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.”


Alkhobar chill: Gioelia Cremeria offers a taste of Italy on Saudi Arabia’s east coast

Alkhobar chill: Gioelia Cremeria offers a taste of Italy on Saudi Arabia’s east coast
Updated 01 October 2022

Alkhobar chill: Gioelia Cremeria offers a taste of Italy on Saudi Arabia’s east coast

Alkhobar chill: Gioelia Cremeria offers a taste of Italy on Saudi Arabia’s east coast

A cool new ice cream cafe and shop has opened on Alkhobar City Walk, offering visitors a true taste of Italy.

Owned and run by local man Bader Al-Hussaini and his family, Gioelia Cremeria Italiana is packed full of tasty delights — from thirst-quenching fruity gelato and chocolate cakes to cookies and cannoli.

Before opening the store in mid-September — the first outlet of the famous brand in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East — Al-Hussaini and his father traveled to Italy to sample the products they would be selling.

On opening day the place was packed with happy customers young and old as they sampled the dozen or so treats on offer.

Al-Hussaini recommended we try the pistachio gelato, and it tasted like summer in a cup. The creamy texture of the ice cream combined with chips of pistachio was neither overwhelming nor too subtle. It also came with a thin wafer on the top to give it extra crunch.

As well as the desserts — available for eat-in or takeaway — the shop offers a wide range of hot and iced coffees, smoothies, frappes, and bottles of sparkling and still water from Italy.

Al-Hussaini said his personal favorite was the gelato, “because I really like it and we don’t have many gelato shops here in Alkhobar.”

He told Arab News that unlike most ice creams, gelato does not contain much water, “which makes it more creamy.”

Gioelia Cremeria Italiana is open from 4 p.m. to midnight.


New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage
Updated 17 sec ago

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage
  • ‘Experience Great Britain’ is part of publisher’s range of ‘anti-guidebooks’
  • It offers ‘really diverse experiences for visitors,’ contributor Tharik Hussain says

LONDON: A new Lonely Planet guide to Great Britain features an entire chapter on the country’s little-known Islamic heritage, which stretches back more than 1,200 years.

Published this month, “Experience Great Britain” is part of the publisher’s range of “anti-guidebooks,” so-called because of the unique local perspectives they offer travelers.

The guide to Britain has sections and essays titled “Legacies of Empire,” “Bristol’s Black History,” “An Other London” and “Hidden Muslim Britain,” all of which seek to shine a light on the nation’s marginalized cultures and their stories.

Tharik Hussain, the Muslim author of “Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey Into Muslim Europe,” which explores the continent’s indigenous Muslim cultures, contributed to the new travel guide.

 

 

“I think it is wonderful to see mainstream guidebooks like this finally going out of their way to include such really diverse experiences for visitors,” he said.

“So often, writers like me are brought onto such projects to tick a box and create the impression there are diverse perspectives in it, but actually we’re often asked to just write about the same things covered by the previous writers. What’s diverse about that?

“To achieve truly diverse perspectives commissioning editors must select writers from different backgrounds and then be brave and empower writers to come back with what they find interesting, even if that goes against the editor’s expectations.”

Hussain, who developed one of the UK’s first Muslim heritage trails, wrote the “Hidden Muslim Britain” chapter, which focuses on Woking — home to the UK’s first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan — Liverpool and Brighton, where some of the country’s most visible Islamic legacies can be found.

These include Britain’s first Muslim cemetery — the final resting place of convert lords, ladies and Muslim royalty — and Brighton Pavilion, where injured Muslim (as well as Sikh and Hindu) soldiers fighting for Britain in World War I were treated.

The guide also tells of cultural institutes set up by the Turkish, Palestinian, Bangladeshi and Black communities in London. (Supplied/Tharik Hussain)

“The guide also reveals where to visit spectacular ‘oriental rooms’ modeled on famous Muslim palaces like the Alhambra in Spain and the Topkapi in Turkey,” Hussain said.

“This is supported by an essay called Anglo Islam that reveals how Islam came to the island as early as the 8th century, when an Anglo-Saxon king called Offa minted a gold coin featuring part of the Muslim declaration of faith in Arabic.”

The essay also tells of how Britain’s first real Muslim community “were a group of white, convert Victorians who worshipped at the country’s first mosque in Liverpool, founded by a solicitor called Henry William Quilliam, later Abdullah Quilliam,” he added.

The section on empire tells visitors where they can go to learn about “the horrors of British imperial rule,” and how to experience more positive post-colonial legacies like the stunning Neasden Temple in northwest London, built by immigrants who moved to Britain after the collapse of the empire, Hussain said.

The guide also tells of the cultural institutes set up by the Turkish, Palestinian, Bangladeshi and Black communities in London, like the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, and offers alternatives to the usual tourist attractions, such as the Muslim History Tours and the Open City walking tours that explore London’s forgotten Chinese heritage.


Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win
Updated 30 September 2022

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win
  • Crew ecstatic over ‘dream’ prize, says choreographer Nadim Cherfan
  • Artists will showcase their gifts at the US embassy this weekend

DUBAI: Lebanese dance crew Mayyas are set to perform for the first time since winning “America’s Got Talent” at the US embassy in Beirut this weekend.

The embassy will also host a virtual meet-the-artist session which will be released on Oct. 1 on YouTube.

“I am very happy that Mayyas will do a collaboration with the US embassy,” the crew’s choreographer Nadim Cherfan said in a video shared on the embassy’s Twitter page.

Earlier this month, the group took home the $1 million grand prize after winning the show.

“We can’t believe what’s happening,” group member Marcel Assal told Arab News after the show. “We can’t believe what we’ve achieved — giving so much energy, leaving our work and education, dedicating our time to training every day to be here to represent our country, and this is what we were looking for.

“We were very stressed out by the fact that we had to (prepare the dance) in two to three days, but when we went up on stage and heard the cheers, the audience gave us a push and an adrenaline rush that wasn’t there and we did it,” added Assal.

Cherfan said: “This win gave me an opportunity to dream again. When you have a dream and you achieve it, you start to look for another dream. So I’m very happy that there is something to look forward to now — something to dream of, something to fight for.”


Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 
Updated 30 September 2022

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

DUBAI: Dutch Palestinian models Gigi and Bella Hadid have had a fashion-packed month, from Milan to Paris Fashion Week. 

This week, the sisters modeled for Isabel Marant wearing the French label’s spring-summer 2023 collection.  

Gigi strutted down the runway in an oversized cameo-print jacket in neutral hues. 

Bella wore two outfits. The first featured a white cut-out top embellished with silver studs, white pants, stilettos and a handbag.

The second look was a black flowy mini dress with cut-out detailing across the chest, which the model styled with a tasseled bag casually slung on her shoulder. 

The fashion show featured an array of unique outfits — including sheer tops, oversized jumpers, floral dresses, jeans and crochet items — which British Moroccan model Nora Attal championed. 

Attal wore a yacht-perfect crochet bodysuit and a matching bag with fringe detailing.

French Algerian catwalk star Loli Bahia was also part of the star-studded show.

Bella wore a white cut-out top embellished with silver studs, white pants, stilettos and a handbag. (AFP)

She put on an eye-catching display in an outfit similar to Bella’s all-white look, sporting leather trousers and a cut-out red top.

Bahia also wore reflective silver pants with a white chiffon top featuring a sleeveless neckline. 

The part-Arab models all opted for loose hair with natural make-up looks in a bronze pallet. 

Another star-studded event at Paris Fashion Week was French jewelry label Messika’s show, which was inspired by ancient Egypt.

Bahia wore leather trousers and a cut-out red top. (AFP)

Supermodel Naomi Campbell opened the runway on Thursday wearing the new Akh-Ba-Ka set, which was designed by Valérie Messika and is part of the brand’s new jewelry collection titled “Beyond the Light.”

The necklace, which Italian Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi wore in the campaign images, is made of white gold with 15 diamonds totaling 71 carats. The entire set is composed of a pair of asymmetrical earrings and a transformable ring that can be worn in three different ways.

Among the guests who watched the show were Gigi, Lebanese singer Maya Diab, Saudi TV presenter Lojain Omran, Egyptian actresses Mai Omar and Enjy Kiwan and Lebanese presenter Diala Makki.


Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood
Updated 30 September 2022

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

DUBAI: Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed the lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood films during Variety’s recent Power of Women event in the US.

Yousafzai, who was honored at the event, said: “I’ve been doing activism for more than a decade now, and I’ve realized that we shouldn’t limit activism to the work of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) only: There’s also the element of changing people’s minds and perspectives — and that requires a bit more work.”

The 25-year-old, in her new role as a content producer, pointed out that despite Muslims making up 25 percent of the population, there was “only 1 percent of characters in popular TV series.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Malala (@malala)

Addressing A-list guests including American politician Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, US actress Elizabeth Olsen, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and the American former actress, and wife of British Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, she added: “You’re often told in Hollywood, implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are too young, too brown, or too Muslim, or that if one show about a person of color is made, then that’s it — you don’t need to make another one. That needs to change.

“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani, and a person of color. And I watched ‘Succession,’ ‘Ted Lasso,’ and ‘Severance,’ where the leads are white people — and especially a lot of white men.

“If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of color, and produced and directed by people of color, with people of color in the lead. That is possible, and I’m going to make it happen,” Yousafzai said.