Germany’s documenta exhibition presents new perspectives on Arab art

Germany’s documenta exhibition presents new perspectives on Arab art
Members of Ruangrupa and the documenta 15 artistic team, including Lara Khaldi (left) and Mirwan Andan (center, in checked shirt) in Kassel, Germany in 2021. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 June 2022

Germany’s documenta exhibition presents new perspectives on Arab art

Germany’s documenta exhibition presents new perspectives on Arab art
  • ‘We wanted to avoid getting stuck in identity politics. We are about the idea of the collective,’ says member of Palestinian collective exhibiting at the show

BERLIN: This year’s documenta — the contemporary art exhibition that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany — eschews the idea of the individual artist working in isolation and embraces the collective. The show, which runs from June 18 until September 22, explores the intersections between art and life, less object-driven and more process-driven; artistic practice as social structure.

Mirwan Andan, a member of this year’s artistic directors, the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa, tells Arab News: “We realized from the beginning that involving people from different backgrounds will enrich the idea of the collective. It’s not enough to involve artists.”

Ruangrupa have conceived documenta 15 around the idea of the “lumbung” — an Indonesian term for a communal rice barn. In this case, conceptually and in practice, it is similar to the Islamic notion of the jam’iyah, in which participants pool resources and redistribute them.

The Question of Funding, how to work together, 2019. (Supplied)

In fact, many of the organizing principles of documenta 15 are driven by aspects of Muslim culture, such as working groups forming a majlis, and the public program, entitled Meydan. “We don’t separate daily life from our practices, so lumbung is not a theme, it’s more (like) a software that can run on any hardware,” says Andan. “We want to experiment with this practice, which takes place in the Southern Hemisphere, rather than hijack the art world as curators.”

Ruangrupa are perhaps better known for the convivial spaces they open up in an urban context than the art that they make. For example, at the Sharjah Biennial in 2019, they staged “Gudskul” (pronounced “good school”), a public learning space established with two other collectives that provided a toolkit for knowledge sharing. Here, the roles of the teacher and the students were interchangeable.

“Many of the aspects of the ruangrupa space in Jakarta — a house, an exhibition space and a library of pirated books — which I came across in 2015 on a visit with the De Appel Curatorial Program, resonates with the informal artistic scene in Ramallah,” says Palestinian cultural worker Lara Khaldi, a member of documenta’s artistic team. “And what ruangrupa call ‘ekosistem’ — a set of relations you cannot define — are like the conversations that happen at home, in the garden and cafés.

Yazan Khalili. (Supplied)

“The curator has become very much about the auteur, which isn’t an honest way of defining the role, since it is always about collective authorship,” Khaldi continues. “It’s interesting to look at the lumbung as a pre-colonial Indonesian practice that is also present in our cultural scene in the region.”

In addition to an artistic team, ruangrupa have created an international lumbung network of 14 collectives (whose work together will continue beyond documenta), including Question of Funding, a group of Palestinian cultural producers whose exhibition space in Kassel was recently subject to vandalism and fascist slogans.

Despite the expanded ways of thinking about geographic and political configurations — this year ruangrupa announced the participating artists based on time zones — the organizers still have to deal with Germany’s complex political and cultural climate as a place affected by both anti-Semitism and anti-Palestinian sentiment. It’s ironic because, as Amany Khalifa, formerly a community organizer at Grassroots Jerusalem and now a member of The Question of Funding, tells Arab News: “We wanted to avoid the representation of Palestinian art in documenta and getting stuck in identity politics. We are about the idea of the collective. Since 2016, we’ve met informally in kitchens and gardens, trying to create different economic structures, models that were left out by civil society. It’s the question of who owns the means of production, and this is applicable not just to Palestine.”

SADA, film still, Journey Inside the City, by Sarah Munaf in Sada, 2022. (Supplied)

Drawing from what they call the “NGO-ization” of Palestinian civil society in the 1990s, The Question of Funding was formed in 2019 by NGO workers and institutional representatives of Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center and Popular Art Center, among others.

“We are using this dilemma as a framework to think of communal practices, and not just theoretically,” says artist and Question of Funding member Yazan Khalili. “The Question of Funding is a historical question. It attempts to move away from a critique of the donor’s economy to rethink what funding can be, and learn from other economic models.”

Khalili, became the chairman of the storied Sakakini Cultural Center, the first cultural NGO in Palestine, in 2015, after his MFA in Amsterdam. “Our approach was to take the economic crisis and flip it into a cultural one. We call this the total work of the cultural institution. It can be argued that the main tool for cultural practices in Palestine is an institution which is not only a means of production but also an ideological structure. So how do we practice institutionalism without recreating an institution? How do we form structures of production through the critique of the cultural institution as such? We are interested in creating artworks that look like they are of an institution, while producing structures in which the critique of the cultural institution can be practiced.”

Borrowed Faces installation, Fehras Publishing Practices. (Supplied)

While, as a whole, the exhibition does emerge from a position of critique — of institutions, the art industry, and of exhibition-making itself — Khalili says that it’s an affirmative one. While the world is unstable — with pro-Palestinian, anti-apartheid thinkers and artists subject to smear campaigns — spaces in the art world are being created for alternative ways of thinking outside the political arena.

“What scares us the most is this buildup of McCarthyism and mass fear,” says Khalili. “But we’ve had support from German artists, academics, and collectives in Kassel. There is a lot of space to fight back.”

For documenta, The Question of Funding is organizing exhibitions and communal spaces with other collectives, including the Eltiqa Group for Contemporary Art in Gaza. With the help of writers and illustrators, they will also create a children’s book about the economy and a new economic medium called Dayra, a form of money-less exchange using blockchain technologies.

El-Warcha Courtyard project, Hafsia, 2019. (Supplied)

“Eltiqa is a unique example of a collective in Palestine,” Khalili says. “They produce paintings, sculpture and photography in a collective space that also supports young artists from Gaza. And they managed to do this without becoming an NGO. During the last May 2021 war on Gaza, a member of the group, Mohammed Hawajri, posted a comment on Facebook on what it means to show solidarity. He proposed going beyond the level of funding by showing the work of artists from Gaza. There needs to be support on an intellectual and artistic level, not just sending money. And so how do we use documenta as a resource to support another group that is also trying to produce something outside given structures of cultural production?”

With Berlin-based Syrian art collective Fehras Publishing Practices presenting “Borrowed Faces” — a hybrid archival research project on Arab globalization and political agency, as well as a fictional story on the female figures of Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement in Tashkent, Cairo and Beirut; Tunis-based El Warcha bringing their idea of the workshop to Kassel with a library and public art installation; and Sada curating an exhibition of commissioned video works from Baghdad, there’s a great deal of collective action and alliances from the Arab world at documenta 15.

It remains to be seen what artists as researchers, collaborators and thinkers can propose in a non-hierarchical format but this feels like a decisive shift in the way practices, and artists, from the region are presented on the global circuit — non-essentialized, transdisciplinary and more collaborative.

Gigi, Bella Hadid step out in bold looks for Marc Jacobs’ NYC show  

Gigi, Bella Hadid step out in bold looks for Marc Jacobs’ NYC show  
Updated 28 June 2022

Gigi, Bella Hadid step out in bold looks for Marc Jacobs’ NYC show  

Gigi, Bella Hadid step out in bold looks for Marc Jacobs’ NYC show  

DUBAI: From French Algerian model Loli Bahia to US Dutch Palestinian sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, Arab models are turning heads on the runway this week. 

The Hadid sisters on Monday walked the runway for US fashion label Marc Jacobs in New York.

The show, which took place in the lobby of the New York Public Library, presented the New York-born designer’s fall 2022 collection. 


Oversized is the key word that represents the show. The models wore colorful large knitwear pieces tied around their heads and waists, voluminous gowns, puffy coats, huge jackets and high platform boots. 

Gigi and Bella stepped out with bleached eyebrows, dark hair and blunt micro bangs. 

On Instagram, Gigi shared a video of her turn around the catwalk as she showed off two oversized knit sweaters with a grey skirt and white platform heels. 

Meanwhile, Bella wore a sheen-heavy black dress that was voluminous and multi-layered. Her look was accessorized with white gloves and chunky heels. 

For her part, Bahia walked the runway for French fashion label Jacquemus that took place in Southern France’s Camargue Park during Paris Men’s Fashion Week. 

The models, including Bahia, presented the brand’s fall 2022 collection on large mounds of salt. 

Part-Algerian model Loli Bahia walks the runway for Jacquemus in France 

Part-Algerian model Loli Bahia walks the runway for Jacquemus in France 
Updated 28 June 2022

Part-Algerian model Loli Bahia walks the runway for Jacquemus in France 

Part-Algerian model Loli Bahia walks the runway for Jacquemus in France 

DUBAI: French-Algerian model Loli Bahia walked the runway for French fashion label Jacquemus in Camargue Park, on France's Mediterranean coast, during Paris Men’s Fashion Week. 

The models, including Bahia, presented the brand’s fall 2022 collection on large mounds of salt set against a breathtaking natural backdrop.

The event was attended by a veritable who’s who of the fashion world, including  Jordanian Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, British designer Victoria Beckham, French actor Vincent Cassel and his wife Tina Kunakey, Nigerian singer BurnaBoy, British actress Simone Ashley, Cristiano Ronaldo’s partner Georgina Rodríguez and British singer Jorja Smith.


A post shared by hadigi (@_hadigi_)

The A-list guests sat on a front row bench that was made out of salt crystal as they watched the models show off a collection marked by monochrome tones and neutral hues.  

Nineteen-year-old Bahia, who is taking the industry by storm, wore a set of bulky beige overalls with large pockets at the waist as she, and the other models, descended from the top of a salt mountain. A white, floor-length tulle was attached to her suit from the back.

“Walking on the moon,” the model wrote on Instagram Stories after the show, referring to the extraterrestrial feel of the unexpected runway with its salt structures, clear pools of water and bright sky.

The show, titled “Le Papier,” featured fluffy coats, puffer vests and cargo pants along with feminine and innovative bridal looks using voluminous tulle, asymmetric cuts and sheer dresses. 

Bahia is quickly becoming one of the most in-demand models in the industry having become a runway fixture in just a couple of months after a breakthrough spring 2022 fashion month, where she walked in 65 shows.


A post shared by @lolibahiaa

The teenager has taken to the catwalk for a multitude of prestigious fashion houses, including Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Valentino.

Signed to Women Management Paris, she made her runway debut in 2020 at the Louis Vuitton fall 2021 show and went on to star in the Parisian fashion luxury house’s fall campaign last year.

She has also featured in numerous campaigns for high-end fashion labels, including Saint Laurent, and Max Mara, and has appeared in prestigious fashion publications such as Vogue Italia.

Italian screenwriter wows cinemagoers on first visit to the Kingdom

Italian screenwriter wows cinemagoers on first visit to the Kingdom
Updated 27 June 2022

Italian screenwriter wows cinemagoers on first visit to the Kingdom

Italian screenwriter wows cinemagoers on first visit to the Kingdom
  • Giacomo Mazzariol’s movie screened as part of weeklong European Film Festival
  • 25-year-old says he plans to return and hopes to mentor young Saudi talent

RIYADH: An Italian screenwriter has described Saudi Arabia as having “amazing culture and traditions” after delighting cinemagoers with his very first screening in the Kingdom.

But 25-year-old Giacomo Mazzariol said he was nervous about how people might react to his film, “My Brother Chases Dinosaurs.”

“While sitting and watching your movie from another country, your mind is full of fears and doubts,” he told Arab News.

“‘Will my film be welcomed well? Does everything make sense?’ I then relaxed because I realized that people who watched the film were really satisfied and they had a warmhearted reaction. They felt that it was an honest film, full of true emotions.”

Directed by countryman Stefano Cipani, the movie was screened on June 17 as part of the inaugural European Film Festival, which saw 14 European films shown at The Esplanade VOX Cinema in Riyadh.

Mazzariol said the audience was intrigued with the movie and asked him many questions after the screening.

“The people laughed a lot because the film is full of lightness and humor, but also they took it seriously and they were fulfilled by the dramatic and touching parts.

“The story is about the emotional coming of age of my character (Gio), that goes from the incomprehension of the inner world of Gio to the complete acceptance and understanding of his diversity. The journey goes through rage and shame, surprise and courage, fraternity and solitude, and it starts from the birth of Gio till he grows up and becomes a teenager.”

While in Saudi Arabia, Mazzariol and a delegation from the EU were also set to hold a workshop for local talent in collaboration with the Alkhobar-based Arabia Pictures Group, but the event had to be postponed.

“The Kingdom has amazing culture and traditions that should be communicated more to people all over the world, not only with tourism but also through sharing local stories, through art based on nowadays life and perspectives,” he said.

“Arabia Pictures proposed to me to hold it (the workshop) during this edition of the festival, but we didn’t manage to make it happen this time. That is why I am supposed to come back to the Kingdom, during the next edition of the festival.”

Mazzariol said that on his return he hopes to be able to mentor young Saudis who are interested in the film and screenwriting business.

“I think the second edition will be in the late winter or beginning of spring. The main theme will be the relationship between books and movies based on my experience of creating the script of the movie based on my novel.”

He said he hoped to teach Saudi students how to analyze and compare the two arts of writing and film.

“This can be achieved through watching scenes of movies based on books and comparing them with the scenes of a book — Kafka’s works adapted, Dostoevsky works adapted, etc. — and also obtaining the knowledge to distinguish the unicity of those two forms of art.

“Some books are almost impossible to be shot, like ‘Ulysses’ by (James) Joyce, or the work of Proust. Not just for the number of pages, but because they reach a literary high peak which is very specific to literature,” he said.

Mazzariol said he had always had a passion for writing and loved literature classes in school.

“When I was in high school, with all the imagination and ideas that a teenager can have, I began writing for myself and tried to publish some articles.”

His career as a screenwriting began when he published a short film with his brother Gio on YouTube.

“My brother (Gio) with Down syndrome was in the film. It became viral and the person who would become my future editor contacted me to do a book on the video and my story.”

Speaking about the two days he spent in the Kingdom during the film festival, Mazzariol said: “What impressed me the most were the modern buildings, the skyscrapers, the entertainment areas, because it seems futuristic.

“It was the first time for me to visit Saudi Arabia. I love traveling and discovering new countries and thanks to the festival’s organizers and the embassy of Italy, I could get in touch with Saudis that know Saudi Arabia well.

“In the markets of the old town, I got a sensation of being at the door of another world, because there were incredible products from all over the Middle East and Asia.”

The writer said he spent some time studying in King Fahad National Library before exploring some of the natural desert landscapes the Kingdom has to offer.

“I loved the hot winds, sand as far as the eye can see. It was very inspiring because I have always read books from that scenario, for example, ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ but never experienced it.

“The hospitality of the European Film Festival was very high standard and well done, I thank them a lot. I hope the festival will have great success also in the next editions. I know for sure it is going to be bigger and bigger.”

International artists named for ambitious AlUla valley installations project

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)
Updated 28 June 2022

International artists named for ambitious AlUla valley installations project

A rendering of Ahmed Mater's work at Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)

DUBAI: An international lineup of artists has been named as the first group to embark on an ambitious large-scale installations project in AlUla’s Wadi AlFann.

The Royal Commission for AlUla announced that US artists James Turrell, Agnes Denes, and Michael Heizer will be joined by Saudi creative pioneers Ahmed Mater and Manal Al-Dowayan to produce artworks in the new Wadi AlFann valley, covering an area of 65 square kilometers. The projects will be unveiled from 2024.

Meanwhile, the former director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Iwona Blazwick, has been named as the chair of the commission’s public art expert panel, that will advise on Wadi AlFann.

She told Arab News that the artists would create, “works that I think will be a 21st-century version of the ambition of the Nabataeans. This is work at such a scale by artists of such global caliber and by artists who have revolutionized sculpture.”

Visual artist Mater’s installation for the valley, “Ashab Al-Lal,” will use a subterranean tunnel and mirrors to give visitors the optical illusion of seeing a mirage, while Al-Dowayan’s “The Oasis of Stories” will be a labyrinthine structure inspired by the mud homes of AlUla’s ancient old town.

Wadi AlFann, AlUla. (Supplied)

Denes, 91, will create a series of soaring pointed pyramids in a bid to explore civilization, advancement, and achievement.

Heizer, known for producing large outdoor earthwork sculptures and for his work with rock, concrete, and steel, will produce lineal engravings in the sandstone rock relating directly to the geology of the area and the varied detail of the Quweira sandstone.

Blazwick said: “He (Heizer) is incising into the rocks at a scale and at a kind of ambition that again relates back to petroglyphs and ancient forms of expressions and civilizations, but in a way that is 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Turrell will build upon the sensorial experience of space, color, and perception by creating a series of spaces within the canyon floor. The viewer will explore these spaces via a series of tunnels and stairs.

A sketch of AlDowayan’s “The Oasis of Stories.” (Supplied)

“If we are looking at these five initial works themselves you have something tremendously monumental but also immersive, resonate, and poetic and these will be destinations in their own rights of such beauty.

“In relation to the drama of the place itself, the works really take us to the sublime. These five commissions are going to be in themselves unique in the world at this scale. Most of these artists we know from single works shown in different parts of the world, so to bring them together is a huge achievement,” Blazwick added.

On the global nature of the artists, she said: “This is a reciprocal relationship — it is not just about artists being parachuted in, but about making works inspired by the place and the people.

“We will see high-profile international artists, but alongside their regional peers. We will see some of the most important artists working in the region take their place alongside these very iconic, high-profile figures from the world of art. I think that reciprocity is crucial to this project,” she added.

‘The beauty industry is failing people of color,’ Huda Kattan says

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)
US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

‘The beauty industry is failing people of color,’ Huda Kattan says

US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released documentary. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: US-Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan has been featured in a newly released news segment on racial inclusivity in the makeup industry.

Released by the UK’s Sky News on Sunday, the feature is based on the British Beauty Council’s criticism of what it calls the “apartheid” in the beauty industry.

Kattan was tapped to share her opinion in the feature, which is titled “The ‘Apartheid’ in the Beauty Industry.”

“The beauty industry is absolutely still failing people of color,” she told journalist Sabah Choudhry in the documentary. “Being inclusive is hard. It takes so much work. When I used to go to the factories and I’d say I need a deep or richer shade of foundation, they’d sometimes put black pigment in the formula... it’s harder to serve a community who doesn’t have a skin tone that hasn’t been worked on so much,” she added.

“There’s still not enough care and consideration taken when they’re creating the products,” she added. “I mean, you can use people of many different ethnicities in a campaign, but that’s just not enough. It’s a good start, but it’s so far beyond where we should be in this day and time. So, I would say absolutely, it’s still failing all people of color right now.”

Dubai-based Kattan founded her cosmetics line Huda Beauty in 2013. In 2018, the company was valued by Forbes at more than $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Dr Ateh Jewel, a spokesperson for the British Beauty Council, was featured in the report saying Caucasian people are offered a wider selection of products for their hair and skin.

"We are living with the hangover of empire… what I'm really interested in is power, and measuring that by beauty standards and how we see ourselves,” Jewel said.

She explained that the term “beauty apartheid” was coined to describe brands who simply add a small sample of darker shades to their portfolio in a “tokenistic” approach to diversity.

The mental health impact for people of color is “painful,” she said, adding “walking into a beauty hall was pleasure and pain all wrapped up into one. Not seeing yourself reflected in advertising or diverse colors can also be really damaging to your sense of self…. to your self-esteem... and taking your rightful place in the world.