Director Elie El-Semaan discusses his first feature film, ‘Honeymoonish’ 

Director Elie El-Semaan discusses his first feature film, ‘Honeymoonish’ 
“Honeymoonish” is a romantic comedy that will come to Netflix later this year.  (Supplied)
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Updated 14 March 2024
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Director Elie El-Semaan discusses his first feature film, ‘Honeymoonish’ 

Director Elie El-Semaan discusses his first feature film, ‘Honeymoonish’ 
  • Murex D’or winning director tells Arab News that his rom-com for Netflix is a labor of love 

DUBAI: Elie El-Semaan says being a director is physically exhausting, but that’s what fuels his love for filmmaking. The Lebanese director gained international acclaim with his breakout work, the TV show “Shatti Ya Beirut” (Rain Over Beirut), which won him a Murex D’or (the annual Lebanese awards for achievements in the arts) for Best Drama Director in 2022. 

Now, El-Semaan is ready to bring his expertise to the silver screen with his feature-film debut, “Honeymoonish”, a romantic comedy that will come to Netflix later this year.  




El-Semaan is ready to bring his expertise to the silver screen. (Supplied)

The project, as the first Kuwaiti film to be shot in Lebanon, comes with a nuanced take on the Arab world and the cultures that make it unique. 

“I think the film will change the perception of Arabs,” El-Semaan says to Arab News.  “Once people watch it, they’ll understand what I mean.” 

The film, written by Egyptian author and director Eiad Saleh, stars Kuwaiti-born Egyptian actress Nour Al-Ghandour as Noor and Kuwaiti actor Mahmoud Boushahri as Hamad. In it, the couple navigate a web of misunderstandings and unexpected truths to discover love and the possibility of redemption, inviting viewers on an emotionally resonant journey. 




The project, as the first Kuwaiti film to be shot in Lebanon, comes with a nuanced take on the Arab world and the cultures that make it unique. (Supplied)

Though the pressure of making his debut feature for a powerhouse like Netflix may have been daunting, El-Semaan says that the raising of the bar for pan-Arab television in recent years had given him confidence. 

 “I think series are now being treated as films,” he says. “The quality of our series is up to the level where each episode is like a film. In terms of quality, in terms of responsibility, in terms of everything, it was quite similar. You cannot give (audiences) what they used to watch in the past because the world has so much to offer. 

“The main difference between series and film is the amount of time you have — in a series you have, let’s say, three days to shoot an episode,” El-Semaan continues. “Whereas for a 90-minute film, you have 30 to 40 days to shoot.”  




Elie El-Semaan on the set of 'Honeymoonish.' (Supplied) 

With this added time came the opportunity to refine and understand the cultural subtleties of cast and crew. 

“One of the most difficult things for me as the director was the different dialects — Lebanese and Kuwaiti Arabic. That’s why I had a Kuwaiti on set with me who could explain different things. It was very diverse,” El-Semaan says.   

Bringing pan-Arab stories to the world stage is something El-Semaan often thinks about. It is important to the director to break down misconceptions and authentically represent his people.  




The film is written by Egyptian author and director Eiad Saleh. (Supplied)

“It’s a fine line, not shifting to a story that doesn’t look like our society and that doesn’t look like us,” he says. “You have to maintain the authenticity of the project, but, at the same time, take things up a notch and build on the story to do something that people haven’t seen before.” 

To do that, El-Semaan says he tried to foster an on-set environment that offered his actors and crew the freedom to collaborate in the filmmaking process. While he acknowledges his role as the final decision-maker, El-Semaan’s approach hinges on mutual involvement, with actors and crew members encouraged to contribute their insights and creativity. He shuns the notion of a director versus crew dynamic, instead fostering an environment where every individual is a valued partner in the project.  




The film stars Kuwaiti-born Egyptian actress Nour Al-Ghandour as Noor and Kuwaiti actor Mahmoud Boushahri as Hamad. (Supplied)

“I do not work with people who are not partners, I want people involved,” he says. “I want them to help build my vision, change my vision, and surprise me at times.” It is then his job to know how best to handle those surprises. 

“There are always things you need to know how to deal with on the spot. That’s what we do for a living: make decisions,” El-Semaan says. 

His championing of the idea of collective dreaming and dialogue, he believes, gives him a greater chance of creating the best possible film from the material. In his words, “That’s how you come up with a better project.” 

As he eagerly awaits the film’s launch, El-Semaan reflects on the transformative power of cinema and the joy of bringing diverse voices together to create something truly special. To him, it’s not just about entertaining audiences, but also about sparking conversations, challenging stereotypes, and fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience.  

“I’m sure there’s always room for improvement,” he says. “There’s always more we can do.” 


Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
Updated 15 June 2024
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Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
  • Mass boycott of acts leads to suspension of relationship between bank, event organizer Live Nation
  • Move comes as protesters target Barclays bank branches across Britain

LONDON: Barclays and Live Nation have suspended a sponsorship agreement for the events group’s festivals for 2024 after a number of artists announced they would be boycotting them over the bank’s involvement.

Download, Latitude, and the Isle of Wight festivals are among those worst affected by the boycotts, with acts and fans critical of Barclays’ business relationships with companies supplying arms to Israel.

Comedians Joanne McNally, Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow said they would not be attending Latitude, as well as musical acts CMAT, Pillow Queens, Mui Zyu and Georgia Ruth.

The bands Pest Control, Ithaca, Scowl, Speed and Zulu all confirmed they would pull out of Download.

It follows a mass boycotting by more than 100 acts of the Barclaycard-sponsored Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.

“Following discussion with artists, we have agreed with Barclays that they will step back from sponsorship of our festivals,” a Live Nation spokesperson said.

It came after activists targeted Barclays earlier in the week, with the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign demanding a boycott over the bank’s “complicity in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.”

PSC also claimed that Barclays “now holds over £2 billion ($2.536 billion) in shares, and provides £6.1 billion in loans and underwriting” to companies selling weapons to Israel.

The group Palestine Action targeted 20 bank branches with paint and rocks earlier this week, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has labeled it a “divestment and exclusion” target.

A spokesperson for the bank said in a statement: “Barclays was asked and has agreed to suspend participation in the remaining Live Nation festivals in 2024. 
“Barclays customers who hold tickets to these festivals are not affected and their tickets remain valid.

“The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe.”

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays said in a statement: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military. “Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.

“Our demand to Barclays is simple: divest from the genocide, or face further boycotts. Boycotting Barclays, also Europe’s primary funder of fossil fuels, is the minimum we can do to call for change.”

Leeds-based band Pest Control said in a statement: “We cannot sacrifice the principles held by this band and by the scene we come from and represent, just for personal gain.”

Ithaca said in a statement: “Once we were made aware of Barclays’ involvement in Download we knew we could no longer participate. This moment of solidarity is an opportunity for festival organisers to reflect carefully on who they take money from and see that the younger generation of bands will no longer be silent.”

Comedian McNally wrote in an Instagram post last week: “I’m getting messages today about me performing at Latitude when it’s being sponsored by Barclays.

“I’m no longer doing Latitude. I was due to close the comedy tent on the Sunday night, but I pulled out last week.”

Fellow comedian Duker said in a statement: “I am committed to minimising my complicity in what I consider to be a pattern of abhorrent, unlawful violence.”

On its website, Barclays said: “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do.

“We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. 
“Whilst we provide financial services to these companies, we are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

In relation to its dealings with Israeli defense company Elbit, Barclays said: “We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors.”

Barclays signed a sponsorship deal with Live Nation for five years in 2023. There has been no suggestion yet that the suspension will affect festival sponsorship under the agreement in future years.
 


Saudi flavors steal the show at Taste of London food festival

Saudi flavors steal the show at Taste of London food festival
Updated 14 June 2024
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Saudi flavors steal the show at Taste of London food festival

Saudi flavors steal the show at Taste of London food festival
  • Camel milk and date ice cream among the tasty treats on offer
  • Head of Culinary Arts Commission says she hopes visitors will be inspired

LONDON: Thousands of food fans have been converging on Regent’s Park this week to sample the very best of Saudi cuisine and culture at the Taste of London food festival.

Making its second appearance at the event, the Taste of Saudi Culture pavilion is an initiative backed by the Kingdom’s Culinary Arts Commission.

“Food is the first introduction to culture and it’s how you consume a culture, how you understand the people,” Mayada Badr, the commission’s CEO, told Arab News.

“I love the curiosity I see when we have a stand. People are very curious to try … they want to learn.”

She said the aim of the initiative was “to showcase, as Saudi people, our unique and diverse culinary heritage.”

With more than 4,000 people visiting the event in the first two days, Badr, a former executive chef, said she was delighted with the turnout.

“We were here last year and we loved the feel, we loved how warm and welcoming everyone was.”

After the success of 2023, the Saudi pavilion at this year’s event is larger and since the start of the festival on Wednesday has been serving up all manner of national and regional dishes.

Among the highlights are jareesh, a crushed wheat dish served with stewed onions and black lemon, muttabaq, a spicy filled omelet pancake, and balilah, a chickpea salad.

Visitors to the pavilion can also watch live cooking demonstrations, take part in a Saudi coffee ceremony, or treat themselves to a gift, such as a cookbook, handicraft or tasty snack.

“People come for the coffee ceremony but also the dates,” Badr said. “We’re known for the best quality dates in the world.”

Saudi Arabia is home to about 400 varieties of dates, which are used to make everything from syrup to honey and maamoul, the traditional filled cookie eaten by Hajj pilgrims in Mecca.

The pavilion also aims to educate visitors about the thousands of ingredients that are grown across the Kingdom and how they are being used to change peoples lives.

Yahya Maghrebi, from Kerten Hospitality, is involved an initiative in Saudi Arabia that teaches women how to make ice cream.

“The gelato is a great example of blending traditions with innovation,” she said.

“We did Taste of Paris, now London, and we’re just showcasing what we’re doing in the region. Wherever we go, we care a lot about locality and community and we always try to bring the flavors of the area.”

For the London event, Maghrebi and her team created several new ice cream flavors, including Taif rose water, Jazan mango and the crowd-favorite camel milk with dates.

Badr said: “London is a huge melting pot of a city. People come from different cultures, different backgrounds. And what better backdrop to showcase cuisine and heritage?

“We have so much to offer, from traditional foods to all the high-end restaurants, but honestly, the homegrown traditional foods are some of the best in the world.”

She said she hoped people would be inspired by the tastes and flavors the Kingdom had to offer.

“I think it’s nice to always share techniques and flavors with the rest of the world, because you never know what they can do with it.

“It’s just sharing a piece of you and a piece of heritage. And that’s, you know, the Saudi hospitality.”

The Taste of London festival runs until Sunday.


Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 

Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 
Updated 14 June 2024
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Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 

Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 
  • The Saudi actress and writer-director’s drama about a family’s struggle with mental health launched on Netflix this month  

DUBAI: “I really went into cinema — in 2015 with my first feature as an actress — with one intention: to bridge the gap between the arts and social impact and psychology,” Fatima Al-Banawi tells Arab News. “And I was able to come closer to this union when I positioned myself as a writer-director — more so than as an actor.” 

Al-Banawi is discussing her debut directorial feature, “Basma,” which launched on Netflix earlier this month. She not only directed the movie, but wrote it (and an original song for the soundtrack) and played the title role — a young Saudi woman who returns home to Jeddah after two years away studying in the States to find that her parents have divorced without telling her after struggling to deal with the mental illness of her father, the well-respected Dr. Adly (played by the excellent Yasir Al-Sasi). 

Basma is distraught to learn that her beloved father has moved out and — worse — that most of the family are, at best, reluctant to visit him. She is convinced that all he needs is the love and care of his loved ones. So she moves in with him, against the advice of her mother, Hind (Shaima), brother Waleed (Tared Sindi), and uncle, Hamza (Mohammed Essam). It doesn’t go smoothly.  

“My undergrad is in psychology. My father’s a psychologist. My sister’s a psychologist. I have psychology and sociology in my DNA,” Al-Banawi says. “We talk about Sigmund Freud over lunch, you know?”  

And so, when she sat down to write her first feature, it was natural that she would choose mental health as its focus. 

Al-Banawi and Yasir Al-Sasi in 'Basma.' (Supplied) 

“Dissonance was a word I found when I started working on ‘Basma.’ I wasn’t familiar with this term: to be in a complete state of, not just denial, but not responding in any way — action or awareness — to what (is obvious),” she says. “I felt it around me everywhere; things that were brushed under the carpet for years and years until they piled up and a person or a family could not handle them anymore; couldn’t fix the situation anymore. It becomes too big of an issue. Then the outcomes begin to unfold and, in turn, extend roots into society.  

“There were different personality disorders or mental illnesses that I was curious about investigating, like OCD, or depression — anti-depressants are very widespread in my community — and I felt like maybe these issues could be addressed in cinema.” 

In the end, though, she decided against making depression Dr. Adly’s illness.  

“I wanted to challenge myself with something that was difficult to translate visually,” she explains. “A paranoid or schizophrenic case is not like a case of depression. There’s a cinematic language for depression — you can put a person in a dark room, for example. But what Dr. Adly suffers from is these internal thoughts or assumptions. That’s very difficult to translate visually, but I wanted to (do it) because I felt that it was widespread — this was something that was really happening (around the world).” 

Al-Banawi was acutely aware that the portrayal of mental illness in cinema hasn’t always been successful.  

“It turns me off so much, when they make it seem like a person with an intellectual disability,” she says. “Someone can have a severe mental illness and seem incredibly normal — more normal than you or me; it really doesn’t manifest physically. It’s an internal process. This is why mental illness is such a difficult topic, because you’re, like, ‘What is normal? What is not normal?’ Yasir really had to understand that dichotomy between Dr. Adly’s internal scenario versus how he behaves externally. I told him, ‘Just think of yourself as a difficult father. Like, something triggers you and all of a sudden you snap, but otherwise, you’re actually very cool. You’re decent, you’re pleasant, you’re sweet and you’re charismatic.’” 

Al-Banawi and cast members on the set of 'Basma.' (Supplied)

It was vital, clearly, to get the casting just right, and not just for Dr. Adly. As Al-Badawi explains: “Mental illness is a family matter. It’s not just on the patient themselves, it’s on their community and how they accept and deal with it.” 

The obvious on-screen chemistry between the actors — even though for many of them it was their first experience of acting in front of a camera — shows how well the casting process worked. 

“The most important element was to create a believable, cohesive family. That was one of the main issues,” Al-Banawi says. “The second thing was that — although I recognize that a lot of amazing actors and actresses have (emerged in Saudi Arabia) in the past couple of years — as a director, I wanted to see fresh faces. It’s beautiful to see these talents who weren’t given a chance before, or didn’t even see themselves taking this path. Honestly, this whole cast was a blessing.” 

To ensure that family “cohesiveness,” Al-Banawi scheduled three weeks of rehearsals before shooting.  

“I wasn’t going to roll a camera before that. I wanted to get closer to the actors as an actress — not only as a director,” she says. “I wanted to play with them and do improv with them and really come into character with them as Basma, not as Fatima. I couldn’t have done that without some playtime — that’s what I called it; we wanted to play before the real deal. That was really important for me. It was fun to watch this energy growing.” 

The “playtime” experience included getting the crew to perform some of the roles at a readthrough too. “I’m a nerd,” she says with a laugh. “OK, we were paying them, but I really wanted them to be immersed in the story we’re telling, and to choose to tell it. And I wanted them to have one hell of a good time.” 

Al-Banawi (left) on the set of 'Basma.' (Supplied)

The whole process — particularly getting people together to record the song that she wrote for the end of the movie — was something of a throwback, as Al-Banawi tells it.  

“Pre-industrialization of cinema in Saudi Arabia, this was how things worked,” she says. “We weren’t concerned with the financials or anything; we were just concerned with whether we’d want to be part of something. And that’s how beauty unfolded. Of course, now, with all the support and recognition, it’s like the passion multiplied by ten.” 

And “Basma” really was a passion project for Al-Banawi.  

“The mental-health aspect is something I’m driven by, of course, but I also feel that it’s important for films to be personal and relatable and reflective of social set-ups,” she says. “As much as I admire — and am a fan of — action and thrillers and comedies, I like to have some family drama amidst those too. Something close to reality. That’s why I want to make films: to invite children who are like myself once upon a time to watch films like the ones that I grew up watching — films that had a subtext or meaning, but that I really engaged with. I learned so many principles from them.” 


Recipes for success: Chef Cedric Vongerichten  at The Edition in Jeddah offers advice and a tasty fritters recipe

Recipes for success: Chef Cedric Vongerichten  at The Edition in Jeddah offers advice and a tasty fritters recipe
Chef Cedric Vongerichten. (Supplied)
Updated 14 June 2024
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Recipes for success: Chef Cedric Vongerichten  at The Edition in Jeddah offers advice and a tasty fritters recipe

Recipes for success: Chef Cedric Vongerichten  at The Edition in Jeddah offers advice and a tasty fritters recipe

DUBAI: “My dream wasn’t to be a soccer player or a musician or a doctor,” says Cedric Vongerichten, head chef of the French-Asian eatery Maritime at The Edition in Jeddah. “This is what I was meant to do — and to be.”  

It’s hard to argue. Vongerichten was born in Thailand to French parents who were in the country because Vongerichten’s father was head chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. By the time Vongerichten was two, the family had settled in New York after stints in Portugal and Boston. 

Vongerichten says his own passion for cooking starting at the age of eight or nine. “(I would finish) school and head home — which was a hotel at the time — and I’d spend my free time in the kitchen doing pastries and helping out. That was all I thought about.”  

He started serious cooking lessons in the south of France when he was 14 and has since traveled the world to learn about different cuisines and cultures.  

When you started out what was the most common mistake you made? 

I’d say overcomplicating things and not having a clear vision of the dish. Sometimes you just have to step back and look at the whole picture. The more you practice, the more things work automatically and you don’t have to think about it anymore. 

What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?  

When you’re at home it’s very easy to make your kitchen a mess and have pots and pans everywhere. That’s when it gets difficult to focus. Cooking, honestly, is 50 percent cooking and 50 percent cleaning; it’s really important to keep things clean and organized. Then when it comes to the actual cooking, keep it simple. People will be more impressed with (good quality ingredients) than with something overly complicated. 

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish?  

Chili. I can’t live without it and nor can my family. It makes the dish very exciting from beginning to end. 

When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?  

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. It’s part of our job. But I’m not vocal about it, whether positive or negative. I don't want to ruin someone else’s experience. Everybody wants to just have a nice dinner. 

What’s the most common issue that you find in other restaurants?  

I’d say my pet peeve is lighting. I really like light to be done well. It creates a vibe. If the light is maybe gray, or too bright, it can make you feel like you don’t want to stay too long.  

What’s your favorite cuisine? 

We can’t live without our Asian fix. We need it at least once or twice a week, whether it’s Japanese, Indonesian, or Thai. 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home? 

Seafood takes me 15 to 20 minutes. Two nights ago, I did a simple local black sea bass. You just simply sear it skin-side down in a pan. And right now it’s the season for asparagus, so we had some boiled salted asparagus with olive oil and rice. Sometimes for the kids I’ll do roast chicken, they love that. I put it in a pan with potatoes, onion, garlic, water, salt, and olive oil, and sometimes I add rosemary. I put the chicken on top and put it in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the chicken. The sauce does itself because of the dripping chicken and the potatoes. It doesn’t make much of a mess and it’s pretty easy and tasty. 

What customer request or behavior most annoys you? 

I don’t like to say no, so, in terms of requests, if we have the ingredients, then we just do it. The only thing that I don’t appreciate is when the service team gets disrespected.  

What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?   

It depends on the season. Right now, I would do say a fluke — the fish. It’s very simple and very good with just olive oil, a little squeeze of lime juice, a little salt, lemon zest, and, of course, some chili on top.  

I also love to do bouillabaisse. It’s a Mediterranean fish soup. It takes a long time. On top of the fish, you have some lobster, more fish, some potato and a piece of bread. There’s also a lot of saffron inside. It’s such a fun dish. And it’s very, very tasty. 

What’s the most difficult dish for you to get right? 

Pastries can be difficult. You need to be very precise. You need to actually weigh everything by the gram. Also, from country to country, it’s completely different, because — first of all — the weather is very different. There is the factor of humidity and temperature. The products, like flour, are different. So, you have to adjust to all of that. It’s very technical.  

As a head chef, what are you like in the kitchen? 

I feel like I experienced the end of an era in France when there were still chefs yelling and throwing things around. I remember seeing that in France. But it’s definitely phased out. Did I scream a little bit at beginning of my career? Maybe, but I’m definitely not like that now. In a team, everybody reacts differently, so you have to manage people differently. Some people need a little more coaching, others have a more independent approach. As a manager and as a chef, this is where you have to be flexible. I can be laidback, but I also want to have great results and the proper product. In the long run, you can see that most people want to stay with us for a long time. So that speaks for itself. 

 RECIPE: Chef Cedric’s fritters  

Chef Cedric’s fritters. (Supplied)  ​​​​​

Ingredients: 

90g all-purpose flour; 30g rice flour; 8g baking powder; 3g salt; 130g water; 25g scallions, green tops sliced on the bias; 300g corn kernels; 10g Fresno chili; vegetable oil for frying  

Instructions:  

1. Put the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  

2. Whisk in water until just combined. 

3. Add scallions, corn kernels and Fresno chili.  

4. Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottom pan.  

5. Heat oil until it shimmers but doesn’t smoke (350°F).  

6. Pour 1 tablespoon of the batter mixture into the hot oil at a time without overcrowding (for larger fritters, use about 1⁄2 cup of batter each). 

7. Flatten fritters slightly with a spatula, then press the spatula into the fritters a few times to create indentations for crispy edges. 

10. Cook until batter turns golden brown on the bottom, then flip and cook until the other side matches (about two mins more).  

11. Remove fritters and place on a platter lined with paper towels. 

12. Serve hot with spicy kecap manis (sweet soy) dipping sauce and garnish with sliced scallions.  

 

 

 


Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork

Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork
Updated 13 June 2024
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Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork

Saudi artist Nada Halabi explores dreams through artwork
  • Nada Halabi: I get a lot of inspiration from travel, so when I go to Europe, I love to visit old and contemporary museums to get ideas
  • Halabi: I lose myself while painting, and sometimes I paint something, then paint something over the top of it if I’m not content, until I’m happy with the end result

RIYADH: Contemporary Saudi artist, Nada Halabi, is exhibiting her “Dreams Unveiled” collection at Ahlam Gallery in Riyadh from June 4-15.  

“There’s a lot of dreams in these paintings,” Halabi told Arab News. “So, it’s like all the years accumulated with time and all my dreams, like sometimes I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and write down what I see, and when I wake up again, I paint.” 

Some of her works are inspired by the Renaissance era, a period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” after the Middle Ages.  

“I enjoy combining Renaissance art with a contemporary touch of flair, and I chose Renaissance characters because I believe their style at that era was exceptional, and they were the true artists, so I transformed some of them into contemporary art,” said Halabi, who enjoys experimenting with different styles, colors and sizes.  

Many things have influenced Halabi’s work as an artist. She enjoys traveling to different museums and finds inspiration in historic places and things. 

“I get a lot of inspiration from travel, so when I go to Europe, I love to visit old and contemporary museums to get ideas. Then, when I return to Saudi Arabia, I just paint nonstop because everything is so new on my mind,” she said. 

Halabi’s works reflect her time-consuming process.  

“I lose myself while painting, and sometimes I paint something, then paint something over the top of it if I’m not content, until I’m happy with the end result,” she said.  

The artist has clients of all ages. Some of her clients are art collectors, while others own museums.  

She studied fine art at the Academie Libanaise de Beaux Arts in Lebanon before relocating to London and then Los Angeles, where she received more guidance from a well-known American artist. She has trained at schools of art in the UK and the US, and exhibited her work in exhibitions and galleries in the Middle East.

In her current exhibition, there is a section dedicated to Lebanon — featuring newspapers and the neon words “Disconnected Roots.”

Halabi said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia longer than I did in Lebanon, even though I was born and raised there, and this artwork shows how many countries are connected yet at the same time are disconnected due to political conflicts.”