New chapter for Baghdad’s book street

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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People walk past an installation depicting a Christmas tree made of lights and marking the new year 2022 during the reopening of the renovated Al-Mutanabbi street on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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Costumed performers walk along the reopened and renovated Al-Mutanabbi street in the center of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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Clowns perform during the reopening of the renovated Al-Mutanabbi street, the historic heart of the book trade and an outlet for writers and intellectuals, in Baghdad on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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People walk along the reopened and renovated Al-Mutanabbi street, the historic heart of the book trade and an outlet for writers and intellectuals, in the center of Iraq’s capital on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 December 2021

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
  • Inaugurating Al-Mutanabbi Street comes as recalling a golden age when Baghdad was considered one of the Arab world's cultural capitals
  • It was first inaugurated in 1932 by King Faisal I and named after the celebrated 10th century poet Abul Tayeb al-Mutanabbi

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday celebrated the renovation of the historic heart of its book trade, in the latest sign of an artistic renaissance after decades of conflict and strife.
In a city where explosions once could mean only one thing — violence — colorful fireworks lit up the sky during festivities organized by Baghdad municipality to inaugurate the renovated Al-Mutanabbi Street.
Its new look comes alongside art exhibitions, gallery openings, book fairs and festivals reflecting a fledgling cultural renaissance, and recalling a golden age when Baghdad was considered one of the Arab world’s cultural capitals.
Al-Mutanabbi Street was first inaugurated in 1932 by King Faisal I and named after the celebrated 10th century poet Abul Tayeb Al-Mutanabbi, who was born under the Abbasid dynasty in what would become modern-day Iraq.
A narrow street in the heart of old Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi has long drawn students and young people, usually on Fridays. But it is also frequented by intellectuals and older bibliophiles.
Normality still hangs by a thread in the Iraqi capital, where rocket and drone attacks sometimes target its highly fortified Green Zone, and where a July suicide attack on a market killed more than 30 people.
There was high security for the costumed performers and musicians who performed along the car-free road of new cobblestones.
The road is lined with shops, freshly-painted and sparkling, but most were closed. Fairy lights garlanded the ornate brick facades and wrought iron balconies.
Private-sector banks financed the work, which began in August.
“Since the 1960s, I would come here every week to look at the books on the stalls and to meet friends,” veteran journalist and writer Zoheir Al-Jazairi told AFP, delighting over the street’s latest transformation.
“It’s an islet of beauty in the heart of Baghdad. You notice the difference compared to the rest of the city,” he said, lamenting the oft-neglected heritage of the capital.
Stretching for just under one kilometer (0.6 miles), the street begins with a statue of its namesake overlooking the Tigris River and ends with an arch adorned with the poet’s quotes.
Visitors can find Arabic translations of American best-sellers side-by-side with textbooks.
There are titles in an array of languages, and every once in a while a hidden treasure can be found nestled between the selections.
Years of sectarian violence followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The rise of the Islamic State jihadist group in 2014 saw more brutality and bloodshed.
Iraq is trying to recover from its years of violence but remains hobbled by political divisions, corruption and poverty.
Even Al-Mutanabbi Street, a center of intellectual life with its cafes and books, could not escape the past violence.
In March 2007, a suicide car bomb killed 30 people and wounded 60 others there.
Mohamed Adnan, 28, took over a bookshop from his father, who died in the blast.
“He was killed, our neighbors too and several others who are dear to us,” said the history graduate, welcoming the renovation.
“I wish those who left were alive to see how the street has transformed,” he said.
On the banks of the Tigris a singer hummed traditional ballads, beneath the fireworks.


City Walk zone a big hit among Jeddah Season visitors

Anime Village zone of City Walk is hosting more than 300 events, including concerts featuring Japanese bands. (Supplied)
Anime Village zone of City Walk is hosting more than 300 events, including concerts featuring Japanese bands. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2022

City Walk zone a big hit among Jeddah Season visitors

Anime Village zone of City Walk is hosting more than 300 events, including concerts featuring Japanese bands. (Supplied)
  • The Fashion Village carries international and local brands, as well as a live graffiti station where artists can paint on the wall together

JEDDAH: Jeddah Season visitors are excited for the City Walk zone, which is open with nine villages to suit all tastes and age groups: The Entry Village, Food Hall, Fashion Village, Splash, Horror Village, Jeddah Live, Adventure, Waterfall and the Anime Village.

The Entry Village and most of the City Walk are steampunk-themed.

The Food Hall offers international fare from Los Angeles-based Top Round and Italy-themed Prince of Venice Pasta and Pizza to Hong Kong cake shop Butter.

The Fashion Village carries international and local brands, as well as a live graffiti station where artists can paint on the wall together. It also features a DJ station with famous DJs playing music on a top-quality sound system for an unforgettable experience.

World-renowned artist Sara Shakeel’s work “Majlistic,” exhibiting historical Saudi culture and traditions, will also be featured at the Fashion Village.

Saudi visitor Abdullah Al-Thumani, 22, said that the zone was a completely new experience for the people of Jeddah.

“It’s a very special experience. I attended Riyadh Season, and this is really matching up to what I experienced in Riyadh,” he told Arab News.

“I liked the Fashion Village the most because they feature items you can’t find in regular stores,” he added.

Russian performer Uliana Averina said: “I came with a group from Russia, and we perform here at this festival in Jeddah. We are happy to be here and to participate in such a great event because everything here is really well done and gorgeous

“I see how happy people are here, and we like to interact with them,” she added.

The performer said she enjoyed the Saudi audience’s warm interaction.

“People here are very open, and they approach you first to interact with you. Even the kids come up to us and want to give us a high five. It’s so nice,” she said.

Splash is an aquatic village that has everything from water guns and a water drum show to rides and river rafting.

The Horror Village is for lovers of all things spooky. Brave visitors can enjoy abandoned houses, escape rooms, interactive ghost-themed exhibitions and more.

Jeddah Live takes visitors into the world of performances, with international and Arab theater shows such as “Bikhosoos Ba’ad Al-Nas” (“About Some People”), starring some of the Kingdom’s biggest television names, such as Nasser Al-Qassabi.

It also features a karaoke cube, the car and motorcycle show “Hot Wheels,” and Slime Planet for kids to enjoy.

Adventure is for adrenaline junkies, featuring a 150-meter-high hot air balloon ride, bungee jumping, a Ferris wheel and more, while the Anime Village is hosting more than 300 events, including concerts featuring Japanese bands.

The annual Jeddah Season festival aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage and culture through a total of 2,800 activities in nine zones over the event period.

Held under the slogan “Our Lovely Days,” the second Jeddah Season follows on from the success of Riyadh Season, which recorded more than 15 million visits over five months.

The festival season offers 70 interactive experiences, more than 60 recreational activities, seven Arab and two international plays, marine events, a circus, four international exhibitions and a host of other services for families.

 


Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs
Updated 21 May 2022

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

DUBAI: Palestinian-Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid is entering the metaverse world.

The catwalk star announced this week on Instagram that she will be selling non-fungible tokens called CY-B3LLA that “serve as a passport to this new world.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music and more. They are bought and sold online, usually with cryptocurrency.

Hadid told her 52.1 million followers that each NFT features “different and unique 3D scans of me, thought up with you in mind, that will be utilized around the world; designed to encourage travel, community, growth, fantasy and human interactions.”

The model said that in the coming months, the project will allow collectors to go to real locations and events around the world, where they can meet her.


Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
Updated 21 May 2022

Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
  • Little Village zones feature favorite characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!

JEDDAH: A fun-filled agenda awaits children at the Jeddah Pier amusement park, one of the entertainment attractions at this year’s Jeddah Season festival of activities.

The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

The Blippi-branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts, and the iconic Blippi appeared for a soft opening of the Little Village during which visitors took part in a meet and greet, followed by a photo session.

The L.O.L Surprise! activity corner gives girls the opportunity to wear their favorite dresses, enjoy hair and makeup sessions, and try out cooking, singing, and dancing, and special fashion shows let little fashionistas take a ramp walk.

Meanwhile, the Peppa Pig activity corner has a range of activities including painting classes and the chance to play in the cartoon character’s grocery store.

Fadi Yousuf, site manager of Hwadi Events, Jeddah Pier’s organizing company, said: “Packed with wonderful and imaginative activities, we aim to create memories that will turn the Jeddah Season into a world of unforgettable stories for children.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

• Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events. And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

“With the help of Spacetoon, we were delighted to bring the much-loved character Blippi to Jeddah and receive an amazing response from the fans.

“Apart from enjoying the activities, kids will be able to purchase Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!, and Peppa Pig products onsite.”

Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events.

And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

Jeddah Season will also be hosting a toy festival running until May 23 at Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest geodesic dome without pillars, and kids who missed meeting Blippi at Jeddah Pier will get another chance at the festival.

More than 40 international toy brands are attending the event that will include stands and exhibitions, live shows, and performances of the Smurfs, Sonic, Peppa Pig, and other character favorites.

The annual Jeddah Season festival aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage and culture through a total of 2,800 activities in nine zones over the event period.

Being held under the slogan, Our Lovely Days, the second Jeddah Season follows on from the success of Riyadh Season that recorded more than 15 million visits over five months.

The festival season offers 70 interactive experiences, more than 60 recreational activities, seven Arab and two international plays, marine events, a circus, four international exhibitions, and a host of other services for families.

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Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
  • While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public

RIYADH: At a time when one might view analog photography as an outdated craft, it is, in fact, becoming increasingly popular across the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

“Photos are the closest humanity has gotten to time travel,” said photographer Abdullah Al-Azzaz, whose has followed in the footsteps of his father, Saleh, who was also a photographer.

The newly established Bayt Al-Malaz — a creative space in the heart of Riyadh’s Malaz District — recently hosted an intriguing conversation about the significance and popularity of analog photography between Al-Azzaz and Princess Reem Al-Faisal, moderated by Sarah Assiri. The event was part of Bayt Al-Malaz’s “Moflmeen” discussion series.

HIGHLIGHT

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The two photographers addressed the issue of why — when digital cameras are so ubiquitous and easy to use — analog is making a comeback.

“My photography revolves around permanence, praise, eternality, and the spiritual side of us. The individual is a soul and not a body,” said Al-Faisal. “For us, film represents the soul. We are all born with natural instincts, and film, in its natural form, is untouched. It represents the soul that transforms after birth in dealing with life, accumulations, and memories — bad and good. It’s a way of expressing humanity.”

Al-Azzaz said that, for him, it was more about the technique than the philosophy of it all. “The experience of developing in a darkroom is so enriching. It separates you from the world, totally quiet and dark. It’s just you and the photo. It allows you to reflect on the photo more and gives you more freedom in reimagining it,” he said.

Photo manipulation, he explained, is not exclusive to digital photography. Before the existence of Photoshop, images could be manipulated in the darkroom using retouching techniques and tools, including cropping, brushing, dodging, burning and masking.

To really understand the true art of photography, some would argue, it is important to learn its history. Digital photography is not a replacement for film, but another medium entirely. “In any art, not just photography, we have to have a cultural, historical, and technical awareness… we are all an accumulation,” said Al-Faisal. “We are a product of our society and a product of our time. We cannot claim we aren’t affected [by these things]. Whoever claims otherwise is delusional.”

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The founder of the studio, Haitham Al-Sharif, explained the immersive nature of analog photography. “I chose film photography because I hated having no connection with my photos. With film photography, I take a max of 40 photos in a session. I can’t see them; I have to live in the moment, I have to listen and smell the streets, I have to talk to my subject if I’m taking their portraits, I have to listen to the music if I’m at a concert,” he told Arab News. “To me, that is art. That is the beauty of film.”

The lengthy process involved in analog photography can be intimidating and off-putting to amateur photographers. That’s why the development of the first digital camera in 1975 was so groundbreaking. Now, in an economy driven by content creation and visual media, content production is easier — and quicker — than ever before. But to some, the key difference lies in the creative experience itself. Some analog photographers suggest it is a way to truly connect with the moment, even if the results are not always what society deems ‘Insta-worthy.’

“When you can’t see the photo you aren’t forced to change it to make it the same as what the media thinks is good or what a magazine thinks is good. Film forces you to be patient and slow. It forces you to live in the (moment),” said Al-Sharif. “As a film photographer, you live in front of the lens as much as at the back of the lens. You become more connected to what you are photographing.”


Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
Updated 21 May 2022

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
  • New York-based architects WORKac were approached in 2018 to design Beirut’s new art museum 
  • BeMA will stand on what was once the “green line” dividing the Lebanese capital during the civil war

DUBAI: For many Lebanese, the past can be a painful subject. A civil war destroyed large swaths of the country between 1975 and 1990. The postwar period has been marked by sectarian strife and government dysfunction.

But in spite of the traumas of recent decades, Lebanon remains a land of immense cultural wealth, with a rich history reflected in its architectural, cultural and anthropological heritage.

This is why the Beirut Museum of Art, or BeMA, which is due to open in 2026, has been billed as a “beacon of hope” in a country beset by political paralysis, economic decline and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

When Sandra Abou Nader and Rita Nammour launched the museum project, their goal was to showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and artist-in-residency programs.

“They realized that there was, in fact, very little visibility for the Lebanese artistic scene, within the country and abroad, and for Lebanese artists, whether modern or contemporary,” BeMA’s art consultant, Juliana Khalaf, told Arab News.

Compuer-generated views of BeMA. Described as a 'vertical sculpture garden,' it will feature three gallery floors that borrow elements from local art deco designs. (Supplied/WORKac)

About 700 works of art will be on display at the new venue, drawn from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s collection of more than 2,000 pieces, the bulk of which have been in storage for decades.

“We are going to be housing this very important collection,” said Khalaf. “We call it the national collection and it belongs to the public. It’s our role to make it, for the very first time, accessible. It’s never been seen before.”

The artworks, created by more than 200 artists and dating from the late-19th century to the present day, tell the story of this small Mediterranean country from its renaissance era and independence to the civil war period and beyond.

The collection includes pieces by Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran and his mentor, the influential late-Ottoman-era master Daoud Corm, who was renowned for his sophisticated portraiture and still-life painting.

Works by pioneers of Lebanese modernism, such as Helen Khal, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Saliba Douaihy, will also feature among the collection, as will several lesser-known 20th-century artists, including Esperance Ghorayeb, who created several rare, abstract compositions in the 1970s.

“The collection is a reminder of the beautiful heritage that we have,” said Khalaf. “It shows us our culture through the eyes of our artists.”

Among the priorities for the BeMA team, in partnership with the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, is the restoration of the collection, which includes several paintings and works on paper that have been damaged by war, neglect, improper storage or simply the passage of time.

Gathering information about the artists and their effects on Lebanon’s artistic heritage is another priority for the BeMA team, and is a task that has proved to be challenging given the dearth of published resources and the means to catalog them.

FASTFACT

* International Museum Day, held annual on or around May 18, highlights a specific theme or issue facing museums internationally.

“What was surprising was how little research there is out there and how much we need to do on that front, like getting the right equipment that is not currently available in the country to properly archive books and photography,” said Khalaf.

In 2018, the BeMA team approached WORKac, an architectural firm based in New York, for ideas about the new venue. Co-founded by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, a Lebanese-born architect and former dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, WORKac has designed museums in California, Texas, New York and Florida.

For Andraos, who left Lebanon at the age of three, the chance to design a home for Beirut’s artistic heritage is particularly special.

“I think it’s a very personal project for everyone involved,” she told Arab News. “Everybody put their heart and soul into this idea that Beirut really needed a museum to house the national collection.

“For me, personally, I have a great attachment to Beirut, to its history, as well as architecturally, artistically and intellectually.”

"Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope, it's almost like a resistance to collapse," says Amale Andraos, the Lebanese-born architect and co-founder of architecture firm WORKac. (Supplied)

Given the country’s troubled past and complex identity, Andraos believes the museum’s collection will prove valuable in helping Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from past traumas.

“It’s an archive that we need to go back to, to understand who we are and how we move forward,” she said.

After the project was approved by city authorities, the first stone was laid at the site of the new museum in February. The initial phase requires Andraos and her team to examine the site for archaeological remains.

When complete, the museum will feature three gallery floors that borrow aesthetic elements from local Art Deco urban design. It has been described as an “open museum” and a “vertical sculpture garden,” owing to its cubic facade which will be embellished with bursts of greenery from top to bottom.

Andraos admits she was initially skeptical about the project. Lebanon is in the throes of multiple crises, including a financial collapse. Beirut, the capital, is yet to recover from the devastating blast at the city’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, when a warehouse filled with highly explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire and detonated, leveling an entire district.

All of this, combined with the additional economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused thousands of young Lebanese to move abroad in search of work and respite from the seemingly endless litany of crises.

Lebanon is experiencing financial collapse, economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment and hunger, increasing poverty and government dysfunction. (AFP)

For some people in the country, though, it is precisely because of these issues that a museum celebrating Lebanon’s cultural achievements is needed, perhaps now more than ever.

“When I recently presented the museum to a member of the BeMA board, I said: ‘This is probably the worst time for a museum,’ and he said: ‘This is the most important time for a museum because we need culture, education and ideas,’” said Andraos.

“When people are hungry, it’s like art versus food — but art is also food, in some ways, for the spirit and the mind.

“Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope and the country needs to build its institutions. It’s almost like a resistance to collapse. We have a history that is worth valuing, rereading, and a culture that we need to preserve and build on.”

This is not to say that the project was welcomed by everyone at the beginning.

“There’s no large public attendance of museums; it’s something that really needs to be developed,” Khalaf said. “In that respect, people felt like it was an unnecessary project.

“But now that people actually see that it’s a serious project and is happening, the attitude has changed. People say there’s something to look forward to.”

To date, about 70 percent of funding for the project has been allocated and a public appeal will soon be launched to make up any shortfall. Entry to the museum will be free.

Located in the leafy, upmarket, residential Badaro district in the heart of Beirut, known for its early-20th-century, art deco-influenced buildings, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that separated the east and west of the capital during the civil war.

“What’s nice about it now is that it might become the ‘museum mile,’ because there’s the National Museum, BeMA, Mim Museum, and if you just go further down, you’ll actually get to the Sursock Museum,” said Khalaf.

“It changes the perspective from a war-torn Beirut to a culturally alive Beirut.” 

__________

Twitter: @artprojectdxb

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