Iraqi American artist taps into ‘personal anguish’ with latest work

Iraqi American artist taps into ‘personal anguish’ with latest work
Iraqi American artist Vian Sora's ‘Last Sound’ has recently entered the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 August 2023
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Iraqi American artist taps into ‘personal anguish’ with latest work

Iraqi American artist taps into ‘personal anguish’ with latest work

DUBAI: A colorful abstract painting by the Iraqi American artist Vian Sora has recently entered the collection of the 1914-founded Baltimore Museum of Art, in Maryland, in the US.

Sora’s painting, “Last Sound,” was part of a museum initiative to diversify its collection by acquiring more than 100 multicultural objects.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

In a statement, the BMA said one of its goals had been to, “bring forward new and under-recognized voices from across the globe and to uplift artists with ties to Baltimore and the surrounding region.”

Sora, who is based in Louisville, Kentucky, told Arab News that “Last Sound,” which was completed last year, had previously been on display at her representative art gallery, Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, where it caught the attention of the BMA’s curator of contemporary art, Jessica Bell Brown, and several museum trustees.

She said: “They selected it for their permanent collection, which is a huge honor.”

While attempts have been and are being made by Western museums to acquire works by Arab artists, it is still something of a rarity.

“We are still so under-represented in the US, in a way that something like this acquisition is huge on a moral level for me.

“I’m hoping this will pave the way for other artists. This is not about money, fame, or power, but it’s about a cultural connection on a human level,” she added.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

Through flowing shapes on her canvas, Sora taps into some of the personal challenges she has faced.

She said: “It was just me dealing with all this anguish. I was dealing with my family’s immigration, moving them from Dubai. Everything was going wrong with their immigration.

“I also had a hysterectomy and was dealing with my new identity as a woman. That splash in the painting became like a scream.”

For the work, she was also inspired by the veteran Sudanese painter Ibrahim El-Salahi’s 1960s painting “The Last Sound,” owned by the Barjeel Art Foundation in the UAE.

It is a symbolist artwork, containing calligraphy, animals, and moons, that was made shortly after the death of El-Salahi’s father. Sora noted that her own work was in honor of El-Salahi’s signature piece.

Sora has also had another of her works purchased, by California’s Santa Barbara Museum of Art. And she will take part, for the second time, at New York’s leading art fair, The Armory Show, in September.


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.”


Charlotte Church leads pro-Palestinian choir in Wales

Charlotte Church leads pro-Palestinian choir in Wales
Updated 26 February 2024
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Charlotte Church leads pro-Palestinian choir in Wales

Charlotte Church leads pro-Palestinian choir in Wales

DUBAI: Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church led a 100-strong choir singing “From the River to the Sea” during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert at a village hall in Caerphilly, South Wales, on Saturday.

In a video posted online, Church is seen standing behind a banner that reads “Let Palestine Live” at the fundraising event for the Middle East Children’s Alliance charity.

She and the choir members are also wearing keffiyeh scarves, a symbol of solidarity among Palestinian supporters, in the video.

Meanwhile, some British media outlets and pro-Israeli groups in the UK have slammed Church's performance over allegations that the song is “antisemitic,” with some observers viewing the lyrics as a call to dismantle the state of Israel. 

In November, Church took to Instagram to share a video where she expresses support for the Palestinian cause.

She urged her followers to watch footage from Gaza and the West Bank, and to amplify Palestinian voices during, “this genocide that is happening in front of all of our eyes.”

The 37-year-old songstress told fans: “Do not look away,” and referred to the children “caught in this geopolitical insanity.”

Also in the video, she said that starting on Nov. 20, she would be offering weekly singing sessions “for the liberation of Palestine and the liberation of the Palestinian people.”


‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit
Updated 26 February 2024
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‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit
  • The AlUla Future Culture Summit from Feb. 25 to 27 is part of attempts to develop an authentic local offering that also contributes to the nation’s economy, writes Jason Harborow, vice president of culture for the Royal Commission for AlUla

ALULA: There is an inherent tension in culture-sector development between global and local dynamics. In Saudi Arabia, we are in the midst of an unprecedented renaissance in the culture sector — with significant investment in arts, music, film, heritage and other areas to showcase the Kingdom’s history and identity to the region and the world. As we develop this culture offer, there is a need to understand global best-practice by engaging with leading cultural institutions with a longer history of this type of development and promotion. Whilst this engagement is important, there can be a temptation to become overly reliant on these leading — and often Western — organizations and to confuse Saudi Arabia’s culture development with importation and/or adopting an external interpretation.

The culture leaders of today must manage external engagement wisely — ensuring that we deliver world-class experiences that are true to local community values, traditions and heritage. At the Royal Commission for AlUla, we have found a way through this challenge by focusing our global culture engagement and partnerships on knowledge exchange and learning. Like others, the RCU is engaged with leading museums, conservation organizations and archives based in China, France, Italy and the UK to help us deliver a world-class culture offer. Our global partners play an important role in sharing learnings and knowledge, serving as a thinking partner and helping us to develop local, distinctive cultural assets that are true to the AlUla community.

Beyond cultural asset development, the RCU also works with international partners to develop our people. Global culture partnerships have helped us to deliver job and skills creation locally — ensuring that Saudi Arabia’s talent has access to the best trainers, accelerator programs and other learning mechanisms to learn about archaeology, exhibition management, acquisition, and other core culture competencies. At the RCU, we are proud to be building a strong, skilled generation of domestic talent that understand the global cultural landscape and is using this knowledge to build a progressive and original local cultural offering.

The Kingdom has welcomed 150 of the world’s cultural leaders, artists, tech entrepreneurs and policymakers for the inaugural AlUla Future Culture Summit that is running from Feb. 25 to 27. Given AlUla’s position as a leading entity driving the Kingdom’s cultural development, it is a great honor for us to host this summit, in partnership with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture. The summit aims to convene a high-level conversation about the future of culture in the Kingdom and beyond, looking at trends and opportunities to help the community to drive forward world-class sector development. The AlUla Future Culture Summit has been hosting a series of panel discussions, immersive performances, workshops, and guided explorations of AlUla’s outstanding cultural and natural landscapes.

The discussions will focus on several key themes that are important in the discourse on culture, both within the Kingdom and globally — one of which is the need to balance global and local dynamics. The growth of the culture sector is not just a social opportunity, it is also an economic one. Research shows that Saudi Arabia’s culture and arts sector has the potential to contribute up to 5 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product. In Saudi Arabia, the sector only contributed 1.7 percent to the country’s GDP in 2022, representing substantial opportunity for growth.

The RCU was founded in 2017 to drive the development of AlUla County and we have learned many lessons over the last seven years of operations, development and governance. Whilst the RCU has experimented with different approaches to, and profiles of, cultural activations during this period, we have remained laser-focused in our work to understand, cultivate, and celebrate authentic, local culture and to build the offering and visitor experience around it. Our Winter at Tantora, the AlUla Arts Festival, and the recent launch of Design Space AlUla are just a few examples of how we are delivering a culture sector anchored in our local community.

We are proud of our achievements at the RCU, but we can do more if we collaborate across the culture sector more closely. There is an opportunity for more of the Kingdom’s cultural institutions to work together more closely to share learnings, deliver more training, capacity building and skills to our people; while also thinking about how we can help the Kingdom to be an exporter to the world of the rich cultural assets that we are building.


Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler
Updated 26 February 2024
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Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

LONDON: Almost two decades after “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” originally landed on the Gameboy Advance, comes a more polished – but almost full priced – remake of the action/puzzle title for the Nintendo Switch.

Widely considered a classic at the time, much has changed in those two decades but for the enmity between Nintendo’s superstar Mario and Donkey Kong. In this instance, Donkey Kong has stolen a bunch of suitable cute “Mini-Mario toys” and has done a runner leaving our erstwhile plumber hero to save the day by setting them free.

To do this, Mario, along with the usual assortment of allies from his gaming universe, must conquer 130 levels of puzzle fun across a variety of worlds. These range from dark volcanic arenas, spooky haunted houses, slippery ice lands, dangerous jungles and more, all presented in the polished colorful graphics you’d expect from a Nintendo platform.

The game advertises itself as suitable for gamers aged three and above but has a choice of “casual” or “classic” style to guide you into a choice of difficulty.

“Observe and act,” advises the game’s marketing team as each puzzle challenges you to think about which switches to hit at the right time to be successful. A generous timer counts down in the top right corner, but it doesn’t feel like there is a huge amount of pressure on you to rush through the arenas. Indeed, when you add in the languid jazzy background music, you get a sense of the game trying to operate at a more relaxed pace than other Mario titles. A nice feature of moving throughout the game is Mario’s gymnastic skills; backflips and walking on his hands to avoid falling hazards from above.

In addition to finding mini-Marios, the game has another nice feature whereby you have to shepherd a gaggle of the tiny red and blue fellows around hazards to get to their toybox. This brings back memories of the famous Lemmings game although far more bite-sized in nature.

Where the game is significantly different from the original is the addition of a two-player local co-op mode. This has been done with considerably thought encouraging genuine challenge for a pair of gamers as opposed to offering the same puzzles with double the human capacity to overcome them.

The format of the game is strong and offers the warm blanket familiarity of iconic characters along with their familiar phrases. There is plenty of quality family fun to be had here, although the cost of the game feels somewhat steep for what is largely a remake rather than a genuinely original.


Lone ‘Free Palestine’ protestor disrupts Spirit Awards

Lone ‘Free Palestine’ protestor disrupts Spirit Awards
Updated 26 February 2024
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Lone ‘Free Palestine’ protestor disrupts Spirit Awards

Lone ‘Free Palestine’ protestor disrupts Spirit Awards

DUBAI: A lone protestor with a loudspeaker took to the barricades during the Independent Spirit Awards held at Santa Monica Beach in the US on Sunday evening to chant, “Free Palestine! Ceasefire Now,” repeatedly.

According to a report in Deadline, the chants continued through most of the show, to the point where comedian Jim Gaffigan remarked on stage, “That’s my Dad!”

When “Fremont” director Babak Jalali was accepting the John Cassavetes Award, he said: “There are people speaking outside, and whatever they’re saying, I think it’s far more important than what I’m about to say. I’m so inspired by what they’re saying outside.”