Saudi artist’s ‘The Teaching Tree’ symbolizes Kingdom’s great change

Saudi artist’s ‘The Teaching Tree’ symbolizes Kingdom’s great change
Muhannad Shono, “The Teaching Tree,” 2022. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 April 2022

Saudi artist’s ‘The Teaching Tree’ symbolizes Kingdom’s great change

Saudi artist’s ‘The Teaching Tree’ symbolizes Kingdom’s great change
  • Muhannad Shono’s large-scale installation reflects on creative resilience in Saudi Arabia

VENICE: A large 40-meter-long form that seems to writhe gently like a living being takes up the entirety of the pavilion of Saudi Arabia. The organically formed structure is covered in palm fronds painted in black and moves, ever so slightly, powered by pneumatics.

Titled “The Teaching Tree” and by Muhannad Shono, the artist selected to represent the Kingdom in Venice this year, the work is, in his words, “the embodiment of a living imagination, the resistance and resilience of the creative mind. It encompasses a journey, not only of myself, but of the resilience and irrepressible creative scene that is emerging now in Saudi Arabia.”

As the country continues to forge its voice on the international art scene, Shono has become a strong advocate for a new generation of artists from Saudi Arabia.

When beholding Shono’s work, the viewer becomes aware of rays of outside light that cast shadows on the floor, serving a role in the aesthetic and performance of the artist’s work.

Muhannad Shono is the artist selected to represent the Kingdom in Venice this year. (Supplied)

“I wanted the work to be connected to outside light; I wanted the work to change as the natural light changed prompting how people experience it. Lighting became very crucial in the end and shadows that were made became very important in how they wanted to manifest,” Shono told Arab News.

Muhannad Shono, “The Teaching Tree,” 2022. (Supplied)

Curated by Reem Fadda, the director of the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, and assistant curator Rotana Shaker, Shono’s enigmatic form explores ideas of resilience, regeneration, nature, creation, and mythology in the natural world and in the human imagination. The work was entirely assembled by hand in Riyadh by a team of Saudi and international artists and mounted in Venice.

Fadda said: “There was a big community alongside Muhannad of artists, supporters, and creators and the curation was divided between me and Rotana. Photographers, designers, and creatives of all kinds came together and supported him in the creation and manifestation of the work.”

Reem Fadda is the Director of the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)

Underpinning the work are the concepts on which Shono has long based his art, namely the practice of questioning truths, ontologies, and basic ideas regarding human life. Of note is the artist’s investigations into the drawn line — the origin of “The Teaching Tree” and the basis for all aesthetic forms — an act of creative agency itself.

“Here we find this massive installation of a line that becomes an embodied thing, a living thing, throbbing, breathing, and coming to life as a force of absolute creative resistance and imagination.

Rotana Shaker is the assistant curator. (Supplied)

“This is not an industrial thing. It is a structure and there is pneumatics that are inside. The palm fronds were hand dried, treated, and died and they are all waste palm fronds from the trimmings that were then hand inserted each and every one,” Fadda added.

The stories of Al-Khidr, the legendary Islamic figure endowed with immortal life who is described in the Qur’an as a righteous servant of God possessing great wisdom or mystic knowledge, have had a profound influence on Shono’s personal and creative life.

According to several myths, wherever Al-Khidr sat a garden would grow — symbolizing, similar to Shono’s work at the Biennale, healing, regeneration, and rebirth.

Muhannad Shono, “The Teaching Tree,” 2022, Sculptural installation with palm fronds, pigment, pneumatics and metal structure, overall dimensions variable. (Supplied)

“The Teaching Tree” thus reflects also on the idea of hope for rebirth, particularly when faced with the present warning signs of past and future ecological and human struggle.

Shono said: “The work is the embodiment of the living imagination. It is an act of creative resistance. Despite attempts to restrict human imagination, and in fact, thanks to those restrictions, more fertile ground is created for stronger expression.”

The 59th Venice Biennale runs until Nov. 27.

Thalothya: The art community that sparked a Madinah revolution

Thalothya: The art community that sparked a Madinah revolution
Updated 10 August 2022

Thalothya: The art community that sparked a Madinah revolution

Thalothya: The art community that sparked a Madinah revolution
  • Artist Meshal Al-Hujaili launched a community project of talks called Thalothya to support artists by educating them on other parts of their careers
  • Al-Hujaili began his journey in the art world at a young age by drawing graffiti before taking another direction

RIYADH: The artist’s main focus is on the aesthetic aspect of life, leaving material concerns behind, leaving many artists struggling to understand the economic world, sparking confusion over pricing their paintings and profiting from their talents.

This was one of the reasons that artist Meshal Al-Hujaili was inspired to launch a community project of talks called “Thalothya” to support artists by educating them on more parts of their careers.

Thalothya emerged as an artistic community concerned with spreading artistic culture, enhancing the creative side of the artists, and exchanging experiences.

Their goal is to create a healthy artistic environment in which practitioners find support and expertise to develop their art. The sessions are held once a month in Madinah.

The group also organizes monthly dialogue sessions, regular presentations on the artists’ latest works, online interviews with an eclectic range of influential artists, and discussions on the journey that each artist took and its impact on their craft.

“Thalothya started in an informal way between me and my artist friends, and I decided to set up a meeting to discuss art. Then I was surprised that the topic started to spread among artists and that a large number wanted to attend courses. The news spread in the city. We started with 15 people, and the last session was attended by 60 artists,” Al-Hujaili told Arab News.

Al-Hujaili said that because of the crowds of people who wanted to attend the event, the sessions were moved from a cafe to art galleries in Madinah, where there are halls to accommodate 200 people in the session.

“Many people want to join the discussion circles, which is why I refuse the requests of many cafes and places that want to host us because I know that the place will not accommodate us,” said Al-Hujaili, adding: “Thalothya created an artistic revolution in Madinah.”

He said: “The topics we raise are not purely artistic, so we talk about the legal aspect of art, and 90 percent of artists do not know how to legally preserve their works or price their works. We help them to dialogue and talk in a safe space and host different topics each time. 

“For example, we once discussed the subject of ‘art block’ during our research, and we found a definition that is completely different from what we thought, and we present a new aspect that focuses on the topic of marketing and the problems that the artist goes through, why an artist appears and becomes famous suddenly, and then he is isolated and disappears.”

Al-Hujaili’s paintings are distinguished by geometric formations. He began his journey in the art world at a young age by drawing graffiti before taking another direction.

“I started my graffiti from primary to secondary school, and I drew graffiti, then art took a new curve. For six years, I only drew straight lines and worked on drawing geometric shapes, and the result was special, as I was unique in my art, in which I put my fingerprint. I was requested to paint a mural at the Arab Open University in Madinah,” he said.

The dialogues were not limited to male artists, with women making up a large share of the discussion.

Basma Al-Bloshi, a portrait artist, said: “What distinguishes Thalothya is that it cares about the artist’s aspects, both psychologically and practically, and we discuss the things that develop the artist.”

She continued: “The idea of Thalothya is to educate the artist about other aspects of art. One of our goals is to spread Thakothya throughout the Kingdom.”

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue
Updated 10 August 2022

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue

Beluga whale lost in French river euthanized during rescue
  • A team of 80 people tried to save the animal’s life by transporting the cetaceous into a refrigerated truck to the port in Ouistreham, in Normandy region.

PARIS: A beluga whale that became a French celebrity after a wrong turn took it up the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after experiencing health complications during an urgent rescue operation, authorities said.
The sparkling white marine mammal appeared deep inside France last week, having accidentally veered off the normal ocean migration route that takes belugas to and from Arctic waters.
Fearing the malnourished creature would not survive in the Seine much longer, a wildlife conservation group and veterinarians planned to move the lost whale to a saltwater port in Normandy, from where they hoped to return it to the open sea.
A team of 80 people assembled to try to save the animal’s life, and it was successfully moved Tuesday night from a river lock in Saint-Pierre-la-Garenne, west of Paris, into a refrigerated truck for the 60-kilometer (99-mile) journey to the port in Ouistreham.
But during the drive, the 4-meter-long (13-foot-long) whale started to breath with difficulty, according to Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French veterinarian who worked on the rescue operation.
“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably in its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Courtois said.
“The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it,” she added.
Environmentalists had acknowledged the plan to move the beluga risked fatally stressing the mammal. But marine conservation group Sea Shepherd said that it couldn’t have survived much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.
The group and veterinarians noted the whale had responded to a cocktail of antibiotics and vitamins over the last few days, making them hopeful it would recover once it was back in a saltwater environment.
A necropsy is planned on the whale, which weighed about about 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds).
Rescuers had hoped to spare the whale the fate of an orca that strayed into the Seine and died in May. In 2006, a bottlenose whale — nicknamed “Willy” — swam up the Thames River as far as London and died during a its attempted rescue.
Another complicating factor during the beluga’s rescue attempt was the extreme heat gripping France. Authorities tried to keep it cool and wet with soaked towels and moved it at nightfall when temperatures are at their lowest.
The sad end to a saga that gripped France in recent days came after experts determined the whale “was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the sub-prefect of France’s Calvados region, said.
Rescuers tried to feed the whale fish without success since Friday. Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga’s removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity.

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 
Updated 10 August 2022

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’ 

DUBAI: Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer released on Tuesday the trailer to his upcoming Netflix show “Mo.” 

The eight-episode series, which will be released on Aug. 24, centers on a Palestinian immigrant family living in Houston, Texas. It follows Mo Najjar, played by Amer, who straddles the line between two cultures, three languages and a pending asylum request, all while hustling to support his family, which includes his mother, sister and older brother. 

Jordanian-Kuwaiti-Palestinian actress Farah Bsieso stars as Mo’s mother Yusra Najjar, while Egyptian-American actor Omar Elba portrays Sameer Najjar, Mo’s older brother, who has social anxiety. 

Rapper Tobe Nwigwe plays Nick, Mo’s oldest, most loyal friend and Mexican-American actress Teresa Ruiz stars as Mo’s girlfriend Maria. 

Amer also serves as executive producer in the series, along with his “Ramy” co-star and friend Egyptian-American Golden Globe-winner Ramy Youssef, who also appears in the show. 

In December, Amer told Arab News that he is at a point in his career where he is able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before through an artistic medium that allows viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an intimate way.

“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money,” he said. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”

Amer began his career in comedy in his early teens and soon discovered that no one was telling stories about his experience or that of Arabs in general.

“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap,” he said. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, ‘OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”

With “Mo,” “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” “Mo Amer: The Vagabond” and “Ramy,” the comedian has and still is sharing the stories of both his family and his people. 

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022
Richard Serra's 'East-West, West-East.' (Supplied)
Updated 10 August 2022

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

DUBAI: Ahead of the fast-approaching FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Qatar Museums has announced an expansive public art program that will be rolled out not just in the capital city of Doha but throughout the country. The nation’s public spaces — parks, shopping zones, rail stations, hotel plazas, cultural institutions, Hamad International Airport and the eight World Cup 2022 stadiums — will be transformed into a “vast outdoor art museum,” with 40 new pieces being added to the already existing 70 pieces across the country.

Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, said in a statement, “The addition of 40 new, major works of public art this fall is a significant milestone for Qatar’s public art program. Public art is one of our most prominent demonstrations of cultural exchange, where we present works from artists of all nationalities and backgrounds. From the arrivals at the best airport in the world — Hamad International Airport — to every neighborhood in our nation, public art is there to make your experience unique."



Comprised of more than 100 artworks, the public art extravaganza will feature 40 new and commissioned pieces. New works from international heavyweights will include artists Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, KAWS, Rashid Johnson, Ernesto Neto, Lawrence Weiner, Faye Toogood, Katharina Fritsch, and others.

Qatari and MENA region artists whose work will be presented in the public art program include Adel Abidin, Ahmed Al-Bahrani, Shouq Al-Mana, Shua’a Al-Muftah, Salman Al-Malek, Monira Al-Qadiri, Simone Fattal and Faraj Daham.



According to a press release shared by Qatar Museums, the country was among the first in the region to establish a public art program, which currently includes works from Richard Serra, Tom Claaseen, Bruce Nauman, Louise Bourgeois, Urs Fischer, Subodh Gupta, Dia Al-Azzawi and others.

“Qatar Museums’ public art program, more than anything else, serves as a reminder that art is all around us, not confined to museums and galleries, and can be enjoyed and celebrated whether you are going to work, or school, or the desert or the beach,” said Abdulrahman Ahmed Al-Ishaq, Qatar Museums’ Director of Public Art, in a statement.

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicks off on Nov. 21.

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns
Updated 10 August 2022

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

Tory Burch taps Arab models Malika El-Maslouhi, Imaan Hammam for summer campaigns

DUBAI: US designer Tory Burch is spotlighting Arab models in the fashion label’s latest campaigns. 

Moroccan Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi posed for the brand’s activewear Tory Sport, while Dutch Egyptian Moroccan star Imaan Hammam was spotted in the label’s latest beauty campaign.


A post shared by Tory Sport (@torysport)

In a series of images shared on the brand’s Instagram page this week, 23-year-old runway star El-Maslouhi wore a pleated laser cut tennis skirt with a white tank top and a blue and beige cross body bag from the fashion house’s Summer 2022 tennis collection. 

In other pictures, the model wore a monogram jacquard anorak, a matching red-and-yellow yoga set and a white polo shirt. 

This is not the first time El-Maslouhi has collaborated with the US label.


A post shared by Tory Sport (@torysport)

In May, the designer tapped the model to showcase her eponymous brand’s pre-Fall 2022 collection via a series of campaign images.

The catwalk star, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, also featured in the brand’s 2022 beach edit, sporting an array of summer-ready looks in the form of floral maxi skirts, romantic dresses, crochet bucket hats, strappy sandals and printed bikinis.

El-Maslouhi made her modeling debut when she was 18 and went on to captivate the industry.

In addition to gracing the runways of storied fashion houses that most models can only dream of — such as Dior, Chanel, Valentino and Jacquemus, among others — the fashion star has also appeared in international campaigns for the likes of Off-White, Calvin Klein and Lanvin.


A post shared by Tory Burch (@toryburch)

Meanwhile, Tory Burch also released five new fragrances for its beauty collection this week. For that campaign, the designer, who launched her brand in 2004, worked with Moroccan Egyptian Dutch model Hammam, who starred alongside US actress Havana Rose Liu, Romanian model Alexandra Micu and more. 

For the all-white beachside shoot, Hammam wore a crochet plunged maxi dress. Her hair was tied in a bun and her makeup was kept simple and fresh. 


A post shared by Tory Burch (@toryburch)

According to the brand, Burch’s five new fragrances — cosmic wood, divine moon, electric sky, sublime rose and mystic geranium — represent five dreams: freedom, peace, magic, love and joy.