Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 

Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 
“Last Breath” portrays hellish scenes unfolding in Mattar’s native city of Gaza. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 

Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 
  • The Gaza-born artist discusses her harrowing ‘Last Breath,’ which has drawn comparisons to Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ 

DUBAI: “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says London-based Palestinian artist Malak Mattar. The statement refers to her rectangular black-and-white painting, “Last Breath,” completed in February, and it is true both literally and metaphorically.  

“Last Breath” portrays hellish scenes unfolding in Mattar’s native city of Gaza, the target of Israeli military aggression since October last year. “I feel it summarizes a lot of things I want to say,” she tells Arab News.  

When the current war began, Mattar says she had no creative urge whatsoever. “It was like artistic paralysis: I couldn’t hold a piece of paper, or paint, or look at paintings. For me, nothing had meaning to be honest,” she explains.  




Malak Mattar is a London-based Palestinian artist. (Supplied)

But things started shifting when she spent December making more than 100 sketches, based on graphic photographs, on brown paper. They mostly portrayed victims of the Israeli bombardment, which began just days after Mattar returned to the UK from a visit to her hometown.  

Mattar spent a month creating “Last Breath,” using a ladder at times to work on the canvas, which is more than two meters high. During that month, there were two weeks when she didn’t hear from her family in Gaza.  

“It was a complete blackout — there were no messages, no calls, no news,” she recalls. “But that didn’t stop me. To keep painting a work like this, you have to pressure yourself. For a while, I blocked my feelings; the urgency and commitment that I had was bigger than any personal feelings I had.” 

The result is confrontational and compelling. Mattar has created an unflinching and disturbing scene of terrified faces, broken buildings and poignant graffiti that is hard to swallow. At the center of it all is a horse. It pulls a cart laden with household belongings — a mattress, a chair, blankets — as well as a dead body wrapped in white cloth. But there is also a young boy, alive, perched on the front of the cart. 

“The horse has a symbolism and a place in the current time of war,” Mattar explains. “Its role has changed from carrying fruits and vegetables to being an ambulance. There’s a strength and hardness to a horse, which is how I also see Gaza; I don’t see it as a weak place. In my memory, I think of it as a place that loves life. It always gets back on its feet after every war.” 

Mattar says the hardest section for her to paint was the image’s left side, which includes large, black birds picking at corpses.  

“The most shocking thing was how birds were eating martyrs’ bodies. Even the animals couldn’t find food,” says Mattar.  

The painting also notes the loss of cultural heritage, portraying how important landmarks, such as the Great Omari Mosque, the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church and the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center have been severely damaged.  

And then there are the glimpses of children’s toys, indicating the loss of youth and innocence.  

“Inside every child there is an adult. When a child starts speaking as an adult, it’s dangerous,” says Mattar. “A whole generation hasn’t lived its childhood and adolescence.” 

“Last Breath” is difficult, uncomfortable viewing. Deliberately so. “It’s a very dark time and this painting is not about hope — not even an ounce of it,” Mattar says. “It’s not something we will ever recover from.”  

Some have said that the painting resembles Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica,” created during the Spanish Civil War, and also a response to the bombing of a city. Mattar was particularly flattered when a commentator called it “Guernica Al-Jadida” (the New Guernica).  

“Last Breath” is currently being stored in the vault of London’s National Gallery. It will be on display at a solo exhibition between Mar. 6 and 10 at Cromwell Place in the British capital. Mattar hopes the work will become a permanent part of a museum’s or public institution’s collection, but not a private one.  

“The goal for this work is for it to be seen,” she says. “It’s not for sale, because it’s impossible to put a price on it. For the first time, I feel like (my work) belongs to something bigger than me; it belongs to a bigger cause.” 


'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art

'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art
Updated 20 May 2024
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'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art

'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art
  • Curation tells a “story about how women use their hands to craft their destinies,” Shoucair says

LONDON: The worlds of fashion and art from Arab female creatives converged this week at the “Material Woman” exhibition in London.

The exhibition, held from May 17 to May 19 at Soho Revue, is the brainchild of the art collective Hayaty Diaries, in collaboration with the fashion platform and pop-up series 3eib.

"The Warmth of My Bed" (2023) and "Thulathia" (2024) by Lebanese artist Yasmina Hilal. (Supplied)

Featuring an eclectic mix of sculptural art, mixed media, projection installations, fashion and jewelry, the exhibition explored craftsmanship and materiality.

“Each element came together to tell a cohesive and beautiful story about how women use their hands to craft their destinies and honor their heritages through both creative worlds of art and fashion,” Lebanese curator and Hayaty Diaries co-founder, Christina Shoucair, told Arab News. 

The curatorial process began with the pairing of artists and designers, creating a harmony between the works. 

"Communion" (2023) and "Wound" (2023) by Bahraini artist Zayn Qahtani

Bahraini artist Zayn Qahtani’s shrine-like objects, featuring delicate ethereal drawings on date paper, explore themes of venerative mourning. These are paired alongside a series of rustic sculptures and draped garments by Egyptian designer Nadine Mos.

Lebanese artist Yasmina Hilal’s photo sculptures, which incorporate her distinctivve metalwork and soldering technique, are complemented by a curated display of contemporary silver and gold accessories by Celine Dagher, a Lebanese jewelry designer.

Meanwhile, Egyptian artist Hanya Elghamry examines the process of remembering by graphically recreating various details and narratives in her installation “Abandoned Projection.” Set as a backdrop against her floating “Tampered Redux” series, along with Moroccan designer Hanan Sharifa’s mesh and delicate dresses, the space offers visitors an immersive experience.

Garments designed by Nadine Mos on display at "Material Woman" in London. (Jules Foad)

“Christina and Kinzy presented the vision for The Material Woman and I loved the idea of blending the worlds of fashion and art together and utilizing the theme of materiality as a vehicle of creative empowerment and liberation,” 3eib founder, Dania Arafeh, told Arab News. 

Hayaty Diaries, which focuses on celebrating the artwork of Arab women, marked its debut last December with its inaugural exhibition, “Through Their Eyes: Perspectives Unveiled,” in the British capital. 

“Our Hayaty Diaries journey has been incredible. We’ve had the privilege of meeting many creatives from the region and have felt the warmth and support of the community. We are immensely grateful for all the encouragement we have received along the way,” Egyptian-Saudi curator and Hayaty Diaries cofounder Kinzy Diab told Arab News.

The London-based collective is now preparing for its exhibition “Levitate,” which will run from June 6 to June 16 and center around themes of fantasy and imagination.
 


Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
  • Panel discussion was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry
  • Panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program

RIYADH: Ithra organized a panel discussion entitled “Creative Voices” to shed light on young Saudi cinematic talents on the sidelines of the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

It was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry.

The panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program, including 11 short films and four feature-length films.

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved compared to previous years, allowing them to showcase local stories through cinematic works that reflect the Saudi culture internationally. 

Raneem Al-Muhandis, the director who debuted her film “Swing” in 2022 with support from Ithra, said Saudi Arabia boasts a rich pool of narratives ripe for cinematic exploration with worldwide appeal.   

Ithra cinema coordinator Mansour Al-Badran said that this program has taken local filmmaking to a new level.

“We produced the film ‘Hajjan’ within IFPP which has so far won nine awards in local and regional film festivals and was chosen to be the opening or closing film in prestigious festivals,” he said.

Al-Badran added that “Hajjan” is a prime example of the cinematic projects Ithra is working on.

He highlighted that Ithra is interested in stories that draw inspiration from the rich Saudi culture and aims to raise the standards of filmmaking in the local community through workshops and seminars.

Additionally, he highlighted Ithra’s collaboration with the Cinema Society to host the Saudi Film Festival, which is as a major platform for showcasing up-and-coming talents in the film industry. 

The Ithra event at the Saudi pavilion featured a luncheon bringing together representatives of organizations that support filmmakers in Saudi Arabia. The aim was to strengthen relationships and promote the exchange of cinematic experiences between industry professionals and enthusiasts. 


Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates
Updated 20 May 2024
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Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

DUBAI: Dubai Fashion Week (DFW) has announced its Spring/Summer 2025 dates, with international labels set to hit the runway from Sept. 1-5, 2024.

 “By positioning it ahead of the fashion weeks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, DFW provides an opportunity for participating designers to set the season’s trends and capture the attention of buyers,” organizing bodies the Arab Fashion council and Dubai Design District said in a released statement.  

Previous iterations of DFW saw New York-based label Carolina Herrera as the guest of honor last October with a presentation by the brand’s Creative Director Wes Gordon; supermodel Naomi Campbell closing the October edition by walking for Rizman Ruzaini; and Moroccan designer Maison Sara Chaibi making her DFW debut in February after presenting her collection at Paris Haute Couture Week.


Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi
Updated 20 May 2024
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Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

DUBAI: Emirati actress and filmmaker Meera AlMidfa has two short films screening on the sidelines of the ongoing Cannes Film Festival — “Shame” and “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. 

Set to entertain audiences in the French Riviera, although the films are not playing on the official calendar of the film festival, each provides sharp insight and commentary on Arab womanhood, while approaching the subject from separate viewpoints and taking a different tone.

While in “Shame” AlMidfa plays a woman whose attempt to flee from home is abruptly halted when her mother catches her and leads to an intense confrontation, in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker,” she plays the daughter of a matchmaker trying to avoid getting hitched.

Meera AlMidfa (right) in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. (Supplied)

“The two films were made as part of Arab Film Studio workshop by Image Nation Abu Dhabi. And I was cast by the filmmakers who were doing the filmmaking course, both female directors. And they both explore similar issues about women and marriage,” AlMidfa said in an interview with Arab News.

However, AlMidfa is most excited about her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. “I play an Emirati woman married to a Saudi man,” said AlMidfa.

Starring opposite AlMidfa is Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi (“Telfaz11,” “The Office,” “From A to B”), with the film’s worldwide release planned for July 4.

Meera AlMidfa will soon star in her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. (Supplied)

The production brings together an all-female Emirati creative team featuring first feature director Maitha Alawadi, producer Rawia Abdullah and writer Sara Al-Sayegh.

The film’s logline reads, “‘Al Eid Eiden’ follows a Saudi-Emirati family as they make the final preparations for an Eid getaway in Abu Dhabi. An unexpected turn of events on their day of travel changes things drastically for the parents, but not wanting to disappoint their three young children, they decide to go ahead as planned.

“What ensues is a roller-coaster ride of comedic mishaps and misunderstandings as they hurtle through uncharted parenting territory, a theme park, and Eid gatherings with relatives. Through the chaos, they discover unity as a family.”

Having been an integral part of the theatre and acting scene for more than a decade in the UAE, AlMidfa — who has a master’s degree in film directing from the American Film Institute — is also interested in working behind the camera as much as she is performing in front of it.

“I would say acting comes more naturally to me. But the more I do production work, the more it sinks in as well. But it’s like a complete personality switch. So, you need to kind of figure out how to balance yourself when you switch from one to the other based on the project. So, I don’t mix them up too much — I don’t direct something and then act like back-to-back,” she said.


Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work
Updated 20 May 2024
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Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

CANNES: Directed by Morocco’s Nabil Ayouch, Cannes Film Festival title “Everybody Loves Touda” is a compelling look at a single mother, Touda (an excellent Nisrin Erradi), who lives by the age-old dictum “never say die.”

Living in a small town, she is a bundle of music and mirth and her dances seem to bring cheer to her audience, but she soon faces unwanted attention.

The Cannes screening ended with a standing ovation, and Ayouch’s fourth outing at the festival seemed to garner far more audience appreciation than in earlier years. In 2012, his critically acclaimed drama “Horses of God” played in the Un Certain Regard section, which is second in importance to the main competition and is widely seen as a platform for experimental cinema. But Ayouch has also played in the In Competition section for the coveted Palme d’Or — his 2021 feature “Casablanca Beats,” the first title from Morocco since 1962 to vie for this honor, proved a sensation.

 Maryam Touzani and Nabil Ayouch attend the "Everybody Loves Touda" Photocall at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival. (Getty Images)

Like his other movies, Ayouch approaches “Everybody Loves Touda” with fascinating realism that at times may appear a little too harsh. Having written the script with Mayam Touzani (“The Blue Caftan”), Ayouch may have given us formulaic fare, but he infuses Touda with a kind of determination that is awesome. Striving to relocate to Casablanca, where her deaf son would have better schooling and she herself could find greater opportunities, Touda begins to sing in village nightclubs, bearing with a grin the lecherous gaze of men drunk with delusion.

This is not the first time that Ayouch puts women in such precarious positions. His 2008 “Whatever Lola Wants” talks about the trials of a postal worker in New York who dreams of becoming an Egyptian belly dancer, and “Much Loved” (which played at in the Director's Fortnight section) created a storm with its exploration of prostitution in Morocco.

Peppered with lively music (by Flemming Nordkrog), Touda croons folkloric songs on liberation and other forms of women’s rights. The actress’s gripping performance causes the narrative to sparkle —Erradi has a remarkable on-screen presence that makes the movie a joy to watch.