Celebrating Arab-American artists’ contribution to culture

Celebrating Arab-American artists’ contribution to culture
Los Angeles-based Egyptian artist Sherin Guirguis’ artwork is inspired by forgotten stories of marginalized communities, particularly women. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 April 2022

Celebrating Arab-American artists’ contribution to culture

Celebrating Arab-American artists’ contribution to culture
  • April is Arab-American Heritage Month. Arab News highlights some of the community’s most significant contemporary artists

HELEN ZUGHAIB

On April 1, US President Joe Biden published an open letter sending the Arab-American community “warmest greetings” in honor of Arab-American Heritage Month. Such a gesture was welcomed by many, including the Lebanese-American artist Zughaib, who emigrated from Lebanon to the US during the civil war. “Finally, you feel proud and hopeful,” Zughaib told Arab News. She was commissioned by cosmetics giant Sephora to create a new artwork for its social media platforms celebrating this special occasion. The result is this joyful, colorful image of dabké dancers and musicians. Zughaib’s work is about finding beauty and hope in stories of personal and collective trauma. “I have a very strong desire to make something palatable that can attract your attention,” she explained.

RANIA MATAR 

Lebanese photographer Matar has lived in the US since 1984. Her intimate images explore themes related to adolescence and womanhood, capturing young women laying in the privacy of their bedrooms or immersed in the wilderness. In Matar’s ongoing series “Where Do I Go?” the viewer is confronted with women photographed in abandoned spaces in Beirut, such as this image of a theater lover named Rhea, sitting inside the once-prestigious Piccadilly Theater. “I saw graffiti on the wall that said in Arabic: ‘Where do I go?’ These women are at that crossroads. Where do they go? I was their age when I left Lebanon. Some are leaving; others cannot afford to go anywhere. I want to empower them and tell their story,” Matar wrote in a statement. 

SHERIN GUIRGUIS

Los Angeles-based Egyptian artist Guirguis’ artwork is inspired by forgotten stories of marginalized communities, particularly women. This work, “Here Have I Returned,” was a site-specific sculpture created for an exhibition at the Pyramids Plateau in Giza, Egypt last year. It is shaped like a sacred musical instrument played by Hathor, the ancient goddess of music and dance. Embellished with pharaonic-like symbols, the sculpture also pays tribute to the groundbreaking 20th-century Egyptian feminist, Doria Shafik, whose writings are featured. “Serving as both a remembrance of history and an invitation to connect these narratives to the present, the work sets out to make the invisible work of generations of under-recognized women visible once more,” Gurguis said in a statement. 

JOHN HALAKA

Egyptian-born Halaka is the son of Palestinian and Lebanese immigrants who made their way to America in 1970. “Until the COVID-pandemic, I’ve traveled to Palestine almost every year to work on various projects,” he told Arab News. In his evocative series, “Ghost of Presence/Bodies of Absence,” Halaka addresses the plight of exiled Palestinian people by placing ink and rubber-stamped text, sometimes appearing in the shape of a human face, on digital photographs of destroyed villages, creating a ghostly effect and mimicking, Halaka said, “the unrelenting tension between the physical absence of Palestinians who have been exiled from their homeland, and the psychological presence of millions of Palestinian refugees who continue the struggle to return to the lands that were stolen from them.”

JACQUELINE REEM SALLOUM

As a first-generation Arab-American, Salloum has devoted much of her time to challenging Arab stereotypes in Hollywood. But recently, the Syrian-Palestinian artist has been experimenting with lively, detailed collages, juxtaposing historical black-and-white pictures with vibrant drawings. “My current work explores more of the connections between personal, collective past, heritage and history through diasporic memory,” she told Arab News. “Remembering the Future,” this mixed-media work, merges the personal story of Sumaya Yousef, a displaced Palestinian woman, and key events that took place in the Sixties, including the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the 1964-65 World’s Fair — based on the theme of “Peace Through Understanding” — in New York City, Yousef’s future home. Salloum brings out the contradiction and irony of such events: Spectators looking into a utopian bubble of Palestinian refugee girls at school, the voice of Umm Kulthum drowning out the sound of Israeli war planes. 

JORDAN NASSAR

Inspired by Palestinian embroidery and working with Arab craftswomen, Nassar, an artist of Palestinian descent born in New York, is known for making patterned, vibrant pieces that reveal imagined landscapes of Palestinian lands. “I would talk to certain Palestinians who had never been there, I noticed they would talk about Palestine in a way that felt really dreamlike — imaginary; a fantasy,” he previously told Arab News. “It was always this perfect, beautiful place with hills, goats and olive trees. I was really moved by this notion that Palestine is this fantasy for so many people in the diaspora.” In this work, “Beyond the Boundaries,” Nassar revisits his reoccurring motif of the rolling hills.

JACKIE MILAD 

“I think of my pieces as a record of my decisions over time, a document of my history — my story according to me,” Baltimore-based Milad, who has Egyptian and Honduran origins, told Arab News. Works such as this one, 2021’s “Nada Que Decir” (Nothing to Say), are full of colors, words and symbols. “This work is an accumulation of many layers of collage and marks painted over two years,” she explained. “It includes world news, and quotes from lyrics and poetry. I also mix the languages in the works, reflecting my upbringing.” The title of the work is ironic; the artist expresses a lot of emotion, but has nothing to say in the face of the complexities of identity. 

SAMA ALSHAIBI

A woman dressed in a white robe carries a large water vessel over her head, while another woman in black attire carries eight pots stacked vertically. These are two of the powerful shots of Iraqi-born photographer Alshaibi, who said in a statement that she is interested in “the societal impact of unequal power relations between the West and the Middle East, and how that domination is articulated through photographs.” Alshaibi’s “Carry Over” series is a reminder of how Orientalist photographers portrayed women as “exotic” beings. “I aim to amplify the physical burden of their unjust representation by exaggerating the objects (they) carried,” Alshaibi added. 


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk)

Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
The 3-day program will take place in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah from Dec. 8-10. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
  • Magazine’s annual conference is back with 2nd edition
  • 3-day program in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah to take place from Dec. 8-10

DUBAI: Expanding on a successful platform built in 2021, Hia magazine’s Hia Hub 2022 will offer more interactive experiences and celebrity talks at the event’s second edition in Riyadh, editor-in-chief Mia Badr told Arab News.

“Since its inception, Hia magazine has been in the service of representing and catering to the Arab woman, particularly the Saudi woman who is sophisticated, discerning, complex and multi-dimensional. Throughout our journey, we have always championed her voice, told her stories, engaged and inspired her with insightful and thought-provoking writing and exciting fashion trends. That said, Hia Hub was envisioned as a platform to bridge international and regional audiences," said Mia Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia Magazine, in an interview with Arab News.

“We are celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, along with our second season of Hia Hub, and there is no other place that would be better suited than to host the event where it all started, and where it will continue to flourish and grow — here in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Badr said that the event is meant to reshape the boundaries of “leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity for the Hia fashion community.”

With the fashion industry exploding and growing at an exponential rate in Saudi Arabia, Badr is excited for Hia Hub to be at the center of the conversation.

“Local designers are gaining traction with brands and designers such as Mohammed Ashi gaining critical acclaim from global media; Hindamme; Mohammad Khoja’s brand currently has pieces on display in London’s V&A Museum; you’ve got young trailblazers like Arwa Al-Banawi, known for her fresh and contemporary RTW namesake brand who has collaborated with Adidas and Levi’s; all of them are making an impact on their home turf and gaining recognition on a wider scale,” said Badr.

When asked about her favorite speakers from this edition’s lineup, Badr refused to play favorites. “They are all exceptional in their respective fields, so it really comes down to what particular topic you are interested in. We’ve covered all topics of interest and relevance from female leadership, to how to build a beauty brand, sustainability, the rise of craftsmanship in culture, the new generation of creatives impacting the fashion sphere, styling and make up workshops and so much … there’s really something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are all great!”

Some of the big-name speakers expected to attend the event include US fashion designer Zac Posen, iconic Hollywood stylist Law Roach, Emirati singer Balqees Fathi, French Moroccan fashion designer Charaf Tajer, celebrity stylist Cedric Haddad and Iraqi US beauty mogul Mona Kattan.

The speakers and topics were chosen with the cultural resonance in the region in mind. “We made it a point to have representation and diversity, inviting professional candidates from the region as well as from abroad to ensure a broad spectrum and different points of view for candid and thought-provoking conversations,” said Badr.

Guests can learn more about Hia Hub by visiting hiahub.com.


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.” 


Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  
The showcase was set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

DUBAI: Hollywood star and Dior global ambassador Robert Pattinson was on the front row as the label presented its Celestial collection on Saturday, set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dior Official (@dior)

Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior Men, had 75 models present new looks from the French fashion house. 

Other famous faces spotted at the event included South Korean rapper Sehun, South Korean singer, actor and model Cha Eun-woo, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, Scottish actor Thomas Doherty and British supermodel Naomi Campbell. 

The show took place in front of the Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)

Stars from the Middle East included Tunisian actor and filmmaker Dhafer L’Abidine, Egyptian actor Amr Youssef and Egyptian Canadian “Aladdin” actor Mena Massoud. 

A model hits the runway in Dior Men's latest collection. (AFP)