DUBAI: In 1827, the people of Paris saw the rarest of sights. The ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, sent an unusual diplomacy gift to King Charles X of France: A female giraffe from Nubia, dubbed “la belle africaine,” that caused a sensation and set trends in French society.
This real-life and little-known story inspired Paris-based couple Oliver Gee and Lina Nordin Gee to create their third and latest children’s book, “Grace the Giraffe,” which will be released in October.
It captures a light-hearted aspect of this historical event. “A few books have been written about the giraffe, but they’re quite dry,” Oliver, an Australian, and host of The Earful Tower podcast, told Arab News.
“We thought the fun part of the story was just as much this reaction from Parisians,” he continued. “It’s a fashion story of people going crazy, where women had their hair looking like the horns or ears of the giraffe.”
Originally from southern Sudan, the giraffe was transported via the Nile and crossed the Mediterranean, landing in Marseille. “She was in a boat with a hole so her head could stick out, which is amazing,” noted Oliver.
The giraffe endured a long and arduous journey as she was walked from Marseille to Paris for weeks. She grew physically along the way, accompanied by a procession of cows that provided milk. “By the time that she was in Marseille, a giraffe hadn’t been in Europe for 300 years,” said Oliver. “So today, it would be like an alien is here.”
In Paris, the giraffe lived in a zoo for under two decades until her death. “Everybody went to see her,” said Oliver. “Even in the small cities, half the population came to see her go past. It was insane.” She achieved her own kind of celebrity, as the elegant creature appeared on fans and ceramics. Luckily, the giraffe’s body has been preserved over the years and is currently on display at a museum in La Rochelle, France.
“Grace the Giraffe” was written by Oliver and illustrated by his wife, Lina. Told in rhyming couplets with little twists in the narrative, the charming piece of work features colorful spreads of Grace’s boat journey, extraordinary procession, and whirlwind arrival in the French capital.
The news of the book’s publication has been well-received online, sparking interest from readers of all ages. “From a history perspective,” said Oliver, “it’s cool to know that children and adults will be learning about a fascinating story.”
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
Updated 01 December 2022
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
Music producer RedOne scores 2022 World Cup winning song
Single ‘Dreamers’ tops iTunes, Spotify charts
Moroccan-Swede’s hit performed by BTS band
Updated 01 December 2022
LONDON: RedOne, the superstar music producer and award-winning songwriter, is celebrating a major victory off the pitch at the World Cup, with his new single becoming the most successful song of football’s premier event.
The single “Dreamers” of the hit-maker, who has Moroccan and Swedish heritage, was recorded by South Korean boy band BTS member Jung Kook, and is part of the official World Cup soundtrack. It reached No. 1 on the iTunes chart in more than 100 countries and is also No. 1 on Spotify’s chart worldwide.
“The Official FIFA World Cup soundtrack was the brainchild of RedOne, who was appointed Creative Entertainment Executive of FIFA in December 2021,” a FIFA statement said.
“Tasked with forging new and significant connections between football fans, music fans, players and artists, RedOne, who is one of the most influential figures in modern music history, has successfully harnessed his considerable gifts and a network of talent to deliver a project that unites football fans, regardless of where they come from,” it added.
In addition to Jung Kook from BTS, RedOne selected artists including Ozuna and Davido, with whom to collaborate.
RedOne, whose name is Nadir Khayat, said: “First and foremost, I am a huge football fan, so to be part of the World Cup is a profound honor. Music is synonymous with football — the emotion, the passion, the euphoria, the unexpected, the harmonious beauty, even the moments of deep reflection. And like football, music is also a universal language, it can break down barriers and truly unite people.”
As part of the official soundtrack, RedOne released the song “Hayya Hayya” (“Better Together”), which has been rocking stadiums pre-match throughout the tournament.
The track features Afrobeats icon Davido, Qatari sensation Aisha and US breakout artist Trinidad Cardona, and combines influences from around the world including R&B and reggae.
“The World Cup is a festival as well as a competition, so when I signed up with FIFA, I wanted to capture that collective spirit. I had a vision and concept to write and produce the first-ever official soundtrack for the World Cup, collaborating with talent from both the region and from around the world,” RedOne added.
Emirati painter Almaha Jaralla explores grandmother’s journey at art fair
Updated 01 December 2022
DUBAI: In the 1970s, a bold and adventurous young woman from Yemen named Shadia drove by herself across the Arabian Peninsula — from Aden to Kuwait and eventually to the UAE — seeking a better life.
Today, her granddaughter, the Emirati painter Almaha Jaralla, is telling Shadia’s story through a series of figurative paintings that were on display at the 2022 edition of Abu Dhabi Art in November.
“I wanted to go back to my past by looking at the family archives, not just to look at my family background, but also to understand the modern history of the Gulf,” Jaralla tells Arab News.
Jaralla scoured grainy old snapshots of Shadia — with her elegant frocks and striking jet-black hair — taken in several Gulf states, as well as in Cairo, where she studied at a time when her homeland was emerging from British occupation and moving toward becoming a socialist state.
“It’s, like, this lost history that no one talks about. It was so recent,” says Jaralla. “It can be a very heavy subject but talking about it can be a good introduction to have a bit of curiosity of how people lived through those days.”
Despite the political climate in the country, there were some liberties, socially. “When people hear about Yemen, they will have this idea that it’s conservative,” she says. “My grandmother studied outside — like lots of other women — and wore beautiful dresses. It was very normalized. To me, the pictures were shocking, but it was just a different time, that’s why I didn’t understand it.”
Some of Jaralla’s new paintings are based on the photographs, showing Shadia with family and strangers she encountered along her journey. “Even my mom was surprised that she used to go out and talk to people and have fun,” says Jaralla. “I feel that’s what started the whole show, seeing her in Kuwait having fun. She didn’t care if she was surrounded by men or women. She would talk to everyone.”
In one image, a group of people are huddled inside a lime green car. “That was from the Kuwait trip. She was there for work training. Seeing my grandmother driving men in the car was just surreal,” Jaralla says with a chuckle.
One of the show’s key works is “Al Dayan,” inspired by a photo of Jaralla’s grandparents and their children, their heads barely appearing over the bottom of the image. “Her kids’ faces are cropped (out of the photo) and I asked my grandmother why that was,” Jaralla says. “She said: ‘It’s because I got new curtains. I wanted them (in the picture).’ That says a lot about her personality. She has a strong personality. She overpowers everyone around her.”
The exhibition’s color palette is reminiscent of the greens and pinks of the Seventies. Some of them are patterned, a nod to traditional Yemeni embroidery. The faces are portrayed with unclear features, almost fading like a lost memory. “I didn’t focus on the features, so people can relate to it,” explains the artist. “It’s not only about the people in the picture, it’s a shared history.”
In a series she calls ‘City Studies,’ Jaralla depicts the old houses, vernacular architecture, and streets of Abu Dhabi. “I treat houses like portraits,” she says. “I’ll stand in front of a house and I imagine that architectural elements are like clothes. When a person builds his house, he thinks about how he (wants to) represent himself.”
Jaralla, now in her twenties, started painting when she was in engineering school. She was tutored by the Emirati conceptual artist Afra Al-Dhaheri, and is, she says, inspired by contemporary Arab art, particularly established UAE artists such as Mohammed Kazem and Farah Al-Qasimi.
This show was Jaralla’s first time participating at Abu Dhabi Art, which had a notable focus this year on female artists.
“I wanted to show how strong women are,” Jaralla says. “I would say women in the past had different challenges than we are dealing with right now. But I see a lot of strong women every day.”
Must-see movies from the Arab world at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 01 December 2022
DUBAI: Here are just a few of the features from Arab filmmakers showing at this week’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which runs from Dec. 1-10 in Jeddah.
‘A Gaza Weekend’
Director: Basil Khalil
Cast: Stephen Mangan, Loai Noufi, Mouna Hawa, Adam Bakri
British-Palestinian filmmaker Basil Khalil’s debut feature has been eagerly awaited by cinema lovers following the success of his smart, satirical short “Ave Maria,” which was nominated for an Oscar in 2016. Judging by early reviews, Khalil has delivered. The film is set during a viral pandemic unleashed on Israel after a security lapse at an infectious-disease lab, but was reportedly in development before COVID-19 brought unwelcome topicality to the subject. Michael, an English journalist, is trapped in the country, but is offered an escape route into Gaza — ironically now the safest place in the area, as no one can officially get in or out — by two Palestinians, Waleed and Emad, who are aspiring, though untalented, people smugglers. But Michael refuses to leave without his girlfriend, the uptight Keren. That complicates things, since Keren is an Israeli whose presence could get them all killed. While the couple hide in Waleed’s basement, Keren’s incessant complaining drives Waleed’s wife Nuhad — clearly smarter than her bumbling husband — to assist their escape, against her better judgment, all while evading the scrutiny of Hamas.
Director: Mohammed Al-Salman
Cast: Asem Alawad, Ibrahim Khairallah, Abdullah Aljafal
Al-Salman’s debut feature has been selected as Saudi Arabia’s entry to next year’s Oscars. It’s a comedy-drama about 30-year-old Nasser — a young man who feels his life is drifting and who struggles to connect with his father. But when Nasser is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and scheduled to undergo a potentially fatal operation, he finds new purpose — particularly when he becomes enthralled by a beautiful but mysterious woman. Determined to win her heart, he turns to his friends for advice. That advice is generally terrible, but Nasser accepts a challenge to woo her by singing her a love poem.
Director: Soudade Kaadan
Cast: Kinda Alloush, Hala Zein, Samer Al-Masri, Nizar Alani
The acclaimed Syrian filmmaker’s latest feature picked up the Audience Award at the Venice Film Festival for its moving portrayal of a 14-year-old girl and her family torn between leaving their home in Damascus and becoming refugees, or staying where they ‘belong’ (as Zeina’s father Motaz argues). Zeina’s mother is concerned not only about the family’s physical safety, but also the prospect of Zeina being married off to a soldier. The family’s worries only increase when a missile rips a hole in their roof, but when a rope is mysteriously lowered into the hole, Zeina is introduced to a world of new possibilities. “Most of the refugee films about Syria were either trying to present us as victims or heroes, in a black-and-white narrative,” Kaadan said in promotional material for the movie. “But of course, we are neither one nor the other, like any human being. In all my films, I want the audience to feel that Syrian refugees are their equals. (This) could be any family around the world who is facing a dilemma of whether to stay or leave everything behind.”
Director: Lofty Nathan
Cast: Adam Bessa, Salima Maatoug, Najib Allagui, Ikbal Harbi
Billed as “an impassioned plea for social justice,” Nathan’s debut feature wowed critics at Cannes, with Adam Bessa picking up a Best Performance award in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section. Bessa plays Ali, a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, the Tunisian city where another street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in 2010 and started the Jasmine Revolution. Ali continually risks his life heading into the desert to buy the gasoline he sells on the black market, only for the police to extort most of his profits. Already in debt since the death of his father, and with his two younger sisters to provide for, Ali turns to his emotionally distant brother for help.
‘Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo’
Directors: Marya Zarif, André Kadi
Voice cast: Rachaf Ataya, Elsa Mardorissian, Manuel Tadros, Raïa Haidar
Zarif and Kadi’s feature is clearly designed to appeal to kids with its simple-but-striking animation, but will, as Screen Daily noted in its review, likely “prove to be a disarmingly potent proposition for adult animation fans also.” Six-year-old Dounia is forced to leave her home in Aleppo when her father is arrested in the middle of the night. Her mother died when Dounia was a baby, so the girl is accompanied by her grandparents. Through them, she connects to her homeland’s culture, particularly music and cooking, and through the five nigella seeds her grandma gives her as her journey as a refugee begins, her imagination runs free, connecting her with a character from stories her father used to tell her.
The Moroccan filmmaker’s latest feature focuses on husband and wife Halim (Saleh Bakri) and Mina (Lubna Azabal), a middle-aged couple who run a traditional caftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. Struggling to maintain their livelihood, they hire a talented young man named Youssef to help out. His arrival has a profound effect on the couple’s relationship, with Halim, in particular, forced to confront, and accept, his true self. The British Film Institute hailed the movie as “an emotionally complex, richly empathetic depiction of a partnership sustained through storms and challenges.”
Chebbi’s first solo feature starts out as a police procedural, but develops into something much weirder with supernatural elements. Set in Tunis’ Gardens of Carthage — a development project put on hold during the 2011 revolution and still unfinished — it focuses on detectives Fatma and Batal as they investigate the discovery of the burned corpse of a caretaker, under pressure from their bosses to label the case a suicide. When a similarly burned body — this time of a young maid — is found, witnesses tell them that a man with a “burning hand” is responsible.
Two Egyptian Coptic festivals added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list
Muslims in Egypt often join their Coptic Christian countrymen to celebrate the two festivals
Updated 01 December 2022
DUBAI: Two annual festivals held in Egypt to commemorate the journey of Jesus, Joseph and Mary from Bethlehem to Egypt in order to flee King Herod have been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, it was announced on Wednesday.
Muslims in Egypt often join their Coptic Christian countrymen to celebrate the two festivals, called the Festival of the Advent of the Holy Family and the Nativity of the Virgin. The former is held at the start of June, while the latter is marked between May and August each year.
Meanwhile, the French baguette — “250 grams of magic and perfection,” in the words of President Emmanuel Macron, and one of the abiding symbols of the nation — was also given UNESCO heritage status on Wednesday.
The bread, with its crusty exterior and soft middle, has remained a quintessential part of French life long after other stereotypes like berets and strings of garlic have fallen by the wayside.
More than six billion are baked every year in France, according to the National Federation of French Bakeries, and the UN agency's “intangible cultural heritage status” honors the tradition.
“It celebrates a whole culture: the daily ritual, a structural element of a meal, synonymous with sharing and conviviality,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Speaking from Washington during a visit to the US, Macron praised the UNESCO recognition of French “know-how.”