Mideast artists make bold showing at 59th Venice Biennale

Mideast artists make bold showing at 59th Venice Biennale
Nadia Irshaid Gilbert, “Woman Carries the Weight of our Past and our Future”, 2017. Photo courtesy Nadia Irshaid Gilbert
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Updated 18 April 2022

Mideast artists make bold showing at 59th Venice Biennale

Mideast artists make bold showing at 59th Venice Biennale
  • From Oman as first-time participant, Saudi and UAE pavilions and representation of Lebanon and Palestine, the region is making a significant artistic statement at ‘The Milk of Dreams’  

DUBAI: In a few days, the art world will descend on Italy for its most prestigious event: The 59th Biennale, which this year features a strong showing of nations and artists from the Middle East.

Running from April 23 until Nov. 27, and not held since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s edition is curated by Cecilia Alemani and themed “The Milk of Dreams.”

First held in 1895, the event offers a chance for each country to represent the culture and art of its people. This edition, the Middle East region, including Iran, the Levant, Gulf and North Africa, is being presented through country pavilions, collateral events and individual artists. Participation is no easy feat, particularly after the trials and turbulations of the pandemic.

The following is a list of highlights for visitors interested in the Middle East region.


Saudi Arabia features conceptual art of Muhannad Shono

For the Kingdom’s second showing at its permanent pavilion in the Arsenale, the work of Saudi artist Muhannad Shono, curated by Reem Fadda, will be on display. Still tight-lipped as to what will be shown, we can expect thought-provoking art that prompts us to think more deeply about the way we create and communicate — such as his idea of the line and its exploration of language, and as a fundamental visual necessity for any form of art or written word.

Photography by Marwah AlMugait

A major component of the pavilion will be a reflection on significant social changes in the Kingdom and how these have channeled a new wave of creative outburst and critical dialogue. Fadda is the director of the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi. She was most recently a co-curator at the second edition of Desert X AlUla and has worked on a variety of exhibitions in Saudi Arabia. In 2013 Fadda curated the UAE National Pavilion showing the work of Mohammed Kazem.

Emirati Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s ‘Between Sunrise and Sunset’ for UAE pavilion

For this year’s UAE Pavilion, located in the Arsenale, Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, originally from the town of Khor Fakkan with the backdrop of the dramatic Hajar mountains, will present a solo show titled “Between Sunrise and Sunset”. It is curated by Maya Allison, the founding executive director of The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, featuring a new body of work created especially for the event.

The artist, a longtime veteran of the UAE art community, is notable as one of “The Five”, a group of Emirati artists who worked at the Emirates Fine Arts Society and included Hassan Sharif, his brother Hussain Sharif, Abdullah Al-Saadi and Mohammed Kazem. The group is named after its participation in the 2002 exhibition titled “5 UAE,” held in Germany.

Image Courtesy of National Pavilion UAE La Biennale di Venezia. Photo by John Varghese

While the works Ibrahim will show in Venice have yet to be revealed, what we do know is that they will comprise an installation made using the artist’s human-sized, organic and abstract sculptural forms, drawing from his deep connection to his hometown’s natural environment.

The exhibition is the fifth collaboration between Allision and Ibrahim, and marks the launch of the third book that Allison has produced that explores the artist’s work. The accompanying publication, titled “Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim: Between Sunrise and Sunset” is the first monograph of Ibrahim’s work, co-edited by Allison and Cristiana de Marchi, a poet, artist and curator.

Participation in the Venice Biennale is for all artists one of the most important moments of their careers. Ibrahim’s work, which mixes aspects of Land Art with local motifs, painting and sculpture and his signature undecipherable language, has long pushed the boundaries of art in the Arab world. He is now a star but had in 1999 faced public criticism of his work. He sought refuge with fellow artist Sharif before finding the courage to create art again.

Oman debuts at the Biennale

The small Sultanate of Oman is marking its first-ever participation in Venice this year — one of the first countries, alongside Nepal and Uganda, to debut a national pavilion since Ghana in 2019.

Funded by Oman’s Ministry of Culture and curated by Aisha Stoby, an art historian specializing in creations from Oman and the Arab world, the pavilion presents a retrospective of sorts on the country’s contemporary scene, which has been little regarded until now by Arab historians.

Stoby includes five artists: Pioneering Omani painter Anwar Sonya; Hassan Meer, founder of The Circle, a platform for experimental art in the sultanate, and Stal Gallery in Muscat; Budoor Al-Riyami, an installation artist and photographer who won the Grand Prize at the 13th Asian Art Biennale in 2008; Radhika Khimji, known for her feminist work that incorporates sculpture, collage and textile; and lastly, there is the work of the late sound and installation artist Raiya Al-Rawahi who passed away at the young age of 30 from cancer in 2017.

Portrait of Hassan Meer. Supplied

“Although we are showing three generations of Omani artists, it is a presentation showcasing different perspective(s) of how we might ourselves (be viewed) from a future perspective in terms of ecology, society and art,” Stoby told Arab News.

She explained how Oman has a “thriving local ecosystem” for arts and culture bolstered by institutions and state-funded initiatives. “This presentation in Venice has long been anticipated and we hope it will be the first of several,” she added.

The team that staged the exhibition was entirely Omani, Stoby said, including the exhibition’s architect, Haitham Busafi.

Emerging Emirati artists at Palazzo Franchetti

Marking a first for Abu Dhabi Art, the annual fair that takes place each November in the UAE’s capital is presenting the work of several emerging UAE artists in Venice from the program “Beyond: Emerging Artists” at Palazzo Franchetti (April 20 to May 22).

A collateral event to coincide with the Biennale Arte, the exhibition is the program’s first iteration in Italy and will present the 2021 work of the commissioned artists Christopher Joshua Benton, Maitha Abdalla and Hashel Al-Lamki, who were supported by guest curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, co-founders of multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented and shown at Abu Dhabi Art 2021.

The aim of staging their work in Venice is to provide the artists with greater international exposure. The program was funded in 2021 through the newly launched cultural philanthropy initiative Friends of Abu Dhabi Art.

The exhibition combines film, installation, and sculpture. Highlights include Benton’s “The World Was My Garden” installation working with the palm tree as a metaphor for migration, labor economies and the history of slavery in the Gulf. The exhibition’s centerpiece is “My Plant Immigrants,” an almost three-meter-tall date palm tree suspended in the air by Benton.

Flying Closer to the Sun (2021) by Maitha Abdalla. Supplied

Abdalla’s “Too Close to the Sun” incorporates video performance, sculpture, and works on canvas and photography to explore the artist’s understanding of the wild nature of women that social forces have often attempted to tame. Her work touches on various themes, including the archetype of the feminine psyche, the wildness of human nature and the free-spirited, untamable character of wild animals.

Al-Lamki’s “Neptune,” on the other hand, is a multidisciplinary piece featuring sculptures and works on canvas that traverses natural, built and imagined realms to foreground the scarcity of the Earth’s resources and how such lack impacts the human psyche.

The “Beyond: Emerging Artists” initiative invites local and international curators to work with UAE-based emerging artists of their choosing in a year-round program, encouraging them to hone their skills. Participating artists are provided with a budget and curatorial support to create ambitious new works that are shown in exhibitions through Abu Dhabi Art.


Lebanon participates against all odds

For a country afflicted by severe economic, social and political challenges, to show at the Venice Biennale says something crucial about what the Lebanese feel about their culture and heritage. It is a sign of the country’s determination to preserve its identity and history through contemporary art.

Funded by private Lebanese donors with support from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and curated by Nada Ghandour, the pavilion is situated in the Arsenale, one of the two main venues of the biennale, and presents the work of two Lebanese artists: Painter Ayman Baalbaki, residing in Beirut, and filmmaker Danielle Arbid, based in Paris.

Ayman Baalbaki in the studio. Courtesy the artist

“We wanted to be in the Arsenale and participate this year to say to the world that Lebanon still exists on an international level, especially through its art and culture,” Ghandour told Arab News. “We are showing another face of Lebanon, not only the country’s problems, but the art and culture that we have.”

It offers a dialogue, says the curator, between the Lebanese living in the country and those abroad.  Baalbaki, known for his expressionistic canvases featuring bursts of rich impasto in vibrant palettes often tells of the emotional impact of conflicts in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon. Abid’s work, on the other hand, draws her inspiration from her cross-cultural upbringing living in France, Lebanon and the West.


Palestine participates through collateral event

Palestine is participating in the biennale as an official collateral event through the four-year-old Palestine Museum US, the first such institution in the Western hemisphere. The exhibition at the Palazzo Mora is titled “From Palestine with Art,” and is curated by Nancy Nesvet, also head curator of Palestine Museum US.

It presents the work of 19 artists residing in Palestine and countries around the world. Artists presented include Samia Halaby, Mohammed Alhaj, Nabil Anani, Nadia Irshaid Gilbert, Mohammed Khalil and Jacqueline Bejani, among others.

“We hope to show the world that despite living in exile and under the most difficult conditions under occupation, Palestinian artist(s) are able to excel and produce inspiring works of art that celebrate the beauty of Palestine, the strength of its people, and its rich cultural heritage,” Saleh told Arab News.

Jacqueline Bejani, palestinian portraits, 2022, acrylic on canvas. Supplied

The museum opened on April 22, 2018, as an independent non-profit organization. Founded by Palestinian-American businessman Faisal Saleh, it is the only such facility in the Americas and has over 92 square meters of permanent exhibition space featuring over 200 works of art by over 50 artists. In addition, it displays traditional Palestinian embroidery, thobes, books, artifacts and murals. It hosts regular musical concerts, lectures, plays, artist talks and exhibitions.

“We are always fighting for visibility which is difficult to achieve in the mainstream Western media,” added Saleh. “This very important art event gives us a great opportunity to get the Palestine name out in a big way.”


Artist Zineb Sedira represents France

French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira, whose work has long incorporated autobiographical narrative, fiction and documentary to explore how politics, colonialism and migration have shaped present identities, represents France this year at the Biennale.

Working primarily in photography and video art, Sedira’s work sheds light on present international solidarities related to historical liberation struggles — topics explored in “Dreams Have No Titles.” Her exhibition at the pavilion has been curated by Yasmina Reggad, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath.

“Dreams Have No Titles,” Zineb Sedira. Supplied

The show presents a film by the same name in which the artist explores the links between Algerian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s to Italian and French producers of the same time and the influences on Algerian national identity at the time. The film incorporates “mise en abyme-like re-enactments as well as “makings of” film scenes from the past as if to resurrect them in the present.

Dubai-based Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian at Complesso dell’Ospedaletto

Dubai-based Iranian artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian are showing their work in a new site-specific creation titled “ALLUVIUM” at the Complesso dell’Ospedale.

“ALLUVIUM” by Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian. Supplied

The exhibition, which takes place after the artists won the OGR Award at Artissima art fair in Turin, Italy in 2017, and their show “Forgive me distant wars for bringing flowers home” at OGR, or Officine Grandi Riparazioni, in Turin, looks metaphorically at the remnants left from the flow of news and history.

The artists explore what remains from this cycle and through their art attempt to give it new life and purpose as a way of cultural resistance.


Firouz Farmanfarmaian represents Kyrgyzstan for nation’s first-ever pavilion

The Iranian-born French national is presenting “Gates of Turan,” an exhibition curated by Janet Rady on the island of the Giudecca for the Kyrgyz Republic’s first-ever national pavilion in Venice.

The exhibition looks at the shared tribal heritage of the Turanian nomads of Kyrgyz, an Iranian tribe of the Avestan age (circa 4-6 century AD), who occupied “the land of Tur,” a historic region encompassing present-day Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and northern parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Through the works on show, which features 10 hand-stitched, hand-felted Shirdaks designed by the artist to represent the tribal banners of the 10 nomadic communities of ancient Turan, Farmanfarmaian delves into the tribal identity of modern-day Kyrgyz and its shared tribal ancestry.

Kayakalak Panel One, Kyrgyz felt and yak wool, 2022. Supplied


US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  
Updated 05 February 2023

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles  

DUBAI: US actress, social media star and dancer Tessa Brooks showed off a sleek look by Saudi designer Eman Alajlan at the 2023 MusiCares Persons of the Year event in Los Angeles over the weekend.  

US actress and social media star Tessa Brooks showed off a sleek look by Saudi designer Eman Alajlan. (Getty Images)

The 23-year-old multi-hyphenate showed off an all-black ensemble by Alajlan at an event that honored retired American record executive Berry Gordy and legendary Motown singer Smokey Robinson at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 


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The pair of creatives are the architects behind a generation of soul-pop hits and they stood side-by-side on Friday night to accept a double-billed MusiCares Persons of the Year honor. MusiCares is non-profit wing of the Recording Academy and holds the annual gala ahead of the Grammy Awards, which took place on Sunday night.  

Brooks opted to show off a Saudi design on a red carpet that welcomed the who’s who of the entertainment industry — performers who took to the the stage at the event included Brandi Carlile, Jimmie Allen, PJ Morton, Trombone Shorty, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Mumford & Sons, Isley Brothers, Michael McDonald, The Temptations, Rita Wilson and The Four Tops, Molly Tuttle and more.  


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Musical icons Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie also made on-stage appearances.  

Brooks chose a sculptured look by Alajlan, featuring a form-fitting bodice and skirt topped with a wrap-around collar dusted with gemstones.  

The social media star showed off her outfit of choice to her 19 million Instagram followers by way of a set of Instagram Stories.  


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The model and actress also recently posted about her visits to Saudi Arabia, where she attended the Red Sea International Film Festival in December before jetting back to the Kingdom to visit the historical site of AlUla in January.  

“Sunrise in AlUla,” she captioned a carousel of shots on Instagram in which she can be seen basking in the Saudi sun wearing a toweled robe.  


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Alajlan, who has a store in Riyadh, established her label in 2007 and specializes in couture, bridal and pret-a-porter dresses. She has dressed a number of regional celebrities for international events, including the 2019 Venice Film Festival when Saudi actresses Mila Alzahrani and Dae Al-Hilali hit the red carpet in her creations. 

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai
Lucy Worsley (center) and Ragnar Jonasson (left) at the Emirates Literature Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 05 February 2023

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

DUBAI: In a sold-out, hour-long session at the Emirates Literature Festival, British historian and broadcaster Lucy Worsley and Icelandic thriller writer Ragnar Jonasson talked about all things Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the venerable British detective author. Actively writing for more than five decades, the best-selling “Queen of Crime” led a remarkable life and career of highs and lows.


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She taught herself to read at 5 years old, wrote 66 detective novels, surfed in Hawaii, and survived infidelity and a painful divorce. She sold over 2 billion books and was knighted by the queen in her 80s. One can say that Christie was a fighter, and the pen was her weapon of choice.

Both Worsley and Jonasson are long-time admirers of Christie. Worsley has a new biography about the writer, while ever since his teens, Jonasson has translated more than a dozen of Christie’s novels into Icelandic. “You go back to the books again and again, just like comfort reading,” he said.

“Somebody like Agatha Christie can sometimes be put into this box that’s marked with the words ‘difficult women.’ You aren’t immediately likable, aren’t immediately knowable, aren’t all sweet and light,” Worsley told the Dubai audience. “It strikes me that very often when a woman is put into that category in people’s minds it’s because she is breaking the rules as they are perceived for women at the time.”


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Worsley, who wrote her book during the pandemic, had access to Christie’s family archive and conducted research at her Georgian holiday home in Devon, England. Christie began seriously writing her books in the 1920s, often dubbed the “golden age of crime fiction.” Worsley believes it was the First World War, when Christie was a nurse, that kicked things off for her.

“She turned to writing detective fiction during the quiet hours in the hospital dispensary, when she was waiting for the prescriptions to come in,” she explained. “It was her job to mix up the drugs and produce the medicines (and) poisons that could either save life or take life.”

During her peak years, between the 1920s and 1940s, Christie always seemed to outshine other contemporary crime authors. “She was simply the best one,” said Jonasson, complimenting her genius plots. “The others were writing very good detective stories, but she always had this extra layer of a twist at the end…Her ideas are sometimes so simple that you explain them in one sentence.”

The session also delved into Christie’s personal hardships, including her infamous 1926 disappearance, when she hid away from society for 11 days as a result of her first husband’s adultery. In the later years of her life, suffering from the early stages of dementia, Christie’s books were not as successful as her previous ones.

But there were some positive points too. Her adventurous trips to the Middle East gave the world all-time classics, such as “Death on the Nile” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” It was in Iraq that she would meet her second husband of 40-plus years, archaeologist Max Mallowan. Interest in Christie’s writings remains high, as films and TV shows inspired by her books continue to be in production. Not only do these attract longtime fans but also, and perhaps most importantly, they introduce her work to younger generations.

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival
Updated 05 February 2023

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival

Saudi creative Ahmed Al-Saif showcases African tribal life at Xposure International Photography Festival
  • Fascinating culture in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, says artist
  • Sharjah event features 74 photographers with 1,794 prints

DUBAI: Creatives are gearing up for the seventh edition of the Xposure International Photography Festival, which is set to take place in the UAE from Feb. 9 to 15.

Organized by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau, the event at the Expo Center Sharjah will feature 74 world-renowned photographers and a display of 1,794 prints.

One of the participating artists is Saudi photographer Ahmad Al-Saif, who specializes in travel and culture-focused photography.



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Al-Saif said his work would take visitors on a journey to Africa to learn about the tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia.

“The focus of these nations in my work is to illustrate their fascinating lifestyle and heritage. They distinguish themselves from other tribes with unique body paints, scarification and lip and ear plates,” he said. “These body modifications and beautifications, as they consider them, have a deep-rooted heritage and reasons.

“I wish I could find the words to describe what it feels like to visit these tribes and I aspire to convey a little bit of their beauty in this exhibition,” he said.



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One of his favorite pictures to be showcased at the exhibition is “Glance” — a photograph taken of the Karo tribe.

“This picture was taken (in) the first few minutes when I reached the Karo tribe land,” he said. “The picture captured a child’s curiosity to see me for the first time, which had a similar reflection of my curiosity when I saw them.”

“Glance” was awarded an honorary award in the Sheikh Hamdan International Photography Competition in 2016.



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Al-Saif’s infatuation with photography started in early 2007 when he was only 20 years old.

He started experimenting using his father’s compact camera at first. He then bought his first DSLR camera in 2009 and started taking professional photos of Saudi Arabia’s local communities and cultural heritage, especially in his home city of Al-Ahsa.



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“As a child, I was curious and liked to try new things. Similar to photography, I have practiced swimming, football and drawing,” he recalled. “However, the love for photography kept growing inside me until I had the chance to get my own camera when I was 21 years old. At this age I knew that I had the passion and the drive to pursue photography professionally.”

Al-Saif considers photography an integral part of his identity. He believes that travel photography has made him “a different person.”



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“I learned to see all things with a beautiful eye, and I became more accepting with respect to the difference in people, cultures and religious beliefs,” he explained.

However, being a travel photographer does come without its challenges. “One of the main issues is the restriction that is imposed in some regions or countries as well as safety. The other thing is expenses of these trips that limit our travel duration and frequency,” he explained.



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Despite having a photography career that spans over 13 years, Al-Saif believes he is only starting.

“The first thing I always tell myself and other ambitious youth is to start sailing in the world of exploration and travel, and to capture beautiful moments that you see with your eyes, to share experiences with the world,” he said.

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 
Updated 04 February 2023

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 

Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music 
  • For this week’s edition of our series on Arab icons, we profile one of the Arab world's most popular stars
  • Over a career spanning seven decades, the Lebanese legend appeared in almost 100 films and released more than 50 albums 

DUBAI: “Empress of Lebanese Song,” “Sabbouha” and “Al-Shahroura” (The Singing Bird). These are just some of the nicknames given to the Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, whose remarkable career spanned seven decades.  

Sabah was born Jeanette Georges Feghali in November 1927 in Bdadoun near Mount Lebanon. She was the youngest of three daughters. Her family life was troubled — her father reportedly bullied and neglected her, and even tried to steal her earnings from her early movies. She once told an interviewer that she was crying one day because she hadn’t had any food and one of her uncles told her parents “that I had a beautiful voice when I sobbed.” Her traumatic childhood only got worse when her brother murdered their mother because he believed she was having an affair. 

Sabah in the 1958 film 'La Rue de L'Amour.' (Image credit: Abboudi Bou Jawde)

It was her talent that offered her a way out. Sabah started singing aged four, and released her first song in 1940, aged just 13.  

Five years later, she starred in her first movie, the Egyptian film “El-Qalb Luh Wahid” (The Heart Has Its Reasons) and adopted her character’s name — Sabah (morning). Still a teenager, she quickly became famous across the Arab world. She went on to star in almost 100 movies and release more than 50 albums, becoming internationally famous — performing in Paris, London, Sydney and New York. She reportedly had around 3,500 songs in her repertoire and carried on performing well into her eighties, finally retiring in 2010 due to illness. She died in Lebanon on Nov. 26, 2014, at the age of 87. 

Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Shafik made “El-Shahrourah,” a TV drama based on her life (Sabah was played by Lebanese singer and actress Carole Samaha), which aired in Ramadan in 2011. For background, Shafik talked with Sabah for hours about her life.  

“I grew up listening to Sabah. She is a great artist, a great singer, a great actress. It was an incredible feeling the first time I went to meet her,” Shafik told Arab News. 

A picture from the late 1960s (R to L) Sabah with Egyptian actresses Leila Taher and Maryam Fakhreddine shooting a movie in Alexandria. (AFP)

“The (show) was based on her words. We — (writer) Fedaa El-Shandawily and I — sat with her in the hotel she stayed in until she died, and we would visit her daily. When the show was written, we read the episodes for her and it was exactly what she said,” he continued. “Her life was full of suspense and a lot of drama. At times, Sabah would tell us stories and cry, and at times she would recall memories and laugh.”  

After the show aired, Sabah’s family reportedly filed lawsuits against the production house. But, according to Shafik, none of the cases came to trial because he had the recordings of his interviews with Sabah.  

“Sabah herself did not file a lawsuit,” he noted. “Sabah cared for her professional career and did not care for her personal life, her family.” 

The singer married 10 times and was rumored to be in multiple relationships throughout her life. “She was trying to find stability and make a family. Most of the men in her life wanted the rich and famous Sabah — not a family,” Shafik said.  

In 2021, Sabah was among the Arab female artists featured in the Arab World Institute’s six-month exhibition, “Arab Divas, from Umm Kulthum to Dalida.” Maïa Tahiri, CEO of glob.art, the cultural platform that helped support the exhibition, told Arab News, “Umm Kulthum, Warda Al-Jazairia, Asmahan, Fayrouz, Sabah, Dalida … (these women) have influenced not only several generations but have created a bridge across cultures. It was very moving to see daughters with their mothers and grandmothers at the exhibition, sharing their memories and ideas, rocked by the famous songs of these incredible women who contributed so much to the Golden Age of the Arab world. 

“Sabah is an icon, not just in the Middle East or the Arab World,” Tahiri added. “The fact that she acted in almost 100 movies and interpreted approximately 3,500 songs explains her global fame… Her freedom, her frankness and her love for fashion also explain the fascination people still have when it comes to her.” 

Tahiri said that throughout her lustrous career, Sabah remained faithful to her dressmaker, William Khoury. “Even though she mostly performed in Egypt, it was extremely important to her to have her stage costumes made in her homeland, Lebanon. The exhibition put forward a large panel of Sabah’s outfits, revealing her appreciation for boldness,” she said.  

That boldness carried over from her risqué dress sense to her personality. Lebanese radio presenter Chady Maalouf, who met Sabah many times between 2001 and her death in 2014, told Arab News, “Dealing with Sabah meant dealing with a very professional star, whether in punctuality, commitment or frankness and clarity in the answers.”  

Sabah with the Lebanese couturier William Khoury in 1974. (Image credit: Madonna Khoury)

Sabah, he said, “was one of the first to carry the Lebanese dialect — through her songs — to Egypt and the Arab world, bringing it closer to the Arab public at a time when the Egyptian dialect was dominant in the world of singing and acting.” 

Maalouf’s favorite interview with the star was his first, recorded in her house at the time in Hazmieh. “Sabah was always elegant, even at home,” he said. “The dominant color of the furniture and curtains was turquoise. She showed me some of her (ornaments) after our interview. One was a gift from Fayrouz and Assi Rahbani, and another piece was from the Egyptian actress Soheir Ramzi.” 

Sabah performing in Alexandria in 2003. (AFP)

An interview in 2006 he recalled “was one of the few times I saw Sabah sad. She had tears in her eyes, because our meeting coincided with an Israeli attack on Lebanon, and rumors were circulating in the press that she was celebrating her birthday when the country was being bombed.”  

The conversation that has stuck with Maalouf the most, though, was when he asked Sabah why she didn’t move to the US where her daughter, son and two grandchildren lived.  

“She replied: ‘I love them all very much, but there I will feel that I’ve become merely a grandmother and forget my glory, and that I am Sabah. I love myself and don’t like to be insignificant.’ Then she added, ‘I’m not selfish, but I love the artist in me,’” Maalouf said. 

“I believe that this phrase really sums up her life: Janet Feghali loved Sabah and lived for Sabah. And she did it well.” 

Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib pays tribute to Paco Rabanne

Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib pays tribute to Paco Rabanne
Updated 04 February 2023

Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib pays tribute to Paco Rabanne

Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib pays tribute to Paco Rabanne
  • The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as "among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century"
  • Tunisian managing director of Paco Rabanne, Nadia Dhouib, paid tribute to the ‘legendary’ fashion designer

PARIS: Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib this week paid tribute to the Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne, who died at the age of 88 on Friday.

Dhouib, who was named managing director of Paco Rabanne in March last year, shared a black and white picture of the fashion designer, best known for his metallic ensembles and space-age designs of the 1960s, on her Instagram stories, and wrote: “Legend.”

The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as “among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century.”

Rabanne dressed some of the most prominent stars of the 1960s, including French singer Francoise Hardy, whose outfits from the designer included a minidress made from gold plates and a metal link jumpsuit, as well as Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, who were pictured in matching silver outfits.

Among his most famous looks were the fitted, skin-baring ensembles worn by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s cult science fiction film “Barbarella.”

The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo, Paco Rabanne’s birth name, was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which now controls the fashion house.

“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” said Marc Puig, chairman and CEO of Puig.


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“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre — the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know — and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?" the group's statement said.

Born in a village in the Spanish Basque region in 1934, his mother was a head seamstress at Balenciaga. He died in Portsall in Brittany.

Rabanne grew up in France, where the family moved after Spanish troops shot dead his father, who had been a Republican commander during the civil war.

He studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He started his career sketching handbags for a supplier to prestigious fashion houses including Givenchy and Chanel, as well as shoes for Charles Jourdan.

He then branched into fashion, designing garments and jewelry with unconventional materials such as metal and plastic.


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His first collection, which he described as “unwearable dresses made of contemporary materials” were pieces made of strips of plastic linked with metal rings, worn by barefoot models at a presentation at the upscale Paris hotel George V.

The Paris cabaret Crazy Horse Saloon was his next venue, where models paraded his skimpy dresses and bathing suits while wearing hardhats.

While his innovation and futuristic designs won plaudits, his fascination with the supernatural prompted public derision at times. He was known for recounting past reincarnations, and in 1999, he predicted the space station Mir would crash into France, coinciding with a solar eclipse.

Surrealist Salvador Dali famously approved of his compatriot, calling him “Spain’s second genius.”

The designer teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching perfumes that served as a springboard for the company’s international expansion.

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal,” said Jose Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division.

The label has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, under the creative direction of Julien Dossena, who has updated the house’s signature chainmail designs.

“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities,” the fashion house said in a statement.

The designer’s work with metallic plastic gave a “sharp edge” to women’s clothes, an effect that was “so much more than a New Look,” fashion historian Suzy Menkes said on Instagram Friday.

“It was rather a revolutionary attitude for women who wanted both to protect and assert themselves.”

(With Reuters and AP)