Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage

Special Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage
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The Rawi Diriyah competition, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is open to middle and high school students. (Supplied)
Special Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage
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The Rawi Diriyah competition, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is open to middle and high school students. (Supplied)
Special Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage
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The Rawi Diriyah competition, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is open to middle and high school students. (Supplied)
Special Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage
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The Rawi Diriyah competition, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is open to middle and high school students. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 October 2023
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Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage

Diriyah launches young storyteller competition to promote Saudi heritage
  • The second Rawi Diriyah contest, for middle and high school students, aims to promote the rich culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia
  • Registration for the event, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority and Ministry of Education, is open until Nov. 14 

RIYADH: Young storytellers of the future in the Kingdom are invited to help celebrate the culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia by entering the second Rawi Diriyah competition.

The contest, organized by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is open to middle and high school students. It runs until January 2024 and registration for prospective entrants will remain open until Nov. 14.

“The Rawi Diriyah competition aims to showcase and promote the rich culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia through the art of storytelling,” organizers said. “By preserving stories about Diriyah and Saudi Arabia, the competition contributes to the preservation of these narratives for future generations.”

The competition aims to promote Saudi culture among the nation’s youth, they added, and encourage a new generation of storytellers to uphold Diriyah’s heritage, in keeping with the goals of the Vision 2030 national development and diversification plan.

As such, the competition is designed to honor the area’s rich history and heritage while nurturing the development of storytelling skills among young people, providing them with valuable life skills and fostering a sense of community.

“These middle and high school students mean so much to us,” said Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

The inaugural Rawi Diriyah competition, launched in late 2020, attracted the interest of 250,000 students. The entries were whittled down by judges to 12 finalists who told their stories of historic Saudi figures, characters and traditions at a showpiece awards event set against the scenic backdrop of historic At-Turaif.


REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’ returns with surprising twists

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’ returns with surprising twists
Updated 22 February 2024
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REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’ returns with surprising twists

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’ returns with surprising twists

DHAHRAN: Jordanian Netflix show “Al-Rawabi School for Girls” returned on Feb. 15 after a two-year hiatus. Viewers flooded the Netflix MENA comments section when the trailer for season two dropped; they had hoped that the story would pick up where it left off in season one, but, much like high school, fresh blood — and fresh drama — graced our screens instead, with an entirely new cast introduced. Actresses in the new season include Raneem Haitham, Kira Yaghnam, Tara Abboud, Sarah Yousef, Tara Atalla, and Thalia Alansari.

This time around, the show’s Jordanian creator, writer, and director Tima Shomali took on even more responsibility, appearing on screen in a surprise role that is so fitting you could argue it was written precisely for her. Like the first season, this one was also co-created and co-written by Shirin Kamal and Islam Al-Shomali.

For her 2015 appearance at the Woman in the World Summit in New York, Shomali, a popular YouTube sketch comedy writer, was introduced as “the Tina Fey of the Arab World.” And “Al-Rawabi School for Girls” has been compared to Fey’s “Mean Girls.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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And there are similarities: “Al-Rawabi School for Girls” features cliques and clueless adults as well as insecure teens who try to gain control over their lives with mixed results. But it would be remiss to simply label the show as a version of something else. “Al-Rawabi” is quintessentially Jordanian, Arab, and Middle Eastern, but also universal. It comes from a place of deep understanding of how it is to be a young, Arab girl.

Like the debut season, each episode in season two ends with a message asking viewers to reach out for help if they find themselves troubled by any of the issues portrayed in the plot lines, such as bullying, eating disorders, or even suicidal thoughts.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Netflix MENA (@netflixmena)

There are only six episodes, but all are packed with a punch that will hit you straight in the gut. You will discover unlikely alliances and cautionary tales. One day a girl might be top of the popular list, the next she could end be dead or forgotten.

Fans hoping for some closure of the events of season one shouldn’t worry — in a brief but powerful moment, many of the original cast members make a mid-season cameo that will answer many questions without anyone saying a word.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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This second season of “Al-Rawabi” follows the recent Netflix release of the Saudi film “From the Ashes,” which was inspired by the true story of a fire that broke out at an all-girls school in the Kingdom. Both projects have hit the Top 10 list on Netflix MENA, further demonstrating that there is an insatiable appetite for wanting to understand these narratives of young Arabs.


Saudi artists create special commissions for Riyadh’s Diriyah Biennale

Saudi artists create special commissions for Riyadh’s Diriyah Biennale
'Saudi Futurism' by Ahmed Mater and Armin Linke. (Photo by Marco Cappellletti, Courtesy of the Diriyah Biennale)
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi artists create special commissions for Riyadh’s Diriyah Biennale

Saudi artists create special commissions for Riyadh’s Diriyah Biennale
  • The works explore themes of renewal, cultural heritage and conservation
  • The second edition of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale runs from Feb. 20-May 24

RIYADH: The second Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, “After Rain,” features the work of 100 artists from more than 40 countries displayed in industrial warehouses in the JAX District of Riyadh. The theme of this year’s Biennale, curated by artistic director Ute Meta Bauer is all about renewal, rejuvenation and revitalization. Metaphorically, it can be applied to the rapid social and economic transformation the Kingdom is undergoing and the role art is playing in that change.

Among the dozens of artworks on show, some were newly produced by artists based in the Kingdom, including “Saudi Futurism,” an installation created by Ahmed Mater, one of the Kingdom’s most prominent artists, and Milan-born photographer and filmmaker Armin Linke. The two men travelled together across the country documenting historical, industrial and scientific sites, including the megaproject NEOM, a dairy farm, monumental buildings, the Shaheen supercomputer, Yamama Cement Factory and the colorful Diplomatic Club Heart Tent in Riyadh designed by Frei Otto. Visitors can peruse these images that merge Saudi Arabia’s past and select their own sequence of images to depict the rapid change the country is presently experiencing.

Jeddah-based Daniah Alsaleh’s “A Stone’s Palette” presents studies from her explorations of the archaeological sites of AlUla and Tayma, focusing particularly on carnelian stone beads produced in Tayma long ago, which, she explains, served as important social artifacts, used as both elements in rituals and as personal accessories.

Daniah Alsaleh. (Supplied)

“I learned they were sourced from the Indus Valley thousands of years ago,” Alsaleh tells Arab News. “They manufactured the beads in Tayma and then exported them to Mesopotamia. I went and got carnelian rock from India and created different pigments that I applied on these sketches, which are transfer photos of the excavation sites with my intervention using modern patterns and ornamentation.”

In his outdoor installation “The Whispers of Today Are Heard in the Garden of Tomorrow,” Al-Ahsa-based artist Mohammad Alfaraj has created sculptures from natural materials he found in the desert, including coiled palm leaves positioned on sticks placed in sand, which are complemented by photographs and painted murals on either wall of the wooden pavilion that encompasses his ‘garden.’

“Everything that is happening today has an echo in our future whether it is good or bad, especially the things that are not really prominent,” Alfaraj tells Arab News. “The installation consists of three parts: ‘Fossils of Time,’ made with photography and fabric — I really think that photographs, especially when they are printed, are fossils of a moment.”

Mohammed Alfaraj's 'The Whispers of Today Are Heard in the Garden of Tomorrow.' (Arab News/Rebecca Anne Proctor)

The second part is a mural called “Love is to Leave the Gates of Your Garden Ajar,” made from the charcoal of burnt palm trees. “What does it say when you use something that has been destroyed and you try and make something new from it?” he asks. “This is something that I want to emphasize: To build more than to destroy. This reflects a symbol of hope, even for the people of Palestine and for people living in any oppressed place. It is inspiring to see people use their resilience to build a new life.”

The third part consists of several new sculptures made from old palm leaves and covered in date syrup and gum Arabic topped with a protective resin that are stationed on metal plinths in the sand.

“I put them into these characters and try and let them have a continuation of their life,” Alfaraj explains. “They are monuments to a life that hasn’t been lived.”

The theme of memory is central to Saudi-based Yemeni artist Sara Abdu’s poignant biennale contribution “Now That I Have Lost You in My Dreams Where Do We Meet?”

Sara Abdu's 'Now That I Have Lost You in My Dreams Where Do We Meet' (Photo by Marco Cappellletti, Courtesy of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation)

“It is inspired by dreams I used to have,” Abdu tells Arab News. “When I think about those dreams, those intangible spaces, they offer us an opportunity to create new memories. The artwork negotiates our relationship with memory. It looks at time as this thing that determines the death of memories and all that is ephemeral.

“The materials are inspired by the Islamic funeral ritual of washing the deceased,” she continues. “I used two main ingredients: sidr powder and camphor crystals. For me, these two ingredients are the smell of death.”

The installation is constructed in a way, explains Abdu, that it looks like it is “trapping and immortalizing memories. Allowing us to exist with them in the same time and space.”

She continues: “The title of the work is very present in the space and revolves around the idea of repetition, leaving the viewer to ask how the answer to that question would leave us feeling in return.”


7 highlights from this year’s Desert X AlUla 

7 highlights from this year’s Desert X AlUla 
Updated 22 February 2024
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7 highlights from this year’s Desert X AlUla 

7 highlights from this year’s Desert X AlUla 

ALULA: “We are in the presence of deep times,” says Lebanese art specialist Maya El-Khalil, sitting against a breathtaking backdrop of golden-brown rock formations in the far distance in AlUla. El-Khalil and her Brazilian colleague Marcello Dantas are the curators of the third edition of Desert X AlUla — an open-air show of 16 monumental sculptural art installations in the ancient Saudi desert.  

Spanning three locations, including the up-and-coming ‘cultural destination’ of Wadi AlFann, the show — “In The Absence of Presence” — asks viewers to look beyond the physical in this mystical landscape.  

“Rather than presenting work that addresses the monumentality of the desert, we wanted to approach this edition by maybe focusing on what cannot be seen — what’s invisible to all of these forces,” El-Khalil tells Arab News. “As humans, we’re nothing when you look at this place’s sense of deep time.”    

Seventeen artists are taking part in the exhibition, several from the Gulf and the wider Arab world, including Monira Al-Qadiri, Faisal Samra, Kader Attia, Rand Abdul Jabbar Ayman Yossri Daydban, and Caline Aoun. For their site-responsive works, some artists were inspired by historical narratives, while others delved into poetry, philosophy, nature and performance art.  

“We urged artists to really engage with the landscape with questions and uncertainty rather than certainty,” says El-Khalil.  

So, why have this “light intervention,” as El-Khalil puts it, in an ancient site where protection is a top priority?  

“Probably there is this element of creativity,” she says. “I think it’s quite natural. . . There is creativity in nature and human beings respond to that. It is really about leaving no trace, as much as possible. Having said that, we have a trace of the passage of time, traces of civilization and of the rock art that you see. These are windows into the past that have been left for us to enjoy and learn from.” 

Here are seven highlights from Desert X AlUla, which is free to the public and runs until Mar. 23. 

FILWA NAZER 

‘Preserving Shadows’ 

The Saudi artist designed an elevated bridge-like installation, topped with high black triangles that are meant to give a sense of “fear and hostility in relation to the nature of the desert,” Nazer explained during a press tour. “There’s an ancient belief, even from before Islam, that there are ‘jinn’ or spirits that reside in the shrubs of the desert. I read an account of two men that were sitting in the desert and they lit a fire in the shrub. Snakes flew out of the shrub and they attacked and killed them. Growing up in ‘previous Saudi’ we heard stories about jinn in this part of the country, and it kind of contributed to the fear of not having accessibility to it.” The work resembles “the body of a petrified skeleton of a snake and it’s meant to feel, as you approach it, like you are walking through a journey of shadows and then you reach the end of the ramp — a metaphor for overcoming a dark journey,” she said. 

MONIRA AL-QADIRI 

‘W.A.B.A.R.’ 

In the 1930s, a British explorer — Harry St. John Philby — was looking for Ubar, an ancient city known as the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’ in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula’s desert. There, he was shown what locals claimed were ‘black pearls.’ It was later discovered that they were, in fact, meteorites from outer space. Philby named them ‘Wabar’ pearls. This little-known story is the inspiration behind Kuwaiti artist Al-Qadiri’s installation, ”W.A.B.A.R.” It consists of five large black spheres, made of bronze, scattered on the sand.  

“It’s a story of disappointment and human imagination,” Al-Qadiri says. “That you could find these small items in the middle of the desert and make this huge story from them about a people and pearls. This is why I exaggerated the size of the objects.”   

FAISAL SAMRA 

‘The Dot’ 

The Bahraini-born Saudi artist presents a trail of rocks lead to the titular large reflective sphere, which stands in a small valley. “The aim for me was for the audience to come and complete the work. It will not be completed without the audience,” Samra says. “I want the audience to live a unique moment of AlUla with this work, which is respecting the environment.” The simple shape is a symbolic one, representing a “trace of a second,” a moment in time, a grain of sand. “The accumulation of dots is the accumulation of moments,” he adds. It also demonstrates how a small dot can be physically impactful — like the drops of rain that, along with the wind, eventually led to the formation of this valley, which was once a single rock.  

IBRAHIM MAHAMA 

‘Hanging Garden’ 

The Ghanaian artist is presenting works at all three sites of the exhibition, including this one at AlManshiyah Plaza, located in a historic neighborhood where the AlUla Railway Station is preserved. In the early 20th century, the station was part of the Hejaz Railway, which connected Damascus to Madinah. Mahama’s work is comprised of dangling terracotta pots of the kind used for storing water in Ghanaian communities — a recurring motif in Mahama’s work at AlUla. According to an Instagram post by the event’s artistic director Neville Wakefield, “Mahama asks how we can restore memories we never had before, and how we can use archeology and the scars of history to create new meanings within a landscape.” 

RANA HADDAD AND PASCAL HACHEM  

‘Reveries’ 

The Lebanese duo created this trio of intriguing, circular towers made of orange terracotta pots, which stand tall in Wadi AlFann. Viewers can enter the narrow spaces and look up to admire the precise, repetitive pattern the pots form. The project pays tribute to regional heritage and craftsmanship. “Our art, like a gentle breeze, whispers the importance of respect, nurturing a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world,” wrote the artists. According to a statement released by Desert X AlUla, the work is also “a testament to the circular economy. . . Light, air, and frankincense flow through, creating sanctuaries for desert flora and fauna.” 

SARA ALISSA AND NOJOUD ALSUDAIRI  

‘Invisible Possibilities: When The Earth Began To Look At Itself’ 

The two young Saudi creatives, co-founders of syn architects, carved a geometrical 110-meter-long pathway into the desert, including ledges on which visitors can rest and contemplate their surroundings. “Based on a more poetic criteria of time, memory, materiality, and occupation, the artists believe that this form of intervention raises and intensifies our awareness of the surrounding ecology and creates a place of meaning and contemplation out of a careful reframing of the familiar,” Wakefield explained.  

KIMSOOJA 

‘To Breathe’ 

The South Korean conceptual artist explores the ethereal nature of light, often materialized in site-specific installations in eye-catching iridescent tones. Her work in AlUla is “a reflection on a conceptual and geometrical formation of the AlUla desert landscape,” according to a written statement. “It reflects the movement of wind and the passage of light traversing through the spiral path of prismatic glass surface that becomes a fluid, translucent canvas. Sunlight unravels into an iridescent color spectrum, casting rainbow-colored shadows and circular brushstrokes onto the sandy earth. . . A walk in and out of a contained yet open path of spiral unfolds an abstract lightscape that is at once a drawing, a painting, and a sculpture.” 


Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn
Updated 20 February 2024
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Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

RIYADH: In his 2016 memoir, “A Life in Questions,” Jeremy Paxman, the prominent British journalist and presenter, outlines how he has been inquisitive his entire life.

The autobiography uncovers Paxman’s early years, interviews with prominent figures, insights into journalistic integrity, political engagement, and the power of asking the right questions.

Paxman takes a humorous approach in recounting past experiences, notably an incident involving Marks & Spencer underwear. He described an occasion when he put his leg through his briefs, causing the elastic to detach from the cotton.

Paxman asked the other people in the gym: “Any of you blokes had any trouble with pants?" His concerns about the quality sparked a media frenzy, resulting in an abundance of underwear being sent to him, even from strangers.

The book showcases Paxman’s recollections over four decades of journalism. However, when considering his interviews, I hoped for more insights into his technique and style. Renowned for his unconventional approach, his interviews often left interviewees feeling unsettled or nervous, as if they were “quaking in their boots.”

At times, the narrative becomes monotonous, particularly in sections where Paxman delves into less compelling aspects of his career, making the reading experience somewhat laborious.

However, Paxman’s recounting of iconic interviews and behind-the-scenes anecdotes kept me from looking away. A notable interview showing his commitment to getting answers, which was widely praised, took place in May 1997, where Paxman questioned former Home Secretary Michael Howard a total of 12 times about his potential overruling of the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis.

The writing style can feel a bit disconnected, shifting between different times in Paxman’s life with abrupt transitions. This might make it a little harder to follow his story. Paxman’s memoir might be more relatable to those familiar with the UK’s political and cultural scene, as it assumes a certain level of knowledge about the figures and events discussed.

Learning from Paxman’s methods can help journalists develop their own style and ensure that they can engage with and extract valuable information from interviewees.

Overall, “A Life in Questions” is recommended for those fascinated by unconventional interviewing styles. It not only tells stories but also acts as a guide for journalists seeking to enhance their interviewing skills.


Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot
Updated 20 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla is adding a music recording studio to its production lot in June.

Film AlUla’s current production facility includes a 30,000-square-foot soundstage, backlot, production support buildings, workshops, warehouses, recording studio and training and rehearsal space.

AlUla is also home to the mirrored Maraya concert hall, a multi-purpose venue that plays host to international concerts.

The film commission will inaugurate a recording studio with audio and recording equipment comprising a control room and two soundproof booths that can be used by individual artists, choirs, rehearsals for film score production, music videos and orchestral work, Variety magazine reported.

Film AlUla’s Executive Director Charlene Deleon-Jones commented on the upcoming opening, saying: “Following the successful launch of our film studios last year, we are continuing to strategically expand the complex and become a one-stop destination for creatives, with the recording studio being a natural next step in this vision.

“We are delighted to welcome artists starting from June whom we have no doubt will be inspired by the magnificent surroundings and heritage that AlUla has to offer while making the most of our cutting-edge facilities to create magic,” she added, according to Variety magazine.

Previous Hollywood productions shot in AlUla include the Gerard Butler-led action-thriller “Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh, and “Cherry,” starring Tom Holland and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

The news comes after December’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah saw global media company Stampede Ventures announce further films in its 10-movie partnership with Film AlUla.

Hollywood movies “Fourth Wall” and “Chasing Red” are set to be filmed in AlUla in 2024 as part of a 10-project deal between Film AlUla and Stampede Ventures, in addition to the previously announced feature “K-Pops!”

There will be emphasis on using Saudi talent during the production process, Deleon-Jones told Arab News at the time, adding: “One of the most significant parts of what we’re doing is the training and development, because this gives us an opportunity to really develop below-the-line crew in somewhere like AlUla, where traditionally the main careers open to you would have been agriculture. We have a young working population who are vibrant and digitally engaged somewhere which is seen as one of the more remote places, (and now) you have this whole new exciting career path.”