Saudi artists shine in new Venice exhibition, curated by two sisters

Saudi artists shine in new Venice exhibition, curated by two sisters
Saad Howede, ‘Tola Petroleum.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 27 July 2022

Saudi artists shine in new Venice exhibition, curated by two sisters

Saudi artists shine in new Venice exhibition, curated by two sisters
  • ‘Re-composing’ shows how creatives in the Kingdom are addressing cultural change

FORMENTERA: “We’ve spent the last two years looking at the cultural identity in the Arab world from a sociological perspective,” says Mona Al-Abdallah, co-curator of “Re-composing,” an exhibition at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice dedicated to Saudi-based artists. Al-Abdallah co-founded the 369 Art Gallery in Jeddah in 2014 with her sister Maya (the other co-curator of “Re-composing”). The gallery is moving to Riyadh this year. 

“We chose to look at Saudi-based artists for this exhibition because Saudi Arabia is alive and has a voice. It’s both ancient and new. There are artists who are only 18 in this show. I’m amazed by their proximity to Saudi’s process of becoming and what this says about the regeneration of Arab culture.”




Hmoud Al-Attawi, ‘Connection.’ (Supplied)

While it can often seem like the same handful of artists constantly appear in Saudi biennials, many of the artists participating in this exhibition are lesser known, such as the pop-culture-influenced Saudi millennial who goes by the name Rexchouk, whose “Pass the Bukhoor” (2022) places lime-green, wide-eyed men and women in traditional garb against a palm tree-lined setting, where they cleanse themselves with ‘bukhoor,’ the scent burner used at home and in ritual gatherings across the Arabian peninsula. 

Then there’s Mariam Almesawi, an artist who is also a “braille language practitioner and mental health disability specialist,” according to her statement, but who you will be hard-pressed to find anything about online. Her deceptively simple video “Folkor Al-Arab” (2022) depicts a rotating female figure wearing a plain, white djellaba with black braids covering her face.

Obaid Alsafi, who emerged last year with a Misk Art Grant, combines new media, artificial intelligence and Arabic poetry in his art practice. His work “Desert Insight” (2022) is an imaginary clock framed with a circle of sand. At its center is a programmed monitor showing figures in kaleidoscopic form — an evocation of both geological time and what the artist calls “virtual time.” Meanwhile, in a comment on rapid urban development and migration within the Kingdom, Saeed Al-Gamhawi’s “My Mother’s Rug” (2021), an intricate projection which was exhibited at Noor Riyadh 2021, digitizes an old family rug in an effort to preserve time.




Saeed El-Gamhawi, ‘My Mother's Rug.’ (Supplied)

The theme of “Re-composing” evokes an ephemeral idea of fluid identities or the sense of a musical arrangement, and re-arrangement, but there’s a strong sense of materiality and material culture in the exhibition. “Agar” (2022), by filmmaker Deyaa Youssef, for example, is a haunting, textural video with a devotional quality, featuring a woman wearing an embroidered abaya, touching on water as sacred, while Khulod Albugami’s sculpture “Terhal” (2021) is a woolly figure on wooden legs, inspired by tent structures and desert adaptation. Albugami — among the more established artists in the show — draws from her Bedouin cultural heritage. In a similar vein, Swiss-Syrian-Moroccan Houda Terjuman creates a miniature palm tree floating above a green bed using copper plaster sponge and sawdust wire (“Uprooted Palm,” 2021).

There are some dramatic sculptural aesthetics on show. Abha-born Syrian artist Hatem Al-Ahmad ties tongue depressors together in a wall-sized flowing sculpture called “Shlonak” (2022), indexing illness (in the 19th century, depressors were used as a sign of the plague). 

“This was a deeply collaborative process,” Al-Abdallah explains. “We thought that the work needed to be a fluid form, like a tongue that reflects the fluidity of language.” Interestingly the question, “Shou lonak?” - meaning what is your color — which developed as a colloquialism during that time has evolved into “Shlonak?” (How are you?)

In “Connection” (2019), Hmoud Al-Attawi evokes pixelated fingers touching, inspired by Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” He uses Islamic rings that measure the number of prayer beads, since the work represents a connection to the divine through fingers and counting. “Al-Attawi and Saad Howede, who share Wasm studio in Riyadh, are very research-driven,” Al-Abdullah says. “Sometimes they work on a project conceptually for a year before executing it. We believe in them and think they are going to be the next big thing.”

In “Tola Petroleum” (2019), Howede creates a grid consisting of rows of oud bottles filled with petroleum, a sharp look at traditional signifiers of Arabian culture and their interchangeability. It is a neat encapsulation of how this exhibition — as a snapshot of contemporary art practice in Saudi Arabia — indicates that ancestral traditions form a significant part, existing side-by-side with cultural change.


REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans
Updated 19 August 2022

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans

REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ fires up a feast for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans
  • The prequel series premieres in the region on streaming platform OSN+ on Aug. 22

DUBAI: It’s here: The sequel/prequel to pop-culture tsunami “Game of Thrones” — the most-torrented show of its time and the series that network after network has since tried (and failed) to emulate.

Now, three-and-a-bit years on from the hugely unpopular “GoT” finale, here we are, back in George R.R. Martin’s intricately detailed world with a story focused on the ruling Targaryen family, but set a couple of centuries before the events of “GoT.”

The most pressing question, of course, is: Is “House of the Dragon” any good? The answer, happily, is a resounding yes. It’s very good — an epic, gripping fantasy that contains many of the elements that made “GoT” so huge: Lots of fighting, lots of flesh, lots of labyrinthine political plotting, lots of gore. And dragons.

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Supplied)

The two shows share many of the same themes too: Honor, betrayal, sexism, pride, love versus duty, what’s ‘right’ versus what’s necessary, family versus friends, and more.

So, if you were a fan of peak “Game of Thrones,” then “House of the Dragon” — based on the six episodes made available for review, at least — will meet your approval.

While the first episode moves at a glacial pace — making the necessary character introductions and laying out backstory — thereafter the showrunners are content to leap forward several years at a time to the story’s crucial events, so we’re not subjected to long ‘road trips.’ This is a welcome departure from “GoT.” The story, though complex, whizzes along. And while the majority of the show is dialogue-heavy, there are a couple of terrific set pieces, including a bloody beach battle, to keep pulses racing.

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Supplied)

The cast — led by Paddy Considine as the good-hearted-but-fallible King Viserys; Matt Smith as his wayward, impetuous brother Daemon; and Milly Alcock (in the first five episodes) as the teenage Princess Rhaenyra, Viserys’ headstrong firstborn child — are in fine form, committing to their deliberately stilted speeches with gusto.

The thorny knot at the center of the political infighting is Viserys’ heir. He names Rhaenyra (ignoring Daemon’s claim) — going against centuries of tradition by naming a woman as heir — and when he does finally have a son by his new, much-younger wife, Lady Alicent Hightower — once Rhaenyra’s best friend — he refuses to change his mind, despite heavy pressure (some reasonable, some not). Cue courtly wrangling a-plenty.

Viewers will need to focus — often, it’s not what’s being said that’s important, but what’s being omitted or danced around in euphemisms that are as damaging as a sneaky dagger to the ribs. But that focus is richly rewarded by a show that more than stands up to the huge weight of expectation.


Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life
Updated 19 August 2022

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life

Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair talks Paris catwalks and London student life
  • The in-demand model is killing it on the catwalk and in the classroom

DUBAI: It’s been a breakout year for 21-year-old Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair. At last month’s Paris Haute Couture Week, she walked the runway for some of the world’s most renowned couturiers, including Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika and Giorgio Armani, attracting international headlines. A couple of weeks before that, she picked up her Bachelor’s degree (with first-class honors) in philosophy, politics, and economics from King’s College, London. 

Al-Zuhair signed to the prestigious Elite Model Management agency aged just 15. “I was having lunch with my family at a restaurant in Paris, and I was spotted by a former Elite agent who told me I should go to the agency and that they’d really like me. So I went, and within 10 minutes I got a contract, which was pretty surreal,” Al-Zuhair tells Arab News. 

Amira Al-Zuhair backstage prior to the Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Fall Winter 22-23 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 5, 2022. (Getty Images)

But she didn’t become a model full-time until she was 18. Instead, she had a gradual introduction to the industry with test shoots and editorials.

“School and my education have been a top priority,” she explains. “I’ve always been a bit of a nerd — I represented my school in national math competitions, I was head of the math team, and a member of the UK’s Youth Parliament. And then I focused on my degree. It’s still my goal today to become a lawyer.”

Al-Zuhair was born in Paris to a French mother and Saudi father. She was raised in London, however (“My father wanted me to follow his steps and graduate from a UK university,” she says). The family traveled frequently between the UK and Riyadh, so Al-Zuhair feels a strong cultural and emotional attachment to the Kingdom. 

Al-Zuhair walks the runway during the Alexis Mabille Haute Couture Fall-Winter 22-23 show at Paris Fashion Week. (Getty Images)

“I love Saudi. It’s a big part of who I am and I really appreciate everything that’s going on at the moment — the advancements in culture, education, economy, and infrastructure,” she says. “The current leadership has done an amazing job at putting the country at the forefront of the global stage, and I’m really proud to see these changes.”

Although Al-Zuhair grew up in Europe, she says she was raised with “traditional values” and that her religion is very dear to her. From the get-go, she was clear about what she would, or wouldn’t, be prepared to do as a model. 

“I think the industry is very accommodating,” she says. “It’s all about what boundaries you set. My agency is amazing – and these boundaries have been respected with all aspects of my work and with all my clients. I’ve been very fortunate to have a very good experience.”

Amira Al-Zuhair (third from right, front row) backstage at the George Hobeika show in Paris Haute Couture Week with Georges Hobeika and his son Jad. (Getty Images)

Paris Haute Couture Week was a triumph for Al-Zuhair — if you ignore the time that some guy on a bike tried unsuccessfully to steal her vintage purse. In the same month, she was also part of Dolce & Gabbana’s monumental show in Sicily, where the label celebrated 10 years of its Alta Moda line. Wearing a black habit and black dress with sheer panels, she was an absolute vision on the runway situated in the historic Piazza Duomo in Siracusa.

Al-Zuhair has also worked with some of the industry’s biggest names in the form of ad campaigns and editorials, including Tiffany & Co, Burberry, and Carolina Herrera. In 2020, she landed her first Vogue Arabia cover, attracting widespread praise. 

“It was shot in NEOM, and we were the first group to shoot there,” she says. “It was such an exhilarating experience because I discovered a whole new side of Saudi Arabia. It’s just one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen — the sea, the mountains, the land — you cannot get sick of the views. We had lots of trailers in the middle of the desert; it kind of felt like a movie set. I also got to meet lots of local Saudi production members and stylists. It was so nice to have that representation.”

Al-Zuhair walking for Alexis Mabille at Paris Haute Couture Week on July 5. (Getty Images)

Juggling a demanding modeling career and a full-time university course was no easy feat. “That that was one of the most difficult aspects — the balance. It requires a lot of discipline and good time-management because every second counts. Every day I had to study, exercise, eat, go to university and see my family. There weren’t enough hours. Once, I went to Milan for work, and within 48 hours I’d been in five different cities and four countries.” 

Al-Zuhair shows no signs of slowing down, though. She’s already applying to universities to continue her education and it’s clear that her modeling career is on a steep upward trajectory, with labels and brands clamoring to work with her. It seems that she’ll grab as many opportunities as possible.

“With each show you get a different atmosphere, mood and energy. There’s a different inspiration behind each collection, and that’s reflected in the clothes and the we way act and walk. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve been given and to all of these designers for trusting me. It’s a big responsibility,” she says. “I see the work that goes into it behind the scenes, and it’s a very emotional experience. To me, fashion is an art and a form of self-expression. I’m honored to be able to present these collections and their designers’ works of art to the world.”


Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present
Updated 19 August 2022

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present

Cairo’s ‘Summer Portfolio’ photography show examines Egypt’s past and present
  • From Cairo to Brooklyn, photographic consultancy Tintera aims to bring together global photographers

CAIRO: In an apartment block in Zamalek — Cairo’s affluent western district where heritage buildings whisk visitors back to the Egyptian capital’s grand past — is a surprising find: A white-walled gallery and consultancy called Tintera, which specializes in photography of Egypt by Egyptians and foreigners. It was established in 2019 by Heba Farid and Zein Khalifa, with the aim of raising the profile of both contemporary and historical photography of Egypt. 

“Photography’s power is in documenting our lives, conceptually as well as through documentary approaches,” Farid tells Arab News. “As certain images of Egypt are ever-present in the global collective memory — images of monuments and conflict tend to be what remain — our mission is to be a destination where an alternative image of Egypt emerges.”

Amina Kadous, ‘City Entrapped.’ (Supplied)

When photography first started to become widely popular in the 19th century CE, photographers from around the world travelled to Egypt to capture not just the country’s multitude of ancient monuments, but, as Farid says, “its abundance of light.” 

“Tintera is committed to elevating the status and value of fine art photography in Egypt,” Khalifa says. “We are exporting ‘another Egypt’ and, while doing so, building a strong collectors’ base, drawing the attention of curators, and engaging specialized and general audiences alike.”

Tintera’s “Summer Portfolio” show is an example of the founder’s aims, presenting works from their roster of more than 20 artists. 
In the main exhibition area, a large collection of portfolio boxes are on display alongside many framed or matted prints. Visitors are invited to handle the prints directly (with the provided gloves, of course) and there is a thin hanging rail installed so that they can curate their own selections. Such an intimate handling of fine-art photography is a rare treat that truly enhances the viewing experience. 

Each photographer’s work presents a different view and experience of Egypt and its people. Highlights include works by Amina Kadous, an award-winning Egyptian photographer with a background in visual art. In her ongoing series “City Entrapped” she explores how portraits of iconic Egyptian public figures, such as Presidents Sadat and Nasser, still exist in many public spaces. 

For Kadous, Cairo is a city that is always in constant change yet somehow stays the same. 
“A city trapped in its own past and stretching to an unknown future. Cairo, a city of icons that is itself iconic,” Kadous writes on her website. “I see through these breaths and gasps of time, endlessly in flux and endlessly in chaos. A city where the only thing that is constant is change.”

Nermine Hammam — an established visual artist with a background in film — employs her signature technique of digital manipulation, hand coloring and layering of images on a collection of black and white vernacular photographs taken on the beaches of Alexandria in “A’aru,” a series named for the ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife. But, the Tintera founders explain in an article on Hamman’s website, here the artist “inverts” the concept. “Rather than it being an idyllic world yet to come, Hammam shows us a once-almost-perfect world on the brink of destruction. For Hammam, this … is the Alexandria of her past … a place of perceived innocence.”

Anthony Hamboussi, ‘Sharat il-Nil,’ from 15 Mayo Bridge, Agouza, Giza Governorate, Cairo Ring Road, 2014. (Supplied)

Egyptian Brooklyn-based photographer Anthony Hamboussi is one of the latest additions to the Tintera roster. In his series “Ring Road,” he examines the contemporary urban landscape of Cairo and neighboring areas which have morphed over the past century because of uncontrolled urban growth. His evocative photographs show how poor planning and mismanagement of heritage sites have put the city’s historic significance into a state of crisis.

The emerging Egyptian visual artist Maria Saba strikes a more intimate note in her “Urban Jungle” series, which captures the artist in a variety of poses in public urban spaces in Egypt and France, allowing her to examine issues relating to identity and place in the two countries and cultures in which she lives. The black-and-white photographs are nostalgic, melancholic and haunting; Saba seems to be searching for herself in the midst of these sprawling ever-changing urban landscapes. 

Tintera’s “Summer Portfolio” show runs until September 7 at the gallery.


What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'
Updated 19 August 2022

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'

What We Are Playing Today: Award-winning co-op game 'It Takes Two'
  • The award-winning production was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021

Married life can be hard; sometimes couples must cooperate to solve their problems. They need to know when to be firm or relent, so it takes two to make the relationship work.

This is exactly the aim of the action-adventure platform “It Takes Two”, which was created by Hazelight Studios and released by Electronic arts.

The story centers on a couple Cody and May who are seemingly incompatible and plan to divorce. They break the news to their daughter Rose late in the afternoon.

Rose then goes upstairs to her room and using two handmade dolls that resemble her parents, acts out a scene where they reconcile.

Rose’s tears, however, magically transfer the souls of her parents into these two dolls, who are now trapped and desperate to return to their bodies. In order to do that, they are forced to work together. 

The production was awarded The Game Award for Game of the Year 2021. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021.

“It Takes Two” has top-notch graphics, with many details for surfaces and a rotating view. You can move the camera angles around and explore the environment.

It is a multiplayer video game and does not have a single-player option.


Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release
Updated 18 August 2022

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release
  • ‘Get Out’ director says his toughest project to date
  • Social commentary expected with horror, comedy elements

DUBAI: Filmmaker Jordan Peele, who broke out with his directorial debut “Get Out,” is pushing his own limits with his latest film, “Nope.”

The director says his goal with the sci-fi thriller was to write a movie that was impossible to make. The stars are calling the result a spectacular, mind-bending production and connecting Peele’s talent for horror with his background in comedy.

“This was one of, if not, the greatest challenge of my life — making this film. I think what started as a movie that was all about a certain dark notion, as I was making it and writing it, I had this feeling that it also had to represent joy and had to represent Black joy,” said Peele to Arab News.

The movie follows a brother and sister (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who, after their father’s unexplainable death, try to capture proof that a flying saucer is menacing their town.

The film has been confirmed as Peele’s most expensive production, with Forbes speculating a $40 million cost, nearly 10 times that of his debut, “Get Out.”

Kaluuya, who was the lead star of “Get Out” and plays O.J. Haywood in “Nope,” said: “It’s just bigger and he’s grown as a filmmaker, so it’s just amazing to see that.”

“He can understand what’s happening and make choices and make decisions and troubleshoot. Yeah, but there’s always this part of him that’s wide open to letting the film surprise him,” said actor Steven Yeun, who plays Ricky “Jupe" Park, in the film.

Story details are being kept secret, but audiences can expect layers of social commentary between the thrills and chills, with Peele already hinting that “Nope” explores themes of commercial exploitation and the increased visibility of people of color in Hollywood.

“Putting people of color in the leads and the subject matter not always having to do with black versus oppression. It’s just black leads, black perspective, stories and culture,” said Palmer, who stars as Emerald Haywood in “Nope.”

“I want something that’s going to give you a fun experience and an adventure. And at the end, I want you to have to talk about it,” said Peele.