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)
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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.


Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show
Updated 18 August 2022

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show
  • Can the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel emulate its extraordinary success?

DUBAI: Few television shows (or films, or any other kind of media) have had as great a cultural impact as “Game of Thrones.” Throughout its eight-year run, which began in 2011, the sprawling fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s books gripped audiences across the globe (for reasons both positive and negative) and its influence is still felt across television and film. Now, just over three years after its last episode aired, HBO has finally readied a follow up its most-popular series: “House of the Dragon” — a prequel set hundreds of years earlier, which premieres on OSN in the Middle East on August 22.

The world has changed, however. When “Game of Thrones” debuted, there was nothing like it. For many, the series was the first piece of fantasy that enraptured them — propulsive, riveting and uncompromising storytelling that eased viewers into the existence of ice monsters and dragons. A decade on, there has been a litany of direct imitators, none of which has come close to emulating its success. So why should this one?

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith. (Supplied)

“There have been many attempts to capture the ‘Game of Thrones’ magic,” says “House of the Dragon” co-creator and co-showrunner Ryan J Condal. “And many shows that have done only one or two seasons, and that’s it. There’s clearly a pattern of people wanting something like ‘Game of Thrones,’ but [the imitators] had to make it different. We’re lucky in the respect that we don’t have that problem. The more ‘Game of Thrones’ we are, the better.”

“House of the Dragon” should not be seen simply as a carbon copy of its predecessor, though. “Game of Thrones” had dozens of major characters, with the two major ones — Daenerys Targaryen and Aegon Targaryen (who believed himself to be Jon Snow for most of it) — not even meeting until near the end. “House of the Dragon” is far more zoomed in, centering on four characters from that same Targaryen family — a mercurial bunch with pale white hair and dragon’s blood in their veins — 200 years prior to the birth of Daenerys.

The central conceit is, however, pure “GoT.” A peacetime king — Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) — is unable to produce a male heir, leaving his hot-headed and unpredictable brother Prince Daemon as his most likely successor. Viserys, however, has other plans, thinking that perhaps his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (played by Emma D’Arcy as an adult, Milly Alcock as a child) could become the kingdom’s first queen. Her best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke as an adult, Emily Carey as a child), however, seems to have her eyes on the king herself.

Olivia Cooke. (Supplied)

“I think the thing that made it so interesting to us is the idea that you get to explore the Targaryens as a dynasty and as a family instead of basically just one person. (We) get to show you what Westeros was like when the Targaryens were at height of their power and influence, when they had 17 dragons to discourage other houses from raising a challenge to the throne. And we see a broad spectrum of different Targaryen people — princes and princesses, firstborns and second-borns — who all have their own internal life and wants and needs and identity,” says co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik.

“What you realize is: This is just like any other family,” he continues. “It’s made up of a complex range of people who will all react to things in a different way. There isn’t a Targaryen archetype. There’s nature and nurture involved — how they develop as people and how they react to different things. They’re all real, complex people with gray in their souls, and that’s why people tune in from week to week, to follow these, hopefully, deeply interesting and compelling characters.”

Leading the pack is Paddy Considine, an actor who has put in some of the finest, if under-heralded, performances in recent history, including 2003’s “In America,” 2004’s “Dead Man’s Shoes” and 2010’s “Submarine,” and is finally given the major role he’s always deserved — something that the creators of the show saw before he did.

Paddy Considine. (Supplied)

“I was the first actor cast in it, which was a massive leap of faith on the part of Miguel and Ryan and HBO. The fact that I didn’t even have to audition was a big gamble, really. Because I’ve a cynical side, my first question was, ‘Well, who’s turned it down? Who doesn’t want to do it?’ And they said, ‘Nobody. It’s yours. We’re coming straight to you.’ And that’s a good way to get me in, because I was very flattered by that, I was really honored. Truthfully, I was,” says Considine.

Matt Smith, who has already found huge success for his runs as both the lead in BBC stalwart “Doctor Who” and Prince Philip in the first two seasons of Netflix smash “The Crown,” comes in as the show’s most recognizable star, with his trademark charisma on full display as the brash and brilliant Daemon.

“I loved his unpredictability,” Smith says. “That was one of the things that really drew me to Daemon in the first place. You never quite know where he’s going to go, even as an actor. That affords you a great deal of invention and allows you to play. It’s nice when you’re an actor and you don’t quite know where the scene’s going to take you. I really loved it. I had such a good time.”

Ryan J Condal is the co-creator and co-showrunner of “House of the Dragon.” (Supplied)

Smith may have been having fun, but the shoot was grueling. It began in April 2021 and didn’t wrap until February 2022, filming across the UK, Spain and California.

“Nothing prepares you for the shooting. I walked in with my shoulders back and head high. A year later, I crawled out on my belly,” says Considine.

“Game of Thrones,” of course, was a show with massively popular female characters, an aspect that kept it relevant as the cultural paradigm shifted, with Danaerys Targaryen becoming a symbol of empowered women the world over. “House of the Dragon” takes that baton and runs with it, focusing first and foremost on its lead women characters, Princess Rhaenyra and Lady Alicent.

For the show’s female stars, getting on the same page with the showrunners over how women would be portrayed in the violent and sexist world in which it’s set was of paramount importance from day one.

Milly Alcock (left) and Emily Carey. (Supplied)

“Both Olivia and I started speaking with Miguel Sapochnik really early,” says D’Arcy. “One of the questions that I came into the show with was: ‘How do you make sure you are telling a story from their point of view, when we are in a world that doesn’t afford them space?’”

The conversations went better than they expected, the two stars reveal.

“Miguel was incredibly receptive and really generous on all of that. He gave us the space to explore these characters,” Cooke says.

“Fundamentally, Miguel is really aware that he’s not a woman,” D’Arcy adds. “He was very willing to defer to us, if something came up in the text. If you have a question, you have every right to interrogate that. It’s been a collaborative process.”


6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region
Updated 18 August 2022

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

DUBAI: From resin earrings and a vibrant Moroccan wedding celebration to a Lebanese pop anthem and a stripped-back jazz-infused improvisation, here are six pop-culture highlights from around the region. 

Manal

‘Makhelaw Magalou’

The Moroccan singer-songwriter’s latest single and its accompanying video (which has racked up over 19 million views on YouTube) are a tribute to the culture of her homeland, with the clip — directed by Farid Malki — covering several rituals of a traditional wedding, including the aamaria (a decorated chair on which the bride is carried), henna application, the bride’s Berber jewelry, the sharing of a meal, and a joyful, incense-drenched lila dance ceremony. Sonically, the track shows influences of the deeply spiritual gnawa music beloved in Morocco, with modern, electronic flourishes and a pop vibe.

Amir Fallah

‘An Anthem for Uncertain Times’

The acclaimed artist brings his enigmatic portraits and installations to Vancouver, Canada, in his new show. “(Fallah’s) subjects are most often veiled, masked or absent, represented by specific objects, cultural motifs and artifacts which point to who they are rather than their visual identity,” a press release for the show explains. Fallah’s family left Iran after the 1979 revolution, moving to Turkey and Italy before settling in America. “His work embraces how his journey has shaped his variety of identities,” the release states. “Each work encapsulates the perceived randomness of how our life experiences all fit together.” Artist and curator Sanaz Mazinani says of Fallah’s work: “For many of us living far from our ancestral lands, Fallah’s paintings model the ideas, beliefs, and fears that many immigrant bodies face daily. But through the work’s relentless beauty and tenacity … the offering of possibility comes in the joy of evolving difference.”

Adib Yassine El Khazen

‘Heliopolis’

The first release from a new trio — Syrian singer-songwriter Lynn Adib, Lebanese drummer Khaled Yassine, and Lebanese guitarist Raed El-Khazen — is an ambitious six-and-a-half-minute improvisation on Adib’s “Heliopolis,” built around a jazz-y drum line and sparse guitar (save for a solo midway through) that create a space for Adib’s stunning vocal trickery. According to El-Khazen, Adib wrote the track “following a heartbreak in Cairo” and the title refers to the ancient Egyptian city “where the sun god Ra was once worshipped as the ultimate source of light and justice in the cosmos.”

Son Savage

‘Just Keep Dancing’

Having topped Anghami’s charts with “The River” last year, the Dubai-based Lebanese producer (real name Charbel Ghanime) is enjoying similar success with his latest release — a funky, radio-friendly pop track called “Just Keep Dancing,” which, Ghanime says, “serves as an anthem that celebrates people in all their differences and quirks.” Added polish comes from producer Sleiman Damien, whose previous collaborators include Carole Samaha and Haifa Wehbe. “I’ve been a big fan of Sleiman since I met him around six years ago. We’ve always admired each other’s work and have always listened to and learned from each other,” Ghanime says in a press release. “In a recent trip I made to Dubai, I was showing Sleiman some projects I was working on and ‘Just Keep Dancing’ struck a chord with him. The rest is history.” The video meanwhile, “shows that — just like hate — love and dance can also be infectious,” he says.

Jude Benhalim

‘Electric Harmony’

The Egyptian jewelry brand’s annual summer capsule collection this year is made entirely from resin (actually, resin and translucent pearl that have been melted together) and “celebrates the harmony of marrying opposites,” according to a press release. “Electric Harmony” consists of three styles of earrings. “With dreamy spirals seamlessly merging with edgy studs, the motifs of the Greek-inspired pieces strive for a delicate balance of youth and sophistication,” the release states.

Ahmed Santa

‘Santa El Gded’

The Egyptian MC’s latest album pairs his trademark wit and lyricism with trap and drill sounds — a departure from his previous styles. “I’ve been authentic in my process of creating each song,” he says in a press release. “All of the emotions are true to that moment in the process.” The 10-track record feature collaborations with some of Egyptian hip-hop’s biggest names, including Desso and Abo El-Anwar, and could well be the release that makes Santa a star outside of his homeland.


REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights
Updated 18 August 2022

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights
  • Survival thriller’s set pieces enthral, but weak script lets actors down

DUBAI: Scott Mann’s survival film ‘Fall,’ currently in theaters in the Middle East, is undeniably thrilling. It would be almost impossible for any competent filmmaker not to make it so because of its premise: Two young female climbers stuck 2,000 feet above the ground on a small platform at the top of a rickety, remote TV tower in the middle of the desert, allowing for genuinely stomach-churning, vertigo-inducing aerial shots.

The two women, Hunter (Virginia Gardner) and Becky (Grace Caroline Curry), are there to scatter the ashes of Becky’s late husband Dan, who died one year previously — a year that Becky has mostly spent drowning her sorrows in a bottle and ruining her relationship with her father James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a cameo that must have him questioning his agent’s competence) — when the three of them were climbing a mountain. That’s the scene that opens the movie, giving Mann another location for majestic, sweeping shots that maybe this overlong movie could have done without. Most of the flimsy backstory could have been covered as the two best friends walk through the desert to, and climb, the tower and little would have been lost.

They’re also at the tower to drum up further content for Hunter’s social-media fans — she’s made a name for herself online as a danger junkie with a devil-may-care attitude that Becky’s lines in the clunky script make clear isn’t the ‘real’ Hunter.

Once they’re up on the platform after a disastrous ladder collapse, we learn that maybe the ‘real’ Hunter wasn’t such a good friend to Becky after all, as Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank introduce the first of their not-that-clever twists. There are a couple more of these and all of them are unoriginal.

As the lack of cell-phone coverage, food, and foresight takes its toll (not to mention hungry buzzards attracted by the gash in Becky’s leg), the climbers’ situation becomes increasingly dire. As does the script. No one can question Gardner and Curry’s physical commitment to the shoot, but, in acting terms, there just isn’t enough for them to work with. The lack of drama in their reactions just doesn’t ring true.

There’s another gripping set-piece when Hunter attempts to retrieve their water from a satellite dish just over 50 feet below their platform and it’s these scenes that — maybe — make “Fall” worth seeing on the big screen. You’ll definitely be entertained, or at least panicked. But whether the other 80 minutes or so are worth the payoff is up for debate.


Jordan’s crown prince announces engagement to Saudi national

Jordan’s crown prince announces engagement to Saudi national
Updated 18 August 2022

Jordan’s crown prince announces engagement to Saudi national

Jordan’s crown prince announces engagement to Saudi national
  • The engagement of Prince Hussein bin Abdullah and Rajwa Al-Saif took place at the home of the bride-to-be’s father in Riyadh

RIYADH: Jordan’s royal court on Wednesday announced the engagement of the country’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah to Saudi national Rajwa Khaled bin Musaed bin Saif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saif.

The engagement took place at the home of the bride-to-be’s father in Riyadh. The guests included several members of the Jordanian royal family — including Prince Hassan bin Talal, Prince Hashem bin Abdullah, Prince Ali bin Hussein, Prince Hashim bin Hussein, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Prince Rashid bin Hassan — along with members of Al-Saif’s family.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made calls to Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Thursday.

During the calls, Prince Mohammed bin Salman extended congratulations on the engagement of Crown Prince Hussein, and wished him and his bride-to-be success and a happy life.

“I didn’t think it was possible to hold so much joy in my heart! Congratulations to my eldest, Prince Hussein, and his beautiful bride-to-be, Rajwa,” Queen Rania said in a message posted on Twitter.

According to Royal News, Al-Saif was born in Riyadh, on April 28, 1994, to Khalid bin Musaed bin Saif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saif, and Azza bint Nayef Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Sudairi. She attended high school in Saudi Arabia before studying at Syracuse University’s College of Architecture in New York.

Jordan’s Princess Iman bint Abdullah announced her engagement to New York-based financier Jameel Alexander Thermiotis in July.


Actress Jameela Jamil talks about her supervillain character at ‘She-Hulk’ premiere

Actress Jameela Jamil talks about her supervillain character at ‘She-Hulk’ premiere
Updated 17 August 2022

Actress Jameela Jamil talks about her supervillain character at ‘She-Hulk’ premiere

Actress Jameela Jamil talks about her supervillain character at ‘She-Hulk’ premiere

DUBAI: Actress Jameela Jamil — who shot to fame for her fan-favorite role as Tahani on “The Good Place” — was all smiles at the Los Angeles premiere of Marvel’s latest Disney+ entry, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” set to premiere worldwide on Aug. 18.

The British Pakistani actress took to social media to give fans front-row seats to all the action at the star-packed event. Also present were Tatiana Maslany, who plays the fourth-wall-breaking titular character who is a lawyer/superhero, and the actor who plays her onscreen cousin, Mark Ruffalo, reprising his more recent Professor Hulk iteration.

Jamil wore a custom Monique Vee low-cut dress with a high slit, paired glamorously with black Christian Louboutin pumps. The gown itself was an homage to comic books with action words like “BANG,” “ZAP” and “WAM.”

In “She-Hulk,” Jamil plays supervillain Titania, whom she has herself dubbed “the most annoying MCU character ever.”

In the trailer that was released as part of Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel, Jamil’s Titania is shown bursting through a courtroom wall. Like She-Hulk, Titania possesses super strength, durability and stamina, but the character obtained her powers differently in the comics, having been exposed to alien technology.

Among the many snapshots from the premiere, Jamil posted a clip from the red carpet on her Instagram Stories, in which she gives some insight into her character. “She’s just very messy, very chaotic, very mean, very annoying, very easy for me to play. And she’s deeply insecure and just out to destroy She-Hulk’s life, out to destroy everyone’s life actually,” she said.



“And in order to make her more accessible to the modern world, [creator and writer] Jessica Gao has fully redone her storyline from the comics. And so, she’s more of a modern-day fitness influencer online and everything about her is fake…And I got to play just a funny, tongue-in-cheek caricature of an influencer, who can also just beat the (expletive) out of you,” Jamil added.

The series also marks the return of Charlie Cox (of Netflix’s “Daredevil” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”) as Matt Murdock — better known as Daredevil — a fellow lawyer and superhero. The cast of characters also features Tim Roth as Abomination, Renée Elise Goldsberry (of “Hamilton” fame) as Mallory Book and Ginger Gonzaga (from TV series "Kidding") as Nikki Ramos.

“She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” premieres worldwide on Disney+ on Aug. 18.