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.
Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality
Ministry of Culture’s Saudi Coffee Festival is open until Oct. 1
Gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together
Updated 28 September 2023
RIYADH: Coffee is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, with families in most regions savoring the hot beverage late afternoon or early morning every day, whether at home or at the workplace.
Almost all commercial and residential neighborhoods have cozy local coffee outlets nestled between shops.
To introduce Saudi coffee to visitors and highlight its role as part of Saudi heritage, the Ministry of Culture is organizing the Saudi Coffee Festival for 2023 in the eastern part of King Abdullah Financial District from Thursday until Oct. 1
Targeting all age groups, the festival will offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the history of Saudi coffee, as well as its cultivation methods, preparation and presentation.
Saudi coffee is made by roasting coffee beans until they are golden brown. The coffee is then boiled and served as a dark, unfiltered drink. Spices such as saffron, cardamom and cloves are also added to the boiled coffee for flavor and richness. Dates or desserts are served alongside Saudi coffee to balance the bitter taste of the drink.
Saudi national Nourah Al-Harbi, who is originally from Madinah but has lived mostly in Riyadh, said: “When the sun sets, we bring our coffee and dates.”
Sharing an anecdote from her childhood, Al-Harbi said: “I remember one of my uncles owned a farm in Madinah at the time, when I was a child … His neighbors used to gather at his farm every evening after sunset prayer for coffee.”
Despite the popularity of the beverage, some of the Kingdom’s regions prefer other drinks during their afternoon hours, such as tea.
Hashid Adeel Mohammed, who works at a local company that specializes in warm beverages like coffee and tea, said: “Some people prefer black tea, while others like green tea, which they also have specific ways of preparing.”
Another business entrepreneur, Anas Al-Balouchi, who works as a general manager at a coffee and tea company, spoke to Arab News about some of the norms when it comes to afternoon hot drinks for people in Madinah, where he is from.
“In Madinah, tea time starts from late afternoon until sunset. But coffee is consumed from sunset to early in the evening,” he said.
“Black coffee is served in the morning.”
In a family-oriented culture, gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together, whether relatives sharing a house or neighbors living in the same community.
Iraqi artist Adel Abidin discusses his Ithra Art Prize-winning work
The artist’s ‘On’ represents an ancient slave rebellion in his homeland
Updated 28 September 2023
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: The Helsinki-based Iraqi artist Adel Abidin’s work “On” (‘Aan’ in Arabic) was unveiled at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) this month. His proposal for the work won Abidin the Ithra Art Prize earlier this year.
The large-scale mural, imbued with abstract inked figures on Japanese rice paper, takes center stage inside Ithra’s Great Hall. It explores the intricate relationship between history, memory and identity while also touching on the intangible and crucial aspects of oral storytelling, particularly, as Abidin emphasizes, in the context of Arab history, much of which is shrouded in ambiguity and differing interpretations.
Abidin’s design was selected from more than 10,000 submissions by a jury comprising gallerists, academics, curators and artists. His prize was $100,000, in addition to the full funding required to bring his project to fruition. It is now part of Ithra’s permanent art collection.
Abidin’s work confronts the subjectivity of historical discourses by reexamining oral accounts of the Zanj rebellion against the Abbassid Caliphate, which began in 869 CE in southern Iraq. He has, he says, tried to incorporate greater nuance with the inclusion of previously overlooked perspectives. The repeated stamping of the word “Aan” in Arabic script reflects the word-of-mouth stories that have been lost from historical records, while overlapping visual representations of varied, even contradictory, versions of the tale of the rebellion, result in an abstract work that allows the viewer to interpret it for themselves.
“The piece examines the intangibility of history through the tradition of oral storytelling and the narration of history. Recently, I have been very interested in studying history, especially its intangible and vulnerable aspects,” Abidin tells Arab News. “But I couldn’t just study history in general; I needed a case to focus on. And I found this very interesting revolt that took place in southern Iraq, with the aim of emancipating slaves. I found this matter to be worth digging deeper into.”
In 869, slaves (referred to as “Zanj” in numerous sources) — mostly of African origin and enslaved in Basra — rose up against their masters and against the Abbasid caliphate in protest against the harsh conditions in which they lived.
“When I won the award and began really researching this story, I realized how everyone told a different story about his or her origins,” says Abidin. “It’s almost as if no one really knew where she or he was from. It is fascinating and it makes for great material.”
Abidin found that the oral reports of the rebellion had been modified. Such ambiguity in the storytelling served as his impetus for naming his artwork “On.”
“This process creates a vivid representation of the 14-year rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate and offers a fresh perspective on this significant event in Arab history,” he stated. “The resulting wall installation highlights the ultimate fragility of history and the organic, but unreliable, nature of memory.”
Abidin, who moved to Finland from Iraq in 2001, has, for much of his career, created works that combine politics, art, memory and identity. He has used various mediums to present his bold and thought-provoking visions, including video, installation, sculpture and painting.
His Ithra Art Prize-winning work is more delicate in nature — and less ‘edgy’ than the artist’s previous works. But, as Abidin points out, it is equally audacious in its own way.
“When I began the work, I was out of my comfort zone; I had never worked this way before,” he explains. “I have never used this technique before; I’ve never worked with ink or rice paper in this manner in my entire life."
Abidin hired a specialist in the use of Japanese rice paper and traditional gluing techniques to teach him. “I learned and now I want to continue,” he says.
“I wanted to give the piece every sound and sight — the entire story — but I didn’t want to be a historian,” he continues. “The best way to do that was to stamp it with the word ‘on.’ By stamping that word, I am interpreting what happened with my own emotions.”
Viewing the work, one can see that Abidin pressed down harder with the stamp in some places, so there are a variety of shades within the iterations of “on.”
“Technically, I was very keen to create a work that gives the feeling of a tapestry of history,” he says.
He has succeeded. The ethereal yet grand nature of “On” gives it a sense of historical importance — although it is still very much of the present too, with its abstract lines and forms shifting in and out of each other like they are dancing, or fighting, or rebelling, in an echo of the actual uprising that happened so long ago and is now brought back to life through Abidin’s work.
Masterpieces from Christie’s upcoming Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction showcased in Dubai
Updated 28 September 2023
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: A meticulously crafted carpet from 16th century Persia went on display at Christie’s Dubai this week, marking a prelude of what is to come in Christie’s autumn edition of the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction in London, taking place on Oct. 26.
The sale will offer a curated selection of ceramics, manuscripts, carpets, textiles, works on paper and metalwork from the Islamic world spanning the 9th century to the 20th century and featuring a diversity of artistic traditions, hailing from a geographical area stretching from Spain through to Central Asia.
The Baron Edmond de Rothschild “Bird and Palmette” Imperial Safavid carpet is one of the stars of the auction. Likely woven between 1565-1575 in Qazvin in central Persia, during the reign of the enlightened Shah Tahmasp, it is a jewel to behold, utterly mesmerizing for its ornate attention to detail and sumptuous coloring. It is being sold for a starting estimate of £2,000,000–3,000,000.
“With so few examples remaining in private hands of this quality it is a rare opportunity to appreciate such a superbly preserved icon of Safavid art, firsthand,” said Louise Broadhurst, International Head of Rugs and Carpets, in a statement. “The sale showcases further extraordinary examples of carpet weaving from an unpublished early 16th century ‘Lotto’ rug to the cherished 17th century central Anatolian rug of the American connoisseur James F. Ballard, and more recent 19th century carpets perfect for today’s interior decorators.”
The carpet, which survives in impeccable condition, was produced during the Golden Age of carpet weaving under the Safavid dynasty (1501-1732). The carpets of this period, like this one, are impressive for their meticulous attention to detail, ornate design, and use of sumptuous materials and colors.
“This is the leading lot of the auction,” emphasized Broadhurst to Arab News. “It was created during the reign of one of the greatest Shahs of the Safavid dynasty who was responsible for reigniting and re-identifying with the arts.”
The synergy of art and design during this period produced Safavid art. The design, creative process and aesthetic detail and breadth of the works and objects produced, is, explains Broadhurst, reflected in the Safavid carpet.
This carpet's provenance can be traced back to the early 19th century, to Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) and his wife Adélaïde, who were members of the banking industry at the time.
Sarah Pumbly, Head of Department of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, told Arab News: “Not only does the sale include the various owner sales, but it includes this single owner sale of 150 paintings, Indian paintings, which come from the collection of Toby Falk, one of the foremost academics in the field of Indian and Islamic painting until he died in 1997. It was compiled over three decades, before he passed away and it is the first time that the paintings have come to the market in 25 years.”
There are examples of painting from various schools across India, from Mughal to Pahari, Deccani, Company School as well as some of the lesser-known Rajasthani centers. Toby felt it was important to identify schools that people hadn't yet appreciated or understood.
The collection of Toby Falk comprises more than 500 years of Indian painting, including highlights like “A Lesser Coucal” (1777) commissioned by Sir Elijah and Lady Mary Impey as part of the Impey Album, one of the most well-known and sought after group of natural history Company School paintings. There is also a small number of Persian paintings from the 16th to the 19th century as well as one mesmerizing 16th century Ottoman album page.
Other highlights from the sale include a large Khorassan Bronze Incense Burner in the form of a lion from northeast Iran, dating to the 12th century and going for an estimate of £400,000-600,000. Lions have served as a symbol of power and authority since prehistoric times. In Iran, the lion was an important symbol from as early as the Achaemenid period.
There’s also the sword (tulwar), and scabbard from the personal armory of Tipu Sultan (reigned 1782-99) from Mysore, Deccan, India, dated Mauludi 122/1796-97 AD, and estimated at £1,500,000-2,000,000. This sword and another offered have a richly documented provenance, coming from the collection of Charles, the first Marquess and second Earl Cornwallis to whom they were presented during the 18th century.
The sword has been passed down through the family since the 18th century when came into the possession Charles, 1st Marquess Cornwallis and 2nd Earl Cornwallis KG PC (1738-1805) after the death of Tipu Sultan at the fall of Seringapatam.
The Safavid carpet and other highlights from the sale from India made their way to Dubai — a market, including that of Saudi Arabia, which is growing in importance for the auction house.
“The GCC market, with its many new museums and art initiatives that are opening up, they have probably the primary people that I would suspect and expect to be interested in a carpet of like this as there are very few available,” said Broadhurst.
“There’s been a growth in new institutions in the UAE and Qatar,” she continued. “We expect very much increased growth and awareness of the art market in Saudi Arabia.”
Stunning Seville: The Andalusian capital will delight culture vultures and beauty seekers alike
Updated 28 September 2023
SEVILLE: The southern Spanish city of Seville is, as its various nicknames — ‘The Pearl of Andalusia,’ ‘The Frying Pan of Europe’ and ‘The City of Oranges’ — renowned for its cuisine and its beauty. Films and TV shows including “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Game of Thrones” have been shot here. But wandering the Andalusian capital’s ancient streets, you quickly realize just how much of a historical powerhouse it is when it came to politics, knowledge, commerce, and culture, too.
For instance, it is believed that the passionate dance of flamenco and the staple cuisine of bite-size tapas were developed here. In the close-by port city of Huelva, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (known in Spain, where he died in 1506, as Cristobal Colon) famously set sail to the ‘New World’ of the Americas in 1492 — under the sponsorship of Spanish royalty — changing the course of history. There are clear Middle Eastern influences here too, in both the architecture and the language. The city’s Spanish name — Sevilla — is based on the way the ruling Arabs pronounced the name of the land in their control: Ishbiliyya. In Seville, prosperous, centuries-long Arab rule lasted until 1248, when Christian forces recaptured it in a campaign known as the ‘Reconquista.’
Seville is a city that will delight history buffs and curious roamers alike. Take the time to explore its narrow paths, tiled walls, quaint shops, and majestic interiors.
We are staying at the centrally-located Hotel Vincci Molviedro, situated in a peaceful square just a 10-minute walk away from the two most-visited attractions the city has to offer: the Alcazar and the cathedral. Inside the hotel, near reception, there is a fascinating view of an ancient, 22-meter stretch of a centuries-old Arab-built defensive wall.
The nearby Castelar road leads to a bustling web of streets where tapas bars, cafes, and speciality shops (and, of course, souvenir sellers) sit side-by-side. It’s a fun place to explore on your way to the Real Alcazar, a World Heritage Site that is still used by the Spanish royal family today. This ancient palace boasts airy courtyards, carved ceilings, calligraphy-covered walls, and sophisticated apartments that reveal an evolution in style from Moorish to Renaissance. It can be a tricky venue to navigate, but make sure to see its main highlight, the intricate, golden-dome-topped Hall of Ambassadors.
Seville is home to the world’s largest gothic cathedral — its vast interior can be overwhelming at first, with its high golden altar and detailed chapels. But, if there’s a point of historical interest that you shouldn’t miss it’s the grand tomb of Columbus, whose remains were transported from Cuba to Seville in 1902.
The cathedral is paired with the iconic La Giralda tower, which used to operate as a minaret for the mosque that was formerly sited here. You are allowed up its 34 flights of ramps, but the bell-covered top will likely be congested and your view blocked by tourists and metal bars. For far superior 360-degree views of the city, head to Las Setas — the mushrooms —at the Plaza de la Encarnacion. Billed as the world’s largest wooden structure, it stands around 26 meters high and houses a theater, a market, a museum, restaurants, and a rooftop terrace with views of the old city.
If you want to simply sit back, relax, and do some people-watching, head to the colorful, tile-studded benches of the vast Plaza de Espana. Inside its semi-circle are bridges, balustrades and numerous ceramic murals portraying scenes from Spanish history.
After all that sight-seeing, you’ll need a bite to eat. Near the cathedral, there’s a popular casual eatery called La Paella. Most customers opt for the eponymous rice dish, but if you want to try something different, go for the arroz negro — rice infused with squid ink — and add a few dollops of garlicky alioli sauce for a kick in taste.
Elsewhere, lively Guichot street near the charming Plaza Nueva also has several dining options. We recommend El Atun, which specializes in tuna dishes.
If you really want to treat yourself, then a meal on the terrace of Mariatrifulca restaurant on the Triana Bridge is a wonderful way to take in the breathtaking scenery of the Guadalquivir River (another name based on an Arabic term: Wadi Al-Kabir or ‘the great river’) — the beating heart of Seville which brought prosperity to the area and its people over centuries.
The finale also featured performances by Hollywood stars including pop star Jason Derulo, award-winning songwriter Diane Warren, multi-platinum-selling band Thirty Seconds to Mars, musician Jon Batiste and chef and TV personality Cat Cora.
The winner of the 18th season are trainer Adrian Stoica and his dog Hurricane, earning them a $1 million prize and a headlining show in Las Vegas.