Climate change the ‘defining war’ of our time, warns Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem in New York show

Climate change the ‘defining war’ of our time, warns Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem in New York show
Abdulnasser Gharem attends the opening of his exhibition at Asia House, London, in 2015. (Getty Images)
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Updated 04 November 2022

Climate change the ‘defining war’ of our time, warns Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem in New York show

Climate change the ‘defining war’ of our time, warns Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem in New York show
  • ‘Climate Refugee’ is one of 10 new works on display in Gharem’s ‘Hospitable Thoughts,’ his first solo show in New York.

DUBAI: Dozens of light and dark gray rubber stamps form a map of the world on an aluminum board hung on a wall. Observed from afar, it looks like a painting. But “Climate Refugee” — a new work from the acclaimed Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem — isn’t supposed to be observed from afar. As one gets closer, the real message of the work becomes clearer. Tiny blue and turquoise stamps are placed in areas containing the most refugees. And embedded in the work are phrases that include: “When innocent immigrants are killed, it’s neither a moral failure nor a sin, merely a technical error.” And “Refugee camps are optimal forms of mercy killings.” And “The appearance of foreigners threatens our way of life.” 

The artwork places the spotlight on the world’s refugee crisis shaped by what Gharem calls “economic violence,” as climate change is accompanied by an increase in physical and psychological barriers impacting humanity. “Climate Refugee” is one of 10 new works juxtaposed with several older ones on display in Gharem’s “Hospitable Thoughts” — his first solo show in New York — which runs until Dec. 18 at Marc Strauss. 




‘Climate Refugee,’ a new work from the acclaimed Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem, isn’t supposed to be observed from afar. (Supplied)

“Geographical distances are no longer barriers to movement; the major refugee highways are becoming increasingly diversified, especially as we live in a world characterized more than ever by an unfair distribution of capabilities and freedom of movement,” Gharem writes in his statement for the show. “Wars are not the only cause of migration … global warming and climate change may be direct causes of the formation of new immigrants.” 

In “Hospitable Thoughts,” Gharem’s artistic journey returns literally and figuratively to the origins of his creative journey, which he says was impacted hugely by the events of 9/11. His new work, shown in the city where the cataclysmic attacks took place, wrestles with the topic of barriers — mental, social and physical —that has shaped his art ever since.




Gharem’s ‘Prosperity Without Growth II’ uses rubber stamps to depict a colorful Byzantine-style mosaic with three men. (Supplied)

Gharem was in his hometown of Khamis Mushait when the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center took place. When he heard the names of the Saudi hijackers, four of whom were also from Khamis Mushait, he realized that two had been classmates of his. Since then, he has questioned why these men — well-educated and well brought-up — were led to do what they did while he became an artist. Gharem recalls how he and several fellow Saudi artists, including Ahmed Mater, Ashraf Fayadh and Abdulkarim Qassim, working at Al Muftaha Art Village in Abha, were deeply depressed by the events of 9/11, and the ensuing US invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as growing international hostility towards Saudis, and the extremely conservative political ideology of the Kingdom at the time.  

“We didn’t know what to do and so we turned to art,” he tells Arab News. But while other artists at Al Muftaha Art Village were painting in Western styles, Gharem and the previously mentioned artists looked elsewhere for inspiration. 

“We wanted to create our own artistic style, different from that of the West, with a different medium and a subject matter that was inherently our own,” he says.  

For the past 21 years, Gharem’s art has championed issues related to social justice, particularly through art classes at his studio in Riyadh, where he encourages young Saudis to think creatively. Artists in training there also assist him in the painstaking creation of works such as “Climate Refugee.” 

Gharem believes that we are living in an era obsessed “with demolition, production, and excessive hysterical violence” aimed not only at humans, but at all living organisms and species.   

“The defining war at the present against all living species is climate change — wrought from man’s carelessness and obsession with consumption, a hysterical violence,” Gharem tells Arab News. “In the end most wars are about the market and the means and ownership of production, especially (today) when the disparity between the haves and have-nots has reached a new apex.” 

Additional works on show in “Hospitable Thoughts” explore notions of authoritarianism and borders and their effects on our wellbeing. Overcoming such barriers in the mind and body, believes Gharem, is a way to transcend differences and work towards a greater humanity.  




In ‘Caged Humanity,’ one of the new works on display, hundreds of rubber stamps are laid out in the pattern of interlocking barbed wire. (Supplied)

In “Concrete Block V,” “Don’t Trust The Concrete,” “Concrete Wall II,” and “Participatory Surveillance” — all made in 2022 — Gharem recreates uses rubber stamps to recreate man-made barriers found throughout the world. Elsewhere are works that echo earlier pieces by the artist, such as “The Stamp (Moujaz)” (2022), a large 36 x 40 inch-hand-carved wood stamp with embossed rubber face, which brings to mind his 2012 work “The Stamp (Inshallah).” There’s also “Prosperity without Growth II” (2020), which again uses rubber stamps to depict a colorful Byzantine-style mosaic with three men, one dressed in traditional Saudi attire. But an amorphous white blob, akin to damage on an ancient artwork, erases about half of the image. 

Other works include milestones from his career: “Moujaz Stamp Print” (2013); “The Path (Siraat)” (2007); a pigment print triptych from “Hijamah (Traditional Pain Treatment Performance)” (2015). Many are about repetition, informed by his experience as a colonel in the Saudi army.  

“Orders were issued to us and then we repetitively reissued them to others. I felt the harshness of repetition,” he writes in his show statement. “What distinguishes the repetition of letters, numbers, and symbols, as well as phrases, in the stamp paintings and sculptures is that they are reversed. They represent the mirrored image, albeit reversed in content and intention.” 

In “Caged Humanity,” one of the new works on display, hundreds of rubber stamps are laid out in the pattern of interlocking barbed wire. The cage in the artwork almost appears to move upwards, as if about to wipe out several last messages from Gharem: “Here all feelings of compassion are eradicated,” one reads. But among them is a phrase that holds some hope for the future too: “A society devoid of strangers.” 


Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion
US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba took to Instagram to celebrate her short trip to Saudi Arabia. (Getty Images)
Updated 05 December 2022

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

DUBAI: US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba took to Instagram to celebrate her short trip to Saudi Arabia after she hit the red carpet at the Red Sea International Film Festival this week.

“A very quick but very beautiful trip,” she said in an Instagram caption posted alongside a carousel of images.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jessica Alba (@jessicaalba)

“It is so important that women are able to be in control of their own stories and narratives — and tell them through our own lens. Thank you @moalturki and @jomanaalrashid for having me and empowering women in film by elevating so many voices that we need as storytellers in the world today,” she added, referring to the film festival’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and Jomana Al-Rashed, the CEO of the Saudi Research and Media Group.

“Film makers and entertainers are the dreamers that help the world see what’s possible. Let’s continue the dream of fairness and equality and compassion,” Alba concluded.

The actress — famously seen in movies such as “Sin City” and “Fantastic Four” — supported Middle Eastern labels during her trip by opting for an elegant embellished gown by Lebanese couturier Elie Saab when she attended the Dec. 2 Women in Cinema gala.

And she was not the only attendee flaunting regional labels.

Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson showed off an elegant jumpsuit by Saudi designer Arwa AlKadi, which she paired with a bag by Saudi brand Dania Shinkar.

“I am very impressed with the fashion in Saudi Arabia and I have chosen local designers for my trip both in Riyadh … and today in Jeddah at the film festival,” Macpherson wrote on Instagram.

Saudi designers are in the spotlight at this year’s edition of the film festival, with a number of high-profile names opting for homegrown labels for their red carpet outings.

Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio dazzled in a blue jumpsuit from Jeddah-based designer Yousef Akbar on the opening night, while British actress Jacqui Ainsley, known for her role in the 2017 film “King Arthur: legend of the Sword,” took to the red carpet wearing US-based label Dazluq, founded by Saudi designer Salma Zahran on the same night.


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk)

Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
The 3-day program will take place in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah from Dec. 8-10. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
  • Magazine’s annual conference is back with 2nd edition
  • 3-day program in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah to take place from Dec. 8-10

DUBAI: Expanding on a successful platform built in 2021, Hia magazine’s Hia Hub 2022 will offer more interactive experiences and celebrity talks at the event’s second edition in Riyadh, editor-in-chief Mia Badr told Arab News.

“Since its inception, Hia magazine has been in the service of representing and catering to the Arab woman, particularly the Saudi woman who is sophisticated, discerning, complex and multi-dimensional. Throughout our journey, we have always championed her voice, told her stories, engaged and inspired her with insightful and thought-provoking writing and exciting fashion trends. That said, Hia Hub was envisioned as a platform to bridge international and regional audiences," said Mia Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia Magazine, in an interview with Arab News.

“We are celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, along with our second season of Hia Hub, and there is no other place that would be better suited than to host the event where it all started, and where it will continue to flourish and grow — here in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Badr said that the event is meant to reshape the boundaries of “leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity for the Hia fashion community.”

With the fashion industry exploding and growing at an exponential rate in Saudi Arabia, Badr is excited for Hia Hub to be at the center of the conversation.

“Local designers are gaining traction with brands and designers such as Mohammed Ashi gaining critical acclaim from global media; Hindamme; Mohammad Khoja’s brand currently has pieces on display in London’s V&A Museum; you’ve got young trailblazers like Arwa Al-Banawi, known for her fresh and contemporary RTW namesake brand who has collaborated with Adidas and Levi’s; all of them are making an impact on their home turf and gaining recognition on a wider scale,” said Badr.

When asked about her favorite speakers from this edition’s lineup, Badr refused to play favorites. “They are all exceptional in their respective fields, so it really comes down to what particular topic you are interested in. We’ve covered all topics of interest and relevance from female leadership, to how to build a beauty brand, sustainability, the rise of craftsmanship in culture, the new generation of creatives impacting the fashion sphere, styling and make up workshops and so much … there’s really something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are all great!”

Some of the big-name speakers expected to attend the event include US fashion designer Zac Posen, iconic Hollywood stylist Law Roach, Emirati singer Balqees Fathi, French Moroccan fashion designer Charaf Tajer, celebrity stylist Cedric Haddad and Iraqi US beauty mogul Mona Kattan.

The speakers and topics were chosen with the cultural resonance in the region in mind. “We made it a point to have representation and diversity, inviting professional candidates from the region as well as from abroad to ensure a broad spectrum and different points of view for candid and thought-provoking conversations,” said Badr.

Guests can learn more about Hia Hub by visiting hiahub.com.


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.”