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

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
Alaa Albaba, ‘The Camp III.’ (Supplied)
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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.


Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet
Updated 19 May 2022

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

DUBAI: The Cannes Film Festival 2022 has gotten off to a glittering start, bringing together cinema’s biggest stars from all points of the globe for film premieres in their most glamorous get-ups. Indeed, the annual film festival is just as much about the glitzy red carpet as it is about the films, so French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar made sure to deliver a strong look as she attended the “Maverick: Top Gun” red carpet premiere on Wednesday. The “Scream” star chose a silk gold Alberta Ferretti gown. She paired the sleeveless, floor-trailing dress with delicate jewelry from Bulgari and black pumps.

When it came to her beauty look, the multihyphenate raked her chocolate lengths back into a middle-parted voluminous updo with two face-framing strands on either side of her cheeks. As for her makeup, Ben Ammar channeled the 1990s with a warm, bronzed complexion, groomed eyebrows and mocha-colored lipstick.

Sonia Ben Ammar wearing Alberta Ferretti at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Fesitval. Getty Images

Despite being just 23-years-old, Ben Ammar is a seasoned Cannes red carpet star.

The actress made her Cannes Film Festival debut in 2016 at the red carpet premiere of “The BFG” wearing a beige, floral-printed slip dress.

The French-Tunisian star went on to capture attention on La Croisette the following year, stealing the spotlight at the 2017 red carpet premiere of “The Beguiled” in a black embellished gown.

In the years that followed, Ben Ammar continued to experiment with head-turning pieces with a penchant for glamorous gowns, such as the Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini mini dress with a long, trailing train that she wore to the “BlacKkKlansman” premiere at the 71st edition of the film festival.

No matter what the film premiere is, Ben Ammar always shows up with a striking look that oozes glamour and for that reason alone, she remains one of the most exciting faces on La Croisette.  


New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic
Updated 19 May 2022

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

DUBAI: As Joni Mitchell observed: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That has certainly proved true for travel since the onset of the COVID-pandemic saw worldwide restrictions on movement cause the industry to grind to a halt in early 2020. 

Many feared airlines and hotels would be struggling for years to come, but at this month’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, experts were bullish about the near future, with recovery looking extremely healthy. The ability to hop across borders for a long weekend or a summer vacation, or even a work trip — has now become something precious; the chance to escape everyday routine has become more alluring than ever. 

“Travel has moved from something that we took for granted to something that, now, we really need,” Paul Kelly, managing partner of Dubai-based consumer-insight company D/A, told Arab News. “That’s something that came through in this analysis: This huge pent-up demand — the emotional side of traveling has changed a lot.”

Residents of the GCC are eager to get travelling again, as research that D/A presented at the travel market proved. The company assessed millions of social media and online posts with its AI-driven “Sila” tool to discover the travel intentions and desires of more than 2.2 million Arab speakers across the GCC. What D/A found was that while many of the favored destinations remain the same (with one major exception — more on that later), the reasons for visiting them have changed significantly. It seems people are longing for relaxation in natural surroundings, along with cultural experiences, more than they are looking for shopping destinations and material acquisition.

“Visiting cities for shopping used to be much (more popular). It was never as big as the ‘Beach Holidays,’ category, but ‘Shopping’ was always number two,” Kelly said. “It’s now the lowest. Beach destinations are still number one — for instance, since the pandemic, visitor numbers to the Maldives from the GCC are higher than ever. But the ‘Nature and Mountains’ category — so, lakes, for example; think Switzerland more than the Maldives — has become much more popular. And cultural tourism — say, music festivals, art events, and general cultural experiences — has also become far more important, especially among younger people.”

Here are some of the main findings from D/A’s research.

SAUDI RISING 

One country has seen a major increase in interest over the past three years: Saudi Arabia. While the glitz of the UAE — and particularly Dubai — remains in high demand, the Kingdom is now the second-most desirable destination for travelers from the GCC, according to D/A’s research. “Saudi has become a really big destination. That was never the case previously, except for pilgrims, but this research discounts religious travel,” Kelly explained. Clearly, the Saudi authorities’ efforts over the past few years to position the country as an attractive tourism destination have been a huge success. More and more Saudis are looking to take short breaks in their own country, and travelers from the Emirates, Oman and other GCC countries are taking the opportunity to explore the rich culture and stunning landscapes that had previously been all-but-impossible to access.

“This has all been driven by what’s currently open — festivals like MDLBEAST, the Riyadh and Jeddah seasons, AlUla, the sporting events,” Kelly said. “That stuff works.”

THINK LOCAL 

The top three destinations for GCC travelers were all in the Gulf: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This is a recent development, according to Kelly. “The Gulf countries were never really factors before – apart from the obvious, Dubai, which has always been a beacon for the Middle East. But what’s been interesting is the rise of Qatar, because of the World Cup, and then Saudi as well,” he said.

“Khaleejis like going for short breaks — five days or something. And a lot of people, for those breaks, are now staying within the GCC. Saudi hasn’t overtaken the UAE yet, but it’s really come up as a tourism destination,” he continued. “The whole concept of staycation within the region has really come up — people are staying for longer periods too. Shorter stays are much more valued now.” 

TURKISH DELIGHT

Turkey is one of the most desirable international locations for GCC travelers, according to D/A’s research. It’s always been popular, but what the social-media chatter suggests is that people aren’t just heading to the big cities anymore — instead it’s the country’s mixture of “beach and mountains” that is attracting attention, with its Mediterranean areas proving especially in demand.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT

While GCC travelers are eager for new experiences, they’re also looking for the reassurance of the familiar. So destinations like the UK, the US and Thailand remain extremely desirable, but, Kelly said, they are now looking for new experiences in places where they may have been several times before. 

“What we found across most of the countries is that there’s a big movement towards new experiences, even in really familiar settings,” Kelly said. “So they like to go to the same places — London, for example, is a big destination. But while they’re in London, they want to do something different, maybe be there a bit longer and go out into the countryside. There’s also an eagerness to fill out itineraries a bit more, do more things.”

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

“People really wanted to go to the countries that closed their borders early because of COVID,” Kelly said. “You want to do what you can’t do, I guess.” China and Japan were the main beneficiaries of this particular quirk of our brains, with both featuring prominently on the wishlist of destinations in the Far East for GCC travelers. China, in particular, is a desirable place for studying for GCC residents, D/A found.


Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing
Updated 19 May 2022

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

DUBAI: The Lebanese illustrator discusses her latest digital drawing, which pays tribute to Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin earlier this month. 

When I heard the news of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, I was in Portugal with my parents on a three-day vacation. I saw a couple of posts on social media, but it wasn’t very clear what was happening, so I went on Google Search and read a couple of very short reports, as the news was breaking. I went back on social media and my Palestinian friends were posting more and more about it. 

It was actually very shocking. I felt like I had to go back to the hotel and draw a tribute to her. Seeing her on the floor was really intense and I was deeply disturbed for a while. It took me some time to process what was happening. I feel like she’s done so much for everyone; the way she’s been reporting for so many years and has been a voice for the people — risking her life almost every day. 

‘Honoring Shireen.’ (Supplied) 

Illustration is how I can communicate my thoughts and feelings more clearly. Most of my work is digital illustrations and I use an iPad. My fingers were moving so fast, almost in rage, but I had to stop myself and give a softer emotion to it. I had to pour out appreciation and admiration of who she was. I wanted that to translate into the piece, rather than it being an angry piece. 

She was a very soft and kind person and I think that contributes to the halo around her head. At first, I wanted the flowers to be colorful, but then I wanted them to be kind of muted out and be white and very peaceful. She had an angelic face and was graceful till the end and I wanted that to be highlighted in the illustration. 

She was wearing a press vest when she got shot and part of me wanted to remind people not just about the job that she carried out until her last breath, but also that she was wronged and that hurt a lot people. 

The white, blank eyes may be disturbing to others, but to me they’re calming. It’s to remind people that, yes, there’s a human being behind that person, but there’s also a soul. 


Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single
Updated 18 May 2022

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

DUBAI: Moroccan singer and songwriter Jihane Bougrine this week released her latest single “Rahat El-Bal,” in which the France-raised artist explores the often taboo subject of mental health, bipolar disorder in particular.

In her new song, which translates to “Peace of Mind,” the star, who is signed to Universal Music, said she wishes to send a message of “hope and optimism” by shining a light on the mental illness.

She was inspired to write the song by a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, she told Arab News.

At the time, her family faced myriad challenges. “Here in Morocco, with the traditions and culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental health,” the singer said. “So they used to tell us he was crazy. It was very tough for the family, so I decided to write it and put a name on it to say that people should not be afraid to talk about it.”

The song, which already has more than 250,000 views on YouTube alone, is a mix between indie, electro and pop genres. 

For the music video, the singer collaborated with the French director Julien Fouré, who she said “managed to put my words into an image.

“For him, photography and cinema are a way to send important messages to change the world,” Bougrine said. “It is very inspiring and (it was) easy to work with someone like him because he is very talented.”

The four-minute clip stars Moroccan actress Mouna R’miki.

Bougrine, who has lived in multiple cities around the world, said that traveling made her “wealthy” when it comes to music. “Music is a melting pot. I can have different rhythms in my songs. I don’t have any limits. The sky is my limit,” she explained. 

The singer added that she hopes her music will offer international audiences a glimpse of life as a Moroccan. “If (my songs) can be a small window to Morocco… and make people understand what we are feeling and what we are living, it would be amazing,” she said. 


UAE museum partners with cryptocurrency exchange on ‘most beautiful NFTs in metaverse’ project

UAE museum partners with cryptocurrency exchange on ‘most beautiful NFTs in metaverse’ project
Updated 18 May 2022

UAE museum partners with cryptocurrency exchange on ‘most beautiful NFTs in metaverse’ project

UAE museum partners with cryptocurrency exchange on ‘most beautiful NFTs in metaverse’ project

DUBAI: A futuristic Emirati museum has teamed up with a leading cryptocurrency exchange to cultivate and present a collection of digital products on the blockchain.

The Museum of the Future in Dubai is collaborating with Binance NFT – the non-fungible token marketplace of Binance, a cryptocurrency and blockchain infrastructure provider – on a project that will start with a collection under the title, “The Most Beautiful NFTs in the Metaverse.”

The recently opened museum has already made a significant impact, with tickets and talks being sold out days in advance.

Under the new partnership deal, the museum will be positioned to develop assets within the fields of cryptocurrency, blockchain, and NFTs.

Museum executive director, Lath Carlson, said: “This exciting project is the first of many future ventures that will see us working with the world’s brightest minds and construct high-impact developments that will shape the future.”

UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Applications Omar bin Sultan Al-Olama, said: “The Museum of the Future’s partnership with the world’s largest cryptocurrency and blockchain ecosystem player makes a significant contribution toward Dubai’s plans to establish a new international digital asset ecosystem, which will, in turn, generate long-term economic growth within the digital economy.”

The museum is creating a variety of virtual assets and will lead development in the crypto-technology space. The first NFT collection set to drop will be announced soon with the assortment to be linked to the concept of “The Most Beautiful Building on Earth.”

Head of Binance NFT, Helen Hai, said: “We look forward to working with the museum to develop industry leading digital products that enhance the growth of the industry and promote adoption of blockchain within the region.”