Middle Eastern masterpieces in the spotlight at Sotheby’s 

Middle Eastern masterpieces in the spotlight at Sotheby’s 
Gazbia Sirry, The Garden, 1959. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 February 2023

Middle Eastern masterpieces in the spotlight at Sotheby’s 

Middle Eastern masterpieces in the spotlight at Sotheby’s 
  • Experts from the auction house discuss some of the highlights from the Al-Zayani collection of modern and contemporary art from the region 

DUBAI: On April 25, Sotheby’s will be auctioning a collection of more than 80 modern and contemporary works by Arab artists. All are owned by Bahraini collector Abdulrahman Al-Zayani, “one of the leading collectors in the Middle East,” who, along with his family, has amassed “a multitude of artworks from the historic Islamic world to modern and contemporary international art and design.” 

“Exploring myriad themes and mediums, each work represents a different aesthetic whilst tying into a rich thread of cultural heritage,” a press release states. 

“It’s an important collection for a few reasons,” Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist Ashkan Baghestani tells Arab News. “First, single-owner sales of modern and contemporary Arab art are quite rare in our region. Secondly, this collector has bridged two worlds, bringing them together with his vision, his taste and his passion. It will speak to the older, more academic collector, but also to a younger one.” 

For sales purposes, Baghestani explains, Sotheby’s categorizes “modern” art as being “from the first modern movements in Egypt in the 1920s,” while “contemporary” means “everything from the Eighties to today” — though he stresses that there are some “nuances” and some artists that fall into both camps. 

Here, Baghestani and Alexandra Roy, Sotheby’s head of sale for 20th Century Art / Middle East, discuss some of the highlights from the collection, many of which will be exhibited in Dubai from Feb. 28 to March 3. 

Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar

‘Untitled’ (Gratzella's Portrait) 

Abdel Hadi El-Gazzar, ‘Untitled’ (Gratzella's Portrait). (Supplied)

The acclaimed Egyptian artist is known for his “surrealist, out-there work,” Roy explains. “But during a short period of a couple of years when he studied in Rome, he shifted his style dramatically and focused on portraits. But there’s only a handful of them.”  

That makes this portrait from around 1960 of a young girl called Gratzella, extremely special — one of the works in the collection that, Baghestani says, should attract interest from institutions “because these are early, really important, works that you can’t simply buy on the market.” 

“I think there’s something very sweet and very moving about this portrait,” says Roy. “It reminds me a bit of Modigliani.”  

When El-Gazzar returned to Egypt, he immersed himself in Sufism, focusing on “religion, people on the fringes of society who believe in these mystical experiences,” Roy explains. “This portrait (was created during) just a short break from that; it’s so unusual for him.” 

Fouad Kamel 

‘Untitled’ (The Drinker)  

Fouad Kamel, ‘​​​​​Untitled (The Drinker).’ (Supplied)

Kamel is a seminal figure in the development of modern Arab art, as a founding member of the surrealist Art and Liberty Group — a collection of poets, artists, and writers, many of whom had studied and worked in Europe. When the Second World War began, they returned to Egypt inspired spiritually by the fight against fascism and aesthetically by cubism and surrealism.  

“Before, there was this very academic, (classical) European, way of looking at art,” Roy says. “They were breaking away from that. They were very focused on nationalistic issues that were happening, as well as post-war inequality.” 

This piece, from 1941, “embodies this entire movement,” Roy explains. “This disfigured body of ‘The Drinker’ is symbolic of the anxiety that was caused by the Second World War, but also by all of the social pressures in Egypt at the time. They’re fighting against the status quo and using surrealism to create these extraordinary, powerful artworks which have a very strong political influence.” 

Gazbia Sirry 

‘The Garden’ 

Gazbia Sirry, ‘The Garden,’ 1959. (Supplied)

Sirry is, Roy says, “considered one of the best artists of her generation” and this work from 1959 brings together a number of her favorite themes. While there are political aspects to her work — as with many Egyptian artists at the time — Sirry also focused on people’s inner lives. “It’s a very introspective painting,” says Roy. “She’s using a landscape of memories; that’s the best way to read this work.”  

The woman on the left of the painting, Roy points out, “looks a bit like a mummy,” evoking the country’s pharaonic works. “A lot of these artists were looking back at pharaonic times, but many were also educated in Europe, so there’s this interesting mixture as they try to forge their own cultural identity. Once you start to read these paintings in that light, you understand they’re so different from anything else: You have these fragments or evocations of what they’ve learned, but also the history and political conditions of their countries. Modernism in Egypt was happening at the same time as a lot of changes, politically. And each artist responds to them differently. 

“There’s something very happy about this painting, with the bright pink. And there’s something very unusual in the layout also,” she continues. “It’s not the usual way to present a narrative in Western paintings; you have different scenes happening at different times. And you see that in Islamic miniature painting — different elements of a story placed on a page. This is a bit of a coming-of-age for her; it’s a woman looking internally at her own relationships.” 

Hassan Hajjaj 

‘Miriam Green’ 

Hassan Hajjaj, ‘Miriam Green.’ (Supplied)

The Moroccan artist’s vibrant singular style has made him one of the most collectable artists around. This piece demonstrates a different side to Al-Zayani’s taste.  

“We’ve been talking about these modern artworks that are imbued with a lot of nationalistic symbolism and history, and then you have someone like Hajjaj, who’s also making a commentary about Orientalism, about the way that people are portrayed — making a statement on media, consumer culture, vanity, all of that. But doing it in a funky, quite playful way,” says Roy.  

“What I really like about this collection is that includes some very serious pieces, but also these more fun, playful works that lighten the mood. When you walk into Al-Zayani’s home, though, you see a synergy between them.”  

Farid Belkahia 

‘Untitled’ (1981) 

Farid Belkahia, Untitled, henna on vellum laid on panel, 1981. (Supplied)

“Belkahia is by far my favorite Moroccan artist,” says Baghestani. “He’s the one who really revived this idea of craftsmanship in art, which was overlooked after most of these artists came back from Europe having embraced more contemporary practices.” 

“He studied in Europe in very rigorous academic conditions, moved back, and then was looking to reinvent how to teach art in a local setting,” says Roy. “So, his focus was very much on craftsmanship — classes that included carpentry, jewelry, and carpet making.”  

Each of the characters on this vellum-based work are inspired by Berber iconography, Roy explains, “And he’s looking at phenomena of trance as well. Like El-Gazzar, who was fascinated by Sufism and mysticism, Belkahia’s looking at the way that people use these half-conscious states. This painting evokes that.” 

Fahrelnissa Zeid 

‘Erbil: Réalités Nouvelles’ 

Fahrelnissa Zeid, ‘Erbil: Réalités Nouvelles.’ (Supplied) 

Zeid, says Baghestani, had “a fascinating life.” She married into the Hashemite royal family, but was also “one of the most radical female artists from the region.”  

Zeid was educated in the West and her work was shown in major European exhibitions from the 1940s onwards. “She fully embraced abstraction at an early age,” Baghestani says. “Her mosaic works, like this one — an extremely rare piece from the early Fifties — look like ancient Byzantine mosaics, but also embrace futurism and abstraction. She had such a three-dimensional mind. When you stand in front of these paintings, they’re incredible. There’s such a depth to them. You’re transported. They’re almost mystical.  

“At a time when figuration was prominent, a few artists — and Zeid was one of them — really embraced abstraction,” he continues. “That really wasn’t the trend at the time, but now they’re finally getting the respect and treatment they deserve.”  

Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 

Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 
Updated 22 September 2023

Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 

Beyonce champions Georges Hobeika on tour for third time 

DUBAI: US pop superstar Beyonce championed Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika during her Renaissance World Tour stop in Dallas this week — the third time she has sported a Hobeika design during her current tour. 

The multi-award-winning singer selected a glitzy turquoise gown embellished with silver Swarovski crystals from the couturier’s Fall 2023 collection.

The first time Beyonce wore one of Hobeika’s designs was in June when she performed in Cologne, Germany. On that occasion, she wore a custom-made catsuit embellished with nude-illusion panels, pearls and silver sequins. The 41-year-old singer paired the ensemble with black velvet gloves, thick-heeled pumps and custom Tiffany & Co. jewelry.

In July, at her New Jersey show, Beyonce wore a fully embroidered dress — crafted from pink tulle — featuring shimmering crystals and completed the look with tulle gloves and a beaded headpiece made entirely of 3D embroidered flowers. 


A post shared by JAD HOBEIKA (@jadhobeika)

Hobeika is not the only Arab designer whose outfits Beyonce has selected for her tour. She also showed off a gown from Omani label Atelier Zuhra in Las Vegas and one from Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day
Updated 22 September 2023

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day

Georgina Rodriguez wears green abaya for Saudi National Day

DUBAI: Georgina Rodriguez, the Argentine model and long-term partner of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, was spotted this week shopping at the Saudi fragrance brand Laverne in Riyadh wearing a green abaya just in time for Saudi National Day.

The “I am Georgina” star also held the Kingdom’s flag in honor of the country’s 93rd national day.

Georgina Rodriguez was spotted shopping at Laverne. (Twitter)

Rodriguez has previously collaborated with the Saudi perfume label on a campaign in March that promoted the scent, Blue Laverne. In the clip, she answered candid questions about her time in the Kingdom.

Riyadh-based Rodriguez said: “I feel very safe in this country and really appreciate its family values.

“I felt very happy to be able to connect with this heaven on Earth. The power and magic that is in the Saudi desert is incredible,” she said when asked her thoughts on visiting the country’s desert region earlier this year.

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan
Updated 22 September 2023

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan

Saudi models show off high-street fashion in Milan
  • Hala Abdallah and Lama Al-Akeel joined by Iraqi fashion influencer Deema Al-Asadi at events in Italy

DUBAI: Saudi fashionistas Hala Abdallah and Lama Al-Akeel jetted to Milan this week to attend the city’s much-awaited fashion week.

Abdallah and Al-Akeel, who were joined by Dubai-based Iraqi fashion influencer Deema Al-Asadi, attended the Max Mara show.

Abdallah wore a burnt orange, flowy dress with cut outs around the chest and added a large leather belt around her waist.

Al-Akeel stepped out in a beige Max Mara suit with a maroon undershirt. Al-Asadi also opted for a full look by the Italian brand, wearing a printed green skirt and blazer set.

The three regional style stars met with Lebanese bloggers and entrepreneurs Karen Wazen and Nathalie Fanj at the show.

The renowned brand tapped part-Arab models Nora Attal and Imaan Hammam to walk the runway.


A post shared by Max Mara (@maxmara)

Hammam turned heads in a camel-colored velvet set that featured hot shorts and short-sleeved blazer.

Attal walked the runway in a pinkish-purple jumper with a matching shirt layered underneath and pink hot shorts.

Hammam and Attal were joined by Danish model Mona Tougaard — who is of Turkish, Somali and Ethiopian descent. She wore a pink coat dress that was also paired with a pink shirt.

Abdallah and Al-Asadi then hopped on to the Moschino show. Abdallah donned a sequined mini dress that read “In love we trust,” while Al-Asadi wore a white t-shirt dress with a gold sequined blazer, black boots and a red clutch.

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal walked the Moschino show. She graced the runway in off-white tailored pants, a white t-shirt, a black blazer, a white heart-shaped clutch, and had her hair wrapped in a turban. 


A post shared by HALA (@thehala)

For the Moschino show, fashion designer Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele created a high-low, mix-match collection that can go anywhere and suit any woman. Gabriella Karefa-Johnson tapped a rap vein with high-energy hip looks featuring ruffled, tiered skirts, denim and granny squares that were size-inclusive.

“What a show,” wrote Al-Asadi on Instagram after the event.

Abdallah attened the Prada show in Milan. (Getty Images)

Abdallah could not miss Italian luxury brand Prada’s show. On Instagram she wrote that she enjoyed the “cape and shoulder pads,” the fringe details, the “angelic flow fabrics” and the unique sleeve designs. 

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla
Updated 22 September 2023

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla

Music stars have fans rocking at Azimuth festival in AlUla
  • Third edition of the event part of Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day celebrations which falls on Saturday

ALULA: The third edition of Saudi Arabia’s Azimuth festival in AlUla began with a bang on Thursday with performances by several top international musicians.

Australian singer and songwriter RY X was the opening act for the festival which forms part of Saudi Arabia’s 93rd National Day celebrations.

“I have never been to this place in my whole life. I would love to come back and spend more time. It is truly an incredible place,” said RY X of AlUla on stage.

US electronic music duo Thievery Corporation, famous for their song “Lebanese Blonde,” were up next, and performed several of their hits.

Fans then welcomed legendary UK rock band The Kooks, comprising Luke Pritchard, Hugh Harris and Alexis Nunez. “We are so happy to be here … Probably the most beautiful place we’ve ever played,” said Pritchard, the band’s lead singer.  

Egyptian band Cairokee also made their presence felt by belting out some fan favorites including songs “Nefsi Ahebek,” “Samurai,” and “El-Seka Shemal Fe Shemal.”

South Korean DJ and record producer Peggy Gou, and DJ Nooriyah — who was born in Bahrain, raised in Saudi, and now based in the UK — ended the eventful night with their upbeat mixes.

AlUla Moments’ collaboration with Spotify allowed fans to check out the lineup on the Azimuth AlUla Official Playlist.

The festival vibes were enhanced with Azilook stations for makeup, hair, nails and henna tattoos. There was also an opportunity to shop for attire from Creative Collection, accessories from Qurmoz, or perfumes from SURGE.

In addition, several food vendors were available including Gun Bun, SALT, Out of Line, Just Chill, Creamery, Baroque and Maui.

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative
Updated 21 September 2023

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative

White Milano hosts gala event with Saudi 100 Brands initiative

DUBAI: White Milano, the international apparel and accessories trade show which famously takes place alongside Milan Fashion Week, and the Saudi 100 Brands project - an initiative by the Saudi Fashion Commission – hosted a gala event on Wednesday against the backdrop of the historic Palazzo Serbelloni in Milan.

A number of selected pieces from the collections of 40 Saudi fashion talents – ranging from couture, ready-to-wear fashion, handbags and footwear – were showcased at the event using scenography and choreography, and featuring dancers from the renowned La Scala Theatre.

Selected pieces from the collections of 40 Saudi fashion talents were showcased at the event using scenography and choreography, and featuring dancers from the renowned La Scala Theatre. (Supplied)

White Milano this week is welcoming the Saudi 100 Brands project as part of its EXPOWHITE program, taking place from Sept. 22-25.  

In line with its mission to foster a dialogue between the industry and global creative trends, the EXPOWHITE showcase will focus on brands and designers from countries like Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Brazil and South Africa.  

Guests at the event. (Supplied)

The Saudi 100 Brands project is an initiative by the Saudi Fashion Commission that supports established and emerging design talents from Saudi Arabia, who work across the ready-to-wear, modest, concept, premiere, demi-couture, bridal, bags and jewelry categories. 

The Saudi 100 Brands project showcase will be on display at the Padiglione Visconti.