What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack
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Updated 06 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

In Armies of Sand, Kenneth M. Pollack’s powerful and riveting history of Arab armies from the end of WWII to the present, assesses these differing explanations and isolates the most important causes.

Over the course of the book, he examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab armies and air forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war.

He then compares these experiences to the performance of the Argentine, Chadian, Chinese, Cuban, North Korean, and South Vietnamese armed forces in their own combat operations during the twentieth century.

The patterns of behavior derived from the dominant Arab culture “was the most important factor of all.”


‘Saudi Picasso’ thinks outside the box

Faisal Al-Kheriji prefers cubism and surrealism ‘because cubism paints different shapes, while surrealism is about painting strange characters.’ (Supplied)
Faisal Al-Kheriji prefers cubism and surrealism ‘because cubism paints different shapes, while surrealism is about painting strange characters.’ (Supplied)
Updated 18 January 2022

‘Saudi Picasso’ thinks outside the box

Faisal Al-Kheriji prefers cubism and surrealism ‘because cubism paints different shapes, while surrealism is about painting strange characters.’ (Supplied)
  • Culture and cubism meet in Jeddah-based artist Faisal Al-Kheriji’s distinctive portraits

JEDDAH: Saudi artist Faisal Al-Kheriji is keeping one eye on the past and the other on the future as he sets out to explore the rapid cultural changes transforming the Kingdom.

The 27-year-old artist draws on cubism and surrealism — art styles that originated more than a century ago — to create distinctive portraits showing how Saudi Arabia is modernizing and adapting to change.
Al-Kheriji’s artworks deal with subjects ranging from social customs to hospitality and styles of dress.
“I get inspired by my culture and by other artists, both globally and locally,” he said.
Al-Kheriji, who was born and raised in Jeddah, began to paint at the age of six and soon began attending art classes.
“Painting grew with me as a hobby, but I was self-taught after that. But my real journey began when I studied abroad. That’s when I started spending more time on painting, and trying new techniques and styles,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Faisal Al-Kheriji draws on cubism and surrealism — art styles that originated more than a century ago — to create distinctive portraits showing how Saudi Arabia is modernizing and adapting to change.

• Al-Kheriji’s artworks deal with subjects ranging from social customs to hospitality and styles of dress. Al-Kheriji began to paint at the age of six and soon began attending art classes.

Al-Kheriji is widely known for his figurative paintings and prints featuring fragmented portraits.
Recontextualizing paintings from the “old masters” and adding references to contemporary culture, he produces work that is heavily influenced by artists from the past, notably Pablo Picasso and his cubist figures.
For instance, his “Reema Lisa” depicts a Saudi woman dressed in traditional Hijazi dress, while “The Men of Saudi Arabia” shows Saudi men camping in a tent in the desert.
“I prefer cubism and surrealism because cubism paints different shapes, while surrealism is about painting strange characters that you don’t see in real life. My paintings are a mixture of both,” he said.
Al-Kheriji also includes patterns, fashion, traditional practices, and other elements from Saudi and Arab culture in his artworks.
Although he pursued a degree in management and marketing, and is currently a marketing manager at Unilever, the artist is committed to his artistic practice.
“Art for me is a hobby and I enjoy every minute of it.”
Al-Kheriji’s work has gone through many stages in recent years.
“If you look at my artwork in 2018 and now, you will notice a big difference. My identity is showing more and my style is becoming more obvious. In 2018, you will find some mixed art styles in my paintings. As I grew up, however, my focus shifted to creating paintings that introduce my culture to the world, as well as honoring the Kingdom’s rich history.”
Al-Kheriji said that he draws inspiration from artists ranging from Picasso to contemporary American painter George Condo, as well as the natural environment.
“I am most inspired by Pablo Picasso and George Condo because of their unique painting style that stands out from that of many other artists.”
Al-Kheriji’s work has been shown in galleries in London, Boston and Jeddah, and he plans to expand his exhibits in order to reach a wider audience and share his culture’s rich heritage.
“In 2015, I organized my first solo exhibition in Boston and, in 2017, I also showcased my artwork in London. In Saudi Arabia, I have been able to show my paintings many times, but since 2018 everything has been more digital.”
Al-Kheriji’s love of his own culture has been a constant throughout his career.
“When it comes to art, I am an Arab Muslim who is regionally focused,” he said.
“My art is focused on the region, whether it is Muslim, Saudi or Arab cultures. The only difference, I would say, is that Boston had an impact on me when I started taking art very seriously; you could say it was my turning point with art.”
Al-Kheriji encourages other artists to keep culture alive in their artwork. “I believe that art reflects culture and can build bridges between nations.”
He added: “Nowadays artists mistakenly try to learn and do whatever they consider other people will like.”
The artist is currently working on a collection exploring fashions and traditional clothing in regions of the Kingdom.
Over the past year, Saudi Arabia’s art scene has been expanding as more of the Kingdom’s young contemporary artists make a name for themselves.
“It’s definitely gaining more attention and becoming more popular,” Al-Kheriji said. “But I still think there is a long way to go. Recently, the Ministry of Culture organized great exhibitions around the  Kingdom. That’s a good step and they are outdoing the private sector.”
Al-Kheriji hopes that new emerging artists will be able to show their artworks at various galleries.


Marvel releases trailer for Mohamed Diab-directed series ‘Moon Knight’

Marvel releases trailer for Mohamed Diab-directed series ‘Moon Knight’
Updated 18 January 2022

Marvel releases trailer for Mohamed Diab-directed series ‘Moon Knight’

Marvel releases trailer for Mohamed Diab-directed series ‘Moon Knight’

DUBAI: Marvel unveiled this week the trailer and release date for its upcoming series “Moon Knight,” directed by Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab. 

The show, in which actor Oscar Isaac stars as a superhero, will premiere on Disney+ on March 30.

Isaac plays the role of an ex-soldier, Marc Spector, who suffers from sleeping disorder. 

“I can’t tell the difference between my waking life and my dreams,” says the character in the trailer. 

The teaser shows that Spector also has an identity disorder, where at times he thinks he is another man named Steven.

After visiting a museum on ancient Egypt, he sees a vision of the Egyptian moon deity Khonshu and becomes his conduit. Spector then meets the villain, played by actor Ethan Hawke, who encourages him to embrace the darkness within himself.

Diab gave us gripping works like “Cairo 678,” “Clash” and most recently “Amira,” which screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2021, the El Gouna Film Festival and the MedFilm Festival in Rome, where it scooped up multiple prizes. 

“Moon Knight” also stars Bahrain-born actress May Calamawy, who acts in “Ramy,” the award-winning comedy series who’s lead character is Egyptian-American actor Ramy Youssef. 


US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con
Updated 15 January 2022

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

DUBAI: US actors Michael Rooker and Jon Bernthal are set to attend the 10th edition of the Middle East Film and Comic Con, taking place in Abu Dhabi from March 4-6.

Rooker and Bernthal are part of a star-studded guest list that includes US voice actor Charles Martinet and “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel.

Bernthal starred alongside Rooker in “The Walking Dead.” (AFP)

Rooker is best known for his portrayal of Yondu Udonta in the blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and has thrilled fans with his roles in films and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “The Suicide Squad.”

Bernthal starred alongside Rooker in “The Walking Dead.” He also had roles in Marvel’s “The Punisher,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Baby Driver” and more.

The festival, which is dedicated to film, comic book and video game fans, will feature workshops, a theater experience, an Artists’ Alley and the ever-popular cosplay competition.


Six Saudi comedians have Riyadh Season audiences rolling in aisles

Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
Updated 15 January 2022

Six Saudi comedians have Riyadh Season audiences rolling in aisles

Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
  • The funnymen perform their shows in Arabic to help connect with audiences

RIYADH: Six of the best Saudi comedians have had audiences rolling in the aisles for a second year at the Riyadh Season festival of entertainment.

Brought together by the Saudi House of Comedy, the comics have been taking to the stage at Boulevard Riyadh City as part of the popular annual event.
Fayez Al-Shamrani, one of the performers, told Arab News: “Riyadh Season is an important initiative to be part of, and the attendance in Riyadh was amazing. I would hope to perform there again.”
The pioneering House of Comedy for standup comedians was opened in the Eastern Province in 2017 by Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj and Talal Al-Anazi.

Abdulrahman Al-Shalhoub

Co-founder and comic, Al-Hajjaj, told Arab News that making people laugh was addictive. “It is a lovely feeling when you’re doing standup, and you make people laugh, it is a different kind of heart buzz, it tickles your little heart vessels.”
In 2018, the General Entertainment Authority sponsored the comedy club, and since then, it has performed at least 56 shows, including standups and plays throughout the Kingdom.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The pioneering House of Comedy for standup comedians was opened in the Eastern Province in 2017 by Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj and Talal Al-Anazi.

• In 2018, the General Entertainment Authority sponsored the comedy club, and since then, it has performed at least 56 shows, including standups and plays throughout the Kingdom.

Veteran entertainer Al-Hajjaj has witnessed firsthand the rapid developments that have taken place in the sector in the Kingdom over recent years.
“I think it’s wonderful. Thankfully our government is supporting us 100 percent and anything we need we can ask for. The General Entertainment Authority, Ministry of Culture, and everybody is helping us, and I feel that Saudi artists need nothing,” he said.

It is a lovely feeling when you’re doing standup, and you make people laugh.
Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj

Al-Hajjaj was joined by fellow comics Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater in Boulevard Riyadh City, one of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones.
They performed game shows with scenes consisting of six comedy segments based on improvisation between two teams representing several scenarios chosen by the audience.
The funnymen have previously performed their standup routines on the MSC Bellissima cruise ship.

Abdulrahman Al-Shalhoub

Al-Shamrani, known by his stage name Goge, said: “I am very thankful to have been a part of the House of Comedy. We have had wonderful experiences together.”
And Al-Hajjaj pointed out that the use of comedy could often help resolve many issues in life. “I think just smiling before your problems will eventually make it less harmful to your body, into your mind, and soul.”
The comedians, from different regions of the Kingdom, all perform their shows in Arabic to help connect with audiences.
“I perform local comedy, I do all of my shows in Arabic, and I always encourage my fellow comedians to do their jokes in Arabic.
“I think humor comes from blood, and it’s from your environment, where you were raised, where you went to school. I think comedy comes from blood, and if your blood is Arabic, your jokes are always going to be in Arabic,” Al-Hajjaj added.
And he urged young Saudis to explore careers in the entertainment industry.
“I think any talented person that is just sitting at home will always be a talented person just sitting at home. The Ministry of Culture is always giving courses. The General Entertainment Authority is always giving opportunities for people to pursue their talents,” he said.
With the current support and resources provided to the entertainment sector in the country, Al-Hajjaj reckoned it could only continue to flourish.
“I think in the next five years, we will be experiencing a blast of comedians, a blast of new young talents and new young actors and actresses,” he added.


Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency
Updated 14 January 2022

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency
  • After 11 weeks of artistic exploration, inaugural residency in Kingdom’s ancient region culminates with showcase of artists’ works
  • Artworks also to be displayed at AlUla Arts festival taking place from Feb. 13-26

DUBAI: In the ancient desert lands of AlUla, now one of Saudi Arabia’s top tourist attractions, six artists have spent the last three months creating works as part of the area’s first art residency program.

Under the theme “The Oasis Reborn,” the cohort hailing from the Kingdom, Syria, the UAE, France, and Algeria, has, since the start of November, been immersed in AlUla’s ancient sites, natural oasis, and varied landscapes of lush valleys, sandstone mountains, red-rock cliffs, canyons, and velvety sand dunes.

Their mission has been to create art that marries the rich cultural heritage of the area with its bountiful natural environment.

Muhannad Shono, On This Sacred Day, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

They have been working in collaboration with technical, scientific, and archaeological experts developing the natural oasis into a 50-square-kilometer hospitality, heritage, and cultural venture. The artists also linked up with local community artisans and cultural practitioners to learn about AlUla’s rich heritage.

The residency initiative was the brainchild of officials from the Royal Commission for AlUla, and the French Agency for AlUla Development, and was operated by Manifesto, a French creative agency set up to help companies with artistic projects.

Laure Confavreux-Colliex, executive director at Manifesto, told Arab News: “The goal of this residency program was to work with the six artists chosen from different backgrounds and practices to be involved through art in the development and regeneration of AlUla.

Laura Sellies, Peuplé de feuilles qui bougent (“Populated by Moving Leaves”), 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 4. (Supplied)

“The theme dedicated to ‘The Oasis Reborn’ means we are digging into those issues of what is in the oasis, what has been in the oasis, and how to bring to light the history and heritage of the oasis so that AlUla can be regenerated.

“Our goal at Manifesto was to create those links between the artists and the local AlUla community.”

The first edition took place in Mabiti AlUla, a palm grove and guest house in the heart of AlUla’s oasis. The next edition will be held at Madrasat AdDeera, an arts and design center set to become a key space in the future Arts District of AlUla, a cluster of education and art programs aimed at providing an active and vibrant destination for communities, students, artists, and visitors.

The first cohort of artists-in-residence began collaborations with local artisans through the programs held at Madrasat AdDeera.

Sara Favriau, Ruban de Möbius (“Möbius Strip”), 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

Suspended over a pool of water and positioned in between a grove of palm trees, Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai’s installation, “Thuraya,” draws links between modern science and the ancient past.

Created using natural materials from the oasis, it is colored red with golden lanterns on either side that at night cast reflections on the water and illuminate the area.

Al-Shashai told Arab News that his piece had been inspired by the importance of the stars to the lives of farmers.

He said: “My grandfather used to take me with him to perform the Fajr prayer. I remember the path we used to walk together. When he was talking to me, he was always looking at the sky, at the star, at the Thuraya and its position in the sky. Farmers have always been guided by its location in the sky to start planting or harvesting. It was the start of my inspiration for my installation.”

The artists spent the last three months creating works as part of the area’s first art residency program. (Supplied)

The cycle of death and renewal in the oasis was the focus of Muhannad Shono’s work, “On This Sacred Day,” with the smoke rising from the installation representing the stories of comings and goings, loss, and remembrance.

He said: “It is a ceremonial piece that transcribes the journey of plant, ash, smoke, and sky, in other words, a cycle of death and renewal unfolding inside a living oasis. It also questions purposeful change, transformation, and impacts to guard against fires that may seek to reduce the world to ash.”

French artist Sara Favriau’s artwork, titled “The Oasis is a Wadi Raised to the Sky,” takes three forms and three distinct steps corresponding to three related moments: Small sculptures called “Trifles and Trinkets,” a filmed performance titled “A Never-Ending Day,” and an installation named “Mobius Strip.” The artist created the trio of forms to question the notion of a garden of the desert and, more specifically, of the oasis, envisioning the planet as an expansive garden with the human and animal realms united as one.

Sofiane Si Merabet (The Confused Artist), It’s Not Early Anymore, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

French-Algerian artist Sofiane si Merabet looked at the oasis as a “motherly environment” that had nurtured humans throughout time.

Titled “It’s Not Early Anymore,” his work reflects on the recent development of the oasis of AlUla and the excitement surrounding wedding celebrations. Located in a small, one-story building on an oasis farm, he has produced a multimedia installation capturing the Saudi traditions of the Tagagat, or female wedding singers, and regional elements documenting urban signs and shops referring to weddings.

Si Merabet told Arab News that AlUla was also known as the “bride of the mountains.”

He said: “Working closely with Nujood, the only Tagaga of AlUla, is a very powerful way of documenting the sociology of the oasis, the current dynamic of change, and how both are linked to spaces.

Talin Hazbar, Earth Readings, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

“The oasis as a motherly space, nourishing, full of greenery, and the desert, it reminds me of the dichotomy that you can find during weddings: A mirror of how interactions between genders or different social groups occur.

“This work searches for the permanence of local traditions and questions the meaning of preservation and authenticity and how they can be reinvented,” he added.

Talin Hazbar, an artist born in Syria and based in the UAE, created “Earth Readings,” a piece exploring the myriad of relationships between the past and the present, the imperceptible and the material. The work delves into the meaning of the land through “mark-making and map-making narratives.”

She said: “I worked with a living material which can be reshaped, remolded, reconstructed, and that constantly adapts, and evolves. It becomes a trace of its lifetime and of its space while also becoming a key to understand AlUla in its own elements, stories, and practices.”

In a powerful nod to the expansive and varied landscape of the AlUla oasis, French artist Laura Sellies’ “Populated by Moving Leaves” showcases an installation made up of sculptures, sounds, and texts. She said it invoked a “palace of memories” whereby metal structures invite visitors to listen to the voices of the oasis — both real and fictional —including women, men, birds, camels, winds, water, rocks, and sand.

The artists’ works were presented to the public over three days of open studios in January and will be on display during AlUla Arts festival taking place from Feb. 13 to 26.