Tate St. Ives explores Moroccan modernism in Casablanca Art School show 

Tate St. Ives explores Moroccan modernism in Casablanca Art School show 
Mohammed Chabâa, Untitled, 1975. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 January 2024
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Tate St. Ives explores Moroccan modernism in Casablanca Art School show 

Tate St. Ives explores Moroccan modernism in Casablanca Art School show 

DUBAI: Between the 1960s and 1980s, post-independence Morocco witnessed the rise of a game-changing artistic movement known as the Casablanca Art School. It was spearheaded by a new generation of pioneering Moroccan artists and educators such as Farid Belkahia, Mohammed Chabaa and Mohamed Melehi, who sought to create a modern and vibrant visual language that paid tribute to their country’s multicultural heritage.    




Mohamed Melehi, Untitled, 1969. (Supplied)

The movement is the subject of an ongoing exhibition, until Jan. 14, at Tate St. Ives in Cornwall, England. A landmark show, it is the first time that a major British museum explores Moroccan modernism. Organized along with the Sharjah Art Foundation in the UAE, “The Casablanca Art School” show gathers an extensive selection of abstract works, sculptures and tapestries by 22 artists, accompanied by attractive displays of print archives, vintage journals, photographs and films. 

“The Casablanca Art School always had something compelling to everybody, probably because of the visual efficiency in their work and the fact that the fusion of Western art and local tradition is kind of perfect in a way,” Morad Montazami, the show’s co-curator, told Arab News. “With the Casablanca Art School, there’s something about their work and trajectory that feels kind of resolved about ‘West’ and ‘East’ influences.” 




Casablanca Art School Installation View at Tate St Ives 2023. (Supplied)

One of the unique aspects of the school was how unconventional it was. “The anti-colonial position was about creating a new language, which should be based on local arts and crafts in terms of geometric creativity and materials that they used,” said Montazami. Artists went beyond the canvas and other traditional Western media in favor of copper, leather and animal skin. They were also inspired by Amazigh, Berber and African jewelry and carpets. A lot of paintings of this era implemented fluorescent colors through cellulosic, industrial paint that was commonly used by local workers in car garages and workshops. 

Casablanca Art School artists also literally took to the streets with their art, turning the city into a public canvas. “It was a way to attract the viewer of the streets because they began showing in non-museum spaces and outdoor exhibitions,” said Montazami. “There weren’t really local galleries — only French-owned galleries exhibited Moroccan artists as naive or folk painters. There wasn’t even a modern art museum. So Casablanca as a postcolonial city was really transformed by these innovative artists.” 


Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller

Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller
Updated 22 February 2024
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Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller

Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller

DUBAI: French Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve can rest easy as “Dune: Part Two” pulls off the most elusive of filmmaking wins: improving on the original movie with a sequel. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “Dune: Part One,” released in October 2021, utilized most of its 2 hours and 48 minutes of runtime to set up 2024’s sweeping spectacle of a conclusion to Frank Herbert’s first novel in the “Dune” series.

And what a spectacle it is. Not only is “Part Two” a sensorial treat in every possible way, but Villeneuve also injects the movie with an emotional verve and gravitas, as well as playfulness, that was drastically missing in the first, in comparison.

“Dune: Part Two” picks up on the heels of the first film, locating itself deep in the desert landscape of Arrakis (shot extensively in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter), where young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) must earn the trust of the native Fremen tribes after his entire house was massacred by the Harkonens in a bloody coup.

While Fremen warrior Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is convinced Paul is the prophesized messiah come to save their world from the colonizing forces of Baron Harkonen (Stellan Skarsgard) and battle-hardened war-monger Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista), other Arrakis natives view the young noble with suspicion.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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As the battles between the Harkonnens and the Fremen play out in gigantic and awesome displays of fire power, Paul grapples with the consequences of his rising power as Muad’Dib and his need for vengeance, goaded by the growing occult influence of his mother, Lady Jessica, a powerful member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

There is also a budding romance between Paul and Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen fighter who is vocal about her distrust in prophecies, and wants her people to earn their freedom themselves, instead of relying on an outsider.

Zendaya as Fremen warrior Chani in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

High on the list of Paul’s hit list is Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) for a reason that is made clear pretty early in the film, while his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) serves as the audience’s entry point into the geopolitical nuances of “Part Two,” as she narrates the film.

Props go entirely to Villeneuve and writer Jon Spaihts for homing in on Herbert’s distaste for the Chosen One trope and dismantling the hero’s journey to reveal the greys that lie beneath what may initially seem like a very black-and-white story. Villeneuve also pulls on the religious threads of the story, ever so carefully, and the results are as mystical as they are cerebral.

Rebecca Ferguson as Reverend Mother Jessica in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Meanwhile, cinematographer Greig Fraser is well on his way to collect his next Oscar with “Part Two” — the first instalment of the film won the Best Cinematography Academy Award in 2022 — as he levels up his craft in the sequel. Also, composer Hans Zimmer delivers a superior soundtrack that will stick with audiences long after they have left the theater.

As far as performances go, main players Chalamet and Zendaya turn in expected performances, but never really push the envelope. However, the supporting cast, including Fergusson, Bardem, Bautista and Josh Brolin, are superlative and seem to have remembered to have fun with their characters. Even newcomer Austin Butler as the psychopathic Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is an absolute treat to behold.

Austin Butler plays Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

While “Part Two” brings about a satisfying end to the events of the first book, the movie heavily hints at a third outing, and it would be a welcome one.

So if you have recently found yourself losing faith in blockbuster movies, “Dune: Part Two” is here to turn you back into a believer.


Comedian Russell Peters to hit the stage in Riyadh

Comedian Russell Peters to hit the stage in Riyadh
Updated 22 February 2024
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Comedian Russell Peters to hit the stage in Riyadh

Comedian Russell Peters to hit the stage in Riyadh

RIYADH: Global comedy superstar Russell Peters will perform at Riyadh’s Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University on Feb. 24.

The show is being produced by Smile Entertainment and Live Nation Middle East.

“We’re really excited to host Russell back in Riyadh after a gap of over 10 years,” Peter Howarth-Lees, founder and CEO of Smile Entertainment, said.

Canadian comedian Peters will be joined on stage by US comedian Adam Hunter and DJ StartingFromScatch, who will kick off the show during Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day weekend.

Recently named one of the 50 best comics of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Peters’ most notable tour to date was titled “The Deported World Tour.” It took place in over 40 cities over the course of 18 months and premiered as a stand-up special on Amazon Prime in 2020.

It is not Peters’ first time in the region — he performed in Abu Dhabi in 2023 and also performed in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla in February 2022, among other performances in the region.

Peters, who is of Anglo-Indian descent, was the first comedian to sell out Toronto’s Air Canada Center in 2007 and has also performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Sydney Opera House and London’s O2 arena.

Peters hit the comedy scene when he was 19 and skyrocketed to global fame with CTV’s “Comedy Now,” a Canadian stand-up comedy show featuring on-stage comic routines by pro and amateur comedians.


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 15 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.” 


Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London
Updated 21 February 2024
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Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London
  • The Omani label has dressed a number of international celebrities, including Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Paris Hilton

DUBAI: Omani label Atelier Zuhra showcased its Fall/Winter 2024 collection in London this week, delivering a showcase of glamour and style. 

Designer Rayan Al-Sulaimani, who is based in Dubai, put on a show for guests gathered at Cafe Royal in London with a runway showcasing glittering evening gowns infused with a hefty dose of drama. Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The color palette was varied and ranged from light hues — such as white, pink, silver and beige — to deeper tones like navy blue, emerald green, maroon and black. 

The designs stood out for the incorporation of crystals, intricate pearl work, beading, feathers, and luxurious fabrics. These elements reflected the opulence of the chandelier-filled hall where the runway presentation unfolded.

Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. (Getty Images)

The dresses were crafted from a variety of fabrics including tulle, satin, chiffon, velvet and organza. 

Netflix’s “Dubai Bling” star Farhana Bodi walked the runway. She graced the catwalk in a metallic pink form-fitting gown complemented by a satin hood trailing from the shoulders of the dress.

She shared the clip of her walking the runway on Instagram and wrote: “Your SHOWSTOPPER Bling Girl at the London Fashion Week (sic).” 

Chanel Ayan wore a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. (Getty Images)

She was also joined by “The Real Housewives of Dubai” star Chanel Ayan, who was dressed in a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. Completing her ensemble was a pink satin abaya-inspired coverup. 

Atelier Zuhra CEO and head designer Al-Sulaimani’s mother Mouza Al-Awfi founded the couture house in Dubai in 2015.  

“My ambition for the future is for the brand to be well recognized internationally. Over the next five years I hope to have Atelier Zuhra established in Europe – either in London or Paris,” Al-Sulaimani previously told Arab News.

The Omani label has dressed a number of international celebrities. US superstar Beyonce, US music sensation Mariah Carey, US socialite Paris Hilton, US singer Nicole Scherzinger, British supermodel Naomi Campbell and Saudi star Dalia Mubarak, who is signed with US record label Warner Recorded Music, have all been spotted in the brand’s creations.