DUBAI: Tunisian artist Safia Farhat was not only a dynamic tapestry creator, but had an impressive resumé including ceramicist, educator, women’s rights activist, and publishing pioneer. She was a woman who accumulated a list of historic firsts in her lifetime.
She contributed to the growth of visual culture in independent Tunisia under the progressive leadership of President Habib Bourguiba. Farhat designed national stamps, had her fiber art displayed in the country’s banks, hotels, and schools, and worked with expert weavers and artisans in her studio.
Farhat was born in the harbor city of Rades in 1924 and raised in a well-to-do family. It was her maternal aunt, who was skilled in knitting and crochet, who cultivated Farhat’s love of art. She went on to study at the Tunis Institute of Fine Arts and was reportedly just the third Tunisian woman to enroll there.
She later became the institute’s first female director in 1966 — remaining in the role for more than a decade. She encouraged female students to take part in the institute’s programming. Farhat also founded Tunisia’s first magazine for women, “Faiza,” delving into feminism and decolonization, among other social issues.
Her colorful, thickly lined tapestries depict animals, plants, and men and women wearing traditional clothing. “When I saw her work, I was really fascinated by its sculptural elements, the color, the various techniques that were embedded in it — and by their stories,” Jessica Gerschultz, a professor of African studies at the University of Kansas, told Arab News.
“She seems to really play on self-referentiality,” she continued. “Her works are referring to her other works, so there are many symbols — lots of triangles and zigzags — integrated into her weavings and other works that she did in ceramics and iron.”
Farhat, who died in 2004, is a name still recognized by some older people in her homeland, but she has been generally overlooked, ironically, by young art students in Tunisia. “At the institute, maybe students know her name, but they’re not very familiar with her,” noted Gerschultz. “Maybe they don’t know her at all.”
International interest in Farhat, however, was boosted last year as a result of her works being showcased at the Venice Biennale. “It’s wonderful to see her contributions now being viewed more widely,” said Gerschultz.
Cultural Skills Competition winners honored by Saudi ministers
Education minister lauds Saudi leadership’s belief in building human capabilities
Competition was held with the aim of discovering creative students in various cultural fields
Updated 29 May 2023
MAKKAH: Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud and Education Minister Yousef Al-Benyan recently presented awards to the winners of the Cultural Skills Competition for school students.
The ceremony, that honored victors in the contest’s six categories, was held at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, on Sunday.
The national competition, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, was launched by the two ministries, and included male and female students from primary grades four, five, and six, and secondary and intermediary stages.
Congratulating winners in the heritage, theater, music, visual arts, literature, and film classes, Al-Benyan said that the competition’s cultural courses aimed to encourage creativity and enterprise among school students.
And he praised the renaissance and successes witnessed through Saudi Vision 2030, attributing them to the country’s leaders, “who believe in the importance of building human capabilities, and harnessing all capabilities and resources to prepare future generations.”
Speaking on behalf of Prince Badr, Deputy Minister of Culture Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez said: “Thanks to the support of King Salman, and the empowerment by our inspiring role model Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, we stand today to witness outputs that deserve celebration and appreciation, which are the fruit of joint national efforts aiming at discovering talents that will take our culture and creativity to promising horizons in the near future.”
During the awards ceremony, a video presentation showed the journey of the students during different stages of the competition, which attracted more than 247,000 participants.
The winners of the six categories each received SR100,000 ($27,000), while the second- and third-place winners got SR75,000 and SR50,000, respectively.
The competition was held with the aim of discovering creative students in various cultural fields, empowering them, and developing their skills.
Its six categories take in visual arts, such as plastic and digital arts, Arabic calligraphy, literature including manga and short stories, heritage taking in traditional and folk performing arts, music and singing, short films, and theater.
Mika Kobayashi makes Kingdom concert debut in Jeddah
Mika Kobayashi: The audiences were truly captivating and engaging from the beginning
Kobayashi: It was amazing to see that my songs transcended language and so many people knew me and listened
Updated 29 May 2023
JEDDAH: Japanese singer Mika Kobayashi played Saudi Arabia for the first time with two concerts in Jeddah on Friday and Saturday.
The singer mesmerized the audience with a power-packed performance of famous tracks from “Attack on Titan,” “Gundam UC,” and “Aldnoah Zero” at City Walk’s Anime Village.
Kobayashi told Arab News that Saudi Arabia had provided her with a totally different experience from other venues at which she has played.
She said: “The audiences were truly captivating and engaging from the beginning. It was amazing to see that my songs transcended language and so many people knew me and listened.”
Despite the hot conditions, Kobayashi felt the vibes were cool as the audience’s reaction kept her comfortable throughout.
She is now keen to learn more about her fans in Saudi Arabia and looks forward to future opportunities in the Kingdom.
She added: “I didn’t have much of an impression before of Saudi Arabia, but visiting this country was truly memorable and changed my perspective.
“The people are so friendly and welcoming. That’s one of the reasons I want to come back and perform again.”
Vocalist Kobayashi has worked with Hiroyuki Sawano since 2010. She first collaborated on the album “Massugu na Otoko,” providing vocals for the song “Illusion.”
She features on “Final Fantasy,” “Blue Exorcist,” and various other solo projects. Her signature singing style owes much to classical music, but her talent is distinguished by the power she displays while performing songs of battle and conflict.
Hamza Mohammed, 25, who attended one of her shows, said: “The audience was provided with a real treat. We chanted the famous lines of the songs with Mika Kobayashi.
“The love for anime in the Kingdom has increased, and such concerts just bring so much to fans like us who can listen to our favorite songs and engage with the singers.”
Muzn Alhind, 29, said: “The Anime Village is the best zone in City Walk. I have attended three concerts so far and enjoyed all of them. Mika’s concert was one of the best as a debut performance. She sang fiercely and strongly while engaging with the audience.”
Swedish Somali model Ikram Abdi swaps Cannes for Monte Carlo
Updated 29 May 2023
DUBAI: Swedish Somali model Ikram Abdi swapped the Cannes Film Festival red carpet for the racetrack this week as she jetted from the south of France to Monaco.
The model took to Instagram Stories to share exhilarating videos from the stands of the Monaco Grand Prix late Sunday, just hours after she was spotted at the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival.
For the closing red carpet, which was followed by a screening of Pixar’s “Elemental,” the model showed off a bold black-and-white gown by French fashion label Nina Ricci.
“Model @IkramAbdi wore look 36 from (the) Nina Ricci Fall/Winter 2023 collection, designed by @harris_reed — a fully embroidered black-and-white sequin ensemble with (a) wide-brimmed hat and neck flower — to the ‘Elemental’ screening and closing ceremony red carpet at the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival,” the label posted on Instagram, referring to the house’s British American creative director Harris Reed.
Reed took to Instagram to praise the model, saying “my Cannes carpet icon” alongside a carousel of images of the hijab-wearing runway star.
Abdi made her catwalk debut in 2018 during London Modest Fashion Week. She would go on to walk for the likes of Iceberg and Charles Jeffrey, as well as front campaigns for major international brands, including Burberry and Nike.
Meanwhile, Formula One champion Max Verstappen’s lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand Prix gave the Red Bull driver his fourth victory of the season and a record 39th overall for the team as he extended his championship lead to 39 points over teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.
Abdi was on hand to take in the race, before she took to Instagram to share photos of her evening in rainy Monte Carlo, including a picturesque shot of yachts in the harbor, as well as snaps of her dinner with a view of the city’s natural surroundings.
The model was not the only celebrity to attend the race day festivities — Hollywood stars Tom Holland, Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas and Tom Holland, as well as Paris Saint-Germain football icon Neymar Jr., were among the famous faces at the event.
Taylor Swift wears Lebanese label Azzi & Osta in new music video
Updated 29 May 2023
DUBAI: US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift was spotted wearing a couture gown by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta in her latest music video, “Karma,” which sees her collaborate with rapper Ice Spice on a reimagining of the same song from the “Midnights” album.
The handmade gown, part of their “Between Light and Sea' Couture 2023 Collection,” features antique silver embroidered sequins on silk georgette, adorned with ombre, silver and gold embroidered leaves on the shoulders, long cape, skirt and cape.
The new music video had its world premiere during the second night of Swift’s “Eras Tour” show in New Jersey. Ice Spice also made a surprise appearance during the concert and performed the hit track with Swift.
Swift is no stranger to Arab designs. The singer has worn a number of creations by designers Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad during her ongoing tour.
‘Kandahar’ star Ali Fazal talks filming in AlUla, working with film greats
The Indian actor spent many childhood holidays in the Kingdom, now he’s starring in ‘Kandahar,’ the first international feature to be completely shot there
Updated 28 May 2023
DUBAI: It’s funny how life works out. Decades ago, Indian actor Ali Fazal was just a boy spending every summer with his Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, idly dreaming that one day he might make a Hollywood movie in some far-off place. Little did he know that one day he would have a lead role in a major Hollywood blockbuster filmed in the same country that helped raise him, the first international film to be shot in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla region: “Kandahar,” starring modern action icon Gerard Butler.
“It was such a pleasant surprise. I never thought I’d be shooting a movie in Saudi Arabia, where I spent such a large part of my childhood. Filming anything in the Kingdom was something unheard of for so long, but it’s beautiful how times change,” Fazal tells Arab News.
“It was one of the most welcoming experiences of my career. Saudis are such a warm people — that I knew — but I was shocked when I landed. I thought I knew this country, but I’d never seen anywhere like AlUla in my life. It’s such a stunning, exotic place, and it was such a joy to call it home for those three months,” he continues.
Fazal felt at home in more ways than one. He’s become the heir apparent to the late Irrfan Khan’s throne as the best crossover Hollywood-Bollywood actor working today. After standout performances in “Furious 7,” “Victoria & Abdul,” “Death on the Nile” and Amazon’s acclaimed ongoing action series “Mirzapur,” thriving on a set full of actors and crew from across the world has become his trademark.
That doesn’t mean, however, that his experience on “Kandahar” didn’t teach him a lot. While he’s used to hands-on combat sequences in “Mirzapur,” working with the same team behind Butler’s films “Angel Has Fallen” and “Greenland” brought things to a different level. To match the experience of everyone else around him, Fazal had to put in the work.
“I ended up landing in AlUla 25 days before the rest of the cast, just so I could learn how to ride a motorcycle in this completely different setting than anything I’ve worked in before. Most of the film I’m chasing Gerry Butler, and though I knew how to ride a bike, riding a bike in the desert is a whole new game,” says Fazal.
While Fazal and Butler are fierce rivals on screen, off it the two shared every meal at AlUla’s Banyan Tree resort, with Butler’s playful spirit creating a tight bond between each of the cast members that continues until today.
“(Butler) just immediately brings you into the fold. He could easily just come in, do his job and go, but he made a point to champion all of us, and that takes a lot of humility and integrity. He would come up to me every day and say, ‘I saw your rushes, and they’re good but I think we can take it in a different direction.’ He always had great notes. He made the film better, and he made me better,” says Fazal.
“We had this tight-knit little community by night, and by day I think the people of AlUla thought there were earthquakes coming through, because of the hardcore action mayhem we were creating,” Fazal continues.
Working on huge international projects has many benefits. Every time Fazal works with someone like Gerard Butler, Judi Dench, Stephen Frears or Kenneth Branagh, he takes away personal lessons on how he can be a better actor and a better person, and sees what it takes to reach the pinnacle of his chosen art.
“I keep thinking back to one moment with Branagh. It was the night before the Oscar nominations were to be announced, and we were all at the British Museum after the premiere of “Death on the Nile” — sitting back and celebrating — but he was sitting in the corner writing his next stage play. That’s diligence. He puts the time in. The next morning, he was nominated for seven Oscars,” says Fazal.
Thinking about those moments, he confesses, also has made it harder and harder to accept offers for projects that don’t come with that same substance and commitment. As a result, he’s gotten a lot more discerning, and a lot more wary of the limelight of Bollywood, though he knows he’s holding himself back from becoming the kind of celebrity some of his colleagues have become.
“I run away from the vanity that has kept us in a bubble in Bollywood. I don’t judge the people — it’s the system itself. Indian film can be so much more, and the rest of India is showing that now. If you go down south, we have some of the best films in the world coming out of Malayalam cinema and Tamil cinema, and both the Oscars and Cannes, for example, are taking notice,” Fazal adds.
Fazal sees Saudi Arabia pushing itself further, sees artists like Branagh and Butler pushing themselves further, and only wants to surround himself with people, and operate in places, that do the same.
“I just don’t want to do mediocre stuff. If the economics of our respective industries is keeping us apart, that doesn’t mean our sensibilities should suddenly dumb down,” says Fazal. “Everything is in competition with everything else right now, anyways. If you’re on a streaming platform, your project is sitting next to an Oscar winner and some groundbreaking new Polish show and you’re only a click away from rejection. You can’t cheat and get away with mediocrity. You have to really get to the truth of things — the painstaking, emotionally draining truth — or people across the world will just ignore it.”
Fazal wants to step up his own game, but he also wants to identify and raise awareness of the types of artists and performers who are putting in the work but not yet receiving recognition. After all, while the great Irrfan Khan was able to find massive success in both India and Hollywood before his death, he spent decades not getting the respect he deserved.
“I want to champion people, because nobody champions artists like us. The same people who are now writing books about Irrfan spent years disregarding him,” he says. “We need people to support great artists not when the rest of the world discovers their talent, but now.”
Thankfully, the recognition that took Khan decades to find is coming to Fazal more easily. True to his word, his next projects fit the mold of what he yearns for, first with the Netflix original film “Khufiya,” from renowned filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, and then a starring role in Academy Award winning director Bill Guttentag’s film “Afghan Dreamers,” the true story of Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team.
“I want to be uncomfortable. I want to feel something I’ve never felt before. Great vision pushes you places you have never been, and then something new comes out,” he says. “That’s what I love. That’s where I find my greatest joy.”