DUBAI: Visitors to the UAE will not failed to have noticed the geometric, larger-than-life statues of gorillas, bears and turtles sprinkled around the emirates in recent months. The 3D polygon sculptures that can be found in restaurants like Nusr-Et at the Four Seasons, Jumeirah, or on the beachfront of the Burj Al-Arab are the brainchild of Tunisian-French artist Idriss B.
The Dubai-based artist who recently relocated to the UAE from France, launched his very own non-fungible tokens (NFTs) titled “Polyverse Art” — a collection of 11,000 digital animal sculptures with their own unique names and distinct personalities. The virtual art pieces launched on the Ethereum blockchain last month.
For the crypto uninitiated, an NFT is any digital file, be it GIFs, JPEGs, tweets, MP3s and MP4s, to name a few. Each NFT boasts a serial number which proves ownership. You own the token and that information is stored on a blockchain, which is an unbreakable digital ledger.
The artist told Arab News that he believes NFTs are the future of art, so it made sense for him to go in that direction.
“NFT’s are part of the future and the art world will embrace this new medium completely,” he said.
In addition to being a proud owner of Idriss B’s art in the metaverse, crypto-enthusiasts who purchase one of his NFTs also receive a physical piece of art, in addition to real life benefits such as exclusive access to private concerts, fashion shows, gallery openings and NBA games, according to the artist’s website polyverseart.io.
Idriss B. is among the growing number of artists embracing digital art. Even major auction houses such as Christies, international galleries and renowned exhibitions including Art Basel are selling and trading NFTs.
The artist believes that there are plenty of benefits of owning one of his NFTs. “You get to acquire a rare product while getting access to exclusive giveaways and interactive experiences,” he said.
Artists stand to benefit from launching NFTs too.
Mike Winkelmann — the digital artist known as Beeple — sold an NFT of his work “Everydays – The First 5000 Days” for $69 million at Christie’s, making it the third-most expensive work ever by a living artist.
Prior to the Christie's auction in March, the most Beeple had ever sold a print for was $100.
In addition to generating profit, artists and content creators are able to retain their full copyright and interact with a larger community.
“NFTs allow artists to directly connect with thousands of people,” said Idriss B. “It’s about being a part of something bigger.”
REVIEW: Red Sea title ‘Harka’ takes a disturbing look at Tunisia’s tragedies
Updated 1 min ago
JEDDAH: “Harka,” which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category and has now been featured at the ongoing second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, takes a poignant and gut-wrenching look at Tunisia, a decade after the Arab Spring.
The film deftly handles heavy themes like abject poverty brought on by unemployment, corruption and, more importantly, the absence of hope.
Little has changed for Tunisia since the Arab Spring. Vivien Yee wrote in The New York Times: “A new constitution and several free and fair elections have failed to deliver the bread, jobs and dignity that Tunisians demanded after ousting a longtime dictator.” Good times still elude the nation, as we see in Lotfy Nathan’s unforgettable “Harka” — which can mean either “to burn” or “migrate illegally across the Mediterranean by small boats,” a journey where danger and death await.
Compelling French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa plays Ali, who dreams of better times, and after his father’s death, has to take on the responsibility of caring for his two younger sisters. His older brother, despite a steady job at a seaside resort, refuses to help Ali, who is further burdened by a debt his father left behind. With their house being taken over by the bank, Ali and his sisters are pushed to the streets.
With little hope left despite his risky job of selling contraband gasoline on the border, Ali as a character comes alive after the Arab Spring, which started with the immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 and spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Syria and other countries.
What do you do when life keeps hitting you? That is the question Nathan poses in a very disturbing sort of way.
With several non-professionals in the movie, the director skillfully weaves his plot through a maze of tragedies, and presents a climax that is at once hopeful and horrifying. What appears so ruthless here is the complete callousness of the people who walk by even as a tragedy unfolds in front of them.
Maximilian Pittner’s camera takes you close to Ali and others, helping us to watch their anguish in great detail. Nathan’s background has been documentaries, and here in his fictional “Harka,” he masters the art of mixing the two genres into a gripping narrative.
Sally El-Hosaini’s ‘The Swimmers’ — a very different refugee story
The filmmaker on her acclaimed movie about two Syrian sisters, one of whom became an Olympian after fleeing their homeland
Updated 08 December 2022
DUBAI: Conjure an image of war — an image of what a young woman stuck in those circumstances must be going through to take the desperate decision to flee into the dark of night, to become a refugee. Is your image full of ash and smoke, of abject terror and starvation? That is exactly the image that Sally El-Hosaini’s film “The Swimmers” — based on the remarkable true story of Syrian refugee and Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini and her sister Sara — attempts to dispel from the start.
The film, which is now streaming globally on Netflix, begins in a very different civil-war-era Syria than the one commonly depicted in the news: Two young women are dancing to Sia’s “Titanium” with their friends, clubbing and finding joy where they can. Bombs are falling in the distance, but they have found a way to push that out of their minds for a moment, to continue their normal, middle-class lives because they refuse to give into the fear.
“When Yusra was watching this scene, she turned around to me in the cinema, and said, ‘Thank you for this. This is what it really felt like,’” El-Hosaini tells Arab News.
“Yusra told me the story of the day a mortar landed in front of her as she was going to meet her friends, and there was chaos, so she hid behind a wall. And as she hid, she thought, ‘Should I run home, or should I still go meet my friends?’”
As Yusra Mardini hid behind that wall, she told El-Hosaini, she did the math in her head. Surely, if she was going to die tonight, it would have been here.
“Statistically, I’ve already had the mortar land in front of me. Another one’s not going to hit me tonight. I’m going to meet my friends,” Mardini thought.
“That’s the way it becomes normalized. It’s horrific, but that’s what really happens. They were just trying to be teenagers,” El-Hosaini continues.
In many ways, El-Hosaini’s film can’t help but be remarkable. The fact that the sisters cheated death time and again for one to reach the pinnacle of their sport on the other side of the world is undeniably inspiring. What makes it especially notable, however, is not just the true story at its center, but the way that the British-Egyptian filmmaker El-Hosaini frames it as a film of “female emancipation” — a story not of passive victims, but of active heroes who used a desperate situation to rise up in ways that, ironically, they never could have had their circumstances not been changed so dramatically.
“War turns everything on its head,” says El-Hosaini. “All of the structures of society — cultural, patriarchal structures — no longer exist. They're shaken. That allows the young the freedom to really go on a journey like this. It’s an ironic liberation that came out of tragedy and war. On that journey that they took, they really were making crucial decisions about their lives. They became heroes by doing that. That’s something I really responded to.”
This is not just a story that El-Hosaini dreamed of making, it’s a story she had grown up wishing already existed.
“You don't often see young, modern Arab women on screen. I saw this opportunity to make complex heroes out of these types of women. Normally, you have, like, victimized portrayal. When I was growing up, I never had a role model like that — a version of me on screen. I had the thought that if I didn't do this project, and I saw the film, I might feel disappointed, because I knew what it could be in my hands. And if it didn't achieve that, I would be very sad. And that was when I realized I had to do it myself,” says El-Hosaini.
At the center of the all-star Arab cast, which includes Syrian superstar Kinda Alloush as the Mardini sisters’ mother, acclaimed Palestinian actor Ali Soleiman as their father, and rising Egyptian star Ahmed Malek as their closest friend, are two relative unknowns — Lebanese sisters Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa as Yusra and Sara Mardini.
The Issa sisters were only cast after an exhaustive search, one that initially only included Syrians before the visas required by the film’s locations made Syrian casting impossible.
“Manal had been in some independent Lebanese films and she had this very charismatic, rebellious presence. When she auditioned, she mentioned she was a big sister just like Sara, but her younger sister, Nathalie, was not an actress — she was studying for a master’s in literature. We asked if she could audition, and after Nathalie read the book, she was inspired, and came to screen test for us. Their chemistry blew me away, as they each embodied the very different energies of Sara and Yusra. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! I’ve found the Lebanese version of the Syrian Mardini sisters,’” says El-Hosaini.
When the two pairs of sisters met, the connection was instant.
“Within a few hours, they were sharing their life stories. When they spent the night at their house that first meeting, they talked all night, and they were like the best of friends. And they’re still friends now. It just felt so natural,” the filmmaker continues.
But the film did more than provide the two pairs of sisters with new friends. It also brought the Mardini sisters back together, as they had drifted apart somewhat since the events of the film.
“When we first screened the film for them in Berlin, we all sat in the back room, terrified, because they hadn’t seen anything. And then, as the movie started, they started laughing, and then crying, and talking through it — whispering to each other. When the movie ended, Sara climbed over the cinema seats, and she gave me a big hug. She said, ‘Thank you. You reminded me how much I love my sister’” says El-Hosaini.
“Most people don’t ever see their life contained in two hours in that way. It was a very intense experience,” she continues. “But I’m so thrilled that they’re proud of it, and that they felt represented. It was really one of the great honors of my life to tell their story.”
The Saudi artist discusses her 2005 photograph, recently displayed on one of the FIFA World Cup art water bottles
Updated 08 December 2022
DUBAI: In her own words, Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan discusses her 2005 photograph, recently displayed on one of the FIFA World Cup art water bottles:
Photography was the first medium that I worked with as an artist. I made my series “The Choice” 20 years ago. I was still an employee of Aramco at the time and it was five more years before I decided I was going to be a full-time artist.
Photography is direct. You look at the image and that’s your engagement. The idea, always, was to connect to my community through my art with a conversation with a viewer and not become static. That’s why I moved from digital photography to darkroom printing. You’re printing with your hands, moving the picture to get the right light on it, and I felt darkroom printing was very tactile.
I felt an urge to express myself at that point. There were no galleries, museums, no art ecosystem — nothing. I was quite young, a working woman, and a woman’s status was quite difficult in Saudi Arabia. One of the activities we were excluded from was sports. I consider this work a participatory artwork, because the women that were photographed were not just models, they were actual participants. The woman is a young Saudi and she’s always played excellent football, but she never played football in Saudi and never pursued a career in sports, because the opportunities were so limited, even abroad. Women were not encouraged to play soccer.
The reason it was posed showing only half her face was because, at that moment in time in Saudi Arabia, a woman’s face was a taboo. I was very worried about showing a woman’s face. I wanted to add the element of traditional jewelry as an interruption; it was just so out-of-place.
There needs to be a closer look at traditions that are truthfully good ones and that work within today’s society. You can see a glimpse of what it means to be a woman and how it’s changed significantly over the years. Today, I can speak about the transformation that’s happened with women’s rights in my country. They are part of the parliament, they’re in sports. . . Women’s voices have been heard.
Spectacular Samarkand: Ancient Uzbek city is a cultural treasure
Updated 08 December 2022
TORONTO: I had only ever heard of Samarkand — a 7th-century city on the Silk Road, the famous trade route running from China to the Mediterranean — in history class. And it was the allure of the ancient Silk Road that took me there.
Present-day Samarkand in Uzbekistan still bears traces of its former status as part of the Soviet Union, and the city is influenced, both linguistically and ethnographically, by bordering nations. Tajik Persian, Russian, and Uzbek are the most widely-spoken languages. Regional tourism by way of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is predominant; as are investments and trade relations with China and Russia.
Samarkand might not be a major tourist draw, but there are plenty of great accommodation options, including five- and four-star hotels like the Samarkand Regency Amir Timur or the Savitsky Plaza, named after Igor Savitsky and featuring some of his avant-garde artwork. There are also some attractive boutique options, including Sangzor Hotel in Registan Square.
As you would expect from a city that’s been around for 1,400 years, Samarkand is steeped in culture and history, and contains some breathtaking architecture.
The Gur-e-Amir, or mausoleum of Amir Temur, is where the Turco-Mongolian conqueror and Uzbekistan’s national hero, Amir Temur lies, along with his sons and grandsons. The entrance to the courtyard features an elaborate muqarnas, the honeycomb-style design common across the Islamic world. The inner chamber was once made of gold, jade, and onyx, but after centuries of plundering has been refurbished with cheaper materials. Nonetheless, it remains a work of art.
Perhaps the greatest reminder of the Timurid Renaissance — when Samarkand witnessed a revival of arts and sciences, and the construction of mosques and madrasahs — is Registan Square. A short distance from Gur-e-Amir, the square houses three madrasahs, and it is here that some of the greatest minds of the 14th and 15th centuries — including Amir Temur’s grandson, the renowned astronomer Ulugh Beg — pursued Islamic studies, astronomy, and sciences.
All three structures are fine examples of Islamic architecture: a grand entranceway with geometric patterns laid out in blue and turquoise tiles patterns leads into a courtyard. Kufic calligraphy is inscribed on the minarets and domes, in the same exquisite glazed tile work. And although souvenir shops now occupy the dormitories and hallways of the madrasahs, the buildings maintain a solemn air.
The Sher-e-Dor madrasah on the right, notably, features a mosaic of a tiger and man, symbolizing man’s quest for knowledge.
With its intricate window arches, lattices, and expansive gardens, the square is reminiscent of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal in India. This is no surprise. After all, it was another one of Amir Temur’s grandsons’ Babur who conquered the Delhi Sultanate and founded the Mughal Empire in the 15th century.
Further out, the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis is a three-level complex housing mausoleums of Amir Temur’s relatives, close accomplices, and religious scholars. The most prominent among them is Kusam (Qutham) ibn Abbas, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad. Shah-i-Zinda’s brilliance — its resplendent sapphire domes and tiled entranceways against the contrasting taupe of the structure — can only truly be taken in as you walk up its stairs and look back at each level. It also contains several vantage points affording a fine view of the city and the local cemetery next door.
Some 20 minutes away from the center of Samarkand is the Eternal City, a recreation of ancient Uzbek cities with artisan shops and local cafés. It’s popular with locals for a family day out and although the buildings may not be authentic, its cultural experiences are. For example, you can watch how samsa (akin to samosa) is made over a tandyr here.
In terms of food, the Uzbek diet is notoriously meat-heavy (to the point that it’s a major health concern). The national dish — plov, made with plump raisins and caramelized sweet carrots — is known colloquially in Saudi Arabia as ‘Bukhara rice’ and is commonly eaten for both breakfast and lunch.
Other specialties include lagman — hand-pulled noodles simmered in a meat and dill broth that is said to originate from the Uyghur region — and Uzbek manti (dumplings stuffed with meat and potato).
If you want to see some of the city’s lesser-known sites, a two-hour “Invisible Samarkand” walking tour starting at the Bibi-Khanum Mosque takes you through its diverse neighborhoods, including an ancient hammam and the quarters built for refugees coming from other parts of the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
Samarkand’s allure lies in its rich history and diverse cultural background. It might be a name you recognize only from textbooks, but it’s well worth seeing in person.
Red Sea film festival travels back in time with outdoor cinema
Cinephiles can grab popcorn from the Vox kiosk, cozy up in a bean bag and enjoy movies such as “Love in Karnak” (1965) and “Watch out for Zouzou” (1972)
Updated 07 December 2022
JEDDAH: An outdoor cinema overlooking the Jeddah waterfront has been set up to screen restored classic movies as part of the Red Sea International Film Festival.
The setting is reminiscent of the 70’s when “Cinema Alhosh,” meaning backyard cinemas, were common in Saudi Arabia.ac
Cinephiles can grab popcorn from the Vox kiosk, cozy up in a bean bag and enjoy movies such as “Love in Karnak” (1965) and “Watch out for Zouzou” (1972).
Antoine Khalife, the head of the Arab program and film classics at RSIFF, said that movies for the outdoor cinema were chosen with Jeddah’s audience in mind.
“‘Watch out for Zouzou’ came out 50 years ago, it was produced in 1972 and we are in 2022, so for us, it was amazing to do the restoration. A lot of people, maybe your mom and aunts, watched it on TV, and they love Soad Hosny or the songs.
“We decided on something light, nice … and at the same time it is a masterpiece and a film that is very modern,” said Khalife.
Khalife said that he wanted to remind people that the festival was for the public, for a large audience, and for the people of Saudi Arabia. “They can meet the directors, the stars, the actors, and it is not just a place for professionals,” he added.
He said that many amazing movies await the people and that he was looking forward to the public response.
Amna Khalid, a 25-year-old Egyptian, who watched the first screening of “Watch out for Zouzou” said: “When my mom moved to Jeddah after she got married, she said she would watch this movie all the time with my dad.
“So when I saw there was a screening, I rushed to watch it. I don’t think the story even matters to me, the movie makes me feel warm inside because of how many childhood memories I have of it.”