Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war
Palestinian artist Hazem Harb pictured in front of one of his works created in November for his 'Dystopia Is Not A Noun' series. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 January 2024

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war
  • As Israel’s assault on Gaza enters its fourth month, Palestinian artists discuss the impact it has had on their work, and the role the arts can play in times of war 

DUBAI: In times of war — when people are dying by the thousands and hospitals and schools are bombed, as they are in Gaza at this moment — it’s easy to wonder if the arts have any real relevance or role to play. In the face of such pain and destruction, art of any kind can be seen as a luxury enjoyed only by those fortunate enough to live outside of the violence. But history shows us that some of the world’s greatest artists have produced their most potent creations in the midst of horrendous suffering and socio-political upheaval.  

In 1937, for example, Pablo Picasso produced his nightmarish painting “Guernica,” depicting the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. And one of Iraqi pioneer Dia Al-Azzawi’s greatest works is his massive, emotionally-charged artwork based on the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in 1982.   

UK-based Palestinian oud player Reem Anbar. (Supplied)

As Israel’s military assault on Gaza enters its fourth month, Palestinian artists at home and abroad are using art to express their emotions and to raise awareness of the suffering their countrymen have endured. Recent exhibitions in Dubai and Beirut have shown solidarity by exhibiting works by Palestinian artists.  

Reem Anbar is a daughter of war. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Gaza, the musician reportedly became her town’s first female oud player, despite a lack of opportunities for studying music. Though Anbar, a Master’s student in music therapy, currently lives in Manchester, England, her memories of growing up in Gaza remain fresh. “I was raised with war,” she says. “I faced three of them. In every war, we lost our homes, neighbors, friends. . . We were literally living in a prison.” 

But she still found some hope. Aged 11, Anbar picked up the oud at a local center that offered summer activities, and it’s been her companion ever since. “I don’t know why, but I used to feel like it was a weapon for me. It allowed me to express myself and talk about my cause, my feelings, my life,” she says.  

Anbar went on to form Gazelleband in the UK in 2017. “I didn’t want to come here as a refugee and do nothing with my life,” she says. “I came here to work. I go from town to town to spread my Palestinian music.”  

Sliman Mansour's 1985 painting 'Symbol of Hope' —  Mansour says he finds himself sharing images of his older work online, because 'nothing has changed.' (Supplied)

Anbar has concerts coming up in the UK and Italy. She’s been asked about how she could play music when her family and friends are being killed. But to her, music is solace.  

“Even if a rocket drops, I will still hold on to my oud. Wars motivate us to sing and make more music. In the end, we Palestinian artists are carrying our cause wherever we go,” she says. “A message can be passed on through art.”  

Like Anbar, 24-year-old Malak Mattar hails from Gaza and has found refuge in England. She says she grew up in a household that appreciated poetry and art, and her colorful, women-centric paintings pay homage to Palestinian heritage and visual culture. In the past three months, though, her work has taken a new direction, seeing her produce raw, charcoal drawings of victims of the recent attrocities. She was actually visiting Gaza in October, leaving just the day before the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.  

“It’s the worst period of my life,” Mattar tells Arab News. “My family is still in Gaza. Every day is a new tragedy. What’s happening is genocide. Nowhere is safe.” 

A recent drawing by UK-based Palestinian artist Malak Matar. (Supplied)

 In these new drawings, Mattar depicts helpless infants and animals, damaged buildings, and wailing women in striking monochromatic tones.  

“I think it’s my protest as an artist, using only black and white,” she explains. “To be honest, some of the works were hard to do, but it’s my way of documenting what I’m seeing on social media through journalists and photographers’ accounts. I’m drawing something that I don’t want to forget.”  

The drawings will be displayed in London’s art-residency program “An Effort,” for which Mattar was selected as artist-in-residence. The violence and displacement faced by her family in Gaza has, of course, had a huge impact on her, but she realizes the importance of continuing to create.  

“I believe in art. It has a role to play — documenting everything and expressing something in a humane, moving way,” she says. “I think it’s bad to forget. Forgetting means betrayal. What we’re seeing are war crimes. I’m not just in a state of sadness, but anger too. I can’t face the outside world, because it let us down.”    

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the veteran Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour is also preparing to showcase a new, surrealist-style canvas in a group exhibition at the end of January in Ramallah. These days, Mansour is taking things slow, not visiting his studio on a daily basis, and even when he does, it’s sometimes only to paint for an hour at a time.  

UK-based Palestinian artist Malak Matar. (Supplied)

“I talk to artists and friends and they all have the same problem: They don’t know what to do. There’s a kind of loss in this time period,” he says. “If I was to compare the situation we’re in right now and the First Intifada, the First Intifada had a stronger effect on art and culture. I think when people were participants in the battle, they were more creative. But, now, we are just viewers. We sometimes talk to artists in Gaza and their situation is terrible — they don’t have studios and their homes have been destroyed. When we told them about the Ramallah exhibition, they were very annoyed, saying: ‘We can’t find something to eat and you’re talking about exhibitions?’   

“It can seem as if art is not important during times like this,” he continues. “But I think it’s important — if not for this generation, then for future ones. Art reflects the soul of a certain time.” 

On Instagram, images of his melancholic figurative paintings are regularly circulated by younger audiences. Mansour finds himself sharing posts of his older work in the Eighties and Nineties. “Nothing has changed for us with the Occupation,” he says.  

The holy family under an olive tree (Acrylic and oil), Sliman Mansour, 2020. (Supplied)

Even though Dubai-based Palestinian artist Hazem Harb’s home in Gaza, which has belonged to his family for generations, has been destroyed, he — like Mansour — still believes that art has value in times like this. “I still can’t process that it’s gone,” he says. “Our whole lives and memories were in that house.”  

In November, Harb gave a live performance in Dubai, producing harrowing drawings of vulnerable faces on a huge canvas — part of his “Dystopia Is Not A Noun” charcoal series — accompanied by rousing music.  

“It was the first time in my life that I drew in front of people,” he says. “It was honestly a hard experience, but it was also expressive, letting out my feelings. Towards the end, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was literally painting from my gut.”  

He hopes that his November canvas will find a public home, such as a museum, to serve as a reminder of the atrocities that his native city has been subjected to. 

“Art,” he says, “absolutely has an important role to play — to tell and record these stories.”  

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 55 min 22 sec ago

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

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

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. 


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months
Updated 24 May 2024

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

DUBAI: Here are eight blockbusters coming your way over the next few months.

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ 

Director: Shawn Levy 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Emma Corrin 

Release date: July 26 

In what will likely be the summer’s biggest box-office draw, the now-retired Wade Wilson — aka the indestructible mercenary Deadpool — is pulled from his sedate existence by the Time Variance Authority and forced into carrying out a mission with fellow anti-hero Wolverine, of X-Men fame. Both men reluctantly engage in a task that “will change the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” 

‘Hit Man’ 

Director: Richard Linklater 

Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio 

Release date: May 24 (June 7, Netflix) 

Action-comedy from one of the best directors around. Gary Johnson (Powell, who co-wrote the movie with Linklater) is a straight-laced college professor who moonlights as a fake hitman to entrap criminals for the local police department. But when he falls for a prospective client, Madisson (Arjona), Gary gets in way above his head, and his lies start to catch up with him. The bizarre premise is actually based on a true story (although Linklater has stressed that his film is not a faithful recreation of events).  

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ 

Directors: Adil & Bilall 

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens 

Release date: June 7 

Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are back for a fourth big-screen outing. This time, they’re investigating their own, when their late captain is accused of having been working with drug cartels. The two men set out to clear their captain’s name and find out who in the Miami PD could be responsible for framing him, only to be set up themselves and forced to go on the run. 

‘Inside Out 2’ 

Director: Kelsey Mann 

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black 

Release date: June 14 

The sequel to Pixar’s much-loved “Inside Out” — about a young girl called Riley and the five personified emotions that determine her thoughts and actions — finds Riley entering her teenage years, and ushering in some new emotions (Anxiety, Ennui, Embarrassment and Envy) who throw off the delicate equilibrium achieved by the veterans Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. 

‘The Bikeriders’ 

Director: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy 

Release date: June 21 

Nichols’ tale of the exploits of the fictional Chicago-based biker gang the Outlaws MC over the course of the 1960s is inspired by the photo-book of the same name by Danny Lyon. What, at first, is intended as a place of refuge and sanctuary for local outsiders where they can feel free to be themselves evolves — or devolves — into a violent crime organization.  

‘Despicable Me 4’ 

Director: Chris Renaud 

Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin 

Release date: July 3 

Gru — once a supervillain, now an agent for good — is living happily with his wife (and fellow agent) Lucy, their three adopted daughters, and their newborn baby boy. But when Maxime Le Mal, the dangerous criminal that Gru helped put away, escapes from prison, Gru and his family (and, of course, his Minions) must go on the run. 

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ 

Director: Greg Berlanti 

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Anna Garcia 

Release date: July 12 

Set in the Space Race of the 1960s, Berlanti’s romantic comedy-drama finds NASA director Cole Davis preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. An already stressful situation is made worse when he falls for marketing specialist Kelly Jones, whom the government has appointed to stage a fake moon landing in case anything goes wrong with the real deal.   


Director: Eli Roth 

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jack Black 

Release date: August 9 

With video-game adaptations no longer the dross they used to be, thanks to the success of TV shows like “The Last of Us” and “Fallout,” hopes are high for this star-studded take on Gearbox Software’s all-action looter-shooter. Blanchett plays Lillith — a much-feared outlaw who returns to her home planet of Pandora on a mission to find the missing daughter of the universe’s most powerful man, Atlas. To achieve her goal, she teams up with a band of misfits to tackle monsters and bandits and find the girl. 

The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 
Updated 24 May 2024

The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

DUBAI: Here are three pop culture highlights from across the region.

‘Drawing Time: Duets’ 

This exhibition, from the collection of Sharjah Art Foundation, runs until August 4 at Al-Mureijah Art Spaces. The show, the organizers say, “grew out of a two-year research project into conserving paper” and brings together works from 15 artists (including Baya, whose “Femme au paon” is pictured here) that “present a composite picture of what drawing is and could be today.” It also “delves into the concept of the double” by presenting the works in “artistic duets.”  



The popular Tunisian alternative outfit’s second studio album is billed as “Tunisian reggae,” a “distinctive fusion” of “innovative blends” that “delves deep into introspection and self-acceptance.” With touches of funk, ska, and Afrobeat, the nine tracks on “Revival” address a number of social issues as well as “the quest for inner peace,” and should help Gultrah build on the success of their hit single “Win.” 

Dima Ayad 

The Dubai-based Lebanese fashion designer’s latest collection of dresses, pants and coats is based around “a harmonious fusion of nostalgic 90s style elements with contemporary sensibilities,” according to a press release. The collection features “warm earth tones,” blacks, whites, and splashes of bright pink, while the new one-shoulder dress provides “a unique twist to the (designer’s) knitted signature fabric.”