Renowned fair’s chairman speaks of Venice Biennale’s ‘love story’ with the Arab world

Special Renowned fair’s chairman speaks of Venice Biennale’s ‘love story’ with the Arab world
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President of La Biennale di Venezia Roberto Cicutto. (Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia)
Special Renowned fair’s chairman speaks of Venice Biennale’s ‘love story’ with the Arab world
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President of La Biennale di Venezia Roberto Cicutto. (Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia)
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Updated 28 July 2022

Renowned fair’s chairman speaks of Venice Biennale’s ‘love story’ with the Arab world

Renowned fair’s chairman speaks of Venice Biennale’s ‘love story’ with the Arab world
  • Chairman of 127-year-old Venetian institution recalls history of Arab and Muslim involvement in the arts and architecture
  • Egypt won the Golden Lion for art in 1995, Bahrain for architecture in 2010, and the UAE won the same award last year

VENICE: The Venice Biennale is keen to offer its facilities and expertise as a laboratory platform for arts students and researchers from the Arab world who want to experiment with art and architecture, its chairman says.  

In a special interview with Arab News, Roberto Cicutto, who has overseen the prestigious institution since 2020, spoke of the “love story” between the Venice Biennale and Arab and Muslim countries over the years, and talked up the possibilities for further cooperation with artists in the future.

The 74-year-old Venetian, with a storied background in cinema production, met Arab News in the Ca Giustinian palace, a few steps from St. Mark’s Square.

Looking out at the unique view of the most celebrated lagoon in the world, dotted with Renaissance bell towers and cupolas, he recalled that, since the 1930s, 15 Arab and Middle Eastern countries have participated in the Venice Biennale, which was founded in 1895.

Arab participation started in 1938, when Egypt took part in the Art Biennale. Iran and Turkey joined in 1956, then Tunisia in 1958; Iraq in 1976, Syria in 1964 and Cyprus in 1968.

“In the new millennium we had the pleasure to host more prestigious presences from that part of the world,” Cicutto said. Indeed, Arab and Muslim nations have flocked to the event since the turn of the century, with Morocco participating since 2005, Lebanon since 2007, the UAE from 2009, Bahrain from 2010, Saudi Arabia from 2011, Kuwait from 2012, Yemen from 2016 and, finally, Oman joining this year.

Cicutto recalled that Egypt won the Golden Lion for national participation, the exhibition’s highest award (based on the historic symbol of the city), at the 1995 Art Biennale. Bahrain’s pavilion, curated by Noura Al-Sayeh and Fuad Al-Ansari, won the Golden Lion at the Architecture Biennale 2010.

“Bahrain’s exhibition offered an analysis of the country’s relationship with the rapidly changing coastline. Forms of transitory architecture were presented as devices capable of claiming the sea as a public space,” Cicutto recalled

In 2021, the Golden Lion for best national participation at the Architecture Biennale again went to an Arab nation: The UAE.

The pavilion, entitled “Wetland” and curated by Wael Al-Awar and Kenichi Teramoto, presented an experiment encouraging people to think about the delicate relationship between waste and production, both on a local and global scale, proposing a construction model capable of combining craftsmanship and advanced technologies.

“Hashim Sarkis was the first Lebanese curator of the 2021 International Architecture Exhibition. An architect and dean of the MIT School of Architecture in Boston, Sarkis chose for his edition of the exhibition — scheduled for 2020 and then postponed to 2021, due to the pandemic — a title which will prove to be premonitory: ‘How will we live together?’” Cicutto said.

Among the artists participating over the years, Cicutto remembers in particular those who were invited to the Art Biennale 2015 by Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor: Lebanese Mounira Al-Solh, Jordanian Ala Younisthe, Syrian collective Abounaddara, Egyptians Massinissa Selmani and Inji Efflatoun, and Tunisian Nidhal Chamekh. 

He also mentioned Kader Attia, a France-based Egyptian, from the 2003 edition, and from 2017, Hassan Khan, an Egyptian, and Maha Malluh from Saudi Arabia.

“More and more, art and architecture exhibitions also refer to artisan traditions which do not forget ancient traditional forms of manufacturing or construction techniques in their artistic form,” he said. “In our sustainability age, the Arab countries represent an example of the fact that everything that can be recovered from the past (can) become a worthy practice on sustainability issues.”

Cicutto says that the Venice Biennale “has already experienced great interest from some Arab countries,” and at Dubai’s Expo 2020, it held a presentation at the Italian pavilion, welcoming the participation of the UAE Minister of Culture Noura Al-Kaabi.

Now the Venice Biennale aims to “offer its facilities as a laboratory platform for all those students and researchers, who are interested in its disciplines, to experiment with the theoretical knowledge acquired in universities and training centers.”

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia — as well as the same anniversary of the founding of the Venice Biennale Film Festival.

“For us, this is an important anniversary because it allows (us) to recognize the role that the oldest film festival in the world has played in attributing artistic dignity to the film industry,” Cicutto said.

In 2017, the Biennale College’s cinema section for emerging filmmakers and micro-budget films financed a project called “Martyr,” which was presented at the festival that year, directed and produced by a team from Lebanon.


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk)

Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
The 3-day program will take place in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah from Dec. 8-10. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
  • Magazine’s annual conference is back with 2nd edition
  • 3-day program in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah to take place from Dec. 8-10

DUBAI: Expanding on a successful platform built in 2021, Hia magazine’s Hia Hub 2022 will offer more interactive experiences and celebrity talks at the event’s second edition in Riyadh, editor-in-chief Mia Badr told Arab News.

“Since its inception, Hia magazine has been in the service of representing and catering to the Arab woman, particularly the Saudi woman who is sophisticated, discerning, complex and multi-dimensional. Throughout our journey, we have always championed her voice, told her stories, engaged and inspired her with insightful and thought-provoking writing and exciting fashion trends. That said, Hia Hub was envisioned as a platform to bridge international and regional audiences," said Mia Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia Magazine, in an interview with Arab News.

“We are celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, along with our second season of Hia Hub, and there is no other place that would be better suited than to host the event where it all started, and where it will continue to flourish and grow — here in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Badr said that the event is meant to reshape the boundaries of “leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity for the Hia fashion community.”

With the fashion industry exploding and growing at an exponential rate in Saudi Arabia, Badr is excited for Hia Hub to be at the center of the conversation.

“Local designers are gaining traction with brands and designers such as Mohammed Ashi gaining critical acclaim from global media; Hindamme; Mohammad Khoja’s brand currently has pieces on display in London’s V&A Museum; you’ve got young trailblazers like Arwa Al-Banawi, known for her fresh and contemporary RTW namesake brand who has collaborated with Adidas and Levi’s; all of them are making an impact on their home turf and gaining recognition on a wider scale,” said Badr.

When asked about her favorite speakers from this edition’s lineup, Badr refused to play favorites. “They are all exceptional in their respective fields, so it really comes down to what particular topic you are interested in. We’ve covered all topics of interest and relevance from female leadership, to how to build a beauty brand, sustainability, the rise of craftsmanship in culture, the new generation of creatives impacting the fashion sphere, styling and make up workshops and so much … there’s really something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are all great!”

Some of the big-name speakers expected to attend the event include US fashion designer Zac Posen, iconic Hollywood stylist Law Roach, Emirati singer Balqees Fathi, French Moroccan fashion designer Charaf Tajer, celebrity stylist Cedric Haddad and Iraqi US beauty mogul Mona Kattan.

The speakers and topics were chosen with the cultural resonance in the region in mind. “We made it a point to have representation and diversity, inviting professional candidates from the region as well as from abroad to ensure a broad spectrum and different points of view for candid and thought-provoking conversations,” said Badr.

Guests can learn more about Hia Hub by visiting hiahub.com.


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.” 


Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  
The showcase was set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

Dior Men presents Celestial collection in Cairo  

DUBAI: Hollywood star and Dior global ambassador Robert Pattinson was on the front row as the label presented its Celestial collection on Saturday, set against the majestic backdrop of Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Dior Official (@dior)

Kim Jones, the creative director of Dior Men, had 75 models present new looks from the French fashion house. 

Other famous faces spotted at the event included South Korean rapper Sehun, South Korean singer, actor and model Cha Eun-woo, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, Scottish actor Thomas Doherty and British supermodel Naomi Campbell. 

The show took place in front of the Pyramids of Giza. (AFP)

Stars from the Middle East included Tunisian actor and filmmaker Dhafer L’Abidine, Egyptian actor Amr Youssef and Egyptian Canadian “Aladdin” actor Mena Massoud. 

A model hits the runway in Dior Men's latest collection. (AFP)