats. It is striking that, despite the diversity of these threats, experts and officials approach them in common terms — as future events that threaten to disrupt the vital, vulnerable systems upon which modern life depends.
The Government of Emergency tells the story of how this now taken-for-granted way of understanding and managing emergencies arose. Amid the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, an array of experts and officials working in obscure government offices developed a new understanding of the nation as a complex of vital, vulnerable systems. They invented technical and administrative devices to mitigate the nation’s vulnerability, and organized a distinctive form of emergency government that would make it possible to prepare for and manage potentially catastrophic events.


Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
Updated 03 December 2021

Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community

Afra Aldhaheri’s “End of A School Braid” (2021), part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)
  • For its fifth year, Misk Art Institute’s annual event features several exhibitions exploring the nature of identity

RIYADH: Inside Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, multimedia artworks are displayed across the venue’s two floors on the theme of Takween, which means “form” in Arabic, and its relation to one’s identity.

As part of Misk Art Week’s fifth outing, taking place until Dec. 5, artists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, North Africa and the wider international community present art that questions identity — specifically how an individual’s social, historical and cultural origins influence their past, present and future.

From video works produced with AI to paintings, textile-based art and installations, the art on show aims, according to the Misk Art Institute, to offer a “critical platform for the creative community,” fostering cultural dialogue and intellectual exchange.

As visitors enter the hall, they are confronted by two dark figures by Saudi artist Filwa Nazer, made of black polyethylene industrial netting and titled The Other is Another Body (2021). The figures seem to guard the vibrantly colored wool-weave tapestry work hanging on a wall between them, titled Palm (1985), by American artist Sheila Hicks.

The works are part of Here, Now, the third in a series of the Misk Art Institute’s annual flagship exhibition, curated this time by British writer and curator Sacha Craddock alongside Misk’s assistant curators, Nora Algosaibi and Alia Ahmad Al-Saud.

The show, which features a mix of emerging and established artists and runs until Jan. 30, 2022, is the first in the Saudi capital to present works by both Saudi and international artists, including ones by well-known Saudi artists such as Manal Al-Dowayan’s abstract black and white work, I am Here (2016), Ayman Yossri Daydban’s Tree House (2019), and Sami Ali AlHossein’s colorful abstract figurative works on canvas. There is also a painting by renowned Sudanese painter Salah Elmur titled The Angry Singer (2015) and delicate floral drawings by Korean artist Young In Hong dating to 2009.

While without an overarching narrative, the show prompts the spectator to question, like the exhibition’s title, “why here and why now?” It encourages the visitor to reflect on the artworks and the nature of identity in a reflective, personal and subjective manner.

Upstairs is Under Construction, an exhibition of Misk Art Grant recipients who hail this year from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria. The grant funds up to SR1 million ($266,632) and has been distributed among the nine participating artists and collectives.

Basma Al-Shathry, lead curator at Misk Art Institute, said: “This year’s Misk Art Grant exhibition, ‘Under Construction,’ explores how identity is perceived as an emblem of growth, continuity and endless iterations of cultural representation throughout history. It has been a delight to bring together artists and designers from both the Middle East and North Africa to address the theme as a process of development, repetition, distortion and incompleteness in a time of synthesis, understanding and promise for the future.”

Mira AlMazrooei and Jawaher AlMutairi’s “Glass Libary” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled  “Under construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

The works on show also respond to the theme of identity while focusing on how identity can be perceived as a method for growth and renewal, as well as social and historical continuity, via the incorporation of cultural representations throughout history.

One of the most poignant works is by Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed’s Sand Room (2021), which presents an assembly of sand-encased glass panels in the form of a cube that one can enter to observe the desert sand sediments that she collected from construction sites around Dubai.

Latifa Saeed’s “Sand room” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

“My research and work is always about transformation, whether it be of a city or of one’s mentality,” Saeed told Arab News. “I began by building an archive of sand from Dubai because the sites from where I collected the sand we cannot visit anymore because they are now construction sites.

Saeed visited development sites in Dubai, and before the construction started she would collect sand from the area and label it accordingly. She now has more than 200 different types of sand from these areas.

“I am archiving, preserving and documenting the Dubai landscape, topography and the material itself,” she said.

Near to Saeed’s mesmerizing room of sand specimens is Emirati artist Afra Al-Dhaheri’s End of a School Braid (2021) — a large installation of twisted and backcombed off-white colored rope that hangs from the ceiling. In this piece Al-Dhaheri examines how hair can be seen as the keeper of memories, preserving not only time but cultural norms and heritage.

Bahraini artist Noor Alwan’s Sacred Spaces (2021), a series of hanging textile-based tapestry works, similarly seeks to preserve personal and collective memories. Growing up, she would watch her grandfather ritually draw hundreds of patterns on paper — a tradition that stemmed from his childhood and that immersed him in a meditative process of repetition. Alwan recalls his trance-like process of art creation and likens it to a shared Arab collective practice — with elements mirroring the mesmerizing geometric forms of Islamic art.

Nour Alwan’s “Sacred Spaces,” (2021). Part of the Misk Art Grant exhibition titled “Under Construction” at Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)

Moving into the rapidly developing digital landscape is an engaging work by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, titled Beyond Language (2021), in which a poem by the late revered Saudi poet Muhammad Al-Thubaiti Poetry (1952-2011), titled Salutation to the Master of the Arid Land, is transformed into a video work with sound via artificial intelligence. For the work, which captivates the viewer through its colorful abstract images — some seem like palm trees while others appear to be figures — Alsafi trained the AI through data collection and machine learning to understand poetry and produce visual representations of each verse with accompanying machine-made sound.

“The first form of art in the region and the way we connected with each other was through poetry,” Alsafi, an artist who studied computer science, told Arab News. “Al-Thubaiti, one of Saudi’s pioneer poets, changed the way that poetry was written and read. Everyone sees AI as robotic, but my vision, I want to see how we can make the machine more human so that it understands language, learn and develop artwork depending on the vision of the artist. I believe artists can use AI as a tool to develop their work.”

Lastly, there is the second iteration of works created in the Masaha residency program, located in the basement of the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall.

The program, part of Misk Art Institute’s mission to support Saudi and international practitioners across the artistic disciplines in the research and production of new works via mentorship opportunities, can be viewed on the ground floor. Titled HOME: Being and Belonging, the works by 10 visual artists from the UK, Guatemala, Morocco, India, South Korea, and from across Saudi Arabia, examine questions of how an individual and collective sense of belonging and nostalgia for one’s culture and heritage stems from one’s socio-cultural and ethnic background. The works on show explore how our sense of belonging changes and transforms with time.

The residency offers international artists the opportunity to create work on site at Masaha over a three-month cycle. Many of the participating artists are showing their work for the first time in the Kingdom — demonstrating once again Misk Art Institute’s broader aims to expand Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape through international creative dialogue.

Hana Almilli’s “Through The Earth I Come Back Home” (2021). Part of the Masaha Residency showcase during Misk Art Week 2021. (Omar Al-Tamimi)