Rare works from pioneering Gulf artists on display in new NYUAD exhibition

Rare works from pioneering Gulf artists on display in new NYUAD exhibition
Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, ‘Worshippers Leaving the Mosque,’ 1981. (Courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah)
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Updated 15 September 2022

Rare works from pioneering Gulf artists on display in new NYUAD exhibition

Rare works from pioneering Gulf artists on display in new NYUAD exhibition
  • NYUAD’s ‘Khaleej Modern’ show sheds surprising new light on the region’s modern-art scene
  • Visitors to the exhibition will find work from, among others, Saudi-Kuwaiti artist Munira Al-Kazi, whose work in the mid-Sixties was acquired by MoMA in New York and London’s V&A Museum

DUBAI: “Within art histories, the Global South has been underrepresented. And within that, the Arab world has been underrepresented. And within texts looking at the greater Middle East, the Gulf has been marginalized. We wanted to reclaim ownership of that space in some way.” 

Dr. Aisha Stoby is talking about “Khaleej Modern,” an exhibition she has curated that runs at New York University Abu Dhabi until December 11, and which grew out of Stoby’s research for her PhD, in which she examined the art scene in the Gulf from the mid-20th century up until what she refers to as “the cultural boom, which I pin to 2008.”

“I was working on conducting an oral history of the conceptual, experimental art community in the UAE, for the exhibition and book that were to come out in 2017,” Maya Allison, Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery and University Chief Curator, told Arab News. “I invited (Stoby) to contribute an essay for the book, and so began a collaboration that ultimately became this exhibition.”




Munira Al Kazi, ‘Untitled (Family),’ 1965. (Courtesy of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah)

The GCC countries were not seen as rich sources of art at that time, not just by Westerners, but often by those from older countries in the Arab world too, as Stoby discovered during her research. 

“Even in instances where it was unexpected, I was faced with that sort of pushback. I asked some very well-known artists from the Middle East if they’d been to the GCC and what interactions they’d had with artists here, particularly in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. And I had some very surprising answers,” Stoby tells Arab News. “Some positive, but some — surprisingly for our neighbors — negative; dismissing the art scenes that took place.”

“(Stoby) came back with more artists and bits of history than could possibly be studied by one person in their lifetime,” added Allison. “She prioritized artists who played founding roles in arts societies or teaching, mentoring, and community building—the ‘pioneers.’”




Hassan Meer, ‘Under the Water.’ (Supplied)

It was, in large part, frustration at the paucity of information available to counter such attitudes that led Stoby to delve deeper. 

“There’s a sparsity of material. And it’s very dispersed; there are a lot of books that are out of print, and the region is not generally looked at as a whole,” she says. “(The Gulf art scene) has not generally been viewed as collectives that have crossed borders — the things which join us as nation states: The prosperity that came with oil, the ongoing conversations about tradition and modernity, and the fractures that that can create, as well as the progress, and how that could be perceived. So, (my research) came from wanting to compile a more accurate archive (that could give) more visibility.”

So, visitors to the exhibition will find work from, among others, Saudi-Kuwaiti artist Munira Al-Kazi, whose work in the mid-Sixties was acquired by MoMA in New York and London’s V&A Museum.

“It’s commonplace for institutions throughout the Middle East and in the West today to collect works from the region, but in the mid-Sixties for the MoMA and the V&A to both have decided to collect Munira Al-Kadir’s work is special,” says Stoby. 

Visitors will also learn about the collective The Artist Friends of the GCC, which included in its ranks Yousef Ahmad from Qatar and Abdulrahman Alsoliman from Saudi Arabia and for a decade or more from 1975 exhibited around the Arab world, as well as in Europe.




Safeya Binzagr, ‘Zabun.’ (Supplied)

“They were a very cosmopolitan group who had all studied abroad or travelled abroad. Travelling is something that, generally, should be part of an artistic practice: Absorbing different influences and information.”

Stoby says she hopes the exhibition can be “the start of a conversation,” adding: “I suppose the difficulties inherent in the process of making it also point to further discussions that we hope to have.”

Some of those discussions will undoubtedly revolve around the definition of modernism itself. 

“If you take the word ‘modernism’ in the context in which it is meant, you realize that the ownership that has been ascribed to it is really fundamentally flawed — it’s an ongoing process in so many of our countries in the Global South, if you look at things from a non-Global North perspective.” Stoby says. “(Indian art historian) Geeta Kapur calls it ‘an incomplete process’ in India, and I consider that to be true of our region as well. It’s ongoing. And that’s what joins us. This conversation of tradition and modernity continues throughout the Gulf and is as present in artists’ work from the 1940s as it is in the last room of the exhibition in 2007. And if we were to have continued the exhibition it would have been present there as well.”

There are several other themes that run through the exhibition: Urbanization, development, society and self-representation. “Again, these are things that join us — our collective experience as a region,” Stoby says. 

The sub-title of the exhibition is “Pioneers and Collectives,” which is why, Stoby explains, some artists who may have expected to be included are not. 

“In this context, ‘pioneers’ means not just artist, but also founder, teacher, mentor,” she says. “(These are all people) who went on to do really important things for their countries, beyond their practice.”

Allison calls the exhibition “a kind of opening salvo and call to action, offering new vistas on art history and art practice in this region.”


Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF
Updated 06 December 2022

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF
  • Netflix hosted a creative space at Red Sea Souk to celebrate the pioneering spirit of four Arab filmmakers, Hana Al-Omair, Hend Sabri, Kaouther Ben Hania and Tima Shomali
  • Hana Al-Omair: I am so happy with the new change that the Saudi film industry is experiencing, especially with more females behind cameras and on-screen, and actresses

JEDDAH: Global video streaming giant Netflix recently released a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films in 2022 by women filmmakers spanning various genres, including documentaries, drama, and romance, as part of a dedicated collection titled “Because She Created.”

During the first six days of the Red Sea International Film Festival, Netflix hosted a creative space at Red Sea Souk to celebrate the pioneering spirit of four iconic women filmmakers from the Arab world, including Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia, Hend Sabri and Kaouther Ben Hania from Tunisia, and Jordan’s Tima Shomali.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The space aims to amplify women filmmakers’ voices to an international audience of esteemed industry professionals and future generations of female storytellers throughout the “Because She Created” platform so that more stories from the Arab world can be loved globally.

Al-Omair and Shomali showed up on the fifth day of the RSIFF for media junkets.

Al-Omair told Arab News that she likes to add a female element to her working crew because it adds balance.

Hana Al-Omair is from Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“I personally think that in front and behind of the camera, the more female characters, the better, because it is always about the stories by nature, which are always revolving around untold female stories.”

Al-Omair is an award-winning director and the woman behind the first Saudi thriller drama series on Netflix, “Whispers.”

She said that “Whispers” reflects on-the-ground women’s empowerment through screen.

“There are so many women working in a different field that we haven’t heard of on the screen,” she said: adding: “Netflix was the perfect platform for displaying my series as it helped to narrate the story of Saudi women in an unusual way.

“I am so happy with the new change that the Saudi film industry is experiencing, especially with more females behind cameras and on-screen, and actresses. All this would support more content and female stories to rise.”

Netflix has a special collection of Saudi content. For women filmmakers, it started with “Wadjda,” the work of iconic Saudi film director Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Shomali is director of “AlRawabi School for Girls,” a first-of-its-kind young adult series in the Arab region.

The six-episode series tells the story of a bullied high school girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.

Shomali is also a producer and scriptwriter. She told Arab News: “I am so happy to take part in this initiative that supports young Arab filmmakers, which is something I personally advocate for as it represents my work in terms of women empowering women in the industry.”

She added: “I feel like it is my responsibility to support female emerging talents in filmmaking because I did not have an easy journey, and a lot of people on the way gave me an opportunity to rise, and now I am interested to give back an opportunity for those young females passionate about the film industry.”

Netflix launched the “Because She Created” platform last year as a virtual panel talk hosting Arab women filmmakers discussing the evolving role of women in the industry.

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of Netflix content acquisitions in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey was also present at this year’s event.

She told Arab News: “What’s important for us is bringing Arabic stories from our region targeting the local market and at the same time for them to have that option to travel across the world … one and foremost is our support for female filmmakers, whether they are in front of the screen or behind the screen.”

The Netflix collection aims to give more people the chance to see their lives reflected on screen and entice new audiences to discover the work of women storytellers from the Arab world.

El-Tayeb added: “Yes, we want to support women. We want to bring these amazing movies to one place where people can watch it and enjoy the movies, and it’s a start to many more coming down the line with what we have created now.”

The collection celebrates the creativity of the Arab world’s greatest women storytellers, including the works of brilliant directors from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.


First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival
“Within Sand” is the first Saudi film shot in NEOM. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2022

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

RIYADH: “Within Sand,” the first Saudi film shot in NEOM, will premier at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 6.

The film’s director, Mohammed Al-Atawi, spoke to Arab News about the process and challenges of making the film. 

“Within Sand” follows Snam, a 23-year-old tobacco-merchant who breaks away from his trading convoy to reach his village quickly as his wife is about to give birth to their first child.

During his travels, Snam is ambushed by thieves who steal his tools and leave him for dead. In a quest to survive, Snam travels with a wolf trailing him while he struggles on his journey to keep his sanity as memories and the difficulties of loneliness torment him.

“In the film, I wanted to capture a genuine and organic relationship between a man and a wolf. I also focused on presenting the desert of north Saudi in a way that champions its mysterious beauty, not only the harsh nature of a desert,” said Al-Atawi. 

Behind the scenes on the set of ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The director shed some light on the inspiration behind the film’s name.

“Without spoiling a critical element in the story that inspired the name, the whole narrative takes place in the desert, and we witness Snam’s journey with the wolf, so the environment where the story takes place is significant to the story, and I wanted that to be reflected in the title,” Al-Atawi said.

Discussing the inspiration behind the film, Al-Atawi said: “The story of ‘the wolf companion’ is almost like a folkloric tale in Saudi culture, but it doesn’t have a lot of details about it. Hence, I took creative liberty and tried to approach it with complete creative control but also remain faithful to the original material.”

“During the development phase in The Red Sea Lodge, I had many meetings with director Mohammed Atteia, who was incredibly insightful in film craft and contributed a lot to how I approached some scenes,” the director said.

Behind the scenes on the set of ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The Red Sea Lodge is a program Al-Atawi was part of that aims to empower cinematic talents by equipping them with the knowledge and resources to launch a successful career in cinema.

The director began working on the film in 2019 with his producer Reem Al-Atawi. 

“COVID-19 postponed the shoot over three times, and at some point, due to weather issues, the shoot was delayed further. But our belief in the story is persistent, and we focused on making this film,” he said.

He highlighted that the writing process was continuous, with the final draft of the script being completed two and a half years from when he initially began writing.

“Writing a script can be time-consuming and creatively challenging, but it’s an organic process, where even during the shoot, I was writing new scenes as I felt more aware of the narrative and the film’s pacing,” he said.

The director added that the support he received from the Saudi Film Commission allowed him to bring the project to life.

A scene from ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The film was shot in the deserts of NEOM. “NEOM’s media sector chose it to be the first Saudi film to be shot in NEOM, and their support was vital in making the film in one of the best locations,” the director said.

Al-Atawi highlighted what it means to him to see his film featured in the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“First and foremost, it means we made a film that was appreciated by an international festival like the Red Sea, which is a significant accomplishment.

“It also means much more to me that the film’s first screening will be in Saudi Arabia, which is both an honor and a pressure to satisfy the Saudi audience’s expectations, which is not an easy task.”

To those interested in pursuing a career in the industry, Al-Atawi said that “having a career in film can be overwhelming at first, but it’s vital to have a passion for the craft. As challenging as it is, it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to create and share with an audience around the world.” 


Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan talks ‘Nezouh’ ahead of Red Sea premiere

Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan talks ‘Nezouh’ ahead of Red Sea premiere
The film took home the Armani Beauty Audience Award at this year's Venice Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2022

Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan talks ‘Nezouh’ ahead of Red Sea premiere

Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan talks ‘Nezouh’ ahead of Red Sea premiere
  • Coming-of-age drama inspired by photo of bombed house
  • The film took home the Armani Beauty Audience Award at this year's Venice Film Festival

DUBAI: Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan, who will showcase her lauded second feature film “Nezouh” at the ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 7, is no stranger to telling stories of conflict. But while other filmmakers may look to the violence and the tragedy, Kaadan turns to hope and the whimsical to bring context to the horrors.

“Because the experience is still so traumatic and so harsh and difficult and clear, (I) only could express my story with magical realism,” said Kaadan in a virtual interview with Arab News.

The filmmaker is excited to attend RSIFF 2022, saying the film festival has supported “Nezouh” from day one. “Antoine Khalife (director of Arab programs and film classics for the RSIFF) loved the film from the first cut. Even Kaleem Aftab (head of international programing) supported the film from the beginning, even before it was picked at the Venice Film Festival. I feel as a program and a festival, Red Sea is appreciating the stories we are telling,” said Kaadan.

Kaadan, who was born in France but moved to Syria as a child, started writing the script of “Nezouh” in 2013. At the time she had just fled the war-torn country with her sisters, and had also wrapped up writing her first feature “The Day I Lost My Shadow.”

 For the coming-of-age drama “Nezouh,” she was inspired by a photo of a bomb-damaged house in Syria. In her director’s statement on the Venice Film Festival’s website, Kaadan states that “Nezouh” in Arabic is the “displacement of souls, water and people; it is the displacement of light and darkness.”

A still from the film. (Supplied)

 “It started actually from a real photo of a bombed building, completely dark and destroyed. And there’s light invading the place from a hole in the ceiling. And this real image made me think it’s a metaphor and feel immediately that this is the image of my next film. It’s a metaphor of what happened in the country. It’s a tragic, tragic situation, but we can still find hope and light,” said Kaadan, who now lives in London.

 “Nezouh” sees Syrian actors Samer Al-Masri and Kinda Alloush play a husband and wife who are in conflict over whether to stay in their besieged hometown of Damascus or flee and become refugees. In the meantime, their 14-year-old daughter, played by newcomer Hala Zein, watches her world quite literally open up when a missile rips a hole in the roof and her neighbor, played by fellow newcomer Nizar Alani, throws down a rope.

 Discovering Hala Zein

 While the parents in the film are played by established Syrian actors, finding the 14-year-old protagonist took some time and effort. “She’s the spirit of the film and had to be someone who could carry the film,” said Kaadan.

“So, one week before rehearsals, she was having dinner with her family and someone from casting spotted her and she wasn't thinking at all to be an actress. But when she came to the casting, I immediately knew she could make it. She was strong, she was innocent, she was spontaneous, and she was also brave,” added Kaadan, visibly proud of her young lead star.

A still from the film. (Supplied)

 The filmmaker went on to explain the rigorous exercises Zein had to go through to be able to carry out the scenes where she had to climb a rope to reach the roof. “We had a safety team and a harness standing by in case she couldn’t (climb the rope) but every time she did it. We kept laughing because we were paying all this money for a team of people we didn’t need,” added Kaadan, still chuckling at the memory.

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs until Dec. 10.


Review: Red Sea title ‘Last Film Show’ is a haunting ode to cinema

Review: Red Sea title ‘Last Film Show’ is a haunting ode to cinema
Pan Nalin’s “Last Film Show” is India’s Oscars submission. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2022

Review: Red Sea title ‘Last Film Show’ is a haunting ode to cinema

Review: Red Sea title ‘Last Film Show’ is a haunting ode to cinema

JEDDAH: Pan Nalin’s autobiographical sketch “Last Film Show,” which is India’s Oscars submission and is part of the ongoing second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, is a heartening look at a young boy’s dreams, made more wonderful by the innocence reflected in the work.

Set in the lush green village of Chalala in the northern Indian state of Gujarat, Nalin takes us on a nostalgic trip to his boyhood. He discovers and understands the power of the movie medium and its ability to transport us to a dream world. After all, cinema is but dream, magical and mystical.

Samay (Bhavin Rabari) is the son of a humble tea seller. When he is not helping his father, he invariably bunks school and whiles away his hours thinking about movies. The father (Dipen Raval) keeps reminding him that they belong to an upper caste and passions like cinema bode ill for them.

“Watching films is not respectable,” he often admonishes the boy, sometimes not sparing the rod. Samay rebels and makes fun of his father and his ideas — “you sell tea... my teacher says that there are only two castes – one who speaks English and one who does not,” he tells his father.

Samay is steadfast in his resolve to find ways of making cinema a part of his life, and lucky for him he finds a single screen theater where he befriends the projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali).

Pan Nalin. (Supplied)

However, Samay is not interested in just watching movies, he wants to learn the art of how they are made and finds ingenious ways of doing so. He and his friends steal film reels and set up their own little show with the help of a variety of unbelievable gadgets, including a sewing machine.

It is fascinating to watch Samay’s inventions, but “Last Film Show” has a deeper meaning. It is an ode to cinema, the kind of cinema we grew up watching in small, single screen theaters. There is a very disturbing scene, when we see Fazal’s theatre being demolished to make way for a multiplex replete with digital equipment. It is telling that Nalin’s work comes at a time when there is a lot of anguish and uncertainty around the future of the big screen as streaming platforms continue their advance.

Beyond this, “Last Film Show” has gorgeous imagery, emotional relationships and offers a powerful take on caste and class. It is also about the need to move with the times — “Last Film Show” poignantly embodies change at an unhurried pace with an excellent performance by its young lead who is a natural star.


Bella Hadid wins big at 2022 Fashion Awards in London

Bella Hadid wins big at 2022 Fashion Awards in London
Updated 06 December 2022

Bella Hadid wins big at 2022 Fashion Awards in London

Bella Hadid wins big at 2022 Fashion Awards in London

DUBAI: Arab celebrities took to the red carpet and global names showed off designs from the Middle East as US Palestinian Dutch model Bella Hadid won the model of the year award during the Fashion Awards 2022 at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Monday night.

Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Alice Abdel Aziz hit the red carpet in a Fall/Winter 2022 ensemble by Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, complete with delicate feathers on the shoulders.

British actress Saffron Hocking and British model Munroe Bergdorf showed off glittering gowns by Lebanese Italian designer Tony Ward. Hocking opted for a sparkling silver column gown, while Bergdorf upped the ante in a larger-than-life royal blue gown emblazoned with silver embellishments.

Alice Abdel Aziz hit the red carpet in an ensemble by Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini. (Getty Images)

Hadid was not on hand to receive the prestigious prize, but she did give an on-screen acceptance speech.

Meanwhile, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli won the designer of the year prize, which was presented to Piccioli by British actress Florence Pugh who was dressed in a backless gown in Valentino’s signature red.

“To me fashion has a responsibility, I feel (I) have a voice and I want to use my voice even for who doesn’t have a voice,” Piccioli told Reuters on the red carpet before the awards.

Saffron Hocking showed off a glittering gown by Lebanese Italian designer Tony Ward. (Getty Images)

Other winners included Yvon Chouinard, founder of outerwear brand Patagonia, who received the outstanding achievement award.

In September, Chouinard said he was giving away the apparel company to a trust that will use its profit to fight the climate crisis. British brand Burberry won the metaverse world and gaming experience award for its ventures into the virtual world.

The red carpet was as glamorous as the ceremony, with stars from around the world putting their best foot forward. Dramatic trains were championed by more than one famous face, with model Adut Akech opting for a train-heavy look by designer Nensi Dojaka as Kristen McMenamy followed suit in a Valentino number while British model Jourdan Dunn showed off a look by Stephane Rolland. British supermodel Naomi Campbell wore a caped shimmering gown by Valentino, complete with ruching on the bodice.