DHAHRAN: Tanween, Ithra’s flagship creative festival, concluded this week in Dhahran with a cluster of talks from experts in the field of architecture, who spoke about making use of sand, making spaces fun again and being mindful of embracing nature and including indigenous communities while building new structures.
Marcus Farr, professor at the College of Architecture, Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah, shed light on the uses of a particular raw material found in abundance in Saudi Arabia — sand.
He highlighted how only about 5 percent of sand is used to make glass and building materials.
The majority of sand in the Kingdom is not currently usable for construction due to factors including density and weight, so he offered an alternative experimental project which converts sand dune particles into usable materials by creating a special binding.
Huda Shaka, also known as the Green Urbanista, is an urban planner and sustainability specialist.
Marcus Farr, professor at the College of Architecture, Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah, shed light on the uses of a particular raw material found in abundance in Saudi Arabia — sand. The majority of sand in the Kingdom is not currently usable for construction due to factors including density and weight, so he offered an alternative experimental project which converts sand dune particles into usable materials by creating a special binding.
She urged listeners to not be adamant about randomly planting trees in environments which could prevent them from thriving. Trees require water, space, and many other expenses — financial and otherwise, she said, and there are other ways to incorporate natural surroundings without adding burden to mother nature, like embracing mangroves, which might not be as aesthetically pleasing as a lush garden, but are there for a reason.
Other speakers included Waleed Shaalan, co-founder and design director of Sifr Studio, Alya Al-Mazora of AlUla, and Alan Parkinson, founder of Architects of Air.
This year’s Tanween offered much to the local community, but with a global focus.
Saudi student Rayanah Mansour Abinbuhybeha visited Tanween between her study breaks. Growing up in the area, she wanted to explore the offerings at Ithra and be part of the cultural community.
She currently studies aerospace engineering in Manchester in the UK and could not believe her luck that her visit to her hometown, while pursing studies abroad, coincided with Tanween again this season.
“I attended last year’s Tanween and I can see there was a big change this time; they added new ideas. I can see they've tried their best to make it a huge celebration, like, everyone in Sharqiya knows about it — it was all over social media too.
“I attended a robots workshop this time and it was something that never happened in Saudi Arabia. I attended the ‘Big Moment,’ it was really a nice celebration.
“It was a unique activity because there was a communication between the people on stage and the audience. Everyone was having fun, children, parents. I hope to come back next year,” Abinbuhybeha told Arab News.
Three women go solo with artwork at Jeddah’s Athr Gallery
Event comes as part of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale 2023 at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah
Updated 03 February 2023
JEDDAH: The Athr Gallery is showcasing three independently curated solo shows, sponsored by the Cultural Development Fund, until April.
The work of two Saudi nationals, Daniah Al-Saleh, Asma Bahmim, and one Kuwaiti national, Farah Behbehani, is being featured at the gallery.
Al-Saleh’s show is titled “Keep Smiling,” which addresses the use of non-verbal symbols in modern communication in an increasingly digitized world. “Our method of communication might have changed from a clay tablet to a smart tablet or smartphone. It seems that we as a society have accepted emojis as part of our daily life,” she told Arab News.
“We have collectively evolved by using a digital version of hieroglyphics in the form of pictographic codes and emoticons that offers the recipient insights on the possible mood of the sender.
“It addresses the context of emojis and ubiquitousness and the usage of the pop culture and its usage of emojis in everyday text, everyday communication. In here, I’m questioning the use of emojis. Is it a sort of mask, is it sort of proxy for our emotion or mental state? Or does it really help in exploring our emotion and relating to the other — communicating better messages? I leave the answers to the viewer,” she said.
Bahmim’s work, titled “Fantasia: A World Between Reality and Imagination” is also attention-grabbing.
Her work encapsulates the essence of the Islamic Arts Biennale spirit. She uses animals to generate fictional dialogues and highlights the importance of the tradition of storytelling.
“Fantasia was definitely a passion project for me. The medium and technicalities of it serve an essential role in the message I wanted to bring out, which was a culmination of a lifetime of exposure and research in storytelling,” Bahmim said of her solo show at ATHR.
“I wanted to bring to life the daydreams that crossed my mind going through a story in a book. I wanted the viewer to be lost in the fantasies, not just in the story but the backstory of the elements of these stories,” she told Arab News.
Behbehani’s elegant work, transcending time and space, is aptly titled “And Make Me Light,” inspired by words that she has masterfully re-interpreted.
“The concept of the show is returning back to light through spirituality. One of my biggest works is based on a dua (prayer).”
“Basically for this entire poetic verse, I took the words of this verse and I incorporated it into the geometry design; each word has been transformed in square Kufic calligraphy to fit within the geometry of this work,” she told Arab News as her young son stood by, his eyes alight with pride.
Behbehani has been using Islamic cultural forms and Arabic words as inspiration for decades.
Using Qur’anic verses, poetry and prose, her intricate calligraphic designs are enveloped into each of the seven administration buildings at Kuwait University.
The buildings served as “stoic structures” for her art as “an ephemeral play of light and shadow through a maze of letters that draw upon references from Islamic literature.”
Behbehani’s exhibitions and shows are displayed both in the MENA region and worldwide. She is the author of the 2009 book “The Conference of the Birds,” based on the 12th-century Sufi allegorical poem. Her book interpreted the classic text through illustrations in Jali Diwani script.
Behbehani is also participating in the Islamic Arts Biennale this month with her “Path of Light” three-paneled kinetic piece, which was inspired by a poetic verse from writer Ahmed Shawi’s tribute to Prophet Muhammad.
The opening of the three solo shows comes as part of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale 2023 at the Western Hajj Terminal in Jeddah.
Athr gallery issued this statement exclusively for Arab News: “Our relationship with the Diriyah Biennale Foundation has been strong since the inception of the foundation and its first edition in 2021.
“Many artists have been showcased at the biennale, with artists such as Ahmed Mater being in both editions. In the current edition (Islamic Arts Biennale 2023), we have seven artists featured, again highlighting the diversity of our roster and their practices.”
“We have aligned with DBF to be included on their schedule and to have the openings of our exhibitions to coincide with the opening program of the biennale as a way to reinforce the importance of a holistic approach to supporting the arts.
“Athr has been established since 2009, and we are now glad that newly established entities like DBF and their activities amplify the efforts of the private sector.”
For more information on hours of operation and to book an appointment, visit Athr’s social media channels and the Diriyah Biennale page.
Saudi Arabia’s Ithra Art Prize 2023 open for submissions with $100,000 up for grabs
Award created by King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture now in its fifth edition
Artists from across Arab world have until April 1 to submit entries
Updated 03 February 2023
DHAHRAN: Arab artists around the world are being invited to submit their proposals for the fifth edition of the Ithra Art Prize and the chance to win $100,000 to bring their idea to life.
Created by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, the competition is open to contemporary artists and art collectives from the 22 member nations of the Arab league.
Those are: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen. Non-native artists who have lived in one of these countries for at least 10 years are also eligible to apply.
The call for entries opened on Tuesday and closes on April 1. The winner will be announced on May 15 and the successful artwork will be unveiled in June as part of Ithra’s fifth anniversary celebrations. It will later become part of the center’s permanent art collection.
• Award created by King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture now in its fifth edition.
• Artists from across Arab world have until April 1 to submit entries.
Launched in 2017, the Ithra is one of the most prominent art grants in the world. All of the entries are considered and judged by a global panel of experts, comprising artists, curators, academics and art historians.
The first three editions of the prize were organized alongside Art Dubai, while last year’s winning entry was unveiled in collaboration with the Diriyah Biennale Foundation at the Kingdom’s inaugural biennale.
“The Ithra Art Prize reaffirms Ithra’s commitment to developing the creative industries in the Kingdom, the region and the wider world,” said Farah Abushullaih, head of museum at Ithra.
“As one of the largest art grants internationally, we support artists from and based in the Arab world to develop important and meaningful work.
“The Ithra Art Prize aims to inspire creative thought, broaden cultural horizons and enable talent while empowering the art ecosystem,” she added.
Past winners include UAE-based Ayman Zedani, whose spatial installation “Mem” took the inaugural prize, while London-based Daniah Al-Saleh won in 2019 with “Sawtam,” a digital, audio-visual presentation based on the phonemes of the Arabic language.
The third edition was won by Saudi-based Fahad bin Naif for his “Rakhm” installation, while Berlin-based Tunisian-Ukrainian artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke won in 2022 with “E Pluribus Unum — A Modern Fossil,” which takes a reflective look at the effects of the pandemic on the travel industry and how humanity measures progress and economic growth.
More information about Ithra and the competition is available via www.ithra.com.
How digital boost for braille literacy is helping people with visual impairments across the Arab world
Prices of once expensive electronic braille devices are falling, demand for software is growing
Educators in Saudi Arabia are adopting assistive tech to include students with visual disabilities
Updated 04 February 2023
JEDDAH: Digital technologies are transforming the way in which people of all languages and backgrounds communicate, making work, study and socializing across national and cultural boundaries easier and more inclusive.
However, many of the latest innovations in communications technology have tended to be geared toward smartphones, tablets and e-readers — formats that are not always conducive to people with visual impairments.
Now, recent enhancements to a 200-year-old system of writing are helping people with visual disabilities feel included in a greater variety of jobs and fields of study and forms of entertainment.
French inventor Louis Braille, who lost his sight at the age of three, in 1824 developed a system of communication consisting of a code of 63 characters, each made up of one to six raised dots arranged in a six-position matrix or cell, designed to fit under a fingertip.
These characters, known as braille, are embossed in lines on paper and read by passing the fingers lightly over the manuscript. From alphabets to musical notation, braille opened a world of possibilities for the visually impaired.
According to the World Health Organization, around 40 million people worldwide are blind, while another 250 million have some form of visual impairment. A survey conducted in 2017 by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics found that some 811,610 Saudis are visually impaired.
A unified Arabic braille code was adopted in the 1950s as part of the move toward a universal braille system. This has allowed many of them to live, work and study unsupported.
Authorities in the Kingdom have taken measures to create a more inclusive society, using braille on the packaging of medicines and by establishing work programs to integrate the visually impaired into the workforce.
The Kingdom has also established branches of Al-Noor Institute for the Blind, which provide courses for school children, in addition to integrated classes in universities through a national program that guarantees the right to an education.
Speaking to Arab News, Khaled Al-Harbi, spokesperson for the National Association of the Blind, known as Kafeef, said education paved the way for those with special needs to become an integral part of their communities.
Kafeef’s mission, he said, is to empower people with visual impairments through programs launched in coordination with government and private entities.
“I, like many members, received moral support and guidance from Kafeef from a young age, and enrolled in programs,” Al-Harbi told Arab News.
“We were provided tools, learned new skills using our hands, and, with time, we launched several awareness programs and braille training courses for the visually impaired and visually acute with the latest — Iqra — the first certified braille training program.
“We’ve seen lately several initiatives that target the community, such as sending gift cards in braille, and it’s very commendable, but it can also go the other way. There is a need for more inclusion from the visually impaired to utilize technology for their benefit and the benefit of the community.”
As digital developers have tended to prioritize audio software, such as screen-reading programs on computers and smartphones, some argue that braille has become a less important tool for people with visual impairments.
However, researchers believe learning braille from an early age can greatly improve literacy, as it is a much better way to understand punctuation, grammar, and spelling than using audio resources alone.
For many years, electronic braille devices were prohibitively expensive, placing them out of reach of many people with visual impairments, particularly those in developing countries. Now prices are beginning to fall and the demand for new software is growing.
The first braille displays appeared in the mid-1970s, and the first commercially produced braille display, the VersaBraille, was released in 1982. Five years later, the Braille ‘n Speak was released as the first portable notetaker.
Newer refreshable braille devices make it possible for users to read text from a digital screen when connected to a PC, tablet or phone. Such devices mimic the familiar raised dot patterns using tiny movable pins.
811,000 people in Saudi Arabia have some form of vision disability, according to the GSTAT Disability Survey 2017.
A unified Arabic braille code was adopted in the 1950s as part of the move toward a universal braille system.
However, with such a heavy reliance on cables and bluetooth connectivity, these systems are not always the most practical or user friendly. Furthermore, physical braille keyboards that allow users to enter text are not particularly mobile.
It was these drawbacks that led Google to develop its own innovative built-in keyboard called TalkBack, which comes as a part of the Android Operating System and does not require any external hardware.
In 2018, Google also launched an AI-powered app called Lookout to help low-vision users interact with their surroundings. The app can read signs and labels, scan barcodes, and even identify currencies.
In 2014, Apple introduced its own on-screen braille keyboard for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices called iBrailler Notes.
The app enables users to navigate across text and perform tasks without connecting additional hardware. One striking feature of the app is that the keys automatically form around the fingertips when they are placed on the screen.
Many new braille technologies are yet to reach the market and several are still in the conceptual or prototype phase. New scanning features, audio descriptions, language identifiers, machine-learning tools, text mining, and speech processors could all soon appear in forthcoming assistive technologies.
Abdulrahman Al-Atawi, a professor at the college of computing and informatics and supervisor of the Center for Innovation in E-learning at the Saudi Electronic University, the first university in the Kingdom to exclusively adopt e-learning strategies and technologies, told Arab News that such technologies will play a significant part in students’ journeys.
In January, the Global Trends in E-Learning forum was held in Riyadh, where global leaders in the education sector shared their insights, exchanged experiences and discussed strategies to serve the online learning process.
As part of the forum’s objectives, a contest for EdTech entrepreneurs, faculty and students from across the Kingdom showcased innovative projects using emerging technologies to serve the education sector.
Al-Atawi, who also headed the Committee for the Innovation Oasis and GTEL Demofest, said some of the winning projects were focused on people with special needs.
“For many, the braille code allows the blind and visually impaired to read any form of writing, but when it comes to images and pictures, that’s another story,” he said.
“One of the winning projects, a smart reader for the visually impaired, found a solution to that, verbally describing that image.
“In this era of modern science, we wish to get every bit of information in digital form. With the right tools, we can help members of the special needs community.”
The forum was in line with Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program and Vision 2030
Updated 03 February 2023
TABUK: More than 15,000 graduates took part in a three-day employment forum at Tabuk University, which ended on Thursday.
The event, which attracted support from local and international companies, provided a platform for graduates in a range of disciplines from across the Kingdom to meet and talk with prospective employers.
The first of its kind for the university, the forum was in line with the country’s National Transformation Program and Vision 2030, and also sought to raise key issues about the environment and working practices.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s job numbers witnessed their strongest growth rate since January 2018, as non-oil companies witnessed a sharp expansion in business activity driven by robust market demand and business intake, according to a report.