My art showcases untold stories of Saudi women: Elham Dawsari

Subabat, women who serve coffee at all-female events, have become the subject of Dawsari’s most popular work. (Supplied)
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Subabat, women who serve coffee at all-female events, have become the subject of Dawsari’s most popular work. (Supplied)
My art showcases untold stories of Saudi women: Elham Dawsari
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Subaba, a woman who serves coffee and desserts at special all-women events, offering coffee as part of artist Elham Dawsari's photo series titled "Subabat." (Supplied)
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Updated 10 August 2022

My art showcases untold stories of Saudi women: Elham Dawsari

Subabat, women who serve coffee at all-female events, have become the subject of Dawsari’s most popular work. (Supplied)
  • The artist works to explore Riyadh in the 1980s and 1990s through the portraits of middle- and lower-class women

RIYADH: As interdisciplinary Saudi artist and writer Elham Dawsari sits with an iced Spanish latte in hand, a sweet combat to the heat outside, she recalls one of her first sketches: a younger version of herself sits on the front stoop of her house watching barefoot boys her age play around in the asphalt, free of social decorum. She holds a walkman in hand, her own personal bubble at the press of a button.

“I drew that because I wanted to not only answer questions, but to articulate the questions first: What is this about spaces? About women? About gender?” she told Arab News.

As she was simultaneously the subject of the sketch and the background to the playing boys, she made a visceral connection to the space around her and where women fit into it.




Two miniature figures, one dusting the patio and the other applying body cream and lemon, as part of artist Elham Dawsari's artwork "Nfah" showcased at Jax Arts Festival in Riyadh. (Photo by photographer Moaath Alyahya)

Subliminally, she bagan to make the forgotten women the center of her work.

Dawsari works to explore a pre-Internet Riyadh in the 1980s and 1990s through centering middle- and lower-class women, investigating how it influenced their behavior and how they were shaped by the spaces around them.

“I think this is my way of coming to terms with a lot of things that happened in my life, including the stories of women because I still carried questions for the longest time, trying to understand it,” she said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Dawsari wanted her work to represent the women, and help view them in the simplest of forms: As humans.

• The work hopes to appreciate where they are now and ‘hopefully have them more included’ in our fast-paced and youth-focused lives, she says.

• The sculptures are a personal embodiment of memories and people, designed on a smaller scale to physically and emotionally pull the viewer in.

While Saudi culture has been slowly loosening its control on the societal expectations of women, some find it is still difficult to think critically of the past.

She has found that artistic pursuits are a more palatable way to honestly pursue without the societal backlash.

“Art is a way for me to clash, but indirectly,” Dawsari said.

Subabat, women who serve coffee and desserts at all-female events, have become the subject of her most popular work.




Dawsari's sculpture fanning herself in the patio's summer heat, and one of the five pieces in her sculpted artwork titled "Nfah."

The figures evoked mystery and curiosity for viewers, which is what inspired the pursuit, she said.

While she grew up in the US until high school, she still went to Saudi weddings and recalls seeing her first Subabat at an early age.

“Around 12-years-old, I began associating Subabat with muted beauty,” she wrote in her essay, titled “Documenting Subabat: A Tribute to Sisterhood.”

While they had a certain status and prestige at weddings, their presence was evidently invisible to the attendees. Their job was to serve and never chat.

“Classism was apparent, but they still looked similar to the grandmothers (at the weddings), the way they dress. Eventually 25 years later, I learned through research that they took that style from the women they worked for,” Dawsari said.




Subaba, a woman who serves coffee and desserts at special all-women events, offering tea as part of artist Elham Dawsari's photo series titled "Subabat."

That contrast stuck with her and her determination to document these women and their process, despite their prominent evasion, culminated in her photo series, essays, and docu short under the title “Subabat.”

While the notions of lamenting and nostalgia are prominent in many Saudi artworks, she chose to stray away from them.

“What joy does that give to anybody?” she thought. Instead of highlighting the problems of the current age, she decided to uplift the stories of the past.

In her artwork “Nfah,” Dawsari has created a series of five miniature sculptures showcasing how women utilized their time at home. In the secluded nature of their lives, either in their own home or in someone else’s, they sculpted who they are and searched for open spaces.

The work, most recently showcased at Jax Arts Festival in Riyadh, aims to analyze the relationship between urban landscaping and specific behavior of 1990s Saudi households.

The two sculptures that showed the voluptuous houseworking women, one cleaning the yard and the other squatting as she does laundry, reflect how they maintained their physical strength in rural Saudi Arabia.

Dawsari told Arab News that she hoped to start a conversation where she, and her audience, can look at these anchors as more than just houseworkers and parents, “to rewire ourselves and really think about all the other things that were in their lives, and the heavy burden of responsibility that society imposed on them.”

She wanted her work to represent the women, and help view them in the simplest of forms: as humans. The work hopes to appreciate where they are now and “hopefully have them more included” in our fast-paced and youth-focused lives, she said.

The sculptures are a personal embodiment of memories and people, designed on a smaller scale to physically and emotionally pull the viewer in.

“‘Nfah’ is more of these collective stories of people that I get to listen to, that I get to share, that fall into the essence of the artwork … it’s about breaking these barriers through these women,” she said.

Dawsari explores the theme of urban landscaping by tracing women’s movement inside these traditional households. In her work, she often wonders what these box-like spaces are meant to protect us from.

“It’s more like an emotional kind of fort you are in that protects you, another barrier in this society… Why is it so revolting? Why is it so depressing?” she said.

She connects the effects of these spaces we have built and how we impose ourselves on our architecture in return. What would happen to the next generation when they live in this so-called “utopian” home of their ancestors?

“How did it affect those women who, today, are also living in a different renaissance?” she questioned.

In a time where hustling and striving for the future defines our daily lives, it is easy to disconnect with our seniors who might not be running at the same pace.

“Everybody who came and interacted was affected, which means that we share the same story despite our differences,” said Dawsari.

Everyone has a similar memory of a mother figure applying lemon juice on their knees or making the afternoon coffee.

An Indian onlooker came to Dawsari once expressing how her work reminded her of her aunts and her family. The universality of her work is what speaks to the audience.

“Every passing day, we are losing stories that are undocumented…the thing is (to create more of a) habit, have people interact with more and more artworks about this generation,” added Dawsari.

 


Saudi Arabia reports 132 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 132 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi Arabia reports 132 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 132 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia reported 132 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Health. As a result, the total number of cases in the Kingdom over the course of the pandemic grew to 816,262.

The authorities also confirmed three new COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total number of fatalities to 9,350.

Of the new infections, 48 were recorded in Riyadh and 21 in Jeddah. Several other cities recorded fewer than 10 new cases each.

The ministry also announced that 100 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom over the course of the pandemic to 803,452.

It said that 3,460 COVID-19 cases were still active, adding that 7,302 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to more than 44.3 million.

The ministry said that of the current cases, 33 were in critical condition.

More than 68.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign began, with over 25.4 million people fully vaccinated.


OIC, China sign health deal for some African member states 

OIC, China sign health deal for some African member states 
Updated 28 September 2022

OIC, China sign health deal for some African member states 

OIC, China sign health deal for some African member states 

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation signed a health deal on Wednesday with China to help some of its African member states.

The OIC’s Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha was present at the ceremony that saw the pact inked on behalf of the organization by Askar Mussinov, assistant secretary-general for science and technology, and China’s Ambassador to Riyadh Chen Weiqing. 

Mussinov praised China for the grant and said it was an example of the excellent relations the organization has with Beijing.

The deal was part of several efforts undertaken by the OIC to help some of its African members in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mussinov.

He added that it was Taha who had approached China for the assistance.


Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged
Updated 28 September 2022

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged

Stretch for success with yoga, Saudi students urged
  • Practice can improve academic performance, online lecture tells university reps

JEDDAH: Saudi university students wondering how to gain a mental edge and improve their academic performance have been offered an age-old answer — yoga.

The Saudi Yoga Committee has delivered an online lecture for university representatives highlighting the physical and mental advantages yoga can offer people of all ages, but especially students.

Nouf Al-Marwaai, the committee’s president, said that the benefits of practicing yoga for young men and women are clear, with studies showing that it improves academic achievement, and can play a significant role in reducing stress and anxiety.

The virtual lecture was organized in cooperation with the Saudi Universities Sports Federation under the theme “Yoga for University Students of Both Genders,” and set out to spread awareness and encourage the practice of yoga among all segments of society.

It coincides with the arrival in the Kingdom of a delegation from the Asian Yogasana Sports Federation to train Saudi yoga referees through a qualification course hosted by the Ministry of Sports in cooperation with the Saudi Yoga Committee.

The virtual lecture outlined options available to students on campus who wish to practice yoga simply for mental and physical health, or those who plan to take it to an advanced level with professional yogasana sports training, as well as local and international competition.

Al-Marwaai said that the committee set out to cooperate with the Saudi Universities Sports Federation in order to “build a generation of yoga-lovers, especially among young people, who want to enjoy physical and mental health.”

The committee is seeking to increase the number of practitioners, and build yoga teams to take part in local and regional yoga championships.

The Kingdom excels at the Arab level in yoga, she added.

Al-Marwaai said that asanas and postures used in yoga can improve balance, increase physical flexibility and deliver a wide range of health benefits.


Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
Updated 28 September 2022

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told
  • Kingdom’s key role in regional publishing outlined on conference final day

RIYADH: The second edition of the International Publishers Conference held in Riyadh ended on Wednesday with sessions focusing on the growing demand for audiobooks, the impact of technology and data services, and the search for ways to innovate and renew education.

The event, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, introduced a session themed “Stages of the Global Book Publishing Industry.”

Abdul Karim Al-Aqeel, president of the Saudi Publishing Association, told the session that the Kingdom plays an important role in the growth of the regional publishing business.

Saudi Arabia “has 300 publishing houses, 1,000 individual writers, and reading is popular among 31 percent of the population,” he said.

The two-day conference was attended by Secretary-General of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Mohammed Radwan. 

The event held eight interactive sessions and five workshops to discuss key aspects of the book and publishing industry, review future prospects and read current market trends.

Mohammed Zatara, founder of Wajeez for Audiobooks, said that the format helped to expand public knowledge “because an audiobook can be accessed any time and any place, whether one is going to work or working out at the gym.”

Sebastian Bond, head of the Middle East and Northern Africa at Storytel, said improving the audiobook business requires collaboration between traditional publishers and their audio counterparts to ensure enriching and enlightening content.

Ibraheem Al-Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing, told Arab News that the standard of authorship is “extremely high in the domains of creative books, as well as professional and educational books.” 

Ibraheem Al Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing. (Supplied)

However, he believes that “this trend does not exist in the market due to the difficulty of publishing houses to absorb it and because readers are not attracted by the new authors.”

Al-Sinan said that authors have become part of the so-called content industry, particularly in the film-writing, series and marketing content sectors, “because of high financial return” in these fields.

Publishing has expanded recently with the inclusion of audiobooks and electronic books, “because of the society’s interest in new audio media such as podcasts,” he added.

Audiobooks are recognized as the fastest-growing and most acceptable format, but “are still not as popular as paper books,” Al-Sinan said.

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association, believes that the presence of “podcasts” as a content channel has had an impact on the widespread and acceptance of audiobooks. 

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association. (Supplied)

Alsalem predicted a bright future for publishing in the region, particularly in translation and better reader access via traditional and digital channels, indicating “A promising future for publication.”

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, said that artificial intelligence is “inevitably coming,” and that it will help publishers to upgrade their profession and professional development. 

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

He believes that while audiobooks are now expensive to produce, “one day they will be the basic material on which the writer relies.”

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution, said that the publishing future is thriving locally and regionally because of local and international book fairs, which have helped considerably in the evolution of the publishing sector. 

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

Salih Al-Hammad, founder of Rashm House for Publishing and Distribution, said that although audiobooks are having a growing impact, “paper books have kept their shine and quality.”

He said: “When we talk about audiobooks today, we talk about a few categories of readers associated with the concept of a detained reader, any reader who is in a hospital, on a train, or on an airplane. Book authorship has gone through phases, and books will remain and won’t disappear, just like radios remained when TVs were invented.”


British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
Updated 28 September 2022

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
  • Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
  • The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter

LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.

The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.

After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.

Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.

His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.

Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”

Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”

She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”

Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”

The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.