DOHA: Qatar unveiled Tuesday its landmark Museum of Islamic Art after an 18-month renovation ahead of the World Cup in a bid to be a “showcase” for the Arab world.
“We are the biggest Museum of Islamic Art in this region... and we are in the middle of the Arab world,” said museum director Julia Gonnella. “Where better can you learn about Islamic culture and art and history than here?“
The museum showcases 14 centuries of Islamic art and artefacts from around the world.
Constructed on a purpose-built island on Doha’s waterfront promenade, the building is the work of the late US architect I.M. Pei, one of the best-known architects of the 20th century.
The five-story building has redesigned its collections, with some two-thirds of the thousand exhibits new to the museum.
“Before it was only about the art, now it’s about culture,” Gonnella said. “We really want to tell the stories behind the masterpieces.”
Qatar has spent billions of dollars on new stadiums for the first football World Cup in an Arab country, which kicks off on November 20.
As the sporting festival approaches, Doha is leading an cultural push, including erecting dozens of works of public art, and opened the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum earlier this year.
Saudi writer, director and producer Ali Al-Kalthami talks success
As one of the co-founders of Telfaz11, the writer-director-producer is now reaping the rewards of years spent establishing an authentic entertainment industry in the Kingdom
Updated 28 January 2023
DUBAI: Ali Al-Kalthami is trying not to let it all go to his head. But that’s easier said than done. As one of the three co-founders of the pioneering Saudi production company Telfaz11, Al-Kalthami is one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s film future. And, as we’ve seen over the last two months, that future is now.
In that short span of time, Telfaz11’s film “Raven Song” became the latest Saudi submission to the Academy Awards, their theatrical release “Sattar” became the highest-grossing Saudi film in history, and their latest feature, “Al Khallat+,” just became the first Netflix original film from Saudi.
“This is not overnight success, of course,” Al-Kalthami explains to Arab News. “It’s been 12 years of experience, 12 years of staying true to our stories, our philosophy, and our talents. We’re grateful that all of these projects are flourishing at the same time, but we’ve been working a long time for these things to take place, and we’re most proud that we got here by doing it the right way — doing it our way.”
We’re speaking to the writer/director/producer over Zoom and he doesn’t want to turn his camera on. It’s nothing personal, he explains, he’s just been filming for 12 hours straight, directing his upcoming theatrical feature “Night Courier,” a dark crime comedy, in Riyadh and he doesn’t want anyone to see him. His mood, however, belies his exhaustion — he’s still thrilled to gush about “Al Khallat+,” perhaps the Telfaz11 project that is closest to his heart.
The film is a continuation of the 22-episode anthology web series he created, which has amassed an astounding 1.5 billion views — a viewership far too big to qualify this as a ‘cult hit.’ Rather, Al-Kalthami and co., through their years of viral YouTube videos, have defined what Saudi Arabia’s mainstream entertainment looks like, building grassroots support with content that is wholeheartedly Saudi, made with a love and authenticity that allows them to push boundaries and subvert expectations, an aesthetic that is defined in “Al-Khallat.”
“From the start, I thought about doing a show that reflects the Saudi psyche. We wanted to capture everyday life in a way that that appeals to real people with engaging, well-crafted storytelling,” the creator explains.
While “Al Khallat+” tells a number of unrelated stories — two thieves crash a wedding to rescue their captured partner, a chef risks his restaurant trying to save his parent’s marriage, a mother searches for her husband who in turn is searching for his son in a nightclub — they each share a defining theme, one that Al-Kalthami and his collaborators discovered while holed up writing together during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“We went back to the 22 episodes we’d released on the internet, and wanted to figure out what worked and what didn’t as we started to work on the feature. And for some strange reason, we found that the stories that worked had something in common. In each of them, there was a character who had to hustle their way out of an issue brought on by society’s restrictions — and we don’t mean that negatively,” Al-Kalthami says.
“If you think about Saudi Arabia as a largely conservative society, that comes with a lot of rules that cause restraints on social life. Watching people hustle around those restraints becomes funny, because people can relate to those situations. We approach it with a very local mindset, and that allows Saudis to come along for the ride with us.”
While “Al Khallat” has a perspective purely his own, Al-Kalthami is always quick to give credit to his collaborators. If he is proud of anything personally, it’s that he’s created a platform which has allowed the Kingdom’s rising talent to thrive, from the myriad actors featured to the crew behind the camera, many of whom he has known for years.
“When I saw the first edit, I was very emotional. I was able to see in front of my eyes so clearly all the ideas that we’d written come to life through such great production. Fahad Alammari, the director, executed this so well, for example, and seeing all these actors — all of my friends — having fun bringing these characters to life is so rewarding,” says Al-Kalthami.
“From the beginning, I always wanted this to go somewhere beyond the internet. I had no other experience at the time, but I knew we would get there eventually. To have something that I created with my friends get picked up and treated as a franchise is very humbling.”
The challenge that Al-Kalthami now faces is to keep pushing forward and rewriting the template that he and his collaborators have made.
“As a writer, you often create this illusion around yourself when you create something successful. If you’re not careful, there’s a barrier that rises between you and reality. You have to force yourself not to believe the hype, to be true to who you are and true to the society you live in — and force yourself to keep living in it. You can’t isolate yourself and become carried away by your success,” he says. “You have to embrace life, and live like a normal person, and get inspired the right way. I’m always trying to force myself to stay grounded, which can be very tricky with this kind of success, especially when you’re in on the ground floor. You have to force yourself to continue to push the envelope, break boundaries and do great work, and you have to help build this industry the right way. That’s the responsibility of pioneers.”
While Al-Kalthami is usually focused on the future — committed to pushing himself as a writer and helping Saudi talent flourish both within his own projects and theirs — he does, occasionally, allow himself to look back and take stock of all he and Telfaz11 have accomplished over the last dozen years. Often, the emotion hits when he least expects it.
“Somebody sent me a TikTok video last week. In it, someone had put together pictures of all the Telfaz11 founders, filmmakers and family members, spanning every moment they could find from 2010 to 2022. They wrote that we were the voice of our local inner life, that we were filmmakers that Saudis believe in. It was just so poetic, so nice, and so innocent. It just really got to me,” Al-Kalthami says. “I was so overwhelmed, I could hardly control it. To know that a lot of people in Saudi feel we represent their voice, their authentic life, truly means everything.”
Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island
Archeologists uncover possible Omani bishop’s palace near Umm Al-Quwain’s recently discovered Christian monastery
Updated 27 January 2023
DUBAI: Fresh findings by archeologists suggest the existence of a possible bishop’s palace — potentially Omani — near a recently discovered Christian monastery on the UAE’s Siniyah Island, off the coast of the state of Umm Al-Quwain.
A series of walls and rooms were uncovered last year that intrigued archeologists and historians involved in the excavation process on Siniyah Island, according to Tim Power, an archeology professor at UAE University.
“It seems that we really have an interesting building that might be interpreted as an abbot’s house or perhaps even a bishop’s palace,” he continued.
The archeology professor explained that similar buildings had been found in the Arabian Gulf over the years, which has helped historians and archeologists create parallels.
Power added that recently what is thought to be a bishop’s palace was uncovered in Bahrain that had similar characteristics to the structure discovered on Siniyah Island.
“Historical sources, in particular the acts of the synods of the Nestorian church, mention a bishop of Oman between the fifth and seventh centuries,” said Power.
Oman during that period included the region that later became the northern emirates of the UAE, so it is possible this was the actual palace of a bishop, he added.
This year, the focus has shifted to excavating a different part of the island, with extensive work carried out on settlements and other structures surrounding the monastery.
Findings on the island suggest the presence of both Christian and Muslim communities, who are believed to have coexisted during a period of time.
They also shed light on the transition from late antiquity to early Islam, just before the Arab conquest.
Power, who was invited by the Tourism and Archeology Department of Umm Al-Quwain to put together a “dream team of leading experts,” chose individuals who can contribute to the project.
“The goal of this season will be to outline the context of the monastery so it’s not just an isolated structure in the middle of this sand pit,” said Michele Degli Esposti, a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Esposti, who sat categorizing artifacts and materials found during the dig, explained why the site of the alleged bishop’s palace was different than other structures.
“This area, contrary to what happens in the settlement, is quite poor in material remains,” he said.
“One reason is that the core complex, which had a very nice plaster floor, was constantly kept swept and clean, so we found very little materials left behind.”
A possible warehouse was found in the vicinity of the structure thought to be the bishop’s palace, containing further clues for archeologists to draw conclusions.
Radiocarbon dating used to assess the pottery excavated suggests that the community believed to have occupied the island was there between the seventh and eighth centuries.
Esposti said similar methodologies will be used to determine the age of the objects recently found to further narrow down the window of the predicted time period.
The excavation process, which has a more multidisciplinary approach, involves experts and materials from around the world to aid archeologists on site.
It is also the first time that TAD UAQ is hosting students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi to participate in the excavation process.
Hoor Al-Mazrouei, an Emirati biology student at NYUAD, participated in the excavations taking place in the settlements where she helped find a pot potentially used for cooking.
NYUAD students were involved in the process from Jan. 4-20, alongside archeologists from TAD UAQ such as Ammar Al-Banna.
Al-Banna, who predicts that the island will welcome visitors in the foreseeable future, said the first step is to uncover all findings to proceed.
“By uncovering them, we hope to understand why they are here and what the relationship between all the structures and the sites next to them is,” he said. “Of course, with the finds, some will be studied, some will be exhibited.”
Excavation work on the island will continue until March and will end before the Ramadan fast begins.
Siniyah Island’s monastery is the second to be found in the UAE, with the first discovered in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.
Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay
Updated 27 January 2023
DUBAI: March 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of US-led invasion of Iraq, which led to destruction, displacement, and prolonged political instability. One of the millions who witnessed the chaos unfold is the Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora. “There is nothing that I don’t remember,” she says from her atelier in Louisville, Kentucky.
On the night before the bombing began, Sora, who is of Kurdish origin, drove with her family from Baghdad to the town of Balad Ruz, around 120 kilometers away. “It was so visceral and scary,” she tells Arab News. “We all lived in just one house there — 30 of us slept in one room. We watched the B-52’s bomb Baghdad.”
Sora was born in Baghdad in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq, changing the course of political affairs in the Middle East. “Really, ever since I was a child, there was war and bombing,” she says.
Amid all the unrest, however, Sora discovered a passion for art. Her mother’s family owned a prominent auction business in Baghdad, where modernists like Faiq Hassan and Shakir Hassan Al-Said gathered, and Sora says she read as much as possible growing up about the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in particular. “This was what (was) around,” she recalls. “I grew up in this kind of dreamy world that was parallel to the bombing.”
In 2006, Sora left Iraq through the Kurdish/Turkish border, ending up in Istanbul. From there, she moved to the UK, the UAE and finally, the US, where she arrived in 2009. She hasn’t been back to Iraq since leaving, and says it was not an easy transition to life in the country that had invaded her own.
“It was a culture shock. I felt like I always had to dumb down who I am to be accepted, but I also met some amazing people who supported me and my practice,” she says. “They were so hungry to learn more about us. I feel like I don’t just represent Iraq, I represent the whole region.”
The experience of surviving “29 years of war” has definitely seeped into Sora’s expressive canvases, housed in private and public collections in Iraq, the US, France, and Turkey. “Iraq affects everything in my work; it’s my DNA,” she says. “Once you’ve lived through the first three decades of your life in a country like Iraq, witnessing four or five wars, that cannot leave you.”
The self-taught artist tries to leave that which she has endured in the background, like “a dead grandmother who protects you,” she says. Her work is inspired by both her own life and by global issues such as climate change and cultural destruction. She quotes what the German artist Anselm Kiefer once said about the role of an artist: To observe and do the work.
She describes her large paintings, inspired by Middle Eastern history and aesthetics, as a form of ‘gestural abstraction.’ They are full of rich colors, floating shapes, dreamlike landscapes, and curious figures. There are portrayals of chaos, explosions, life and death — and of the moment after death, reaching the sublime. Decay, and seeing the beauty in it, is Sora’s obsession.
“It’s an equivalent of my own life,” she says. “I feel like, the older we get, the more refined we’re supposed to be. I feel the decay that has happened within me is equivalent to the physical decay I see in artworks and palaces. We persevere through certain things, or we fail. We might be destroyed in the process, and that’s what interests me.”
The physical act of painting is a way of staying whole. “I come to the studio super-early in the morning, shut the world off and put on my music. I’m immersed in that moment. It’s the best feeling,” she says. It is also a way of dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by escaping near-death experiences.
“The only way to get it out of me somehow, or to work with this, is to continuously repeat that feeling,” she explains. “In the end, I don’t want the work to be about death or terribleness. It will be, somehow, but I also want to create elements of beauty.”
Saudi heritage event in ancient Uqair port attracts more than 60,000 visitors
Updated 27 January 2023
RIYADH: The “Uqair Inscriptions” event held along the banks of the ancient seaport city in Al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province concluded on Wednesday with more than 60,000 visitors attending, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.
The event, organized by the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission in cooperation with the Culture and Arts Association in Al-Ahsa, included heritage and folklore performances and traditional handicrafts unique to Al-Ahsa through dramatized scenes of life from the past in the historic port.
The scenes also depicted its position as an important commercial gateway on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, from the arrival of sailboats to the port to loading the camel convoys with goods headed toward Al-Ahsa and Najd.
The event also included a photographic exhibition displaying pictures of the founding king in Uqair in 1915.
Uqair is the first seaport in the east of the Kingdom on the Arabian Gulf coast, the economic gateway since the beginning of the establishment of the state, and the main port to reach the east and center of the Kingdom.
During that time, the state worked to develop the port by establishing customs, passports, a principality building, and fortress, and goods and foodstuffs were brought to the heart of the Arabian Peninsula and the capital, Riyadh, through this port.