Ithra hosts world premiere of Hijrah documentary at Islamic Arts Biennale

Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
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Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
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Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
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Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 March 2023
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Ithra hosts world premiere of Hijrah documentary at Islamic Arts Biennale

Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet.”
  • Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ovidio Salazar, the production is the first-ever cinematic account of the Hijrah
  • It captures the moment that marked the start of the spread of Islam

JEDDAH: Visitors gathered on Thursday at the Islamic Arts Biennale for the world premiere of Ithra’s “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” documentary film.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ovidio Salazar, the production is the first-ever cinematic account of the Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad’s eight-day journey from Makkah to Madinah in A.D. 622. It captures the moment that marked the start of the spread of Islam.

Dr. Abdullah Alkadi is a man with a mission. For the last 40 years, he has been focused on filling in the blanks to track the route that Prophet Muhammad walked many centuries ago.

Armed with a pair of binoculars, a wristwatch and various smart gadgets to measure coordinates based on a detail mentioned in a line of text, the professor of urban and regional planning at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University has studied what walking that path entailed.

He consulted several respected experts in the field, and used the new findings to paint an accurate and realistic picture that gives today’s audience a deeper connection to something that occurred many centuries ago.

Alkadi said: “My life has been determined by my quest to study and experience, not only the exact route the prophet and his companions took across the desert, but also the wider story, life, and legacy of this journey.”

The documentary, much like the book, follows the narrative in sections. Each of the Hijrah’s eight days is presented like a chapter.

The story of the great migration that Prophet Muhammad undertook has been one of the region’s most continuous narratives for the past 1,400 years, a tale that has been fondly repeated by Muslims and known by non-Muslims for centuries.

The significance of the Hijrah can be defined as the transition from the practice of Islam as an act of worship to a way of life, and Ithra’s exhibition, the book, and now the film, presents that journey to modern audiences.

On launching the book in 2022, Dr. Idries Trevathan told Arab News: “The Hijrah route is inaccessible by car. You literally have to walk it. It goes through meandering little valleys, and it’s very rocky.

“I think a lot of you when you think of Hijrah abroad, people outside Saudi Arabia think of the sand dunes. It’s not. It’s mountainous and it’s really difficult terrain.”

The exhibition was presented in collaboration with the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, the House of Islamic Arts in Jeddah, the King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowment Libraries in Madinah, and Turquoise Mountain, a prince of Wales charity supporting arts and heritage in the Middle East.

Ithra’s Hijrah started to come to life about four years ago, first with the exhibition, then the book and documentary.

Salazar said: “With Prof. Alkadi acting as guide, we retraced the path taken by the Prophet Muhammad on his monumental journey.

“We intended to visualize details of a cultural memory essential to understanding Islam’s foundation story. In this sense we made it as a deep map of the route — not just a two-dimensional view of what is there, but rather the why and how of it. 

“In this way, it attempts to ‘map the unmappable’. I hope that ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet’ will help form a deeper understanding and start a conversation inviting everyone to reflect on the meaning of migration itself.”

Jassim Al-lawati, who was the Omani-English sound recordist and drone operator for the documentary, told Arab News that the schedule was a tough but rewarding one.

He said: “I think we all knew it was going to be really very tough. I’ve done lots of films and lots of long-form TV shows but this was a little bit different.

“We were all invested in it heavily, and spiritually. There was the local team, the logistics team. I think it must have been 16, maybe 18 people. People stayed for the whole month.

“It was eight days for the prophet to walk; it took us about four weeks with all the equipment and the charging.

“We went in January, so the weather was fine. I think probably most of the people you speak to, I think shooting the cave, it was the hardest day of their life. We had so much equipment, we had to walk all the way up there and film on the way up.”

Al-lawati called it the ultimate project, and it was one that helped him connect with his “Arab side” following years of living in London.

“It felt like it was the peak of your career, and maybe life,” he said.

The documentary is not meant to cater to only Muslims; it is something Ithra hopes transcends space and spirituality.

Christopher Wilton-Steer attended the opening night screening as a longtime friend of Salazar and the film crew.

He told Arab News: “I was reflecting on what this [film] would mean to a Muslim versus a non-Muslim. I guess as a non-Muslim I’m looking at this as a sort of historical journey.

“This is a piece of history; unearthing this route, looking at the milestones along it. How the prophet took this journey, what he encountered on his way, the tribes that he met and the geological features. So for me, I'm looking at it purely as a sort of historical piece of research.

“I didn't know anything about this route before. I kind of had a vague idea about this Makkah and Madinah journey but I had no idea about this route. It surprised me that it was eight days and that the guys took some five weeks, from what I understand, to get to walk that whole path.

“I think the thing that’s probably surprised me the most is that these are stories that we know from books we’ve read that are thousands of years old, but nobody has ever charted this before and actually done the research using the technology to do it.

“I think when you can connect this sort of story with the on-the-ground reality, then there’s something amazing that happens that connects it in a way that makes it more than just something that happened in the past. You can kind of see it, touch it and feel it today.”

Medina Trevathan, an artist who has participated at the biennale by hosting workshops and selling items, said: “I’m really excited to see the film in that visual format and I’ve been very lucky as my brother gifted me the book and I’ve been kind of perusing it throughout the trip and the images are breathtaking.”

“Hijrah: In the Footsteps of the Prophet” exhibition at Ithra’s Great Hall, Dhahran, was curated by the team of in-house experts led by Dr. Trevathan, the curator of Islamic art at Ithra, and Dr. Kumail Almusaly, the curator of international exhibitions. 

The collaboration with Alkadi presents a first-of-its-kind holistic and immersive experience of the prophet’s journey.

Nora Alzamil, head of programs at Ithra, said: “The Hijrah project showcases over two decades of research brought forth by a world-renowned team of subject matter experts in various fields.

“A first endeavor of its kind, The Hijrah project by Ithra sheds new light onto one of the most important journeys which has impacted civilization’s culture, heritage, and artistic vision to this day.”

A virtual reality experience of the Hijrah exhibition, using cutting-edge VR technologies, will also be made available at the Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah.

The guided tour will transport visitors to the Hijrah exhibition at Ithra and will be available and accessible through Ithra’s website for the duration of the exhibition’s run.          

Farah Abushullaih, the head of the museum at Ithra, told Arab News: “Inshallah, the Hijrah film is going to be premiering in Ithra as part of the Hijrah exhibition.

“And after that it’s going to be traveling with the Hijrah exhibition to Riyadh and then hopefully to Madinah in the future. After that, it will go internationally, along with the Hijrah exhibition, touring the world.”


Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
Updated 28 February 2024
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Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh’s Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
  • Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale celebrates work from around the world
  • Many pieces being shown for the first time in public

RIYADH: Work by several of the best artists from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province will be among the offerings at this year’s international Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh.

Among them is Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, who has been a force in the Saudi art world for many decades. He has also written several books on the subject, including his 2000 work, “The Journey of the Saudi Fine Arts Movement.”

At the exhibition, which has the theme “After Rain,” his series of ink drawings, titled “Palm, Bow and Fragments” (1990-91) is on show for the very first time.

Mohammad Al-Faraj. (Supplied)

Born in 1954 in Al-Ahsa, Al-Soliman told Arab News he created the collection during the Gulf War, more than 30 years ago, and that the paintings reflected the unfolding chaos that engulfed neighboring Kuwait.

“I lived with the side effects of the Kuwaiti conflict and its liberation. I started organically, I didn’t know it would become a series,” he said.

“I’ve always loved drawing since I was young, I would scribble daily, it is part of my life. At school, I was good at art only, nothing else.

Nabila Al-Bassam. (Supplied)

“Since 1970, I have been making art. And this series on display at the biennale — some in color, some not — I rolled them up and put them aside. This is the first time anyone has seen them displayed, even my family at home didn’t see this. The curators came to my studio and selected them,” he said.

Another Eastern Province artist whose work is on show is Nabila Al-Bassam, who founded the Arab Heritage Gallery in Alkhobar in 1979. She also is also showcasing previously unseen works at the event.

“I was invited to join the biennale and said yes because I am an artist and I have a lot of artwork and no one has seen it,” she told Arab News.

Armin Linke and Ahmed Mater. (Supplied)

“I have my own gallery. It was one of the first in the Kingdom and it’s still working, so I’m very happy about it. But I don’t really exhibit a lot of my own work, I exhibit other people: Saudi artists and others who draw about the Middle East.”

Al-Bassam is a mixed-media artist who uses traditional textile-making processes to produce and create multi-layered collages. She said she was delighted to be among the artists on show.

“What stood out to me at the biennale was the works of Saudi women artists, I really was surprised,” she said.

“I’ve seen many beautiful works. The installations, the hangings — very, very interesting, made out of metal and things like this. There’s a lot to be excited about. They were large works and they were new works, completely new, modern and a new way of thinking.”

Tara Aldughaither. (Supplied)

Several of the younger generation of Eastern Province artists are also exhibiting in Riyadh.

Among them is Tara Aldugaither, 34, who grew up in Dhahran and in 2020 founded Sawtasura — “voice of the image” — a community-based platform that collects and reimagines the musical histories of Arab women.

Another is Mohammad Al-Faraj, a 31-year-old from Al Ahsa whose work reflects his environment. His playful pieces regularly feature palm trees.

The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale is being held in the city’s JAX district and runs until May 24.


Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway
Updated 27 February 2024
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Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

Amira Al-Zuhair, Arab models turn heads on the runway

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair, alongside British Moroccan star Nora Attal and Moroccan Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi, turned heads at a futuristic Missoni show in Milan before heading to Paris Fashion Week.

The Italian luxury fashion label’s runway showcased an abundance of printed designs featuring lines in various orientations over the weekend.

From horizontal stripes on flowing dresses to diagonal lines adorning tailored jackets and vertical stripes enhancing structured coats, the collection offered a diverse array of patterns. 

Her outfit comprised vertically striped tights, diagonal striped shorts and a printed cover-up. (Getty Images)

Each garment exemplified Missoni’s expertise in knitwear, with the interplay of lines adding depth and dimension to the pieces. 

Al-Zuhair, born in Paris to a French mother and Saudi father, made a striking statement in a black, white, and grey ensemble on the runway. Her outfit comprised vertically striped tights, diagonal striped shorts and a printed cover-up. 

The leggings were integrated into her shoes, adding a unique twist to her ensemble.

Completing the look, she adorned a headpiece that echoed the leggings and accessorized with brown and white shades.

El-Maslouhi captivated in a black-and-white dress featuring a short cape and a thigh-high slit. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, El-Maslouhi captivated in a black-and-white dress featuring a short cape and a thigh-high slit, elegantly paired with the same vertically striped tights worn by Al-Zuhair.

Attal also showed off a sophisticated black-and-white ensemble, wearing tailored trousers paired with a cropped fur coat.

In addition to the monochrome ensembles worn by all the aforementioned models, the Fall/Winter 2025 women’s collection showcased a burst of color without fixating on specific hues. From vibrant purple and pink to earthy brown, fiery orange, cool blue and every shade in between, the collection embraced a diverse spectrum of colors.

Attal also showed off a sophisticated black-and-white ensemble, wearing tailored trousers paired with a cropped fur coat. (Getty Images)

According to the brand’s website, the stripes symbolize “a new beginning” and intertwine “to create the drawings of the renowned (fashion) illustrator Brunetta (Mateldi).”

Al-Zuhair has made her mark on the fashion world by walking for an array of esteemed brands beyond Missoni. Her runway presence has been felt in shows for renowned fashion houses such as Maison Alaia, Brunello Cucinelli, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Giambattista Valli, Giorgio Armani, Elie Saab and many more. 

In addition to her runway appearances, Al-Zuhair has been featured in campaigns for various high-profile brands including Prada, Chanel and Carolina Herrera.

All three models will no doubt hit the runway at the ongoing edition of Paris Fashion Week, with past appearances suggesting they will walk for a clutch of high-end fashion houses during the event that wraps up on March 5.


Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week
Updated 27 February 2024
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Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

DUBAI: The first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week is set to kick off in May this year, with Aziz Ansari and Tom Segura announced as headliners for the inaugural event, to be held from May 18–26 at the Etihad Arena.

Ansari, who rose to fame for his role in “Parks and Recreation,” as well as his Emmy-winning Netflix show “Master of None,” will take to the stage on May 18.

US actor-writer Segura, one of the biggest names in the comedy business, will take the stage on May 25. He is best known for his Netflix specials “Ball Hog,” “Disgraceful,” “Mostly Stories” and “Completely Normal.” In July 2022, he released his New York Times bestselling book, ‘I’d Like To Play Alone, Please,” which was described as “laugh out loud funny” by Forbes. 

“We are thrilled to be a part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, the capital’s new annual celebration of joy and laughter, underscoring our commitment to presenting premier entertainment offerings to the vibrant community of Abu Dhabi,” said James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East.

“With an incredible line-up featuring some of the biggest names in the industry brought to the festival by Live Nation Middle East, Abu Dhabi Comedy Week will offer unforgettable experiences for comedy fans across the region. Having already established ourselves on the comedy circuit, hosting the biggest comedy show seen in the UAE last year, this is another incredible step in our live entertainment journey.”


Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
Updated 26 February 2024
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Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
  • Footage released on Archewell Foundation website at ‘evening of cooking and storytelling’
  • Event held with Mina’s List, which helped evacuate over 2,000 Afghans to US after Taliban takeover

LONDON: Footage has emerged of Meghan Markle, duchess of Sussex, cooking with a group of Afghan female refugees in the US.

The video, published on the website of her Archewell Foundation, shows her making traditional Afghan cuisine, including dumplings, with the 15 women.

The meeting, described as an “evening of cooking and storytelling,” took place on Feb. 10 in partnership with the Southern California Welcome Project, set up by the duchess in 2023, and Mina’s List, a New York-based organization that has worked with female Afghan activists and politicians since 2014.

Archewell said in a press release that the women shared “their personal stories” and discussed “the support they find from this intergenerational group of women.”

It added that in 2021, Mina’s List helped secure the evacuation of more than 2,000 Afghan women and their families from the country after it fell to the Taliban.

Subsequently, Mina’s List and Archewell “joined forces to provide community and support to these remarkable women as they begin to rebuild their lives in the US.”

Archewell said the Southern California Welcome Project is “a safe haven and inclusive environment for women who have recently resettled in the US from Afghanistan.”

It added that there are currently 11 Welcome Projects operating across the US, “designed to foster a sense of belonging through activities including sewing, art, hiking, swimming, photography, storytelling, and cooking.”

The foundation added: “By facilitating women-based programming, The Welcome Project also brings access to critical resources and opportunities that not only supports the women participating in The Welcome Project, but also improves the lives of those around them — their families and their communities.”


Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet
Updated 26 February 2024
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Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

DUBAI: US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab as she scooped up the award for best first feature for her movie “A Thousand and One.”

Rockwell’s green-hued gown hailed from the fashion label’s Resort 2024 collection and featured a dark-to-light green gradient color palette, a plunging neckline and a cape that was attached at the shoulders.

US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab. (Getty Images)

Rockwell’s film stars Teyana Taylor as a mother who kidnaps her six-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. The film had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize.

Meanwhile, Celine Song’s quiet romance “Past Lives” won two of the biggest awards at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature and best director. Other big winners were Cord Jefferson’s comedic satire “American Fiction,” with Jeffrey Wright winning for lead performer; and Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” which won prizes for Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, the Associated Press reported.

The 39th edition of the show was held Sunday in a beachside tent in Santa Monica, California, and streamed live on IMDb and Film Independent’s YouTube channels and X accounts.

“Thank you so much for letting me share what it feels like to be human, to love and be loved, and thank you for loving our film," Song said in accepting the directing prize, according to the Associated Press.

Her film was among the top nominated at the show, alongside “May December,” which won only one award (for Samy Burch's first screenplay) and “American Fiction,” which fared better.

Wright won for playing a frustrated author who becomes wildly successful by writing something he hates in “American Fiction.”

The Spirit Awards sit firmly within the larger Hollywood awards season, which culminates with the Oscars on March 10. But with a budget cap of $20 million for nominees, the show celebrates films that sometimes go unheralded, or at least under-nominated, at the bigger shows.

Last year, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” swept the Spirit Awards before going on to do the same at the Oscars. But this year, many top Oscar contenders — including “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” — would not have qualified.

Kaouther Ben Hania’s film “Four Daughters,” which is nominated for the corresponding Oscar, won best documentary. And Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” also nominated for best picture at the Oscars, won best international feature over “The Zone of Interest.”