From West Bank ‘apartheid wall’ to gallery walls in Italy: Cake$’s activist art goes on show

From West Bank ‘apartheid wall’ to gallery walls in Italy: Cake$’s activist art goes on show
A Child Is Born In Bethlehem exhibition at the Palazzo Oddo Gallery in Albenga, Italy. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 September 2022

From West Bank ‘apartheid wall’ to gallery walls in Italy: Cake$’s activist art goes on show

From West Bank ‘apartheid wall’ to gallery walls in Italy: Cake$’s activist art goes on show
  • Exhibition showcases the artist's entire repertoire, including photography of his street art in Palestine, original stencils, linocuts and video art
  • Cake$’s contrast between the tragic and absurd has reportedly moved several visitors to tears

LONDON: The work of European street artist and activist Cake$, who uses public art to protest against Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank and as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people, is currently on display for the first time in Italy.

The exhibition, titled A Child Is Born In Bethlehem, opened at the Palazzo Oddo Gallery in Albenga on Sep. 4 and continues until Sep. 19. Curated by British-Palestinian art collector, activist and journalist Zayna Al-Saleh and Italian collector Lorenzo Sibilla, it showcases the entirety of the artist’s work to date, including photography of his street art in Palestine, original stencils, linocuts and video art.

Cake$, who guards his true identity and describes himself on his Instagram page as an “open-air prison artist,” has created more than 300 works in Bethlehem over the past four years.

The title of the exhibition references a 16th-century hymn by Samuel Scheidt, which organizers said allows for the juxtaposition of divinity and profanity, past and present, perceived spaces and their actuality to frame the contemporary Palestinian experience, drawing much-needed attention to the persecution of the Christian Palestinian community in the Occupied Territories.

Israel’s separation barrier, dubbed an “apartheid wall” by human rights campaigners, is viewed by many as a symbol of occupation. Cake$ told Arab News that he paints on the wall to advocate for non-reformist reforms that diminish the power of an oppressive system while emphasizing the system's inability to solve the problems it creates.




"Little Palestinian Girl Hula Hooping Barbed Wire" (2019). (Supplied)

His artworks often depict dark silhouettes of children combined with military symbols. As they play or live with tools of war, such as barbed wire, the children seem unaware they are in imminent danger.

The use of single-color silhouettes helps to reinforce his very clear and hard hitting message. The images serve to illustrate the fact that humans are not born violent or hateful but cultural conditions can cause them to become that way. Some of his works feature monitory text, such as “CAUTION/ Toys Of Any Kind Prohibited” (2019) and “I Was An Angel and They Tear Gassed Me” (2020).

Cake$ pointed out that in addition to the obvious Palestinian connections, his images also have another, more universal, message.

“The girl with the barbed wire, it’s not just about the kids in Palestine that are suffering because of the wall but all kids that suffer because of a border system,” he said. “The situation in Palestine is really special because it’s been there for 20 years this year.”

Repetition of imagery is an important part of activist street art, said exhibition co-curator Al-Saleh.

“There is a very persistent condition involved with activist art, especially street art, due to the material impermanence of it, because art on the wall gets painted over quite regularly,” she said.

“This means Cake$’s approach to painting in Bethlehem is done with serious persistence, just so that his message remains visible and that his presence has been felt by Palestinians and by tourists and passersby alike.”




Two of Cake$'s linocuts created for A Child Is Born In Bethlehem. (Supplied)

That said, in creating a series of linocuts for the exhibition, Cake$ chose not to simply replicate images of his street art and instead reworked them to better fit the blank space of the gallery walls. In doing so he is “redirecting his public art practice to smaller-scale images, to situate his work at the very boundary between Bethlehem and a safe art institution,” according to the exhibition organizers.

“I wanted to recreate these images in a contemporary art way so I used the motifs and the barbed wire to create a more complicated image,” Cake$ said.

Some of his most striking works on display are those that reinterpret the works of Old Masters to reflect the Palestinian narrative. For example, in his piece that homages Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” retitled “The Persistence of Apartheid,” three masks dangle loosely with an Israeli watchtower visible in the background.




"Persistence of Apartheid (Dali)" (2019). (Supplied)

“We all put on masks, in some way or another, and for some people it’s better for them to put on masks than to see the truth of apartheid,” said Cake$.

The exhibition deals with heavy concepts, which can provoke extreme emotional responses. The contrast between the tragic and absurd has reportedly moved several visitors to tears. However, if one looks closely, there are perhaps glimmers of hope in some of the works on display.

Speaking about a linocut titled “Little Palestinian Girl Removing Barbed Wire” (2022), Cake$ said: “I used chalk to paint something in a more expressionist way, which will show the way I see the future beyond barbed wire.”

From Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s famous character Handala to British street artist Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, visual activism has played an integral role in supporting Palestinian resistance on a global scale. Art has an emotional and personal element that means it can educate, enlighten and empower people to bring about change.

“I don’t want to change the politics of borders or make them more humane but instead demolish walls and borders,” Cake$ said. “That’s what I try to show by painting on the apartheid wall.

“What I call border abolition is concerned with expanding this freedom, the freedom to move and to stay. This does not mean advocating for free movement in the world as it is currently configured but rather for transformation of the conditions to which borders are a response.”

In an age of cynicism, Cake$ dares viewers to look at the world as it is and imagine what it could be.


Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
Updated 03 December 2022

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
  • The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: A panel discussion was held today in Jeddah during the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, titled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen,” to shed light on the journey of transforming the best-selling novel “HWJN” into a movie.

From written words to the screen, the speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of transforming it for the big screen.

The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the number one best-selling novel in the history of Saudi Arabia when released in 2013. It is the first book of a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that depict the results of interacting with the unknown realm of the jinn, which co-exists with the human world.

Translator Yasser Bahjatt, Actress Al Anood Saud, Director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Actress Nour  Khadra, Actor Baraa Alem. (AN photo)

Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance story details the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to stop the evil of their worlds from slipping into each other.

It also sheds light on good jinns and shows the world from their perspective, with humans haunting their homes, and shows how some humans are more evil to each other than jinn are to them.

The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.

At first, Al-Yasiri did not take an interest in the book, until his friend insisted he reads it. “I read it overnight and I was actually like: Woah, this is something I want to work on,” said Al-Yasiri in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.

He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and to “break the norm and bring something fresh.”

The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as a director and Al-Yasiri as a producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading Al-Yasiri to become the director, and he proceeded with filming.

The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the world of humans, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of the jinn, which humankind cannot see. The jinn man takes an interest in knowing Sawsan and her family after they move to a new house, where Hawjan and his family have been living for years.

While trying to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers that he comes from a royal bloodline and tries to reclaim his right to the throne.

The script, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story has the necessary changes for the screen, but does not drift away from the book.

One of the biggest challenges the crew faced was creating a city that exists in the jinn world —Milaj City, which no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they had to bear in mind the civilizational scenery of the jinn world, which existed before humans.

Casting the actors was a bit tricky, trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of the brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan, and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.

As the book became a major hit in 2013, the publishing houses were ordered by the religious police to stop selling it 11 months after its release, as it stirred controversy among parents who started complaining that their children were learning black magic, and how to call upon jinn.

One month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors, and the reviewing committee, made sure it was clear of the claims.

A teaser trailer was released earlier today by Vox Cinema, giving a glimpse into the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC, and Vox Cinema, the movie will be out in 2023.

 


Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Super Hero experience tells Boulevard World visitors the story of The Avengers

Visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them. (Supplied)
  • The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment

RIYADH: The Super Hero experience takes visitors of Boulevard World, one of the 15 entertainment zones of Riyadh Season, on a training trip to Marvel World with the SHIELD team, accompanied by Stan Lee, who tells the story of the Avengers and how to use the team’s weapons in a digital experience that turns visitors into distinguished heroes.

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

Through the experience, visitors can live the details in a 3D simulation, by standing in front of the heroes and taking pictures with them in a form closer to reality than imagination. Visitors can also have fun in the Marvel World, the Hall of Superheroes, the Draw Your Hero activity, and the augmented reality mirror.

HIGHLIGHT

The experience takes visitors to the shooting wall, where they learn to use the weapons of their superheroes and choose the appropriate items for each stage. Through the training area, visitors also have option to solve puzzles, search for missing data, and impersonate heroes to measure their physical capabilities.

The Super Hero experience includes the old TV room, which contains a TV set with distorted frequencies, to enhance the feeling of fear and tension among the participants in the experiment. It also has a street room where people are chased by zombies.

The zone allows visitors to shop in the Super Hero store, which includes a huge assortment of Marvel, DC and Comic-Con products, including collectibles and costumes.

Tickets can be booked via the link: https://ticketmx.riyadhseason.sa/en/d/2430/boulevard-world

Boulevard World is at the heart of the third Riyadh Season. It includes the 10 culturally-oriented subzones from all over the world, featuring customs and lifestyles, folklore, dances, and prominent aspects of design and construction.

Visitors can learn about the cultures of China, Italy, France, India, Morocco, Spain, America, Japan, Greece and Mexico.

For both families and individuals, Boulevard World is a premier entertainment destination, featuring a host of experiences, including rides in hot air balloons, submarines and boats.

It has the largest man-made lake in the world, where boats can travel between cities through 11 stations. It also offers the Area 15 experience from Las Vegas; The Sphere, the biggest spherical theater in the world; a city for gaming fans; comic book and anime-themed activities; and plenty of family-friendly entertainment options.

Visitors can enjoy a ride in a Venetian gondola, taste American cuisine, shop for the best Spanish products and watch flamenco shows.

 


Virtual Reality Zone hits center stage at Red Sea International Film Festival

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Virtual Reality Zone hits center stage at Red Sea International Film Festival

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young. (Supplied)
  • Liz Rosenthal told Arab News: “Virtual reality is many different things. One project is entirely different from another
  • The projects range from video games to stories and art galleries

JEDDAH: The Virtual Reality Zone came into its own at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Saturday, showcasing 10 different projects, six of which were directed by women, ranging from video games to stories and art galleries.

Liz Rosenthal, the curator of the zone, said that in terms of telling stories, the VR medium “is in a league of its own.”

She told Arab News: “Virtual reality is many different things. One project is entirely different from another.

“Unlike movies, where you know that it has a beginning, middle, and an end on a flat screen, in VR you may be doing something with one person, two, or 100.”

The curator is seeking to show what is possible within the VR world. The projects were chosen with the Saudi audience in mind.

She added: “We make sure that we have something for everyone, so there are things for younger people, families and people who have different tastes.”

The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young.

Rosenthal said: “Even in countries like the UK, in the European region, (even in) the biggest companies, it is still too young.

“Ithra in Saudi Arabia started a year-and-a-half ago and they have made their projects, so that’s really great to see that Saudi is trying to appear on the map for VR products.”

Rosenthal added that it is important to develop further as the VR world needed people with the knowledge and tools to tell stories and create experiences into the future.

She said: “In some ways it is easier to come into a new medium because there is less of a structure stopping people, compared to something that has been going on for years like the cinema.

“It is difficult to break in, but here people are so much more welcoming.

“Another thing you need to understand is that it is real time; you are interacting with things that are around you.

“You need a lot of skills to create a good experience. Being just one thing is not enough: you need to be a good artist, a good architect, and much more.”

A recent development has been a gaming project called “Eggscape,” a multiplayer game. It allows the player to see through the lens of a VR headset and into their own surroundings. The game then projects characters and the player interacts.

Rosenthal said the game shows the future potential of VR, and the direction in which the medium is going.

 


Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Souk welcomes storytellers

Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Souk welcomes storytellers

Twitter (@RedSeaFilm)
  • Event offers creatives, professionals chance to create business opportunities
  • It is part of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Souk returned for the second Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Saturday.
The four-day souk will be packed with pitching sessions, meetings, screenings, industry talks and networking events.
Last year’s souk had more than 3,500 accredited industry professionals and organizers, with executives from 46 countries. This year is expected to have an even bigger number of people making it happen.
Zain Zedan, souk manager at the festival, said: “I’ve been working with the RSIFF since 2019. It has been a great pleasure to see the growth of the festival over the years, and where it’s leading, and the number of great films we’re having year by year, and the projects we’re supporting and funding.”
In the souk’s exhibitors’ area, the number of companies has more than doubled since last year, from 19 to 43 from nine countries.
“We’re always trying to expand and bring an international presence … whether it’s from Africa, Arab regions or Europe,” said Zedan.
“Since it’s an international festival, we’re always trying to welcome everyone and show them the abundance of potential we have in the region.”
Referring to a challenge earlier this year whereby people created short films in 48 hours, Zedan said: “They produced them in such a short time and the results were amazing. Two of the films were selected to be part of the RSIFF. So we’re supporting people in different ways, any way we can.”

 


US Levantine artist Sarah Awad: ‘What’s exciting about painting is the sense of the unknown’ 

US Levantine artist Sarah Awad: ‘What’s exciting about painting is the sense of the unknown’ 
Sarah Awad's "Cosmic Harmonizers" (2022). (Supplied)
Updated 01 December 2022

US Levantine artist Sarah Awad: ‘What’s exciting about painting is the sense of the unknown’ 

US Levantine artist Sarah Awad: ‘What’s exciting about painting is the sense of the unknown’ 
  • The Los Angeles-based painter discusses her first show in the Middle East 

DUBAI: Los Angeles-based painter Sarah Awad was born to a Lebanese-Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. Despite her Levantine-Arab roots, however, she only made her first visit to the Middle East in November, to install her show at The Third Line in Dubai, “Rainbow Clearance and Other Paintings,” which will occupy the gallery’s two floors until Dec. 16.  

“The thing that really struck me about Dubai was the international community and how vibrant and diverse it is,” Awad tells Arab News. “People are really hospitable, warm and engaged. They come and they participate. It feels small, because everyone knows each other and supports each other.”  

Sarah Awad. (Supplied)

Awad has been interested in art since childhood. “Art education in the States is not great and my family are not artists, but my mom always exposed me to creative projects,” she says. “For some reason, when I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a painter. 

“I don’t think I can imagine doing anything else. I think painting is both a joy and a gift, and also a source of tension, because there’s always a sense of not being satisfied or feeling like there’s still questions and something unresolved,” she continues. “I think what is exciting to me about painting is the sense of the unknown. To make a great painting, you have to experience not knowing.” 

The works in the exhibition demonstrate Awad’s practice of layering and merging shapes, colors and faces together. The form is free-flowing and bold, marked with thick, fearless brushstrokes. The use of color — she isn’t afraid of juxtaposing light and dark — is a constant theme in her work. “An initial starting point for me is thinking about the palette and color relationships. Sometimes, it doesn’t work,” she says with a laugh.  

Sarah Awad's "Phantom Web" (2022). (Supplied)

“I’m really interested in a color that doesn’t feel like it should work but does,” she continues. “It’s all about how they work in relationship to one another. In much of the work, you’ll see a really vibrant, saturated color that is sort of offset by a more neutral color, or a color coming through other colors, carving out its own niche. I like that to be a surprising moment in the painting.” 

While the paintings contain elements of abstraction and figuration, Awad refrains from labeling her style. “I don’t have a categorization for it. I think it situates itself along certain lines of questions that painters had, historically, about abstraction,” she says.  

“They’re not process-based paintings, but at the same time, they use intuition and language that stems from (abstract expressionists) Helen Frankenthaler or Willem de Kooning — this kind of way of responding to materiality and then imposing a conscious structure to the work. It’s not just about material improvisation, or accident, it’s also about intention,” Awad continues. 

"Neon Pulse" (2022). (Supplied)

At times, it seems as though there may be hidden figures in some of Awad’s work. Some are in intimate conversations, while another is looking straight at the viewer or is lost in thought. Each image seems to have a story of its own.  

“I think they’re kind of open-ended. The way that I think about their situating in the painting is often just a gesture,” Awad says. “They’re gestures of intimacy but also of looking — the act of looking. I think that there’s a way in which they ask you to kind of engage with them and the painting.” 

In recent years, the contemporary art scene has changed, with large installations and on-site projects that are more likely to get picked up by social media becoming increasingly popular. There is something humble, then, in Awad’s back-to-basics approach to staging her work, allowing viewers to contemplate the images directly and appreciate once again the art of painting.  

“I haven’t found a need to do other things,” says Awad. “I find painting to be so challenging as a discipline and so rich that you can stay inside that box for your whole life and still never find the edges of it. I think the reason it feels sort of anarchic in today’s world is that it takes time, and I don’t know if the younger generation is conditioned for that.”