RIYADH: For fans of Japanese anime culture, the Saudi-owned brand Nippon Sayko’s new store is a treasure trove.
The outlet is located at Trocadero in Boulevard Riyadh City, one of the largest zones in Riyadh Season 2021, and specializes in promoting Japanese anime culture by displaying and selling the most famous anime characters and manga comic books.
Nippon Sayko store owner Noha Al-Khayyat and her business partner have a passion for anime. Due to a lack of specialized anime stores, in 2009 they started to create merchandise by drawing anime images on fabric and selling them. The small, homegrown business developed a market base by attracting other Saudis who were interested in Japanese culture.
Eventually, the popularity of their business increased and the two partners decided to register their Saudi trademark, Nippon Sayko, in Jeddah, where they were colleagues at the same university.
“At that time, as two women in their early lives, it was not easy to import products into Saudi Arabia, especially from Japan,” Al-Khayyat said.
“In addition, society finds it strange to work in this field. Also, many people from our inner circle believed that the project’s idea might not be popular in our society,” she added.
However, the desire to develop their business prompted Al-Khayyat to study in Japan, where she overcame the language barrier to learn the basics of the Japanese pop culture business from its original source by studying for a master’s degree. This included researching general aspects of the country’s material culture.
“The overseas scholarship program, funded by the Saudi government, helped us spend more time developing our idea and promoting everything related to Japanese culture as one of the countries that is friends with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in which there is a large segment of Japanese culture admirers,” Al-Khayyat said.
The Saudi-born store owners have now launched their second store in Riyadh, which is run by an all-female staff in a pioneering move that brings the partners great pride.
Al-Khayyat attributes their success to the Kingdom’s economic empowerment of Saudi women in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan. The government has achieved this by creating new fields of work, removing obstacles for those wishing to engage in private business activities, and providing opportunities for participation in tourism and entertainment events hosted by the country.
Regarding the brand’s expansion plans, Al-Khayyat said: “With this project, I aspire to promote the Japanese culture on the largest scale possible, increase the number of anime lovers among all age groups, and teach the Japanese language to its fans through the art of comics.”
Boulevard Riyadh City is one of the most prominent of this year’s new Saudi landmarks. It is made up of nine areas, with restaurants, cafes and stores that showcase aspects of various cultures and cater to all age groups.
Past and future meet in UAE-based trio’s ‘Beyond: Emerging Artists’ display
Updated 28 November 2021
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: A woman dressed in black with a light blue colored sack over her head moves gracefully amidst a dark forest — she holds in either hand a branch with white feathers. The video work, executed in 2021 and titled “Too Close to the Sun,” is by Emirati artist Maitha Abdalla and it is on display in “Beyond: Emerging Artists,” which wraps up on Dec. 4 in Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat.
The exhibition kicked off as part of the wider Abu Dhabi Art fair that ended Nov. 21. Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, “Beyond: Emerging Artists” explores the challenges of the future and painful reminders of the past while highlighting three UAE-based artists.
Alongside Abdalla's showcase are rooms featuring work by Emirati Hashel Al-Lamki and American Christopher Benton, who is based in Dubai.
Bardaouil and Fellrath told Arab News that the three artists’ strong links with Abu Dhabi allowed them to examine the city’s history and diversity, as well as its challenges and opportunities.
“Throughout our curatorial practice we have always been closely connected to the art scene in the Gulf region, and to the UAE in particular,” Bardaouil and Fellrath told Arab News. “Each of the three artists are either from Abu Dhabi or have been based here for a very long time. It was important to us that there is a strong connection to the city the works are exhibited in, to its history and diversity, as well as to its challenges and opportunities.”
The artists rely on media ranging from painting to sculpture, soundscapes, video works, found objects and site-specific installations.
The core focus of the program is on mentorship. Its aims thus venture outside the traditional role of a curator. “We wanted to work with artists where we felt we could contribute to the development of their practice,” said Bardaouil and Fellrath. “It was important to us to give each artist their own distinct voice and offer them the freedom and support to develop a project that they already had on their mind. Each of the three artists pushed their initial ideas to create truly immersive installations that are made up of different individual components.”
Abdalla’s commissions are part of a series of works that “negotiates the wild nature of women that social forces have often attempted to tame,” according to the artist.
In her room, Abdalla recreated US psychoanalyst Pinkola’s “wild creature” through her immersive installation. The visitor walks into an immersive space with a window that looks outdoors where there is a video of a performance where the performer, Abdalla, is attempting different poses of Pinkola’s “wild woman.”
“In my work, I am interested in storytelling and folk tales, and for this exhibition I was inspired by the book ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves,’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American psychoanalyst. She talks about how in every woman there is a wild creature and that this creature is powerful. She calls it wild woman and says this creature is an endangered species,” Abdalla said.
“Maitha’s work is amazing—from performances that revolve around notions of female wildness (characterized by a quasi-mythological woman, Sila) to sculptures and paintings that provoke thought and discussion around what’s considered right and wrong behavior and thought in communities,” Fair Director Dyala Nusseibeh told Arab News. “She reminds me in some ways of Paula Rego in the intensity of her paintings.”
Each room is conceived as an immersive space through which visitors can delve into each artist's work, practice and personal life. The walls and tiles of Abdalla’s room are painted pink, for example, to recall her childhood bathroom. As Nusseibeh says, “the ambitious claiming of each room” by the artists provides a unique portal into their world.
Benton’s installation of a chained palm tree also fosters debate around labor economies and the appropriation of Middle Eastern culture in the US.
The artist’s film “The Kite Has Come” features archival images of Zanzibar from 1860-1910 — when the world’s last slave market operated in the city — and explores how slave histories in past centuries resonate in today’s world.
What profoundly resonates with the visitor even after they have left the room is how Benton’s work remembers the presence of the East African diaspora in the Gulf and the in-depth thought he has given to slave histories and how their stories over the last few centuries continue in today’s world.
Al-Lamki’s room on the other hand, entirely painted in a mystical soft blue, looks at the rapid pace of transformations shaping the UAE today, particularly evident in the building up of his hometown of Al-Ain.
The artist, who founded the art group Bait 15 in a residential neighborhood in downtown Abu Dhabi, uses natural pigments collected from regional locations, referencing traditions that are under threat from new technologies and consumerism.
“The extravagance of the glitter and dyes in his paintings alongside the use of batteries, star stickers and popcorn in his sculpture, contribute to a sense of spectacle and futurism, but also a note of wistfulness for what is left behind,” Nusseibeh said.
What is so poignant about the works by each of the artists is that they go beyond of their formal, physical realm as art to tell the stories of their creators and the past and present histories of the world around them.
As an overall exhibition, the three rooms offer immersive solo shows covering each artist’s diverse practices within the context of their shared relationship to the UAE, its past and present histories and rapidly unfolding future.
Italian label Loro Piana collaborates with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej for UAE National Day
Updated 29 November 2021
DUBAI: Italian brand Loro Piana has unveiled an artistic collaboration with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej in celebration of the UAE’s 50th National Day.
The partnership features 50 limited-edition Loro Piana cashmere plaids, each signed and numbered by the painter.
For the collaboration, Bin Lahej reimagined the UAE National Anthem using his own Arabic font, Mattar.
He also created a 3.5-meter-tall, stainless-steel sculpture, “Constitution,” that was unveiled during a gala dinner on Tuesday at Dubai’s Etihad Museum.
Speaking at the event, Loro Piana’s chief executive officer, Damien Bertrand, said: “The plaid is, for Loro Piana, very precious and unique. It perfectly embodies the memorable touch of Loro Piana, which is at the core of the brand. A unique touch which is a result of a unique craftsmanship.”
Bertrand also announced that the fashion label was partnering with the Emirates Red Crescent to supply winter clothing for Syrian refugees in the charity’s Jordan camp.
In her address to dinner guests, Emirates Red Crescent marketing director, Reef Al-Khajeh, said: “The UAE has been known as a generous and caring nation. This collaboration is a demonstration of how deep rooted the culture of giving is embedded.
“The Emirates Red Crescent is constantly acting and reacting to the urgent needs of people affected by misfortune all around the world, and our partnership with Loro Piana will complement the efforts we make to provide relief to those forced into shelters and facing extreme conditions due to disasters and emergencies,” she added.
The event featured performances by Laura Marzadori, first violinist of the Teatro alla Scala, joined by the string section of the National Symphony Orchestra. The dinner was made by Italian Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito, who joined forces with Emirati pastry chef Sahar Parham Al-Awadhi to serve a culinary ode to Italy and the seven Emirates.
DUBAI: US hitmaker Alicia Keys will be the first international artist to perform as part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Infinite Nights series on Dec. 10, organizers announced on Friday.
The 15-time Grammy Award-winner will give fans a glimpse of her new double album, “Keys.”
“Performing in Expo 2020 Dubai’s Infinite Nights series is going to be such an incredible experience,” said Keys in a released statement. “I’m so excited to share such a beautifully unique and special performance on the eve of the release of my new album ‘Keys’ with the world.”
“‘Keys’ is all about letting go of anything that holds you back and breaking through the invisible ceilings above us! It perfectly reflects Expo’s values. I cannot wait to unlock this new universe with you,” she said.
The show will be live-streamed for supporters around the world on www.virtualexpodubai.com, and available to watch across multiple channels, including Expo TV on YouTube and Facebook.
Lubna Haroun, vice president of Expo 2020’s headline talent guest group owner Moment-Makers, said in a statement: “After the incredible success of our Arab artists in October and November, we are excited to bring Alicia Keys to Expo 2020 to headline our Infinite Nights series.”
“Expo 2020 and Alicia share the belief that people’s creativity and diversity should be celebrated, that everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and shine. We are looking forward to a show that inspires and delights our audiences,” she added.
Infinite Nights is a series of events taking place until March 31, welcoming visitors to celebrate human creativity, innovation, progress and culture.
Arab celebrities that performed so far include Iraqi singer Kadim Al-Saher and Lebanese stars Nancy Ajram and Ragheb Alama.
Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world
The new Netflix reality show represents a huge opportunity for some of the best drivers in the Middle East
Updated 26 November 2021
DUBAI: All Syrian racecar driver Bushra Nasr knew, as she drove her beloved car far into the Abu Dhabi desert, was that she would be taking part in a race. She knew there would be cameras, and that whatever happened there might end up airing somewhere in the region.
It wasn’t until later that Nasr, along with the nine other racers from across the region that had gathered there on an abandoned airstrip, learned they were secretly participating in Netflix’s first Arabic-language unscripted reality series entitled “The Fastest.” It was an opportunity that could potentially change each of their lives.
“Honestly, the whole thing was a complete surprise. I thought we might participate in just one race. Then, every day they would come and tell us where we would go next, and without any warning we would take off to different races and different challenges, all unique and different and unlike anything we’d done before,” Nasr tells Arab News. “The entire experience was very exotic.”
For years, Nasr has been pursuing her love of cars and racing in her every spare moment, spending weekends steadily building her profile on the track, winning competitions and earning respect of the region’s drivers one by one — even the men who never imagined a young woman would be able to surpass them.
But her dreams were not just about winning races. They went much further. Nasr harbored the secret hope that fate might one day allow her to become the next Jeremy Clarkson, the erstwhile host of the famed show “Top Gear,” someday.
With “The Fastest,” she and her fellow contestants may finally have a way to achieve their goals, and the worlds of possibility that the show’s potential success could open to them are now on each of their minds. Nasr is not focused solely on herself, however. Her focus is on all the young women that she hopes can be inspired by her success in the show, as well as her fellow female contestants.
“The whole experience was amazing for us as women, and it will show the world how many women feel passionate about this sport and hopefully help others feel motivated too. I hope the whole thing can act as an inspiration for young women to be more and more involved in racing,” says Nasr.
While competition was fierce throughout the first season of “The Fastest,” Nasr’s success in the series was a joy to watch for her competitors, including seasoned Saudi driver Abzulaziz Al-Ya’eesh — a fellow finalist.
“The most memorable part of this show, to be honest, was seeing Bushra (succeed) with her unique and challenging spirit. The show proved that racing not only depends on the car, it depends on the driver’s skills and expertise. By having such varied men and women competing on a level playing field shows how much the sport is expanding in very different circles. (We are) people who came from across the Middle East to share our passion for cars,” says Al- Ya’eesh.
While the Middle East’s reputation as a global hub for car culture grows by the year, it is more than just a home to some of the most impressive collections of supercars past and present. There are enthusiasts from all backgrounds, who have all come to the track from a very different, and often bumpy, path.
For Saudi contestant Abzulaziz Fudhili, what excited him most when he found out “The Fastest” would be available in 190 countries on the world’s biggest streaming platform was that it could show the world the true passion for racing in the region. Fudhili is a prime example of that. He borrowed money from almost everyone he knew to buy his car, and his achievements on the track are allowing him to pay them back.
“I couldn't believe that we would be seen all over. Not only were we going to race, we could show the world that the Middle East motorsport scene is a force to be reckoned with,” Fudhili says. “The world knows we love cars like no one else, but they have never seen the heart we bring behind the wheel.”
“The Fastest” is no amateur competition though. It involved some of the best racers in the region, such as second-generation Kuwaiti racer Ali Makhseed, who only agreed to join the show once he was certain the competition would equal anything he’s found in the region’s premiere races.
“I had second thoughts about joining the show,” says Makhseed. “I’m a professional driver, and I thought it was going to be just a bunch of enthusiasts and fans, not people who really knew street racing. But when I saw some racers I had known for years on that track, I was relieved, and the competition they brought struck a fire in me.”
The show’s six-episode first season is hosted by Saudi YouTube star Tareq Al-Harbi, (aka 6ar8o), whose comedic stylings have gained him more than one million subscribers and almost 10 million Instagram followers.
For Al-Harbi, even though he did not race, hosting the show was a life-long aspiration fulfilled. He could finally be a part of a show that he felt was as good as anything any other country had made, and that never felt like an imitation — a show that was truly the region’s own.
“Having an Arabic-language show that is so well made and suspenseful is a fantasy for Arab viewers,” Al-Harbi says. “You won’t be able to predict the winner until the last minute. I think people aren’t going to be able to stop watching this show, and that makes me incredibly proud.”
Despite his enormous success, Al-Harbi considers “The Fastest” perhaps his greatest personal achievement.
“It has been an incredible journey for me,” he says. “I still remember how hard it was when I started off. I am thrilled to reach this level. I also think of it as a big responsibility for me.”
The contestants say they have forged real friendships with each other since the competition concluded — trading racing tips, helping each other with their cars, and reliving some of their favorite moments on the track against each other and the lessons they learned about themselves.
“The experience overall was an education to me, and I’d be happy to be part of this again,” says Al-Ya’eesh. “I will make sure to be prepared with my car and learn more about each driver, so that no one can beat me next time.”
Max von Oppenheim: The little-known history of a German spy in the Gulf
Updated 26 November 2021
DUBAI: In the spring of 1893, the German diplomat and archaeologist Max von Oppenheim embarked on an expedition from Damascus to Basra. The journey would take him through the Syrian desert and south through Mesopotamia to the Arabian Gulf. In total, he would travel more than 1,200 kilometers.
Along the way, Oppenheim kept a meticulous record of everything he saw. He took photographs, mapped the landscape, collected material on the Bedouin, and built up biographical portraits of the people he encountered. He would later say: “In the course of this expedition, I came to love the wild, unconstrained life of the sons of the desert.”
Oppenheim’s record of his journey would lead to the publication of “Vom Mittelmeer zum Persischen Golf,” a two-volume account of his travels through the Hauran (southern Syria and northern Jordan), the Syrian desert, and modern-day Iraq. A remarkable historical document, the first edition was published between 1899 and 1900 by Dietrich Reimer (Ernst Vohsen) and has remained a key source for the understanding of the region for 120 years.
“Both the book’s remarkably thorough and detailed content and its rarity make it a compelling and sought-after work,” says Duncan McCoshan, a cataloguer at London-based rare book dealer Peter Harrington. “These are very handsomely produced volumes that, for a commercial publication, spared no expense.”
As well as two “genuinely impressive” large folding maps by the German cartographer Richard Kiepert, the work contains a series of stunning photographs, about a third of which are by the renowned German photographer Hermann Burchardt, although he goes uncredited. During the course of his career Oppenheim often took photographs himself, but he also travelled with a team of professionals, including the British film pioneer Robert Paul and the German photographer Waldemar Titzenthaler.
The two volumes — copies of which were brought to the Sharjah International Book Fair by Peter Harrington earlier this month — were printed at a time when publishers were experimenting with various techniques of binding, illustrating and decorating books, says McCoshan. “The results of these innovations can be spectacular, as with this set, when the book survives in sharp condition. However, many of these improvements mean that the book can easily become tired – the lettering and decorative ‘blocking’ can wear off, and the multiple plates bound in tend to weaken the binding, becoming loose.
“This is particularly so in the case of key reference titles like this which came in for quite a lot of serious use over an extended period. Then the superb, highly detailed maps are loose in pockets, so that they can be removed, laid out flat and studied closely; and maybe borrowed and perhaps never returned. It is far from common in any condition, but to find it bright, tight, and complete as it is here is very unusual indeed.”
Despite the value of his work, Oppenheim was a controversial figure. He had originally trained as a lawyer, held various consular and diplomatic postings, and later became an archaeologist. Arguably his greatest archaeological achievement would be the discovery and excavation of the Neolithic site of Tell Halaf in north-eastern Syria.
But behind this public persona lay “a rather shadowy figure” who moved through the region as “an adventurer for German imperial ambition.”
As McCoshan explains, Oppenheim used “archaeology and anthropology as a cover for an attempt to undermine British prestige, much as Lawrence of Arabia was doing on the other side of the coin.” As a consequence, he was known to British intelligence as ‘the Kaiser’s spy.’
“He was seen by the Allied Powers of the First World War as the chief instigator and organizer of jihad, the intention of which was to destabilize the region and draw in troops from Britain and France,” says McCoshan, who first encountered Oppenheim through the works of the British author and historian Peter Hopkirk. “We know about it because British intelligence in the region was always highly suspicious of his activities.”
In 1899, Oppenheim embarked on another journey, this time from Cairo via Aleppo to Damascus and northern Mesopotamia. Ostensibly an expedition to determine possible routes for the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway, of which Deutsche Bank was a primary sponsor, his covert mission was the dissemination of anti-British propaganda and the undermining of British prestige. It was during this trip that he discovered Tell Halaf.
“Oppenheim’s book brings to life the geo-political importance of the region and deepens our understanding of it at the turn of the 20th century,” says McCoshan. Something he achieved “through his painstaking research, his bravura investigations, and his conspicuous sympathy for the peoples of the region, in particular the Bedouin.”