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.


1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez
Updated 35 sec ago

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

1309 Studios founder Ghada Al-Subaey talks Arab representation, dressing Georgina Rodriguez

DUBAI: Qatar-based ready-to-wear label 1309 Studios, founded by entrepreneur Ghada Al-Subaey, has been garnering the attention of international stars, including Argentinian model Georgina Rodriguez.

The star, who now lives in Saudi Arabia with her boyfriend Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo, wore one of Al-Subaey’s abayas during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha.

Al-Subaey told Arab News that one of her brand’s key goals was to modernize the traditional abaya and “make it accessible to every woman around the world.

“Having Georgina walk into a boutique and pick our abaya off the rack and wear it for such an important event means that we have managed to reach that goal in making the abaya versatile and wearable. She picked one of our signature abayas the palm sage green,” she said.

Rodriguez wore the design with a figure-hugging black dress, silver heels, and a white Chanel bag.

1309 Studios is grounded in a contemporary bohemian aesthetic. At the heart of the brand is a minimalist, feminine look that merges seasonal trends with traditional Qatari elements.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 1. (Supplied)

Clean silhouettes, bold colors, artful prints, and carefully considered details are hallmarks of the brand. The designer draws inspiration from art, nature, and global culture to create pieces with a contemporary edge.

“When I was a teenager, I found myself exploring fabrics and creating styles that weren’t available in Qatar at the time. I began designing kaftans for family and friends during college and that’s where it all started,” Al-Subaey added.

Before she launched her brand in 2015, she ran her small business from home and relied on word of mouth to increase the hype around her designs.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 2. (Supplied)

She said: “That was when I conceptualized and worked on launching my own brand. I saw that there was a gap, there was a need to create a community in Qatar where women can turn to take care of their emotional wellbeing and leave no stone unturned to make it into a reality.”

The brand name 1309 is a nod to Al-Subaey’s mother.

“13/09 is my mother’s birthday. The name is dedicated to my mother, as I got my fashion sense from her. I used to watch her stitch and cut when I was younger, I learned all about fabrics and stitching from my mother,” she added.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 3. (Supplied)

Al-Subaey’s designs, which are shipped worldwide and are available in stores in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Qatar, are tailored in Qatar. She uses sustainable, natural, and vegan fabrics, as well as biodegradable packaging.

She said: “We also recycle scrap fabric and turn it into furniture. We rely on human skills and avoid the use of machinery as much as possible.”

And her designs are not just sketches that she brings to life, she puts thought into the design process to understand how the pieces she is creating will emotionally affect the person wearing it.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 4. (Supplied)

“I want people to feel relaxed and most like themselves while wearing a 1309 piece of clothing. A lot of times when people are not comfortable in their clothes, they are not themselves.

“The idea behind the 1309 studio woman is to create a safe place for women. A place where women come together to empower and uplift each other professionally and otherwise; to develop a platform where women feel free to speak up and support and take a moment to heal from the daily challenges of life in today’s fast-paced technological world.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 5. (Supplied)

“The clothes they wear should not be a restraint. The fabrics, colors, and cuts that I choose make the girls feel fun and alive. It should feel like an outfit, rather than a covering for an outfit.

“The fabric we use at 1309 is meant to complement various body types and shapes,” she added.

Al-Subaey is working to grow her brand globally.

Drop 8, “Eternal Unfolding,” look 6. (Supplied)

She said: “I want to change this stigma around abayas. I want abayas to become as respected globally as kimonos and to see everyone around the world wearing them; not necessarily to cover the body, but instead as a fashion statement.

“I would love for my ideas and inspiration to create change. Whether it is about applying sustainable approaches in our work or utilizing environmentally friendly packaging, I want the brand to continue to make a positive impact toward the community.

“I would like to expand globally and represent the Arab world in a global fashion space,” she added.


Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  
Updated 07 February 2023

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

Model Ubah Hassan shows off a custom-made gown at New York event  

DUBAI: Somali Canadian model Ubah Hassan took to Instagram on Tuesday morning to show off her head-turning gown from an event that took place in New York.  

The TV star, who is set to star in season 14 of “The Real Housewives of New York,” posted a video of her form-fitting lilac dress with cut out detailing around the chest that she wore to the 15 Percent Pledge gala. The gown featured voluminous sleeves that were attached to a cape with a long train.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by UBAH (@ubah)

Her dress was custom made by Harbison Studio, which was founded by New York-based designer Chales Elliot Harbison. 

“Warning to my future wedding guests: We are having rice and beans on my wedding as the entire wedding budget will go into dress and the diamonds,” Hassan joked in the second of two  Instagram posts. 

“Here is me and my team manifesting to be in a Disney princess movie,” she added, referencing her fairy-tale gown.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by UBAH (@ubah)

“THANK YOU for having us at @15percentpledge gala. You guys are doing amazing work supporting black business, black designers (sic),” she captioned her first post.  

The 15 Percent Pledge is an American non-profit organization that encourages retailers to pledge at least 15 percent of their shelf-space to Black-owned businesses. The foundation conducts audits, shares its database of Black-owned businesses, and offers business development strategies to participating companies. 

Dutch Moroccan Egyptian model Imaan Hammam was also in attendance. She wore a black gown with a long train by Italian brand Maximilian and had her hair tied in hip-grazing braids.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

“Thank you @aurorajames and the entire @15percentpledge team for such a well-curated event and for bringing everyone together for such a great cause,” she wrote on Instagram.  

The gala dinner was also attended by Ashley Graham, Lori Harvey, Ryan Destiny and more.  

To celebrate the achievements of Black entrepreneurs, the Fifteen Percent Pledge awarded three founders with grants. The first-place winner, beauty brand 54 Thrones, received the first-ever Achievement Award, a $200,000 grant presented by Shop with Google. The second runner-up, Sergio Hudson, received $35,000, and the third runner-up, Puzzles of Color, received $20,000.  

The winners all received a physical award created by designer Jameel Mohammed, founder and director of Khiry, the luxury brand best known for its afro-futurist jewelry. 


Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 
Updated 07 February 2023

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

Bollywood comes to the UAE at Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit 

ABU DHABI: Bollywood has come to the UAE as the Louvre Abu Dhabi unveiled its newest art exhibition, on the history of Indian cinema.  

Home to one of the world’s largest film industries, India reportedly releases more than 1,500 genre-varying movies in 20 languages per year.  

“Bollywood Superstars” features a wide selection of paintings, photographs, costumes, tapestries and photographic objects. (Supplied)

Running until June 4, “Bollywood Superstars” features a wide selection of paintings, photographs, costumes, tapestries and photographic objects. A significant number of the displayed items are on loan from the Musee du Quai Branly — Jacques Chirac in Paris, which specializes in indigenous art.  

Indian cinema was developed in the 20th century, but as the exhibition demonstrates, narration and moving images have been present long before the modern era. In a way, the nation’s vibrant visual culture, folk performing arts, shadow puppetry, ancient epics and mythologies — dating back to 2,000 years — led to the birth of Bollywood. Some of the displayed objects represent the celebration and revival of religious, cultural figures, and heroes.   

significant number of the displayed items are on loan from the Musee du Quai Branly — Jacques Chirac in Paris, which specializes in indigenous art. (Supplied)

In the early days, traveling story-tellers roamed around, narrating scenes of important epics. A showcased mid-20th century wooden altar, resembling a toy box, shows on its detailed panels painted characters and scenes from the battle-themed “Ramayana” epic. It almost looks like a contemporary film set, where movement, costume, and staging are in action. 

Other objects reveal deities, taking them out of their temples and closer to worshippers. There is a colorful wooden bioscope that projects with light images of a deity. “Like a music box, a hand crank slides images for viewers to see peering through small peepholes,” reads a label next to the device.  

India reportedly releases more than 1,500 genre-varying movies in 20 languages per year. (Supplied)

Movies arrived in India via the revolutionary French Lumiere brothers, who invented photographic equipment, in 1896. As the years advanced, filmmaking became a weapon against colonial rule, asserting identity. Modern pioneering directors, such as the late Dadasaheb Phalke (dubbed “the Father of Indian Cinema”), were inspired by their own literature and culture, manifesting in their creations.     

The exhibition ends with a presentation of popular Hindi cinema today, witnessing a boom from the 1970s onwards with luminaries Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, and Shah Rukh Khan on the rise. Whether in old or modern times, “Bollywood Superstars” is a reminder of a human need to tell stories. 


American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure
Updated 06 February 2023

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure

American multinational bank JPMorgan recommends Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure
  • The bank’s annual brochure lists suggested recreational, artistic, and cultural activities to enjoy during holidays
  • The brochure mentions that the museum of ancient Egyptian civilization will display the complete collection of the boy king Tutankhamun

CAIRO: JPMorgan Bank is directing its clients toward the Grand Egyptian Museum in its annual brochure.

The publication is distributed to the organization’s distinguished clients around the world.

It lists suggested recreational, artistic, and cultural activities to enjoy during holidays, while highlighting the most important attractions and places around the world.

This year’s brochure includes many locations, and among them is a picture of the soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum, accompanied by some information about the attraction.

It says that the museum of ancient Egyptian civilization will display the complete collection of the boy king Tutankhamun.

Ahmed Issa, Egyptian minister of tourism and antiquities, appreciated the bank’s gesture in recommending the museum to its clients.

The museum’s opening is eagerly awaited and it will be considered one of the most important establishments of its kind in the world.

The minister said that its opening date will be decided as soon as possible, adding that kings, presidents, and senior officials from around the world will attend its inauguration.

Soha Ali, CEO of JPMorgan Bank in Egypt and North Africa, held a meeting with Issa recently, and thanked the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities for its cooperation, and for providing information on the museum, as well as photographs.

JPMorgan Bank, the largest in the US and one of the biggest in the world, issues its booklet on an annual basis.


Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 
Updated 06 February 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates birthday in Saudi Arabia with friends and family 

DUBAI: Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo turned 38 on Feb. 5 and celebrated his birthday with family and close friends in an intimate gathering in Saudi Arabia. 

His longtime partner Georgina Rodriguez and oldest son Cristiano Jr. were also present for the celebrations.  

Among the attendees were his oldest friends Miguel Paixao and Jose Semedo. Ronaldo also invited Madrid-based reporter Edu Aguirre and wife Julia Salmean, along with his new personal manager and agent Ricky Regufe and personal wealth manager Miguel Marques.

Ronaldo took to Instagram to share a few snapshots from the day, captioning the post: “Thank you everyone for all the birthday messages. Grateful to have spent the day with my family and friends.” 

In the photos, the football superstar can be seen posing in front of a table laden with multiple birthday cakes. Another photo shared in the carousel of images shows Ronaldo taking advantage of the winter weather on what appears to be a trip to the desert, complete with a roaring bonfire and traditional tents.  

 

 

Rodriguez also took to social media to post a loving message for Ronaldo’s birthday. “Happy days to the love of my life. In love with you and what we are together,” wrote the Argentine model. 

After scoring his first goal for Al-Nassr last week, Ronaldo will be next seen in action on Thursday against Al-Wehda in a Saudi Pro League match.