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.” 


Saint Levant addresses Gaza war on stage at Coachella music festival

Saint Levant addresses Gaza war on stage at Coachella music festival
Updated 14 April 2024
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Saint Levant addresses Gaza war on stage at Coachella music festival

Saint Levant addresses Gaza war on stage at Coachella music festival

DUBAI: Saint Levant, a Palestinian French Algerian Serbian rapper, performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival music festival in California on Saturday.

The musician used the opportunity to address the ongoing war in Gaza, saying: “Coachella, my name is Saint Levant and I was born in Jerusalem and raised in Gaza … as I hope all of you are aware, the people of Gaza have been undergoing a brutal, brutal genocide for the past six months. And the people of Palestine have been undergoing a brutal occupation for the past 75 years.”

Saint Levant performed a series of his hits, including “Nails,” “From Gaza, With Love” and a slowed-down version of “Very Few Friends.” The artist also performed “Deira” and “5am in Paris,” which was released last week.

“It’s about exile,” he said, describing the new song. “A feeling that us Palestinians know a bit too well.”

Born Marwan Abdelhamid in Jerusalem, the singer previously spoke to Arab News about his childhood.

“The actual cultural makeup is my mom is half-French and half-Algerian. My dad is Serbian, half-Palestinian. And they actually both grew up in Algeria. But they decided, in the early 90s, post the Oslo Accords, that Palestine was going to be free.

“So they went back, my dad went to live in Gaza in the early 1980s. And my dad actually built a hotel there and that’s where I grew up,” he said.

“For everyone, childhood is very meaningful. And for me, it was a juxtaposition because I remember the sound of the drones and the sounds of the bones. But more than anything, I remember the warmth, and the smell … and the taste of food and just the odd feeling of soil.”


Why the bidding may be furious for a portrait of Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, coming up for sale soon

Why the bidding may be furious for a portrait of Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, coming up for sale soon
Updated 14 April 2024
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Why the bidding may be furious for a portrait of Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, coming up for sale soon

Why the bidding may be furious for a portrait of Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, coming up for sale soon
  • The newly rediscovered medallion features a portrait of Sultan Mehmed II The Conqueror
  • The item is expected to sell for around £2 million at auction at Bonhams of London

LONDON: To the Christians of Europe in the mid-15th century, the Islamic leader Mehmed II was “the terror of the world,” a “venomous dragon” at the head of “bloodthirsty hordes.”

The Roman Catholic Pope, Nicholas V, went even further. To him, the seventh ruler of the Ottoman Empire was nothing less than “the son of Satan, perdition and death.”

Understandably, Mehmed’s subjects felt rather differently about the man who between 1444 and 1481 would triple the size of the empire.

Illustration showing Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Constantinople. (Shutterstock)

To them, he was “The Father of Conquest,” the man who in 1453, at the age of 21, achieved the impossible by capturing the supposedly impregnable fortress of Constantinople.

The single most strategically important city of the Middle Ages, Constantinople had been in Christian hands ever since its foundation in 330 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

In modern-day Turkiye, Mehmed II is considered a hero by many. Symbolically, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, which was completed in 1988 and links Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait, bears his name.

Now, a unique and only recently rediscovered portrait of Mehmed the Conqueror, created an estimated three years before his most celebrated feat of arms, is coming up for sale at an auction at Bonhams of London, at which it is predicted to fetch as much as £2 million ($2.53 million).

This painting of Mehmed the Conqueror by Venetian artist Gentile Bellini in about 1480 can be seen at the National Gallery in London. (Supplied)

This is far from being the only known portrait of Mehmed; one of the most famous, painted by the Venetian artist Gentile Bellini in about 1480, can be seen at the National Gallery in London.

The uniqueness of the likeness on the bronze medallion is that it is not only the only known portrait of Mehmed II as a young man, pictured before he conquered Constantinople, but also the earliest known portrait of any Islamic ruler by a Western artist.

There is no date on the medal. But the clue to when the portrait was executed — almost certainly from life, by a skilled but anonymous Renaissance artist — lies in the Latin inscription, which reads: “Great Prince and Great Emir, Sultan Master Mehmet.”

Tellingly, said Oliver White, Bonhams’ head of Islamic and Indian art, “the inscription lacks the ‘Imperatorial’ title, which was included on medals after the fall of Constantinople.”

Experts have also concluded that, because of the absence of any design or lettering on the reverse of the brass medallion, plus the existence of a hole at its top, through which a chain might have been attached, it could well have been “a deeply personal and significant possession of the great Sultan.”

FASTFACTS

• Size of of Ottoman Empire would triple between 1444 and 1481.

• In 1453, at the age of 21, Mehmed II captured Constantinople.

• Mehmed II made further conquests before dying aged 49 in 1481 .

This, said White, suggests the intriguing possibility that it might once have hung around the neck of The Conqueror as a talisman. Indeed, in a later portrait Mehmed is depicted wearing what appears to be the very same medal.

“For us, the single most important historical element is that we believe that the medal belonged personally to Mehmed,” said White.

“You can also say it was almost certainly done from life, that it is a real portrait that actually looks like him rather than being a typical generic miniature painting of a sultan.”

Although the name of the artist remains unknown, “we do know that it was made in Italy, because that’s where all these pieces were being made at the time, when it was a fairly new thing.

“The whole concept of these portrait medallions, which had been resurrected from ancient Rome, had begun only about 20 years earlier, in the 1430s.”

Presenting the fall of Constantinople as an existential struggle between Christianity and Islam would be to simplify a complex situation, said White. There were Turks among the defenders of Constantinople, loyal to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, and thousands of Christians among the 50,000-strong Ottoman army.

Shutterstock image

In a short biography commissioned by Bonhams, historian Peter Frankopan writes that despite the portrayal of Mehmed in contemporary European propaganda as a tyrant, in fact “the conquest of Constantinople was accompanied by a set of policies that even critics conceded showed a surprising degree of tolerance, most notably to the Greek Orthodox Christians who were protected from persecution by laws as well as by the sultan’s personal command — with similar concessions being given to Armenian Christians, to Jews and to other minorities in the city.”

Nevertheless, the fall of the city, “which had been the subject of lavish investment by the Roman Emperor Constantine and had stood for more than a millennium as the capital of the Roman Empire in the east — usually called the Byzantine Empire — sent shockwaves through the Mediterranean and beyond.

“Constantinople’s fall to Mehmed and his forces was not so much a dramatic moment as a decisive turning point in history.”

Art experts from Sotheby's talk about Paul Signac's "La Corne d'Or (Constantinople)" during an auction preview November 1, 2019 at Sotheby's in New York. (AFP/File photo)

In fact, according to the Victorian British historian Lord Acton, modern history began “under the stress of the Ottoman conquest.”

In Acton’s view, wrote Frankopan, “the failure of Europeans to put their differences to one side, the reluctance of Christians in the west to support their Greek-speaking Orthodox neighbours to the east, and the ineffective response to the threat posed by Mehmed and his Muslim armies set off a chain reaction that ultimately helped shape the Reformation — if not the age of global empires that emerged from places such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain.”

It was, said White, “no exaggeration to say that the fall of Constantinople shaped the modern world — and it was with the eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century that many of the problems of the modern world arose.”

Ruins of Rumelihisari, Bogazkesen Castle, or Rumelian Castle, built by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.  located at the hills of the European side of Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul, Turkiye. (Shutterstock image)

In his relatively brief life — he died at the age of 49 in 1481 — Mehmed achieved much, including a series of further conquests in Asia and Europe. But although he carved his way through much of the 15th century with a sword, he was a man of contradictions, introducing many political and social reforms at home and proving a great patron of the arts and sciences.

“He gathered Italian humanists and Greek scholars to his court,” said White, “and by the end of his reign had transformed Constantinople into a thriving imperial capital.”

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Although Mehmed commissioned many portraits of himself during his reign, executed in the Italian style, it is the rarity of the medallion that has invested it with such a high potential value.

“The medal was acquired by its present owner in an auction in Rome in 2000,” said White. “It was lumped in with a job lot of medals, and considered to be of very little importance.”

At the time no one quite understood its significance. A lot of academics have looked at it, and for seven or eight years after the original sale it was thought it might date to the 1460s, which was post-Constantinople and therefore less.”

Finally, it was realized that Mehmed had been referred to by the Latin title “Magnus princeps” only once before — in a treaty with Venice, drawn up in the 1440s.

In all portraits and references following the 53-day siege of 1453 he is referred to without exception as “The Conqueror of Constantinople.”


ALSO READ: Book by Saudi author unravels Ottoman atrocities in Madinah


The unnamed owner is now parting with the medal after the successful completion of two decades of research into its history.

“It’s been his baby for 25 years,” said White, “and I think he feels, ‘we know what it is now, and it's time for the public to enjoy it’.”

There is, of course, no guarantee that the medal will be purchased by an institution, said White. But the expected price and the historical significance of the piece in the story of Islam suggests at least “the possibility” that bidders will include some of the great museums of the Middle East.

Tipu Sultan's fabled bedchamber sword sold for £14 million at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London on May 23, 2023. (Photo credit: Bonhams)

Bidding will have to be furious to beat the world record for an Islamic and Indian object, set by the sale in London last year of the sword of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India between 1782 and 1799, for £14 million.

The Mehmed medallion, estimated at between £1.5-2 million, will be the star lot at the Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art Sale on May 21 at Bonhams New Bond Street, London.

 


Cinema for Gaza auction raises over $300,000 with the aid of Annie Lennox, Jonathan Glazer, Ramy Youssef and more

Cinema for Gaza auction raises over $300,000 with the aid of Annie Lennox, Jonathan Glazer, Ramy Youssef and more
Updated 13 April 2024
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Cinema for Gaza auction raises over $300,000 with the aid of Annie Lennox, Jonathan Glazer, Ramy Youssef and more

Cinema for Gaza auction raises over $300,000 with the aid of Annie Lennox, Jonathan Glazer, Ramy Youssef and more

DUBAI: Cinema for Gaza, which was launched by a group of female filmmakers and film journalists, has raised $316,778 to support the UK charity Medical Aid for Palestinians through a celebrity auction, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The auction featured donations from Tilda Swinton, Annie Lennox, Joaquin Phoenix, Spike Lee and Guillermo del Toro among others. 

Lennox’s handwritten lyrics to her Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams” was the top seller, with a bidder paying $26,222 for the item.

Meanwhile, “The Zone of Interest” director Jonathan Glazer, who received criticism online for referencing the Gaza conflict in his 2024 Oscars acceptance speech, donated seven posters from the film, signed by himself, composer Mica Levi and producer James Wilson, as well as a selection of posters for his 2014 feature “Under the Skin,” which collectively raised $13,702. 

US-Egyptian comedian and creator Ramy Youssef donated tickets to his live show as well as to the afterparty and a meet-and-greet. Oscar-winner Phoenix donated a signed “Joker” poster. Del Toro contributed six signed books. Lee contributed a signed, framed poster of Malcolm X.

“We thought we might raise maybe £20,000 ($25,000),” said London-based film journalist and critic Hanna Flint to The Hollywood Reporter.

Flint set up Cinema for Gaza together with her film-industry friends Hannah Farr, Julia Jackman, Leila Latif, Sophie Monks Kaufman, and Helen Simmons a few months after the start of Israel’s ongoing military assault on Gaza.

“We’re a very diverse group of women, we’ve got women of color, we’ve got Jewish women, Muslim women, Christians, atheists, who all came together out of this need to do something tangible to show our support and activism for the humanitarian crisis that’s going on (in Gaza),” said Flint.

“We really believe that cinema can be a powerful tool, a political tool, to speak about the world, to reflect and engage with what’s going on, and, we thought, what better way (to get) people in our industry to come together to try and help people who are not doing that well?”
 


Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr all set to speak ‘the truth’ at Dubai show

Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr all set to speak ‘the truth’ at Dubai show
Updated 13 April 2024
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Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr all set to speak ‘the truth’ at Dubai show

Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr all set to speak ‘the truth’ at Dubai show

DUBAI: Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr, who is set to perform at the Dubai Comedy Festival on April 17, says he is an activist who “likes to use comedy as his tool.”

In an interview with Arab News ahead of his show at the Dubai Opera, Zahr said: “Activism is about telling the truth. Being Palestinian is about telling the truth. And comedy is about telling the truth. People sometimes say to me, ‘Hey, I never know when you’re joking.’ I tell them, ‘Look, I’m always being serious. I’m always telling the truth.’ But a comedian uses humor to tell the truth.

“Because if you can make someone laugh, they listen to you and they let down their guard.

“And we Palestinians have been trying to tell our story for 75 years. And we’ve been using art, music, poetry … but for me, I found that comedy is a very effective way. So, I’m a Palestinian first who is trying to tell our stories, and comedy is my tool,” he added.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Amer Zahr (@amerzahr)

Zahr, who is also a law professor and political activist, said he got hooked to stand-up comedy while in law school.

“I had thought about comedy and then in law school, the opportunity presented itself where there was a show going on, and they kind of asked if anyone wants to do some comedy before the main comedian comes on. And so, I said ‘let me try it.’ I got up there. I told a couple stories about my dad. Everybody laughed, and I got kind of hooked to the idea of being on a stage and being able to make people laugh and connect with people in that way,” said Zahr.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Amer Zahr (@amerzahr)

For Zahr, the allure of stand-up comes from the fact that it involves “speaking truth to power.”

He said: “Comedy is one of the purest art forms. When somebody sings, we’re okay with it if we learned later on that they didn’t write the song. We’re just happy they have a great voice. But when you hear a comedian, you assume that everything that that person is saying is genuine and coming from them. And if you learned later that it wasn’t, you might feel cheated.

“Comedy is a very personal art form between the audience and the comedian. And, so, that’s something that you that you grow into. And then comedy, in its purest form, is a form of protest, speaking truth to power. And, so, it kind of fits the Palestinian story perfectly,” he added.

Asked about what audiences can expect from his Dubai show, Zahr said: “It’s going to be me telling the Palestinian story from before Oct. 7, and after Oct. 7, with love, laughter and the truth. And maybe during the show, I’ll make people laugh until they cry. And sometimes I’ll make them cry until they laugh.”


Ryan Reynolds spotted wearing Gigi Hadid’s clothing brand

Ryan Reynolds spotted wearing Gigi Hadid’s clothing brand
Updated 13 April 2024
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Ryan Reynolds spotted wearing Gigi Hadid’s clothing brand

Ryan Reynolds spotted wearing Gigi Hadid’s clothing brand

DUBAI: Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds is the latest celebrity to be spotted in a cardigan from Palestinian Dutch supermodel Gigi Hadid’s clothing label Guest in Residence.

Hadid took to Instagram to thank the “Deadpool” star for choosing the label, while also playfully including the star’s actress-wife Blake Lively in the message.

“Thank You @vancityreynolds mostly because we collectively, as a team, geek out every time you wear Guest in Residence,” wrote Hadid.

“You will never look like Blake in it,” the post added. “But you know this and I find you as a more useful friend of the brand because you love trying all the new pieces and she’s been wearing the same shirt from two winters ago through every season.”

“CC @blakelively … Your spring package is on the way, please try a cotton blend.”

Reynolds was wearing a peach Everywear Cardigan.

Earlier this year, Lively was spotted in New York City wearing a colorful Guest in Residence sweater.

Lively was with US singer and songwriter Taylor Swift when she was seen wearing an orange, yellow and black striped sweater, called Stripe Crew.

Hadid shared Lively’s picture on her Instagram and wrote: “I’m dead, so gorgeous.”

Lively paired the sweater with a brown suede circle skirt, a pair of orange platform heels and a yellow, brown and beige Louis Vuitton purse.

Lively and Swift were attending a private party at Lucali Pizza restaurant in Brooklyn.

Swift has been spotted in Guest in Residence several times. She sported an eye-catching, red cashmere crewneck at a Kansas City Chiefs game, while cheering on her partner Travis Kelce.

Yet another celebrity supporting Hadid’s label is Hollywood star Bradley Cooper, who sparked dating rumors with Hadid late last year.

In February this year, the “Maestro” actor stepped out in in the label’s Stripe Crew in the forest/cobalt/midnight colorway. He paired the look with comfortable gray sweatpants, hiking shoes and a heavy coat.

Late last year, Cooper also made a style statement when he was photographed wearing the cashmere Plaid Work Shirt while out on a stroll in New York City.