Saudi capital hosts illuminating artworks at Noor Riyadh 

Saudi capital hosts illuminating artworks at Noor Riyadh 
Dozens of light-based artworks — from large-scale installations to animated video art — created by around 100 artists from across the world are on display in five public areas. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 December 2023
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Saudi capital hosts illuminating artworks at Noor Riyadh 

Saudi capital hosts illuminating artworks at Noor Riyadh 
  • Seven Saudi artists featured in the light-art exhibition discuss their work 

RIYADH: “Light is the new ink,” claims UK-based art expert Neville Wakefield, one of the curators of Noor Riyadh, billed as the world’s largest light art festival, which runs in the Saudi capital until Dec. 16.  

From fiber optics to artificial intelligence and mobile screens, light, in Wakefield’s opinion, has become a vital tool for modern communication, technology and expression. “The previous century was really defined by print and the written word. This century is defined by light. It is how we write ourselves into the world,” he told Arab News.  

Dozens of light-based artworks — from large-scale installations to animated video art — created by around 100 artists from across the world are on display in five public areas, including JAX District and Wadi Namar, in the city, making it an accessible event enjoyed by adults and children. The artists explore a wide variety of themes, including identity, politics, poetry, nature and connectivity.  

“With light, you can create something that’s ephemeral and effectively leaves no trace,” says Wakefield. “Light art has always had its moment.”  

Here, seven Saudi artists tell Arab News about the inspiration behind their works at the festival.  

Hana Almilli 

Through her textile installation piece “Journey Through the Ripples of the Sand,” Almilli invites the viewer into “a realm of contemplation and introspection,” comprised of a cocoon with illuminated hanging fabrics, accompanied by an auditory element, with a poem being recited in the middle of a valley, Wadi Namar. Walking through the space is meant to represent a “journey that evokes a sense of conclusion to feelings of alienation, leading to a realization that we are not alone — we are all woven from the same fabric of the sand above and below the earth,” Almilli said. The installation’s maze-like construction is based on “the dance of plants in the desert, echoing the unity and harmony found in nature and within us,” she added.  

Abdelrahman Elshahed 

A trained calligrapher, Elshahed’s wall-based sculpture is decorated with the words, “Light Upon Light” (in Arabic). It is presented in an abstract, topsy-turvy form, but the calligraphy is based on the “thuluth” style, one of the oldest scripts in Arabic writing.  

“What’s beautiful about the formation that I made is that the writing can be read from all sides,” Elshahed explained. “Arabic is usually read from right to left. I tried in this piece to make the writing legible from left to right, right to left, upwards and downwards, and downwards and upwards.” The piece subtly changes color, mostly in neon tones, giving a soothing effect. “In our daily lives, we see many colors, but they have one single source: Light,” he said.  

Nawaf Alkuhaimi 

Alkuhaimi is actually a full-time physician specializing in ophthalmology. This has impacted “Chromalusion,” his sculptural work for Noor Riyadh, which acts like an optical illusion. The dominant colors are red, white, and green — associated with eye tests. Alkuhaimi placed two mirrors at an angle on a mirrored floor to generate a kind of infinity illusion. “Normally, with mirrors at home, they reflect your own mirror-image. But with these mirrors, you see how people see you in daily life,” explained Alkuhaimi. The piece deliberately creates an unsettling feeling for the viewer, pushing them to be “honest with themselves.” There’s a metaphorical element to Alkuhaimi’s piece: “I would like to invite anyone who sees this project to reimagine themselves — reconsider their steps, dreams, and aspirations,” he said.  

Ayman Yossri Daydban 

Daydban, who is of Palestinian heritage and resides in Jeddah, showcases a massive wooden “Tree House,” which is part of an ongoing material experimentation for the artist. The structure’s two walls and ceiling are carved with many curious symbols, inviting light into its interior and creating a bedazzling effect. According to a statement published by the festival, the site-specific installation — which Daydban started working on in 2019 — “deconstructs stereotypical narrative related to cultural heritage and identity, as well as the Middle East’s historical relation to Western colonial powers.” 

Badiya Studio 

Badiya Studio’s “Symphony of Light,” as the name suggests, combines sound and light in an immersive performance art piece. In a darkened room illuminated only by strips of fast-moving lights, a trio of folklore musicians beat on traditional drums known as ‘zeer,’ triggering the light displays. Along with “synthesizing traditional music with cutting-edge technology,” a main purpose of this memorable performance is to “celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia,” according to an Instragram post from Badiya Studio (Mohammed Al-Hamdan and Mohamed Al-Kindi). The trio performed during the event’s opening weekend, but now visitors can take up the drums themselves and generate their own displays.  

Sara AlMutlaq 

It took a team of seven individuals working over a period of seven days (10 hours per day), to put together AlMutlaq’s conceptual, wire-heavy artwork “Do we ever really remember the same?” According to AlMutlaq, this piece “questions the memories our minds decide to collect, categorize and archive.” Acting as a “command center of our brains,” this circular installation, which somewhat resembles a map of the world, is made of fiber-optic wires, a mirror, and LED lights. “The attentive viewer will find that the wire is bent, twisted and bolted to tell a story of the relationship between memory and identity through time,” she said. The work also addresses the rapid change Saudi is going through: “How can we be kind to the memories our fathers and grandfathers left behind?”  

Sultan Bin Fahad 

For his installation “V151ONS,” Bin Fahad took inspiration from the past and the future. The exterior of the ‘building’ resembles a traditional mud house, but inside it there are kaleidoscopic lights in a futuristic trapezoid structure made of stained-glass lightboxes viewable through a rectangular opening. “It’s straight out of a science-fiction novel,” said Bin Fahad. The work explores “themes of time and resonant symbols of Saudi identity put through a prism of ideas,” he added. Those symbols include intersecting swords, palm trees and flowers. Bin Fahad hopes his work will allow the audience “to take away a meaningful understanding of Saudi culture and our constant evolution.” 


UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott
Updated 25 May 2024
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UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott
  • Speakers, performers pull out from scheduled appearances in protest over Baillie Gifford sponsorship
  • Boycott organizer: Hay must shun future sponsorship by companies with links to ‘Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide’

LONDON: The UK’s Hay literary festival has dropped its main sponsor over a boycott criticizing its links to Israel and fossil fuel companies.

Speakers and performers at the festival pulled out from scheduled appearances in protest over investment firm Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, The Guardian reported.

On Friday, the festival said it was canceling its sponsorship deal with the firm.

Singer Charlotte Church and comedian Nish Kumar had earlier pulled out of appearing at the event.

In a statement on her social media channels, Church said she had taken part in the boycott “in solidarity with the people in Palestine and in protest of the artwashing and greenwashing that is apparent in this sponsorship.”

Fossil Free Books, the group that has led the campaign against Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, has demanded that the firm divest from companies “that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide.”

More than 700 writers and publishing professionals have signed a statement by FFB concerning the Hay festival campaign.

Kumar shared the statement online in announcing the cancelation of his appearance.

An FFB organizer said: “Hay festival is right to listen to the concerns of hundreds of book workers who are working to create fossil-free and genocide-free festivals.

“Hay must now develop a fundraising policy that rules out any future sponsorship by companies that invest or profit from the fossil fuel industry, Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide, and any other human rights abuses.”

Hay CEO Julie Finch said the festival’s decision to cancel the sponsorship deal with the firm was taken “in light of claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw.”

She added: “Our first priority is to our audience and our artists. Above all else, we must preserve the freedom of our stages and spaces for open debate and discussion, where audiences can hear a range of perspectives.”

Baillie Gifford began its relationship with the festival in 2016 as a principal sponsor. A spokesperson said: “It is regrettable our sponsorship with the festival cannot continue.”


Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes
Updated 25 May 2024
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Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah,” starring actress Maria Bahrawi, this week received the Special Mention accolade, which recognizes films for outstanding achievements, at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard awards.

The cast and crew, accompanied by director Tawfik Al-Zaidi, stepped onto the stage to accept the accolade in front of a full house.

The film, shot entirely in AlUla, is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the professional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. Besides Bahrawi, the movie also stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Satian. It follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” had its official screening at the festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation’s programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.

Un Certain Regard’s mission is to highlight new trends in cinema and encourage innovative cinematic works.

Chaired by Canadian actor, director, screenwriter and producer Xavier Dolan, the jury included French Senegalese screenwriter and director Maimouna Doucoure, Moroccan director, screenwriter and producer Asmae El Moudir, German-Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps, and American film critic, director and writer Todd McCarthy.

Chinese director Guan Hu’s “Black Dog” won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section.

Marking Guan’s debut at Cannes, the film follows a former convict who forms an unexpected bond with the titular animal while clearing stray dogs in his remote hometown on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The jury prize was awarded to “The Story of Souleymane,” directed by Boris Lojkine, marking his return to the festival after a decade since his 2014 feature “Hope.”

The film portrays the journey of a Guinean food delivery man who must create a compelling narrative for his asylum application interview in Lyon within a two-day timeframe.


Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh
Updated 25 May 2024
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Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

RIYADH: Cameras flashed and crowds cheered as Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit the red carpet at Roshn Front’s VOX Cinema in Riyadh on Friday night to mark the fourth installment of the “Bad Boys” film franchise.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” arrives 30 years after Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, played by Smith and Lawrence, respectively, teamed up as the infamous buddy cops.

The latest film, exclusively in cinemas on June 6, shows how the characters have changed over the years.

“Their backs have gotten weaker, and their knees hurt more,” Smith said jokingly.

“Part of what we wanted to do with the franchise is to have the characters grow in an age-appropriate way,” he told Arab News.

“We are trusting that the audience wants to grow with us, wants to go with us, and wants to follow the natural progression of life and what these characters would be going through.”

The film continues to mix action, drama and comedy, but also allows the characters to grow and develop spiritually.

“The core of the movie is about friendship, love, and family,” Smith said.

“And would you ride or die for your partner?” Lawrence added.

The film builds on the success of the third installment, “Bad Boys For Life,” released in 2020, with the directorial duo for the latest production, Bilall Fallah and Adil El-Arbi,  reportedly inspired by video games.

Lawrence said the “top notch” directors were great to work with, and inspired the actors to “come up with magic.”

Smith added: “It’s interesting working with non-American directors; there’s such a different perspective… You know, they were (young) when the first movie came out, so there’s such a reverence for the original films. They’re bringing that energy, but they also want to put their signature on it. Energetically, it was fun to work with them, and also their openness to the spirituality of the film was also refreshing.”

Action films, whether “Mission Impossible” or the more recent “Monkey Man,” have enjoyed a revival in recent years, and both actors believe the genre will always have a place in the industry.

“The physical wars of humanity represent the inner wars that we go through. So, I think human beings are always going to like watching a good visualized external battle that they can relate to,” Smith said.

“We all know internally that life is kind of a series of ordeals. How do you manage these ordeals and put things back together? And I think that this movie is a comedic look at two people trying to be friends, surviving ordeals together, which changes them without life breaking their relationship. It’s like a standard bromance.”

With the film premiere taking place in Saudi Arabia’s capital, both stars expressed their excitement over initiatives underway in the Kingdom.

Smith said: “I performed at Soundstorm and everything is brand new. The energy of 40 and 50-year-old people in Saudi is like the energy of 20 and 30-year-old people in America.

“It’s like there is this powerful sense of being on the cusp of the future. It’s showing up in music, it’s showing up in art, it’s showing up in architecture, and hopefully shows up at the cinema tonight.”


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 
Updated 24 May 2024
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Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala
Updated 24 May 2024
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World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala
  • Red Sea International Film Festival sponsors for fourth year
  • Demi Moore was host, which Elizabeth Taylor held in 1993

DUBAI: Some of the world’s biggest stars, in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, made appearances on Thursday at the 30th annual amfAR gala as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival took on the role of presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Among those in attendance were Demi Moore, Michelle Yeoh, Heidi Klum, Kelly Rowland, Andie MacDowell, Diane Kruger, Colman Domingo, Michelle Rodriguez, Winnie Harlow, Robin Thicke, Diplo, Paris Jackson, Petra Nemcova, Karolina Kurkova, Natasha Poly, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

The RSIFF’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and chairwoman Jomana Al-Rashid were also present.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmfAR, is dedicated to the support of AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy. It has raised nearly $900 million since 1985.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Demi Moore, whose film “The Substance” caused a stir at Cannes, hosted this year’s gala, a role launched by Elizabeth Taylor in 1993.

The red carpet at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc, was awash with models, actors, singers and fashion designers as well as plenty of festival movers and shakers.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Garrn wore a purple beaded strapless gown with scalloped edges and spider web-like details, while Scott was adorned with a rose gold off-the-shoulder sheer tulle beaded gown, and Soares opted for a hooded gold beaded short dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered tassels.

German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Dammer (@kimdammer)

Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads and featuring a plunging neckline.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkly silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the designer.