Washington exhibition highlights the impact of Arab artists on the US art scene

Washington exhibition highlights the impact of Arab artists on the US art scene
Helen Khal, ‘Untitled.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 23 December 2021

Washington exhibition highlights the impact of Arab artists on the US art scene

Washington exhibition highlights the impact of Arab artists on the US art scene
  • ‘Converging Lines’ shows how generations of Arabs have ‘asserted their own identities and narratives’ in America

DUBAI: From a delicate figurative drawing by Kahlil Gibran to Etel Adnan’s tri-colored painting “Planète 8,” a recent exhibition in Washington’s Middle East Institute showcased the works of established and emerging Arab artists who have built their lives and careers in America. 

“Converging Lines: Tracing the Artistic Lineage of the Arab Diaspora in the US” demonstrated the long-standing presence of multidisciplinary artists associated with Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Sudan in American cities including New York, San Francisco and Washington, exploring the generationally overlapping themes of abstraction, figuration, migration, war, and occupation, and all contributing to the canon of ‘American art.’ 

The US is home to approximately three million citizens of Arab heritage, but the general public’s knowledge of this community’s rich artistic output is at a low and tends to stay within Arab-American circles. A part of this problem is institutional representation, according to the show’s independent curator and writer Maymanah Farhat. 




Huguette Caland, ‘Corps bleu (Bribes de corps),’ 1973. (Supplied)

“It’s a matter of advocacy,” she told Arab News. “The way that the American art world works is that if you don’t have a group of people — including gallerists, collectors, historians, curators, and artists themselves — constantly advocating, you really can’t get anywhere in terms of making headway. It is still very much a white male-dominated art scene.” 

Black artists, for example, have also faced marginalization and neglect like their Arab contemporaries, but, as Farhat points out, the former have made significant strides in the last 10 years. 

“It’s not something that one person alone can do, and it really requires diligence,” she said. “We saw that with the emergence of black artists recently — there’s actual care being taken, but that comes from decades and decades of black art historians and curators advocating those narratives, writing monographs and producing exhibitions.” 




Jacqueline Salloum, ‘SANE HILWE YA OKHTI (HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR SISTER),’ 2017. (Supplied)

Considering the political climate of the past 20 years, the “demonization” of Arab-Americans is another concern, as well as misinformation. Farhat said she once heard someone comment: “I didn’t know Arabs produced contemporary art.”

“There is still that kind of really strong power of Hollywood and Orientalism in the sense of capturing the imaginations of Americans,” she added. 

While there have been notable attempts to improve inclusivity — exhibiting the works of Arab artists in international art fairs, auctions, and biennales — there is a long way to go towards full recognition in the American context, something the MEI exhibition hoped to address. 




Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Blind,’ 1919. (Supplied)

The exhibition focused on three clusters of Arab-American artists over a 100-year period: the modernists of the 1950s-1960s; the ‘mid-career’; and the newer artists of the past 15 years. It began with drawings by the literary titan and grandfather of Arab-American art, Kahlil Gibran, who was born in Lebanon and roamed the literary spheres of Boston and New York for years during the early 20th century. A foundational diasporic figure, Gibran was one of the first to write about the Arab-American identity, a topic that contemporary artists tap into until this day. 

“Gibran and Rumi are the best-selling authors in the American publishing world and it’s funny that they’re always seen as mythical ‘Eastern’ men,” said Farhat. “It’s frustrating to me, at least, that Gibran is never seen as an American artist, when so much of his visual art was produced during that time when New York was truly international. Gibran was very active in the American art scene.”

The title of the show refers to the fact that many of the featured artists crossed paths at one point or another, and also shared aesthetics and interests. “The most common theme is the fact that artists are asserting their own identities and narratives,” Farhat said. 




Helen Zughaib, ‘Circle Home Beit,’ 2010. (Supplied)

One of the most interesting artists on view is the late painter and critic Helen Khal, who was born into a Lebanese family in 1920s Pennsylvania, but decided to study in Beirut, where she would eventually become studio mates with Huguette Caland. Their work is simple, exploring colors and forms in what looks like an unearthly space in motion. 

“You can’t argue with their work,” Farhat said of the two female painters. “You see their work and you’re completely blown away by it.” Caland eventually left Lebanon, heading first to France, and then to Venice, California for around three decades, becoming associated with the West Coast abstraction movement. 

Meanwhile, Etel Adnan, who died last month at the age of 96, first started painting her now-beloved, dreamy Californian landscapes in Marin County, making her a true Bay Area artist.  




Helen Khal, ‘Untitled’. (Supplied)

Honoring tradition and embracing new ideas, the late Palestinian printmaker Kamal Boullata, who lived in Washington for 30 years, was forever inspired by the calligraphy and mosaics of the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem, where he was born and forced to leave in 1967. Helen Zughaib has a similar story of displacement, having fled Lebanon during the Civil War. She currently works in the US, and also experiments with calligraphy by writing the Arabic word ‘Beit’ (home) over and over again to create her works.

Arab-American artists today are bold and vocal, using a variety of material and often addressing heavy socio-political matters. Take Michigan-born Jacqueline Salloum’s “Happy Birthday Dear Sister” — a white-frosted cake that looks pretty on the outside but is full of M16 bullets. It references Salloum’s interviews with a young girl in a Palestinian camp, where normal activities such as baking a birthday cake, took place against a backdrop of constant violence.

For the Lebanese-Mexican Farhat, who is editing a forthcoming publication on the artistry of Arab-Americans, the show’s diverse content is personal. “I love them all — there’s something special in each generation,” she said. “I like the fact that what we’re communicating with the show is the sense of longevity. I think every generation has produced something that we can gravitate towards.” 

Farhat hopes the exhibition managed to communicate the idea that Arab artists and their US counterparts were working together as peers, as opposed to the latter only “influencing” the former. 

“(Arab artists) have been engaged and they’ve been contributing,” she noted. “It’s not that they were located in a specific city and were then influenced by other artists — they had their own style, their own techniques, and their own contributions that they’ve brought to the larger American art scene.”


Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury
Updated 28 January 2022

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

DUBAI: Algerian-Brazilian film director Karim Ainouz, Tunisian-French producer Said Ben Said and Algerian-Tunisian screenwriter Anne Zohra Berrached will join the international jury of the Berlin Film Festival, organizers announced this week.  

They will join international filmmakers including M. Night Shyamalan, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Hamaguchi Ryusuke, and actor Connie Nielsen who will all decide the Golden and Silver Bear winners.

Ainouz is an award-winning director and screenwriter. He is known for his productions “Invisible Life,” “Madame Sata” and “Mariner Of The Mountains.”

Said’s most recent films are “Good Mother” and “Tralala.” (AFP)

Said is most famous for his 2016 thriller “Elle,” his 2019 drama “Bacurau” and most recently his 2021 films “Good Mother” and “Tralala.”

Berrached’s debut short was “Der Pausenclown” (“The Class Clown”) in 2009. With around 10 productions under her belt, the director and writer has made a name for herself in the film industry. In 2018, she was appointed to the international jury of the 53rd Chicago Film Festival.

Ainouz, Said and Berrached are not the only Arab filmmakers to join the festival’s jury members.

Lebanese sound editor, director and actress Rana Eid was also named on the jury for the Berlinale Documentary Award.

She has worked on award-winning productions including “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” “Farha,” “Memory Box,” “The Sea Ahead,” “You Will Die at 20,” “Panoptic,” and more.

Eid will be joined by Chinese director Wang Bing and German cinematographer Susanne Schule.

The film festival will run from Feb. 10-16.


Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show
Updated 28 January 2022

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

RIYADH: Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana staged its Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections on Thursday against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla.

The heritage site, situated in the northeast of the Kingdom, played host to the fashion house’s haute couture. 

The models walked the runway in luxurious gowns in almost every color you could think of, from vibrant gold — that blended smoothly with the historical location — to eye-catching hot-pink designs.

The show launched with a voluminous princess-inspired dress. Italian duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana embellished rich fabrics such as duchesse satin, velvet, organza and chiffon with sequins and beads. 

The collection also featured glitzy designs for men.   

The fashion show took place alongside the Ikmah Fashion Cavalry Show, which was conceived and produced by Balich Wonder Studio. It wowed guests with a full parade of 12 Arabian horses sporting customized horse accessories and attire.

High-end jewelry is also part of the AlUla Moments festival season.

The event featured fashion bloggers and entrepreneurs from around the region, including Emirati host and actress Mahira Abdel Aziz, Saudi fashion designer Tamaraah Al-Gabaani, Saudi author Marriam Mossalli, fashion stylist Hala Al-Harithy and social media influencer Lama Alakeel.

Each of the celebrities took to Instagram to share clips from the show with their thousands of followers. “What an amazing experience,” wrote Mossalli on the social media app following the event. 

Dolce & Gabbana will also exhibit its one-of-a-kind collection in Maraya, the famed mirrored structure. The exhibition will be open to the public from Jan. 28- 31. Not only will guests have the opportunity to visit the exclusive space but they will also have the chance to be fitted by the Italian label’s master tailer and shop pieces from the collection.

The designer duo presented their label’s Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections in Venice in August. Meanwhile, in 2020, the fashion house unveiled their Alta Moda couture offerings via a digital show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’
Updated 28 January 2022

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

DUBAI: A haunting piano melody blends seamlessly with rhythmic beats and Arabic rap on the new single “See Beyond” — a collaboration between Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad and music and theater production duo Sisters Grimm.

The song, released last week, celebrates diversity and peaceful co-existence, according to its creators.

“Initially the song was supposed to be classical and theatrical, (but then we brought in) the flavor of the Egyptian streets. The rap was in sync with the energy of the diversity we see around us,” says Gad. “It’s been a crazy project, I loved it.”

Sister Grimm — composer and painter Ella Spira and ballerina Pietra De Mello Pittman — are based in the UK and the UAE, and “See Beyond” was recorded in their studio in Dubai. The song, co-written by Gad and Spira, urges people to look beyond cultural boundaries and accept everyone’s individuality.

The accompanying video features excerpts from Sister Grimm’s film “Daughters of the Wind,” in which Pittman portrays a modern Emirati woman in a ballet performance which is the perfect foil to Gad’s high-energy rap.

“Every element of the song happened so organically that it blossomed like a bud,” says Spira. “The recording happened as we wrote it together in our creative studio space. The filming process followed a similar route. I think that is why the piece has that fresh raw edge.”

One of the objectives for the artists was to break down barriers around cultural conflicts and bridge the gap between Western and Arabic music. The video shows the protagonist’s place of work, and how she battles with her colleagues — fighting to gain respect for her ideas.

“We wanted to show that we can find a way to coexist and recognize our differences. Through ‘See Beyond’ we also hope to play a part in (preparing the ground) for more international art to be produced here. There is great potential for artists and art produced across the Middle East to (seep) into the global music and art scenes more prominently,” says Pittman.


Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
Updated 28 January 2022

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
  • Ramallah Art Fair runs until February 15

Saher Nassar — ‘The Eternal’

Nassar worked as an illustrator and graphic designer before starting his career as an artist, and those influences remain clear in his work, particularly in his pop-art pieces. In “The Eternal,” Nassar represents the iconic symbol of Palestine, Handala. Originally created by the late political cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, Handala is a 10-year-old boy, usually pictured from behind, with his arms crossed behind his back. The image has grown to be a widely used representative of Palestine and its people, symbolizing resistance to — and rejection of — the occupation. Nassar, however, tackles it somewhat differently, with a knowing twist.

Alaa Attoun — ‘Scene 1’

In the works he has provided for this show, Attoun moves away from the emotionally charged hyperrealist pencil drawings for which he is arguably best known into performance photography — which seems in many ways like a natural progression. For this series, titled “Scene,” Attoun visited three locations in Jerusalem where Palestinian families have been displaced from their homes to stage his surreal, theatrical shots.

Alaa Albaba — ‘The Camp III’

Albaba is well-known for works depicting the lives of refugees and refugee camps. For example, the show brochure explains: “During his residency in Borj Alshamali Refugee Camp in Lebanon, he produced sketches and murals about the Houla massacre in Syria based on real stories.” And his Fish Path project consisted of 18 murals in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan which used fish “as a representation of Palestinian refugees who are longing to return to their villages next to the sea.” Albaba resides in the Alamari Refugee Camp in Ramallah, where he has established an artist’s studio. His work for this show focuses on that camp’s sprawl, and contrasts it with the modern residential and commercial areas that surround it.

Fouad Agbaria — ‘Resisting Decomposition III’

The Palestinian landscape is “the most prominent theme in this show,” according to organizers Zawyeh Gallery. Fouad Agbaria’s impressionistic series “Resisting Decomposition” is just one example, and the works also tackle another prominent theme, resistance, through symbols including the cactus and the olive tree. Using such plants also references the deep-rooted connection that so many Palestinians have to their homeland.

Khaled Hourani — ‘Manaakh’

Hourani — a native of Hebron — is a well-respected figure in the Palestinian art scene, for his work as a curator and writer as well as for his award-winning art. As a former general director of the Fine Arts Department in the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, his inclusion in the art fair shows the organizer’s commitment to including up-and-coming artists alongside their more-established counterparts. In “Manaakh,” the brochure explains, Hourani “wanted to highlight the threat of global warming” and “showcases the world hanging by a thread, mimicking the fragility of a Christmas ornament.”

Ruba Salameh – ‘Creatures of Regression II’

Salameh was born in Nazareth in 1985. Throughout her career, she has used a variety of mediums to address “questions of land, geographies, displacement, nationalism and in-between temporalities in an attempt to contemplate … daily life, which in many cases leads to a state of dystopia, using cynicism and irony as tools.” Her “Creatures of Regression” series, from which this work is taken, is “inspired by her psychoanalytic observation on children’s behavior, (particularly) displaying jealousy towards younger siblings,” the organizers say.


Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
Updated 27 January 2022

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
  • Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations
  • Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities

CAIRO: The 53rd Cairo International Book Fair kicked off on Thursday, with Greece the guest of honor and 1,063 Egyptian, Arab and foreign publishers and agencies from 51 countries taking part.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly inaugurated the exhibition, which will continue until Feb. 7 under the slogan “Egypt’s identity: Culture and the question of the future.”

The late writer Yahya Haqqi is the main personality of this year’s book fair, which comprises five halls and 879 pavilions, and includes discussion sessions and workshops. 

Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities.

Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts said more than 600 books and publications by Algerian publishing houses are featuring in the exhibition, as are seven writers and poets.

Oman is participating with publications aimed at introducing the country’s culture and highlighting its intellectual production.

The exhibition has a hall dedicated to children’s books and activities, with the works of the late author, translator and publisher Abdel Tawab Youssef at the fore.

The Arab Publishers Association will hold its general assembly on the sidelines of the fair on Sunday, including the election of a new board of directors.

The exhibition had earlier announced the creation of an award for best Arab publisher, and the raising of the financial value of its annual awards in the fields of story, novel, poetry, literary criticism and human studies.