DUBAI: The Saudi Pavilion at Dubai’s Expo 2020 has been an important stop for visitors since the much-anticipated event opened to the public last week.
The rectangular facade, which features a 1,320 square-meter inclined mirrored screen, is designed to showcase the Kingdom’s ancient culture and heritage, the wonders of its natural landscape, as well as the rapid drive of its present and future ambitions.
Among the cultural offerings that the pavilion boasts are workshops aimed at teaching international guests and children traditional Saudi crafts, including palm leaf weaving and Al-Qatt Al-Asiri.
Al-Qatt Al-Asiri is an art form deeply rooted within the identity of the Kingdom’s southern region — and it is practiced exclusively by women.
To demonstrate this art form, Saudi artist Afaf Dajam was on site this week painting on a clay pot to demonstrate how these beautiful objects are created.
In an interview with Arab News, the artist said that she particularly looking forward to praciting the craft with the children who visit Expo 2020, adding that she had created templates for children to paint on using various coloring techniques, including water paint and acrylics.
Dajam fascination with Al-Qatt Al-Asiri was sparked when the art form was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017. After that, she undertook extensive research into the craft.
“This research turned to love and passion,” she said. “I started searching for it in old homes in Asir, and I documented it in my own studio.”
Her “documentation” examined how the art form started and how it developed. “Around 100 years ago, they used to only use two colors: black and red… Now, they use the five famous colors for Al-Qatt Al-Asiri: yellow, red, green, white and blue,” she told Arab News.
To teach visitors about the craft of the palm leaf weaving, the pavilion invited Saudi creative Habib Abdullah Al-Farhan to display colorful baskets, bowls and mats.
The artist, who has created more than 5,000 items in his career, first started weaving when he was 13-years old, before he took a hiatus. For the past 14 years, he has dedicated his career to creating versatile objects from palm leaves.
Al-Farhan has worked with regional restaurants and international brands, including Mothercare and Turquoise Mountain.
The workshops take place every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the pavilion’s Palm Garden and from 5 p.m. to 9:40 p.m. in the building’s Open Square.
RIYADH: The coronavirus pandemic forced most organizers around the world to hold several key summits and events online thus depriving participants of the chance to meet others in person.
High-profile events such as the Future Investment Initiative not only offer a platform to discuss global and regional issues but also provide an opportunity for the attendees to try to look their best.
The pre-event to-do list not only includes finalizing keynote speeches or presentations but also the most suitable attire to don at the event.
Despite all the seriousness of the issues being discussed at this year’s FII, one cannot ignore the style and fashion tastes of the participants. Colorful abayas, suits, dresses, and special accessories tell stories of their own.
Colin Rhys, chief executive officer of KARAVAN, a nomadic hospitality brand looking to expand into the Kingdom, turned heads with his unique fedora with a piece of Shemagh (Saudi headgear) tied to it.
He told Arab News that the idea of the hat came up five years ago in AlUla when the original black band that went around it broke off. “I was with a Saudi friend who tied this (Shemagh material) to the hat,” Rhys said.
“I wore it to every FII, every single event, every year, everywhere,” he said. “It has become a part of me.”
He added: “We’re really excited to be here at the FII. I think we see the huge opportunity that the Crown Prince has laid out for us, and we’re excited to be part of the journey moving toward (Vision) 2030.”
Asma Arkubi, Saudi client adviser at the Red Sea Development Co. said she saw some of the most beautiful abayas at the FII.
“I really liked how these women walked in with something cultural and extremely fashionable at the same time, it was like a mini fashion show for me,” she told Arab News.
“Combining modern chic designs with culture is something I’ve always been a fan of,” she added.
John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Co. and Amaala, said it is his third time attending the FII, and highlighted that attendees are eager to come back to in-person events.
“I think this is almost probably the best FII for a whole variety of reasons, not least because it's the first one after the pandemic and it just shows how much people want to come and meet face to face something we had been missing for over the last two years,” Pagano told Arab News.
“But I also think, and I’m really pleased of the fact that it’s really cemented Saudi Arabia’s reputation for the Future Investment Initiative. It is now a global event, and it’s attended by the brightest people in the world, and I’m pleased to be part of that,” he added.
Mimoun Assraoui, CEO of RIF Trust and vice-chairman of Latitude, who was also present at the FII, said: “I’m very happy to be here because I missed it last year. We did it virtually last year and this year I’m amazed by the contents, the people, and the high-level of experience, and seeing people happy again to connect with each other.”
Highlights from day 3 of Arab Fashion Week: An Emirati comeback and party dresses galore
Updated 27 October 2021
DUBAI: Emirati designer Yara bin Shakar made her return to the Arab Fashion Week calendar on Tuesday night, with a dynamic show in Dubai Design District.
Relaxed sleeveless cuts made up the bulk of the new collection, while the designer announced a collaboration with the Fashion Week partner GoDaddy as she launched an online store.
Polish label Dorota Goldpoint opened its show with a classical violin performance before the runway was dominated by floral red prints inspired by the Polish culture. The collection featured mainly evening gowns with attention to simple cuts sans embroidery and embellishments.
Dubai-based label Autonomie, founded by Egyptian creative director Maha Ahmed, showed off its typically edgy ready-to-wear collection titled “Metanoia,” which refers to the act of reforming. The line was dominated by short dresses, oversized pants, cropped trousers, asymmetrical skirts and playful fabric styled with white sportswear socks and black pumps.
Meanwhile, French designer Victor Weinsanto showed off his Spring collection. Having worked at the elbow of Jean Paul Gaultier before launching his brand last year, Weinsanto showed off pretzel-shaped braids propped on headbands, kooky kougelhof handbags and shirt dresses with nipped waists and ballooning sleeves.
The last highlight of the day was New York-based British designer Christian Cowan. The collection was perfect for partying with its off-the-shoulder, skintight dresses, oversized rhinestones and slits galore.
Italian designer Giorgio Armani puts on a flamboyant show in Dubai
Updated 27 October 2021
DUBAI: Italian designer Giorgio Armani put on a flamboyant show in Dubai on Tuesday night, with a stellar guest list to match.
The well-heeled crowd included US actress Sharon Stone, Italy’s 100m Olympic gold medalist Marcell Jacobs, and musician Eric Nam. For the evening’s entertainment — besides the bevvy of gorgeous gowns that were paraded down the runway — the audience was serenaded by Coldplay front man Chris Martin, who jokingly dedicated a song to “everyone here who owns a skyscraper, even if it’s only one skyscraper.”
The silver, palm-tree lined runway, which was located at the Armani hotel at the Burj Khalifa, played host to a showcase of Armani’s Spring 2022 collection and pieces from the Armani Privé couture line.
Menswear also made a strong appearance, with sharp blazers and quirky accessories on show — from liquid velvet workwear to tailored pants perfect for work-to-play needs.
Ahead of Armani’s first-ever Middle East showcase, the Italian designer received a UAE golden visa, giving him 10-year residency in recognition of his contribution to the international fashion scene.
The golden visa scheme began in 2019 and grants 10-year residency in recognition of special contributions to the country. Armani was given the UAE golden visa by Major General Mohamed Ahmed Al-Marri, director general of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs.
The designer opened the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, which at 160 stories is the world’s tallest building, ten-years-ago.
Tuesday night’s exclusive fashion show was planned to coincide with Expo 2020 Dubai, while also marking the 10th anniversary of the hotel and the 40th anniversary of the Armani brand, which was launched in 1981.
The One Night Only Event was first staged in London in 2006, and has since been reinterpreted in Beijing, New York, Paris and Rome, among other cities.
Muslim comedians tour UK to help people get over the pandemic
Starting in London, the Super Muslim Comedy Tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow
This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic
Updated 26 October 2021
LONDON: After almost two years of lockdowns, restrictions, isolation, and highly contagious variants, could laughter be the best medicine?
The UK Super Muslim Comedy Tour hopes to prove just that, while celebrating the powers of Muslim comedy in aid of charity.
“We weren’t able to do the tour last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it was difficult for a lot of people because they couldn’t get their entertainment fix that they would normally get — their therapy,” the show’s host, British-Pakistani actor and comedian Abdullah Afzal told Arab News on the sidelines of the tour in Wembley.
“Also for us comedians, because we’re so used to being on stage and performing and suddenly, that was taken away from us, so all the energy that we missed out on last year, we’re bringing it forward into this year, so double the amount of energy, and hopefully we can entertain the crowd double the amount as well.”
Afzal, who is 32 and from Manchester, has hosted the show, which is in its sixth year, but it was canceled in 2020, much like everything else, due to the pandemic.
Starting in London, the tour heads north and stops in 10 locations, including Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow — with all tickets sold out.
“We really hope people come out and really celebrate the diversity in our routine, in our stand up, and the people that come on the stage as well,” said Afzal, who features heavy audience participation in his sets and uses his origin to blend jokes about conventional marriage and modern romance.
This year’s lineup brings back some of the old favorites, along with some new performers, but none of them were interested in centering their jokes around the pandemic.
British-born Fatiha El-Ghorri, originally from Morocco, was back for the second time. Her career has taken off since 2019. She has performed on the Jonathan Ross show “Comedy Club” and on Comedy Central at the Edinburgh Fringe. And then, when the pandemic hit, she took on Zoom.
“The pandemic has been really difficult, but during that time, I was doing a lot of Zoom and online gigs,” she said. “It’s a completely different format, the stage is different, the audience is not in front of you, so it’s really odd when you first do it.”
Relieved and excited to be back to performing physical shows, the 40 year-old from east London is known for pushing the boundaries with her comedy and jokes about her experiences and observations of marriage, relationships, dating, and wearing the hijab.
“I do like to challenge people in my comedy and I like to break stereotypes, but obviously they’re halal jokes because it’s a Muslim tour,” she said, adding that she decided she was not going to use coronavirus as a basis for her jokes during the tour “because it was quite a difficult time for everybody, so I couldn’t see any humor in anything that was happening and I’m just glad it’s starting to get better.”
However, she admitted it was really nerve-wracking because they had not been performing live for a long time.
“You’ll always have nerves because we care about what we do so I’m always nervous on stage, but now I feel like we are all quite nervous being back on stage, but it’s nice to see that it’s packed out, lots of people are here, people have come to laugh.”
Salman Malik, from south London, was relieved that Zoom shows were now reverting back to live ones, and he was happy to see audiences come out in “great numbers.”
In his first time participating in the tour, the 35 year-old Bahraini-Pakistani, who moved to the UK in 2004, uses his Arab-Asian background as a base for most of his material, along with his immigration experience, interracial marriage, and fathering three children.
“I perform comedy in four languages. I do Urdu, English, Punjabi, Hindi and it’s really nice to see that the opportunities are endless and working on my craft, (so) my comedy is basically about my journey coming into the UK, legally.”
Organized by the UK-based Penny Appeal, this year’s proceeds and funds raised will go toward the international humanitarian charity’s Thirst Relief campaign, which helps to provide safe and clean drinking water for deprived communities around the world.
Comedian Prince Abdi, 32, who is known for working with some of the biggest names in the game including Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah and Chris Rock, wowed the crowd with his impressions and anecdotes of his pranks and antics.
“I’m Somali-British, so I talk about growing up in the ghetto of south London, which is not really a ghetto because I’m from Somalia, you know,” he said.
Abdi came into comedy as part of a bet with friends and, after several failed attempts at the same brutal comedy club, he finally got his first laugh and then “never looked back.”
He has toured Africa, including Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and has also performed in the UAE, and said he would love to go all around the Middle East and tell some Arab jokes one day.
“Nothing is easy in life, you have got to work for it, and even now, comedy is still hard and you’re only as good as your last show,” he said.
Abdi joked about his experience of being bored during the pandemic and playing pranks on people to test their racial and cultural curiosity, including walking around town with a picture of himself and asking white people if “they had seen this man?”
“Everyone’s coming together, which is good because laughter is the best medicine. We all need to laugh, especially with all that’s going on around the world.”
Headliner Azeem Muhammad, from St. Louis in Missouri, joined the Penny Appeal tour in 2018 to see if his comedy would “transcend” from the US to Britain, and he has been a growing success ever since.
The fast-talking father-of-seven had the audience in stitches with his family-orientated jokes and audience interactions — and those “who could not keep up (it) was their own fault as they should have gone to university.”
Muhammad, 48, converted to Islam at the age of 17 and, nine years, later embarked on his comedic career.
In 2004, he became one of the founding members of the very first Muslim comedy tour in the world called “Allah Made Me Funny,” which also featured Preacher Bryant Moss and Azhar Usman.
He said that, throughout the years with the tour, he had developed nuances to better translate to the UK’s predominantly Muslim audiences about what it’s like to be a Muslim from the US.
“And then to realize that no matter where we are from, the things that I talk about, which are marriage, divorce, children, jobs, health, the Sunnah (traditions and practices of Prophet Muhammad), those particular things are relatable, they’re universal, and so what normally would separate us now brings us that much closer together.”
Keyaan Hussain, who is 13 and from London, said he found the show really enjoyable, very funny, and quite entertaining, adding his favorite was Muhammad “because of how he interacted more with the audience.”
Ifrah Quraishi, also from London, said it was the first comedy show she had ever been to and was already inquiring about next year’s tour.
“I thought it was amazing, genuinely, my cheeks are hurting (because) I couldn’t stop laughing,” Quraishi, 26, said. “For sure I am definitely up for going to more comedy events like this (and) definitely hoping to come to the next one.”
Three-Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton to open fine dining restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla
Updated 26 October 2021
RIYADH: AlUla is set to get its first-ever permanent fine-dining restaurant. Maraya Social, helmed by three-michelin star English chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton, will cut the ribbon on its newest location at Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site on Oct. 27, 2021.
Atherton said in a statement that he “jumped at the chance to be one of the first permanent fine-dining venues in AlUla.”
He added: “My team and I are so impressed by the natural beauty, history and culture of AlUla. I jumped at the chance to be one of the first permanent fine-dining venues in AlUla. The beauty of the Ashar Valley, the native produce and the iconic Maraya architecture are all the ingredients we need for what is sure to be a sought-after destination dining experience.”
Echoing his statement, Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing offices, royal commission for AlUla adds: “Maraya Social is set to be a destination restaurant for Middle East and the world. We are delighted for AlUla to be the home of Chef’s first restaurant in Saudi Arabia. AlUla presents a unique opportunity both in terms of the historical setting as well as the untapped pantry of produce and flavors.”
The venue will be located on the rooftop of the mirrored Maraya Hall, offering diners unparalleled 360-degree views of the stunning rock-strewn valleys and canyons of the Ashar Valley as they enjoy a hearty menu featuring seasonal fruits, vegetables and locally-produced ingredients.
“AlUla has an amazing diversity of produce unique to the region and an incredible history and culture which I am excited to explore both in the landscape and in the menu,” said Chef Atherton.
The not-yet-opened restaurant will feature an open-plan design with bespoke furniture made out of luxe fabrics and materials such as silk and cotton in a harmonic color palette, selected to reflect its environment.
Maraya Social will be the newest addition to the Michelin-starred chef’s portfolio of international restaurants as well as his first foray into the Kingdom.
Those who wish to dine at the new venue will be able to make reservations online.