Inside London’s largest ever exhibition of Arab art 

Inside London’s largest ever exhibition of Arab art 
‘Awaiting the Return,’ Maysoun Jazairi. (Supplied) 
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Updated 21 July 2023
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Inside London’s largest ever exhibition of Arab art 

Inside London’s largest ever exhibition of Arab art 
  • Highlights from Christie’s ‘Modern and Contemporary Work of the Arab World’ show 

DUBAI: This summer, London-based auction house Christie’s is showcasing what is billed as the largest display of Arab art to date in the British capital. Running until August 23, the “Modern and Contemporary Work of the Arab World” show is divided into two sections: “Kawkaba,” exhibiting 100 modern pieces from the UAE’s Barjeel Art Foundation, and “Emirati Art Reimagined,” highlighting the work of the late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif and the Gulf country’s contemporary talents.  

The exhibition features a variety of artistic mediums, offering insight into what creativity looked like in the region over a span of eight decades from 1939 to 2023. “It’s an educational project: If we have one visitor who comes and just discovers one tiny artwork that they like and remembers the artist’s name, I think I will be happy personally,” Dr. Ridha Moumni, the Tunisia-born deputy chairman of Christie’s Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.  

“We’re trying to establish a bridge that brings all these collections to London, making them available to a general public that is not familiar with Arab art,” he added. “As Arabs, we are very proud when we have the opportunity to showcase our art, which means showcasing our culture and history. It’s an honor and privilege. And to highlight the art of the region in our headquarters is symbolic.”   

“Kawkaba” contains an equal amount of works by female and male artists — a decision taken by Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, the Emirati art collector and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation and a firm supporter of equality in the arts.  

“I was told that it’s not possible to have an equal display of male and female artists in the region, because there were logistical, realistic, and factual reasons that would stop me from doing that. Male artists got more scholarships and opportunities. So, how can you have a gender-balanced display when men had more opportunities to learn professional art production than women?” he told Arab News. “But what we learned is that women were actually being more creative. They started doing art using henna on paper, ceramics, glasswork, and batik. I think they were doing this partially to counterbalance the lack of opportunities that they had. So the list grows if you only look for it. The lazy answer would be, ‘There aren’t any female artists.’ But if you apply yourself, you’ll find there are so many more that we didn’t know about in the Arab world.” 

In Arabic, the term ‘Kawkaba’ means ‘constellation,’ alluding to a group of star artists. But a larger meaning exists behind it. “This is a constellation of artists, but they’re also part of a greater galaxy of artists that exist out there,” Al-Qassemi explained. 

Here, Al-Qassemi and Ridha discuss some of the show’s highlights.  

‘Untitled’ 

Muazzez Rawda 

Born in Baghdad in 1906, Rawda was just 20 years old when she moved to Lebanon. She established herself in Beirut, making it her home for 60 years. Rawda reportedly opened the first kindergarten in Baghdad and was the first woman to obtain a driving license in Lebanon. She began pursuing art late in life. “What I admire about her is that she started creating art in the Fifties, when she was 50 years old. She is someone who entered the art world very late and started doing sculptures,” noted Al-Qassemi. One of them is this rare 1960s abstract, made of marble. 

‘Awaiting the Return’ 

Maysoun Jazairi 

This Syrian artist was very active between the late-Sixties and Nineties. She was influenced heavily by the region’s political turbulence, including the 1967 War and the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. As seen in the angular “Awaiting the Return,” women are at the heart of her works. “She reflected very much on the role of women as defenders of the homeland. She depicts women with weapons, for example,” said Al-Qassemi. “This work is from 1970 and is a reflection of all the people who were exiled, waiting to go back home. This is really a story that was perpetuated since the 1940s in the Arab world. A person on Twitter reshared my tweet of Jazairi’s work and said, ‘As if Jazairi painted it in the Syria of 2021. Fifty years later, there are still people who are exiled from their homes.’” 

‘Untitled’ 

Joyce Mansour 

Mansour was an Egyptian Jew and surrealist poet who was born in 1920s England. “For us at Barjeel, Joyce represents the emphasis both on women and religious minorities of the region,” said Al-Qassemi. Mansour also entered the arts late in life, creating ‘objets méchants’ (nasty objects) made of screws and nails. “She created this amalgamation that she felt reflected the reality of life that she wrote about as a poet. For her, this is an extension of her poetry,” explained Al-Qassemi. “She’s created a physical manifestation of her poetry that, for some people, is unsettling.”   

‘Curtain Shop’ 

Farah Al-Qasimi 

“I think the fact that she’s coming from different backgrounds — studying at Yale, being a photographer and a musician, doing video performance, living between the US and the UAE — shaped the very sensitive and relevant eye that she has,” Ridha said of the Emirati photographer and video artist. In her imagery, she captures highly patterned and bright interior scenes that reflect Emirati culture today. The concealed face, often hidden with objects, is a common element in her work. 

‘Four Rectangles’ 

Hassan Sharif 

Sharif, who died in 2016, was a figurehead of the Emirati art scene in the Eighties. This colorful 1985 painting is a rare work by the conceptual artist, who was influenced by the notions of form, time, and mathematical systems. “He works in an almost industrial way to build his canvas. I like the way he uses and mixes his colors. He’s a real colorist,” observed Ridha. “I have a feeling he had a very cheeky mind — in a good way. There’s something of his personality in his canvas. It’s called ‘Four Rectangles,’ but there are three canvases aligned in one rectangle.” Featuring ‘Four Rectangles’ in a UK show feels like a full-circle moment, since Sharif created it after he returned from England, where he was inspired by British constructivist art.  

‘La Mariée’ 

Safia Farhat 

A pioneering artist in post-independence Tunisia, Farhat was a ceramicist, teacher, weaver, publisher, and activist. “She is a symbol for Tunisia,” Ridha said. “She was influenced by the politics of Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia’s first president); to empower women and give them a new status for their rights.” In ‘La Mariée’, a bride is dressed in vibrant traditional clothing that is full of symbols. “Farhat participated in decolonizing painting,” Ridha explained. “‘La Mariée’ was a way to rediscover Tunisian heritage and identity and to create a new iconographic language at a time when art was part of nation-building.” 


Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert
Updated 18 July 2024
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Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

DUBAI: Global hip-hop star Eminem will be part of a stellar lineup for the 16th edition of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the 2024 Yasalam after-race concerts.

The American rapper will perform on Dec. 7, joining US pop rock band Maroon 5, who appear on Dec. 6, and British rock group Muse, who will hit the stage on Dec. 8.

Eminem has won 15 Grammy awards and an Academy award. His 2010 album “Recovery” was the first in the US to be certified platinum digitally. In March 2021, his greatest hits album, “Curtain Call: The Hits,” became the first hip-hop album to spend a full decade on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

His latest album, “The Death of Slim Shady (Coup de Grace),” was released on July 12, 2024, and currently sits in the top 10 on the Rhythmic radio charts.

The after-race concerts will take place from Dec. 5-8, with access exclusive to Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix ticket holders.


Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 
Updated 18 July 2024
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Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 
  • The Saudi alt-rock veterans are enjoying the rewards of more than two decades of work 

DAMMAM: Dammam-based alternative rock band Sound of Ruby have been telling stories through music for decades.  

“We can say that we were the first band to play rock in Dammam, or Saudi Arabia,” frontman Muhammad “The Camel” Al-Hajjaj, who founded the group in 1996, tells Arab News.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj describes the band’s sound as “punk rock, alternative rock, emphasizing Saudi and Arab music,” and cites Henry Rollins — founder of US hardcore band Black Flag — and grunge legends Nirvana as influences, along with two of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s major inspirations, Pixies and Melvins.  

But back in Nineties Dammam, there were few who shared Al-Hajjaj’s love of loud Western-style rock music. “If we saw someone wearing a rock band T-shirt, we’d immediately try to talk to him,” Al-Hajjaj says. “It was hard. The popular music (in the community) at the time was rap, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Arabic (mainstream) music. I like Michael Jackson, by the way. But it was hard. We’d hear ‘What is this?’ from people.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj, like many rock musicians, taught himself to play guitar. He was inspired to do so, he says, by a scene in 1985’s “Back to the Future” when Michael J. Fox’s character plays the famous riff from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” (also covered by several other guitar greats, including Jimi Hendrix). “It made me love the instrument,” he explains. “My father said, ‘Be good and I’ll buy you a guitar, don’t worry.’ It was the era of MTV and Channel V, there was a love for the guitar.” 

At that time, he stresses, there was no internet on which to view tutorial videos. So Al-Hajjaj bought a 20-page book (“I still have it today”) which showed the finger patterns for chords and began to learn a few songs. “Everything was do-it-yourself,” he says. “We’d get together at weekends and play small underground gigs.” More than 12,000 kilometers away from where Rollins and the Melvins were based, Al-Hajjaj was mirroring their punk DIY ethic.   

“They had vicious names for those of us who listened to that music,” he says. “But, with time, there was acceptance.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Sound of Ruby played a major part in gaining that acceptance. And they did so at a time when there was no infrastructure in place to support anyone interested in creating music in the Kingdom that was not Khaleeji pop. That, in itself, is remarkable enough. The fact that, almost 30 years on, they’re still going (albeit with some lineup changes over the years — the current roster is Al-Hajjaj along with bassist Kamal Khalil, lead guitarist Nader Al-Fassam, who’ve both been part of the group for a couple of decades, and drummer Faris Alshawaf, who only recently took over from his brother, Talal) and still retaining their alt-rock roots as they move through middle age is even more astonishing. 

It helps significantly that Khalil also owns a recording studio. “We’re lucky to have a sound engineer who’s been a member of the band for 24 years,” Al-Hajjaj says. That enabled Sound of Ruby to put out professional-level recordings (10 albums so far, plus singles) even when there were few studios geared up to capture rock music in the Kingdom.  

It’s been a long road, Al-Fassam acknowledges.  

“When I joined the band, my son was 10 days old; today, he’s 20,” he says, adding that his son is now a musician himself, performing in several bands around Dhahran.  

“We’re proud that we’ve influenced the younger generation throughout our artistic career, providing them with support and encouragement,” Al-Hajjaj says.  

Sound of Ruby members Kamal Khalil, Muhammad Al-Hajjaj and Nader Al-Fassam. (Supplied)

Many in the younger generation got a taste of Sound of Ruby in one of Saudi Arabia’s most successful movies, 2022’s wrestling-themed action-comedy “Sattar” — which is now also available on Netflix — thanks to Al-Hajjaj’s younger brother Ibrahim, an actor and comedian.  

“An opportunity came when a rock song was requested for ‘Sattar.’ Our song ‘Fannan’ was very suitable for the scene,” he said.  

In ‘Sattar,’ Ibrahim plays Saad, a soft-spoken daydreamer who longs to be a wrestler—an ambition that seems far out of reach. In the scene, he is driving in the car with his loving fiancée by his side and his demanding future mother-in-law in the backseat. When they ask him to play some music during the already awkward ride, “Fannan” blasts from the speakers. 

At first, Saad, the character, nervously fiddles with the radio dials, clearly worried they might misunderstand his musical tastes. But quickly, his voice clears and he cheerfully proclaims: “This is a Saudi band, Sound of Ruby — I like to listen to different sounds and be cultured.”  

The women look baffled and reply, “You have strange taste.” 

Throughout the movie, Saad has to constantly overcome potentially crushing obstacles — both personally and professionally. The audience never stops rooting for him. This is a relatable Saudi struggle to balance childhood dreams with adult pressures, aiming to make society and family proud; Saad’s journey begins in the underground, outside of the mainstream, fueled by passion and perseverance. It’s easy to see why Sound of Ruby were chosen to help soundtrack his anger and frustration. 

But the band’s perseverance has paid off. The music industry is starting to catch up with their ambitions. The Kingdom’s cultural scene has been forever altered by the sweeping changes of the last six years. And Sound of Ruby’s live performances are no longer secret, underground affairs. You can often catch them live at the café-cum-record store Bohemia in Alkhobar.  

“The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing — whether it be music, acting, or any artistic work,” says Al-Hajjaj. “It’s a beautiful thing that we now play in our beautiful city. I used to dream of a place like Bohemia before — previously, concerts and audience participation were all outside the kingdom. Now, with the support of the Entertainment Authority, we are breathing life into the music.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

And Sound of Ruby are making full use of this new freedom.  

“We released three new songs from our new album, that will be released this year,” Al-Hajjaj says. “Stay tuned for the album and concerts. In 2026, the band will celebrate its 30th anniversary.” 

Like the precious gemstone they’re named after, known for its resiliency, Sound of Ruby are standing the test of time. 


Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein
Updated 18 July 2024
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Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein
  • Royal couple visit firm creating content on social issues
  • Prince lauds company’s focus on mental health concerns

DUBAI: Princess Rajwa of Jordan once again showcased her impeccable maternity style this week alongside Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah during their visit to Digitales Media, a local company that creates content on social issues.

The princess, who is from Saudi Arabia, wore Max Mara’s Drina silk-and-linen dress in a warm, brown color. It featured a high waistline that accommodated her maternity figure, with a softly pleated skirt of mid-calf length.

The dress had long sleeves with subtle cuff detailing and a gently gathered neckline.

The princess paired her outfit with a pink Fendi leather purse and matching pink satin ballet flats from Miu Miu.  

“Rajwa and I were delighted to visit Digitales today ... A Jordanian company creating impactful content on social issues and mental health,” the prince wrote on his Instagram, with pictures from the visit.

The royal couple, who announced the pregnancy in April, are expecting their first child this summer.

Since then, Princess Rajwa has been turning heads with her maternity style.

In May, she was spotted shopping in Amman wearing a blue denim jumpsuit from the Tencel Denim Maternity range by British label Seraphine.

She completed her look with white sneakers and accessorized with a Bottega Veneta Mini Cabat leather tote bag.

In her first maternity pictures, which were released on June 1, she donned a Vernia red blouson sleeve pleated maxi dress by Alice + Olivia, a contemporary clothing brand based in New York City.

The flowy, summery dress was cinched at the waist, accentuating her growing bump, and featured a V-shaped neckline.

On June 10, she attended King Abdullah’s silver jubilee celebrations in Amman, in a bespoke gown by Saudi Arabia designer Honayda Serafi.

This was just over a year after she wore an all-white look by the same designer for her pre-wedding henna celebrations.


Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode
Updated 18 July 2024
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Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

DUBAI: US Egyptian comedian, writer and actor Ramy Youusef has nabbed himself a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.

Youssef earned the nomination for directing “The Bear” episode titled “Honeydew” from its second season.

The fan-loved episode focused on the character Marcus, the lovable pastry chef portrayed by actor Lionel Boyce.

This is the third Emmy nomination for Youssef and his second for directing, after earning a 2020 nomination for directing an episode of his eponymous series “Ramy.” 

For this year’s Emmys, Youssef competes against “The Bear” series creator Christopher Storer for the episode “Fishes,” Guy Ritchie for “The Gentlemen,” Lucia Aniello for “Hacks,” Randall Einhorn for “Abbott Elementary,” and Mary Lou Belli for “The Ms Pat Show.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Bear (@thebearfx)

Overall, “Shogun” led the nominations with 25 nods, including limited series, and earned first-time acting nods for Hiroyuki Sanada and Anna Sawai.

Additionally, the FX network garnered a total of 93 nominations, bolstered by a record-breaking 23 nods for “The Bear.”


Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux

Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux
Updated 18 July 2024
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Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux

Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux
  • Christie’s London is hosting ‘Ahmed Mater: Chronicles,’ a retrospective collection of his work, until Aug. 22
  • The exhibition highlights major milestones of the physician-turned-artist’s career

LONDON: Using metal filings, X-rays adorned with calligraphy, and a grandiose mihrab transformed into a body scanner, leading Saudi artist Ahmed Mater is documenting a kingdom undergoing a swift process of change.

Born in Tabuk in 1979, Mater grew up in Abha in southwestern Saudi Arabia, close to the militarized Yemeni border, at a time of immense social change in the region.

The first presentation of his art outside the Kingdom came in 2005 at an exhibition hosted by the British Museum in London. Just over a decade later, he became the first artist to host a solo exhibition in the US, with “Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater” in 2016.

Now, the 44-year-old has returned to England with the exhibition “Ahmed Mater: Chronicles,” hosted by Christie’s London until Aug. 22. The mid-career retrospective collection features more than 100 of his works, and promises to highlight the major milestones of his career.

Ahmed Mater at the opening of ‘Chronicles.’ (AN photo)

“It’s very amazing and extraordinary for me to be back and connect again with the audience here in London after 2005, and now, maybe, with more artwork to share and 20 years of experimental work,” Mater told Arab News on the exhibition’s opening day.

“So, it’s something that, really, I want the audience to share all of this — the experiment and the time and sharing all of this journey together.”

Despite being heavily influenced by his mother’s work as an Asiri calligrapher and painter, and art being the “passion and DNA” of his childhood, Mater began his professional life working in medicine.

Mater first encountered city life as a teenager in Abha. (AN photo) 

“At that time, there was no … you have to do something, especially in Saudi Arabia, there was no school of art,” he said.

“So, medicine was very close to me. I studied a more human science; that’s very close to me.”

Despite “building a lot of things and experiences” during his work as a physician, Mater returned to his roots in art “because it became the only voice that I could continue with.”

The artist began experimenting with X-rays during his medical studies. (AN photo)

The physician-turned-artist described the difference between his two careers as one of “subjectivity versus objectivity.”

Mater’s oeuvre, from the satirical to the striking, details the changes, big and small, in a kingdom undergoing unprecedented social, religious and economic transformation.

“I think it’s a kind of synergistic study of all of the artwork together,” he said. “When you are an artist, you are also a philosopher, you are a thinker, and all of these events together shape our generation at a time, our societies.

“I was really fascinated by studying a community — about urban change surrounding me. Maybe I take this from medicine, maybe I take it from the art, or maybe I take it from my transition from the village to the city.”

In the photograph “Hajj Season” (2015), which is part of his “Desert of Pharan” collection documenting change in Makkah, masses of pilgrims wait patiently in a gated courtyard. Behind them, KFC and Burger King restaurants can be seen.

“Stand in the Pathway and See” (2012) shows a narrow alleyway bisecting dilapidated buildings, part of an old settlement that was soon to be demolished to make way for new hotels. A young boy sits in the shadows amid the waste and graffiti. The alley appears to be illuminated by the fierce glow of Makkah’s Clock Tower, which looms ominously, or as a figurative light at the end of the tunnel, over the old city.

The dual meaning of the photograph is a hallmark of Mater’s work. In “Nature Morte” (2012) and “Room With a View ($3,000/night)” (2012), Mater again reveals some of the peculiarities of Makkah’s transformation through simple photographs.

Left to right: ‘Nature Morte,’ ‘Stand in the Pathway and See’ and ‘Room With a View ($3,000/night).’ (AN photo)

In both, the Kaaba and masses of pilgrims are seen at a low angle through the windows of a luxury hotel room, replete with a bowl of decorative fruit and cable TV. Viewers will inevitably be divided in their reaction.

Mater’s status as a passive spectator taking the photographs reinforces his self-described role as a documenter of change, and is part of the subtlety that typifies much of his work.

For other pieces he takes a more direct approach, however. Viewers are met with loud beeping and flashing red lights in his simple but ingenious “Boundary” (2024), for example. The artist combines a mihrab, a prayer niche from the interior of a mosque, with a body scanner; the result is a striking summation of modern-day security fears and the commercialization of religion.

Viewers should expect a surprise with Mater’s modern mihrab. (AN photo)

Many of Mater’s works explore the theme of the individual sublimating to the group, which emerges as a distinct entity. This is epitomized in “Magnetism IV” (2012), a diminutive model of the Kaaba surrounded by perfectly arranged iron filings, representing a swirling mass of pilgrims.

The artist depicts the magnetism of Islam’s holiest site. (AN photo)

To create a similar effect in a photograph, Mater used a long exposure to capture the Kaaba at the height of Hajj in “Tawaf” (2013), an image in which the resulting movement of pilgrims resembles a hurricane around the holiest site in Islam.

The artist admits that the theme might be an unconscious effect of his Islamic upbringing.

A selection from Mater’s ‘Magnetism’ series. (AN photo)

“I think it’s something that is unconsciously done by an artist in their practices,” he said. “You know, sometimes I didn’t pay full attention but after I did my artwork, I noticed. I noticed these kind of things. But maybe spirituality has this feeling.

“So, I come from a religious background and this has, maybe, shaped a lot of my understanding. It’s given me a lot of imagination. You know, religion is part of this big imagination.”

Long exposure creates a hurricane effect at the height of Hajj. (AN photo)

For Mater, 1938 might have been the most important year in the Kingdom’s history. Oil was struck on March 3 that year at the Dammam No. 7 well, and the liquid gold that began to flow would soon begin to finance the Kingdom’s transformation.

Again juxtaposing old and new, traditional and modern, in “Lightning Land” (2017) the artist captures a stunning shot of lightning arcing toward the ground, with a disused Bedouin tent in the foreground and oil machinery in the background.

Mater’s ‘Lightning Land’ highlights the tensions between old and new in Saudi Arabia. (AN photo)

“Evolution of Man” (1979) is Mater’s most morbid work. A horizontal collage begins with a front-on X-ray shot of a man holding a gun to his own head. The next shots morph as a square shape begins to form. The final image is a gas pump, with the nozzle resembling the gun featured in the first image.

The former physician’s prognosis of the Kingdom’s arts scene takes a more positive path, however. Mater believes that cooperation between the public and private sectors is the key to further unleashing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural industries.

A “big, big awakening of art and culture” is taking place in the Kingdom, he said. Mater himself is part of this public-private synthesis, and one of five leading artists commissioned by Wadi AlFann (Valley of the Arts) in AlUla to produce a large-scale installation in the desert sands.

The result is Ashab Al-Lal, a mighty but unintrusive oculus that will harness light refraction, in a homage to the scientists of the Islamic golden age. Wadi AlFann is set to open in 2025.

A model of Mater’s Ashab Al-Lal installation was unveiled at Christie’s. (AN photo) 

“I think now it’s a very optimistic generation; there is a lot of movement,” Mater said.

“So, it’s from both the private body and the public body, together shaping a new future. That’s what I’ve noticed today.”