The Egyptian modeling agency ‘decolonizing beauty standards’

The Egyptian modeling agency ‘decolonizing beauty standards’
Iman Eldeeb is a model and founder of UNN Model Management. Instagram/@camelicked
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Updated 14 October 2021

The Egyptian modeling agency ‘decolonizing beauty standards’

The Egyptian modeling agency ‘decolonizing beauty standards’

CAIRO: Between the frenzied rush of wardrobe changes and photographers readying for shoots, Iman Eldeeb’s agency is slowly breaking new ground for Egypt’s fashion scene by hiring a diverse line-up of models.

Eldeeb forged an international career in European fashion capital Milan, where photographers told her she was “the first Egyptian model they had ever seen.”

Seven years later, she returned to Egypt in 2018 and set about shaking up a fashion scene where old stereotypes prevail.

In the Arab world’s most populous nation, modeling has long been dominated by “girls from Eastern Europe, with fair complexions,” said Eldeeb.

The 28-year-old said such “obsolete” standards have made it difficult for Egyptian and Arab models to break into the industry.

“Beauty cannot be limited by the appearance and shape of a face and so on. I feel this is a misconception of beauty,” Eldeeb told AFP.

“Hair color, eye color, all these things were part of a very old understanding of beauty and this is something we are moving away from as much as we can.”
According to The Fashion Spot, a website specializing in the industry, “models of color” accounted for more than 43 percent of those on global catwalks in fall 2021 -- making it “the most racially diverse season on record.”

Traveling the world as a model, Eldeeb said she sensed a new trend of more diverse faces and bodies was emerging.

Back in Egypt, she and her sister Yousra then founded UNN Model Management -- the name meaning “rebirth” in the language of the black Nubian minority.

The agency offers a platform for budding talents in Egypt who lack support in the fiercely competitive industry.

“The fashion industry is still developing in the Arab world” said Eldeeb.

Today, UNN oversees around 35 contracts with top brands including Louis Vuitton, Adidas and Levi's, making it a leader on the nascent Egyptian scene.

Mohsen Othman, a freelance photographer also known as Lemosen who works with UNN regularly, praised the agency for its “daring” approach.

In the industry in Egypt, “we have creative people but we lack the means, and training remains old-fashioned,” he said.

For Sabah Khodir, an Egyptian activist against gender-based violence, UNN is a force for “decolonizing beauty standards” and “deconstructing internalized racism.”

“Being more represented in fashion, on-screen or elsewhere, can save lives. It humanizes you in the eyes of the world,” Khodir said of the situation for under-represented women.

Adhar Makuac Abiem, a model from South Sudan, has long endured racial taunts and insults in the unforgiving streets of Egypt’s bustling capital Cairo.

When she settled in Egypt as a refugee in 2014, she never imagined she would be hired by a local agency.

Often she was told that she was “too black” or “too ugly” to get any work, she said.

But since 2019, the 21-year-old has managed to build a career as a model working with UNN.

Egypt is similar to “the West where prejudices persist about dark-skinned” people, said Marie Grace Brown, a University of Kansas researcher who authored a book on women’s fashion in Sudan.

But that has not stopped Abiem from trying to “become a positive role model” for young black women in the industry.

Mariam Abdallah, 22, who was busy styling her hair before a photoshoot, said she has been doing more modeling overseas than in Egypt.

“We’re not very interested in ‘exotic’ top models,” she told AFP.

Beyond battling discrimination in a highly predatory industry, where there have been high profile cases of sexual misconduct, getting parental consent is another challenge in the conservative Muslim country.
According to Eldeeb, three-quarters of parents fear images of their model daughters could be “misused” online.

There are also concerns about revealing clothing, as well as working “inappropriate hours” for young women.

“Whatever the profession, parents always try to decide for the girls”" she added.

The World Bank says that fewer than 20 percent of Egyptian women had a job in 2019.

But Eldeeb has managed to secure work visas for some of her models in France, a first for home-grown talent.

Abdallah left Egypt for the first time recently thanks to the contracts she now has with around a dozen agencies in Europe and the United States, giving her a sense of independence and purpose.

For the activist Khodir, the emphasis on developing Egyptian talent for global fashion houses is much more than just good business.

“It’s a form of healing that we badly need,” she said.

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage
Updated 49 min 40 sec ago

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage

Silence speaks volumes as Algerian artists explore cultural heritage
  • Paris exhibition ranges from poignant paintings of migrants to works based on urban archaeology
  • ‘Algeria is a country that is as familiar as it is unknown,’ says curator

PARIS: “Somewhere between silence and words” revives memories of a journey to Algeria made by Florian Gaite, philosopher, art critic and curator of the exhibition taking place until Nov. 28, 2021 at the Maison des Arts Malakoff center in Paris.

The exhibition “seeks to make heard the voices and the silence that characterize Algeria so well,” Gaite told Arab News in France

“It’s a listening ear beyond the Mediterranean. Algeria is a country that is as familiar as it is unknown, and whose complexity — social, political and historical — is equivalent to the cultural diversity expressed there.”

Gaite said that he set up the project before the Hirak movement and widespread protests in Algeria in early 2019.

“That upset my vision of the Algerian scene, a country that I did not know, and about which I had prejudices and preconceived ideas from an exclusively Western reading,” he added.



“When I arrived in Algeria, I realized that the sensitive and sensory experience felt there was made of two extremes. On the one hand, it is an extremely talkative country, where multiple languages are spoken, a sort of linguistic tinkering. The same language is not spoken from one city to the next or between generations.

“The older generation speaks Amazigh, their children speak French and Arabic, and the younger generation is more oriented toward Arabic and English. This stratification of languages ​​seemed crazy to me because in Algeria, there is also a lot of silence. It is a country where people whisper, where there is modesty,” he said.

Gaite said that Algeria is a country “marked by many traumas and by a form of detention” because the same wounds are not discussed between generations.

“There are two pitfalls that I wanted to avoid: The first is placing myself as a Western critic coming to evoke the Algerian artistic scene, which I am not specialized in. The second consisted in choosing artists as simple mediators to bear witness to the Algerian artistic scene. In fact, they know their country better than I do and their testimonies are more accurate and more authentic.”

According to the exhibition’s organizer, colonization, Islamism and state authoritarianism are some of the multiple traumas of contemporary Algerian history.

“These are a series of causes, prohibitions, denials, repressions that hinder speech and often prevent it from being transcribed in the form of a story. The presence of the testimonial and documentary function in contemporary Algerian art thus answers this need to bear witness to the past as well as to the present — colonization, the war of liberation, socialism, black decade, the Bouteflika era, Hirak — and to propose rewritings, to exhume what has been erased or falsified, to give a voice to all that is forgotten,” he said.

“Somewhere between silence and words” brings together artists who were born, live or work in Algeria, including Louisa Babari, Adel Bentounsi, Walid Bouchouchi, Fatima Chafaa, Dalila Dalleas Bouzar, Mounir Gouri, Fatima Idiri, Sabrina Idiri Chemloul, Amina Menia and Sadek Rahim.

These Algerian or Franco-Algerian artists were selected by Gaite, who said that some are still poorly represented in French galleries.

“This exhibition, which includes more women than men, displays works made with various materials such as paper, charcoal or even fabric.”

While in Oran, birthplace of Gaite’s grandmother, the curator met Sabrina Idiri Chemloul, a Franco-Algerian director, who introduced him to her mother, Fatima Idiri.

Born in the Aures, in northeastern Algeria, Idiri lived in Nancy in a family that was part of the resistance networks of the National Liberation Front.

Returning to the country after its independence, she is a self-taught artist — from fashion design to painting on silk, mosaic to Berber embroidery — who is strongly influenced by impressionism and orientalism.

“Hirak’s fervor was a game-changer,” she said.

By choosing figurative drawing as an artistic identity, she strives to preserve the memory of one of the traditions of her native region, the Aures, said Gaite.

“By creating her masterpieces out of coffee grounds and acrylic, the artist pays tribute to free and liberated poets and singers who are the Azriat.”

Idiri studied colonial photography and sought to deconstruct the images in order to rediscover the spontaneity of avant-garde artists who were frowned upon, and even marginalized, during the colonial period.

The exhibition also includes works by Mounir Gouri, winner of the Friends of the IMA (Arab World Institute) Prize.

Based in France, Gouri produces moving paintings of “harraga,” or illegal immigrants, transforming their journey into a performance.

Gaite highlights a painting of a starry sky, painted with charcoal. “The message that the artist wishes to convey is that when the harraga are in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in the dark night, the stars are their only source of light.”

Works by visual artist Amina Menia, who lives and works in Algeria, are also on display. Her art takes the form of an urban archaeology, focusing on places and architectural language.

Menia’s works have been shown in numerous museums, art centers and galleries, including the Pompidou Center in Paris, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Museum of African Design in Johannesburg, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille and the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.

Works by Sadek Rahim, a multidisciplinary artist who has lived in Syria and Jordan, and studied at the Beirut School of Fine Arts, are also being shown.

“Somewhere between silence and words” runs until Nov. 28, 2021 at the Maison des arts of Malakoff, in the Hauts-de-Seine, in Paris.

This story was originally published in French on Arab News en Français


Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon
Updated 16 October 2021

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon

Comic book festival draws laughs in Lebanon
  • Drawing, music, illustration and masterclasses on offer as 40 artists from 14 nationalities display their work
  • ‘A country going through troubled times needs artists more than ever,’ says event’s organizer

BEIRUT: Hard-hit Lebanese might be struggling with soaring prices, food shortages and power cuts, but that did not stop the French Institute of Lebanon from pressing ahead with the country’s first comic book festival.

Forty artists representing 14 nationalities came together to show their work, some combining music and drawing. Exhibits in French, Arabic and English were displayed at 20 locations across the capital, including the Sursock Palace and Dagher Villa.

The big names in comics gave master classes to aspiring young talent. (Supplied)

Mathieu Diez, literary director at the institute and a former director of the Lyon comic book festival, said that the Beirut event had to be held “because a country that is going through troubled times needs artists more than ever.”

He added: “Lebanese artists that we reached out to have overwhelmingly responded. It is also an act of resistance.”

Diez said that the positive reaction to the four-day festival, which ended on Oct. 10, has been overwhelming.

“It was founded on a common ground between Western and Arab authors and audiences, and this merger met our greatest hopes.”

The event was held in three languages: French, Arabic and English. (Supplied)

Leading names in the comic world gave masterclasses to emerging talents. Guests included Penelope Bagieu; Charles Berberian, father of the famous “Henriette” series; Fabien Toulme; Mathieu Sapin; and Michele Standjofski, illustrator and head of the illustration section of the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts.

According to Standjofski, the festival gave students the chance to meet and learn from professionals in the sector.

During the opening concert held at the Sursock Palace, Lebanese illustrator Raphaelle Macaron signed the festival poster, and also completed drawings while accompanied by the Acid Arab band, a French group that plays electro-oriental music popular in the Maghreb, Europe and the Middle East.

Macaron said that the festival offered a chance to boost people’s spirits amid the  turmoil in Lebanon.

40 artists from 14 different nationalities are exhibiting their work and experiences. (Supplied)

“I am motivated by certain projects, either because they are liberating for me or because they contribute to the country’s progress. To me, the illuminated lighthouse in the poster represents hope at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Among many subjects tackled during the festival, the themes that captured most attention were the status of women — an issue that also affects the comic world — and the Lebanese revolution.

The exhibition held in Dar El-Nimer arts center — organized by the Mu’taz and Rada Sawaf Arab Comics Initiative of the American University of Beirut, and managed by illustrator Lina Ghaibeh — allowed the public to explore the new Arab comic book scene through original boards, dozens of magazine copies and individual or collective albums.

Designers from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia were featured in the display.

A number of topics were discussed during the festival (Supplied)

“Arab comics are over a 100 years old, but today’s young illustrators relate their everyday lives,” Ghaibeh said.

“The street is at the center of their creations, because they invaded it during the Arab Spring. They first met through graffiti and social media, then started collaborating. They have revealed themselves, affirmed their identity and managed to make their voices heard.”

For Tunisian illustrator Othman Selmi, the festival offered a chance to “review the problems and challenges to be met,” while Egyptian painter Migo said that the Dar El-Nimer exhibition “allows us to know where we are and what we can reach.”

All agreed the festival was the ideal antidote to the prevailing gloom in the country.

This story was originally published in French on Arab News en Français

What We Are Reading Today: Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion

What We Are Reading Today: Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion
Updated 16 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion

What We Are Reading Today: Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion

Author: Elizabeth Carolyn Miller

The 1830s to the 1930s saw the rise of large-scale industrial mining in the British imperial world. Elizabeth Carolyn Miller examines how literature of this era reckoned with a new vision of civilization where humans are dependent on finite, nonrenewable stores of earthly resources, and traces how the threatening horizon of resource exhaustion worked its way into narrative form.
Britain was the first nation to transition to industry based on fossil fuels, which put its novelists and other writers in the remarkable position of mediating the emergence of extraction-based life.
Miller looks at works like Hard Times, The Mill on the Floss, and Sons and Lovers, showing how the provincial realist novel’s longstanding reliance on marriage and inheritance plots transforms against the backdrop of exhaustion to withhold the promise of reproductive futurity. She explores how adventure stories like Treasure Island and Heart of Darkness reorient fictional space toward the resource frontier.

Migrant movie opens Rome Film Festival

Migrant movie opens Rome Film Festival
Updated 15 October 2021

Migrant movie opens Rome Film Festival

Migrant movie opens Rome Film Festival
  • Moving film tells the story of the Catalan activist who went to the aid of migrants trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos
  • Festival auditorium hosts a photo exhibition dedicated to the situation of the women in Afghanistan today

ROME: The tragedies of migrants risking their lives trying to reach Europe from North Africa and Syria was the focus of the inaugural day at the 16th Rome Film Fest, the annual film review that was opened on Thursday by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

One of the opening films at the festival was “Mediterraneo,” by Spanish director Marcel Barrena, about the rescue of migrants at sea by the NGO Proactiva Open Arms.

The movie, starring Eduard Fernández, tells the story of the Spanish lifeguard Oscar Camps, the founder of Open Arms.

Moved by the indignation he felt at the photograph of the 3-year-old Syrian boy whose was washed up on a beach in Turkey, Camps decided to rescue immigrants from the sea, operating from the Greek island of Lesbos, a popular tourist destination that hosted a refugee camp where thousands of people lived in unsanitary conditions, subjected to inclement weather and constant anguish.

In 2015 alone, more than 450,000 people passed through Lesbos, an island of just 85,000 inhabitants.

In 2016 Pope Francis visited in Lesbos the refugee camp of Moria, which was later destroyed by a fire. He called on the international community to help “those who risk their lives to find a better future and to escape from war.”

Vatican sources told Arab News that the Pope may go back again to Lesbos “in the near future.” A new refugees camp is being built on the island, completely financed by the European Union.

Barrena told a festival press conference that his film, which has heartbreaking images of the thousands of people risking their lives to escape the war in Syria, is “a cry of protest and pain against Europe’s indifference to the drama of the immigration.”

The 39-year-old director spoke about the challenges of the conditions, filming in the open sea, with real refugees and thousands of extras speaking different languages.

The discovery of hundreds of people floating on the sea, one of the biggest dramas in recent European history, is among the most shocking scenes.

The director explained that his is “not a political film.” “It is about love for human beings. You can’t make a choice between leaving a person to die in the water or saving them. I can’t understand how it is possible that there are people who are not moved by this.”

The main foyeur of the auditorium is hosting “Afghana,” an exhibition of photos shot in the Emergency NGO’s maternity center in Anabah, in the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan.

The pictures by photographer Laura Salvinelli tell the story of the doctors, nurses and patients in this medical facility. There is the smiling face of Zarghona who gave birth to the first son; Kemeya struggling with her fifth caesarean; the Kuchi nomad women during one of their seasonal passages through the Valley; and Asuda who, thanks to the Maternity Center, was able study and train to become a midwife.


Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony
Updated 15 October 2021

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

Stars put on a show at El-Gouna Film Festival’s opening ceremony

EL-GOUNA: The fifth edition of El-Gouna Film Festival (GFF) in Egypt kicked off on Thursday, bringing together international filmmakers, producers, actors, industry insiders and cinema enthusiasts who all flocked to the Egyptian resort town for a lavish opening ceremony.

Despite the fire that broke out in the site’s main hall on Wednesday, just a day before the event was scheduled to begin, the show still went on. Organizers managed to reconstruct and repaint the structure that was engulfed in flames in 24-hours.  

Egyptian actress Shereen Reda descended upon the red carpet wearing a luxurious gown from Maison Yeya. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

Celebrities, including Egyptian actress Shereen Reda and Lebanese singer Maya Diab, descended upon the red carpet wearing luxurious, eye-catching evening gowns to the event that has quicky become one of the most important film festivals in the MENA region.

The opening ceremony, which started at around 10 p.m., featured speeches by Samih Sawiris, founder of GFF, Amr Hanafy, governor of the Red Sea Governorate and Egyptian icon Youssra, who is also a member of GFF’s International Advisory Board.

Lebanese singer Maya Diab wore an eye-catching dress with a giant red hat from Jean-Louis Sabaji. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

During the ceremony, Egyptian actor Sayed Ragab presented a video that paid tribute to the works of stars and filmmakers who passed away earlier this year, including Samir Ghanem, Dalal Abdel Aziz, Wahid Hamed, Ezzat El-Alaili, Ramses Marzouk, Moufida Tlatli and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Later on in the evening, Tunisian-Egyptian award-winning actress Hend Sabri introduced GFF’s Career Achievement Award, which was presented to Egyptian actor Ahmed El-Saka, who made a special red carpet appearance with his family.

Egyptian actor Ahmed El-Saka made a special red carpet appearance with his family. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)

The opening day came to a triumphant close with a live performance from Egyptian singer and actor Mohamed Ramadan, who took to the stage to perform his new song “Gaw El Banat,” alongside Moroccan-Swedish record producer RedOne and Amsterdam-born singer Nouamane BelAiachi.  

Also at the star-studded event was Canadian-Lebanese musician Massari, Chilean-Palestinian singer Elyana and Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur Wassim Slaiby, who manages The Weeknd and founded the record label XO. 

This year, the festival, which launched in 2017, will screen films from countries around the world including France, Germany, Russia, Finland, Australia and more. 

The festival will also show a selection of award-winning Arabic movies from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia and others. 

Here we have rounded up some of our favorite gowns from the opening night.

Yasmine Sabri wearing Rami Kadi. (AFP)
Mona Zaki wearing Maison Yeya. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Dorra Zarrouk wearing Georges Chakra. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Yousra wearing Georges Hobeika. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Bushra Rozza wearing Michael Cinco. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Hend Sabri wearing Fouad Sarkis. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Amina Khalil wearing Salma Osman. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)
Laila Elwi. (Arab News/ Hams Saleh)