From the British Museum to the Guggenheim, artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein leaves a mark

From the British Museum to the Guggenheim, artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein leaves a mark
Abu Dhabi Archipelago, Jubabibat, 2015. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 June 2022

From the British Museum to the Guggenheim, artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein leaves a mark

From the British Museum to the Guggenheim, artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein leaves a mark
  • The Kuwaiti artist and educator of Palestinian heritage was known for his ability to capture moments of both personal and collective memory in the Middle East

DUBAI: A lone figure dressed in black sits cross-legged on the desert sands while facing a makeshift fishing hut, as dozens of birds fly over. The location is the island of Jubabibat — one of many that make up Abu Dhabi’s expansive yet little known archipelago — the man is artist and teacher Tarek Al-Ghoussein, who died unexpectedly in New York on June 11 at the age of 60.

The news was announced on Sunday by Al-Ghoussein’s representative gallery, Dubai-based The Third Line.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the sudden passing of Tarek Al-Ghoussein yesterday in New York City,” read the statement, posted to Instagram.

It is perhaps fitting to remember the artist through the poignant photograph from his series “Odysseus,” which Al-Ghoussein had been shooting since 2015 to capturing the archipelago in this somewhat unexplored part of the Arabian Gulf.

The image, which shows the artist in an almost meditative pose, gives a sense of the peace and calm that a moment in a desolate part of the Arabian Gulf can bring, a rare experience amid years of constant construction. Al-Ghoussein often includes himself in the images, thus involving self-portraiture and a performative aspect to the works.

To date, he had documented over 40 of the 214 islands in the archipelago, with several of the works going on show at the Louvre Abu Dhabi as part of the Richard Mille Art Prize exhibition. The works, like others he l produced over the years throughout the UAE and greater Gulf, combine aspects of documentary photography and photojournalism as well as performance and self-portraiture, as Al-Ghoussein would often attest himself.

The Kuwaiti artist and educator was a professor of visual arts at New York University in Abu Dhabi, and had recently become the director of the MFA in art and media program at the university.

Friends, colleagues and students have taken to social media over the last 48 hours to commemorate his life and send condolences.

“We’re in shock about this awful news,” read a statement issued by NYU Abu Dhabi on Twitter.

Born in Kuwait to Palestinian exiles, Al-Ghoussein grew up between the US, Japan and Morocco, traveling frequently with his diplomat father. He received his BFA in photography from New York University in 1985 and his MA in photography from the University of Mexico in 1989. Al-Ghoussein began working as a photojournalist documenting refugee camps in Jordan, yet a desire to go beyond the limits of photography and capture the emotional and psychological struggles of being a refugee led him to venture into the realm of conceptual photography.

Ideas of exile, displacement and conflict persist within Al-Ghoussein’s work — nods to his own family’s state as Palestinians in Kuwait, forced to leave their home and start anew somewhere else.

As curator Jack Persekian wrote so eloquently in Bidoun in 2005, “Even he would not deny the following: His composite background, his lack of direct familiarity with Palestine itself, is at the heart of the artist’s work.”

His first series of works titled “Performance Photographs” were self-portraits exhibited in the 2003 Sharjah Biennale as lightboxes. They later were displayed in group exhibitions in the US and Europe. Those same photographs were attacked, says Persekian, during a solo show in Berlin, with stones thrown so that the glass they were encased in shattered. The incident added to Al-Ghoussein’s own explorations into Palestinian and Arab identity, memories of home and the perception of Arabs who have been displaced.

A work that powerfully captures Al-Ghoussein’s quest to document and preserve sites on the verge of demolition and loss is Al-Sawaber (2015-17), shot in a former government housing project in Kuwait City. Demolition of the 33 buildings had been planned and over the span of three years Al-Ghoussein continued to return to it, documenting each of its 524 apartments. It was a place, he said, where Kuwaitis lived amidst communities of different Muslims, Christians and Hindus. The photographs capture not just the buildings, but the objects the former inhabitants left behind.

His work is now in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Royal Museum of Photography in Copenhagen, Mathaf Museum, Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah Art Foundation, Mori Art Museum, the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, and the New York University Abu Dhabi, among others.


UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
Updated 55 min 59 sec ago

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
  • The star of ‘NCIS: Hawai’i’ struggled to embrace her roots as a child in Texas, but that’s all changed now

DUBAI: There are few television franchises as mammoth in reach and longevity as “NCIS.” For nearly 20 years, the crime series, which follows the US’s naval criminal investigative team, has brought in tens of millions of viewers a week, with new franchises regularly blossoming across the country. Now, in Yasmine Al-Bustami, “NCIS” has its first Arab star—and she’s already inspiring young girls across the world.

“I'm always taken aback whenever I find out that I've reached people,” Al-Bustami tells Arab News. “I didn’t really think about the capacity for something like this show to reach people all over the world. Now, I'm seeing these responses all the time, I’m getting messages constantly. When I finally sit down, take some time to read them and take them in, it can be overwhelming. I see that people are taking notice, feel represented and feel seen, and suddenly I know for sure that I can contribute to that in some way. And I’m so grateful for the people who like it. 

Yasmine Al-Bustami on thes set of ‘NCIS: Hawai’i.’ (Supplied)

Al-Bustami — who plays Agent Lucy Tara on “NCIS: Hawai’i,” the second season of which begins in September and will air on Starzplay in the Middle East — was born in Abu Dhabi to a Palestinian-Jordanian father and Filipina mother, but moved to Texas at a young age. There, she struggled to embrace her identity, surrounded by people who didn’t understand her heritage, and had never heard of the place on the other side of the world that she came from. 

To fit in, she did what a lot of people in a position where there are no strong role models in pop culture to anchor their identity to — she buried her identity inside her.

“In Texas, I didn't personally grow up with a bunch of Arabs around me. We had some Arab families that we knew that were in school with us, and they all kind of flocked together, once they find out that they were also Arabs. I would hang out with them, but (there weren’t) a lot, really. I tried very hard to fit in with the majority white folks at our school, and tried really hard to just fit in and just be a white person. Whatever that means,” Al-Bustami says. 

Vanessa Lachey as Jane Tennant, Tori Anderson as Kate Whistler and Yasmine Al-Bustami as Lucy Tara in ‘NCIS: Hawai’i.’ (Supplied)

That led to turmoil at home, as her Arab father worked to instill in his daughter the cultural and religious values that he held so dear, knowing that he was the only strong influence in her life that would do so. It was a mission she rebelled against. 

“Whenever I would approach my dad with the things that I wanted to do, that my friends who were not Arab were doing, we would butt heads. He’s very big on culture, very old-school, and  would just not allow me to do some things. He was just trying to teach us about or faith and our culture,” Al-Bustami says. 

When Al-Bustami went to her father to tell him she wanted to be an actor, he was against the idea, which pushed them even further apart.

“When I expressed to him that I wanted to act, that was something that became a point of contention between us — depending on the project and the role. Honestly, it still is sometimes. That all led me, at the beginning of my career, to not wanting to embrace my identity,” says Al-Bustami.

 

 

Ironically, even as she tried to escape who she was and where she came from, it was acting that brought her closer to her identity. 

“It was only through storytelling and being thrown into stories where I was forced to embrace it because of how I look and because of the opportunities that were given to me,” she says.

But as she got to know other Arab actors, she also started to learn the boundless beauty that her heritage contained, and the amazing stories and true adversity that her colleagues had endured to get to where they are today.

 

 

“The roles I started playing were stories of Arabs and Arab-Americans being surrounded by other Arabs and Arab-Americans. The other actors were so proud, and they taught me so much as I heard their stories and their journeys. It was that motivation that I felt like I needed — that I didn't have growing up. It pushed me to want to learn more. And thankfully, now I’ve built up a strong place in that community, especially in the acting world,” says Al-Bustami.

That love for who she was grew even stronger when she saw how much it meant to people, and when she witnessed what she could accomplish when she wasn’t trying to fit in with the majority, and instead embraced her differences.

“It’s been such a journey. I don't think I’ve ever been prouder to be Arab,” she says. “I now understand how important representation is, and without the ups and downs I’ve been through, I don't think I would have understood that to the depth that I do.

“It’s made me want to learn more about my heritage and my culture and just be more openly proud,” she continues. “I feel like I'm not doing it alone. I feel like there's so many people who are also helping me do it. And it's all Arabs, and Arab-Americans. All of that truly inspires me.”

Most importantly, she’s also learned about diversity within the Arab experience, and as representation increases in Hollywood, the world can see that being Arab means many different things, both in America and across the world. And that there are an endless number of stories to tell.

“The important thing is to make people open-minded, and stop them from being closed-off in terms of understanding the different kinds of stories that I think are important to tell in the Arab world and the Arab-American world. That's helped me so much,’ says Al-Bustami.

Yasmine Al-Butsami in ‘I Ship It.’ (Supplied)

On “NCIS: Hawaii,” Al-Bustami is pushing herself like never before. While her breakout roles in “The Originals” and “I Ship It” prepared her for the grind of weekly television, the stunts and physicality of her current role require intense training and choreography, something she’s worked hard at and is proud of what she’s accomplished, especially in the fight scenes.

More than anything, though, what she’s happiest about are the relationships she’s built on set, and the found family that has made her breakout moment something she can truly be proud of on every level.

“It makes such a big difference when you really enjoy the people. Thankfully, the people that I'm surrounded with every day are amazing. They make it super fulfilling in so many more ways than just work,” she says. “This is such an enjoyable experience for me, and I can’t wait to continue that, and keep trying to make the Arab community proud across the country, and world.”


Dubai exhibition highlights Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s latest work

Dubai exhibition highlights Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s latest work
Updated 11 August 2022

Dubai exhibition highlights Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s latest work

Dubai exhibition highlights Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s latest work
  • Rana Samara’s ‘Inner Sanctuary’ runs until August 28 at Dubai’s Zawyeh Gallery

DUBAI: From drawings of empty rooms to presenting human figures, Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s “Inner Sanctuary,” which runs until Aug. 28 at Dubai’s Zawyeh Gallery, focuses on the artist’s conception of her own intimate space from an emotional perspective.

‘Untitled 2’

Jerusalem-born artist Rana Samara’s latest show “portrays an inner sanctuary visually and sentimentally,” critic and journalist Rana Anani writes in the exhibition brochure. Not all the images are comforting though. This painting of a hospital bed, Anani points out, “bears an unsettling feeling.” “The scattered red tubes on the surface of the colorful floors reflect commotion as if there was an emergency scene,” she writes.

‘Untitled 44’

“Samara uses colors, motifs, and shapes to convey her sentiments showing her content, calmness, anxiety, or frustration,” Anani explains. It’s surprising just how much emotion Samara packs into these empty rooms. This bedroom, with peacock features in the background, for example, “gives a feeling of lightness, weightlessness, and a connection with the skies.”

‘Untitled 43’

This is one of the rare occasions that Samara’s work includes a human figure — this contemplative woman. Her usual omission of humans, Anani suggests, “could be a way to capture moments that people leave behind” or “an attempt at emancipation from the restraints imposed by their presence and an opportunity to reveal concealed feelings, whether joyful or gloomy.”  


Madinah art community Thalothya supports Saudi Arabia-based artists

Madinah art community Thalothya supports Saudi Arabia-based artists
Updated 11 August 2022

Madinah art community Thalothya supports Saudi Arabia-based artists

Madinah art community Thalothya supports Saudi Arabia-based artists
  • 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.”


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.