‘More than Meets the Eye’ celebrates Saudi artists and collectors 

‘More than Meets the Eye’ celebrates Saudi artists and collectors 
Ahmed Mater, ‘Cowboy Code,’ 2012. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 March 2024
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‘More than Meets the Eye’ celebrates Saudi artists and collectors 

‘More than Meets the Eye’ celebrates Saudi artists and collectors 
  • Highlights from the exhibition, which includes works from 1950 up to the present day 

ALULA: AlUla’s mirrored Maraya concert hall is currently hosting “More than Meets the Eye,” featuring works from private art collections in Saudi Arabia, some of which are being displayed publicly for the first time. 

The show includes work dating back to the 1950s up to the present day, ranging from paintings to films and installations, and exploring themes including identity, poetry and homeland.  

“Our aim is to show the importance of collectors in Saudi Arabia and the role they played in the art ecosystem,” the show’s Saudi curator, Dr. Effat Abdullah Fadag, tells Arab News.  

Fadag traveled across the Kingdom, meeting the collectors and hearing the stories behind those collections.  

“I was very surprised of the amount of people who collected art for different reasons. It was overwhelming,” she says.  

One of Fadag’s aims was to bring together Saudi Arabia’s former and current generation of artists, some of whom originally come from other Arab countries, but made a name for themselves in the Kingdom.  

“I wanted to present artworks that are in dialogue with each other, rather than segregating them,” she explains. “Their aesthetics are different, but if we look into it, they’re exploring the same issues.”  

Here are seven highlights from the show, which runs until April 24.   

Abdulhalim Radwi 

‘Untitled’ (1978) 

The late Makkah-born artist is one of the luminaries of modern Saudi art. He was educated in Rome during the 1960s, making him one of the country’s first artists to study abroad. According to Fadag, after losing his father during childhood, Radwi was raised by his single mother and later had to provide for the family himself.   

In this predominantly blue-tuned painting, hailing from the collection of fellow artist Ali Alruzaiza, Radwi constructs an abstract scene of buildings in Makkah, set against a spiral background. “His relationship with Makkah was very important,” notes Fadag. 

Ahmed Mater  

‘Cowboy Code’ (2012) 

Mater hanging work is one of the largest pieces on show. “Cowboy Code” is made of hundreds of red plastic toy gun caps glued together, displaying a 10-point, written manifesto explaining how a cowboy (or a ‘virtuous’ person in general) should behave. “There is a connection to Bedouins and tribes,” says Fadag. “It’s an important work because he is examining foreign cultural influences inside Saudi Arabia.” According to the exhibition catalogue, “the code seems to point to a subversive critique of Western imperialism — a common feature of many of the artist’s artworks. 

Ali Alruzaiza  

‘Purity’ (2006) 

Alruzaiza is a former interior design student and reportedly built his own house. Much of the veteran artist’s work incorporates intricate Saudi architectural motifs. This work for example, made of sand and oil on canvas, showcases geometric designs and floral patterns. According to Fadag, the image has a human element too. “(This) work sheds light on the pivotal role of individuals in the community,” she says. “It serves as a reflection of individuals — particularly the workers who have collaborated closely with Ali. It embodies the purity of their relationships, devoid of ulterior motives, symbolizing the essence of society.”  

Fahad Hajailan  

‘Untitled’ (2001) 

In this dreamy portrait, which has not been exhibited before, Hajailan depicts his wife in dark green and blue tones. Fadag says the image is one of the artist’s “more sensual” pieces, and uses colors that are not typical to his work. “The strength and power of a female figure are expressed here in balance between movement and unity,” according to a statement. “The use of lapiz lazuli ultramarine blue symbolizes water, the sky, or the home of the gods, to position the female figure in a role of power.” 

Shadia Alem  

‘Supreme Kaaba of God, No. 4’ (2012) 

In this extraordinary collage of photographs, the multidisciplinary artist examines the physical changes happening in the city of Makkah. “It shows the conflict between spirituality and modernity,” Alem said in a statement. In the very center of the image stands the Holy Kaaba, surrounded by the windows of houses and imposing cranes.  

“I put this work in a particular room of the exhibition, which is about self-development and rebirth. These changes are happening physically, but we are automatically changing on the inside too,” says Fadag.

Muhannad Shono 

‘Letters in Light (Lines We Write)’ (2022) 

Spirituality, light and shadow are among the key themes of this monochrome work by the Saudi conceptual artist, who previously represented the Kingdom at the Venice Biennale. Here, Shono creates a meditative experience using steel, thread, and light projection. 

“The artworks featured in the exhibition present spirituality as an interesting subject that has been touched by artists in the Kingdom, serving as a medium through which artists articulate their inquiries and internal wisdom,” says Fadag. “By exploring the interplay between light and darkness, Muhannad’s artwork carves out spaces that shape our identities, inviting us to reach into our core to gain insight into the external world.” 

Adel Al-Quraishi  

‘Ateeq, the Bedouin, Desert of Nafud’ (2015) 

This striking black-and-white image of an elderly Bedouin man pouring coffee from the traditional Saudi flask with the confidence of a professional barista is typical of Al-Quraishi’s work, much of which involves documenting the people of his homeland, whether in the desert or in a studio setting. According to the exhibition catalogue, Al-Quraishi — born in 1968 — has been an influential figure in Saudi art because “his investment in documenting heritage sites, places and people of Saudi Arabia has shaped the ways in which documentation was introduced within contemporary art practices.” 


British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation
Updated 25 May 2024
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British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation
  • Saira Peter says she is privileged to contribute her voice to British government’s public events, citizenship ceremonies
  • She also recorded ‘God Save the Queen’ in 2018 and received acknowledgement and gratitude of Queen Elizabeth II

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani Sufi Opera singer, Saira Peter, announced in a video message circulated on Saturday she received a letter of appreciation from Buckingham Palace for recording the British national anthem, “God Save the King,” following the coronation of King Charles III.
The British king’s coronation took place last May at Westminster Abbey in London. The event brought leaders and high-profile personalities from around the world and marked his official accession to the throne after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
Upon receiving the recording, performed in the soprano vocal range, the highest of the female voice types in classical singing, the king sent Peter a letter conveying his good wishes and sincere thanks for her public services.
She also received a signed photo card from him and Queen Camilla.
“I want to share with all my followers how excited I am to receive a letter and card of appreciation and gratitude from His Majesty King Charles the Third,” Peter said in the video, where she mentioned she was Pakistan’s first opera singer. “This arrived in response to my civic service of recording the British national anthem, ‘God Save the King.’”
“Being British-Pakistani, I feel so privileged to contribute my skill and voice to the British government’s public events and citizenship ceremonies,” she added.
Peter informed the British national anthem was recorded at the request of UK Government offices at Hastings Town Hall in East Sussex. The recording is now used across her adopted country for official government events.
Previously, she recorded “God Save the Queen” in 2018, making her the first Asian and the only Pakistani officially invited to undertake the task. Peter also received acknowledgment and gratitude from the late queen.
Born in Karachi, the opera singer told Arab News during her visit to Pakistan last year she used to sing in church choirs and began her Western classical journey, learning from Paul Knight, a disciple of Benjamin Britten, in London in the early 2000s after her family moved there.
Peter’s father, Zafar Francis, pioneered the Noor Jehan Arts Center in London, which was opened by British superstar Sir Cliff Richard in 1998.
She is the director of the performing arts center and teaches both Western and Pakistani classical music there.
She said her work in Britain was projecting “a positive image of Pakistan.”


UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott
Updated 25 May 2024
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UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott
  • Speakers, performers pull out from scheduled appearances in protest over Baillie Gifford sponsorship
  • Boycott organizer: Hay must shun future sponsorship by companies with links to ‘Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide’

LONDON: The UK’s Hay literary festival has dropped its main sponsor over a boycott criticizing its links to Israel and fossil fuel companies.

Speakers and performers at the festival pulled out from scheduled appearances in protest over investment firm Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, The Guardian reported.

On Friday, the festival said it was canceling its sponsorship deal with the firm.

Singer Charlotte Church and comedian Nish Kumar had earlier pulled out of appearing at the event.

In a statement on her social media channels, Church said she had taken part in the boycott “in solidarity with the people in Palestine and in protest of the artwashing and greenwashing that is apparent in this sponsorship.”

Fossil Free Books, the group that has led the campaign against Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, has demanded that the firm divest from companies “that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide.”

More than 700 writers and publishing professionals have signed a statement by FFB concerning the Hay festival campaign.

Kumar shared the statement online in announcing the cancelation of his appearance.

An FFB organizer said: “Hay festival is right to listen to the concerns of hundreds of book workers who are working to create fossil-free and genocide-free festivals.

“Hay must now develop a fundraising policy that rules out any future sponsorship by companies that invest or profit from the fossil fuel industry, Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide, and any other human rights abuses.”

Hay CEO Julie Finch said the festival’s decision to cancel the sponsorship deal with the firm was taken “in light of claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw.”

She added: “Our first priority is to our audience and our artists. Above all else, we must preserve the freedom of our stages and spaces for open debate and discussion, where audiences can hear a range of perspectives.”

Baillie Gifford began its relationship with the festival in 2016 as a principal sponsor. A spokesperson said: “It is regrettable our sponsorship with the festival cannot continue.”


Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes
Updated 25 May 2024
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Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah,” starring actress Maria Bahrawi, this week received the Special Mention accolade, which recognizes films for outstanding achievements, at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard awards.

The cast and crew, accompanied by director Tawfik Al-Zaidi, stepped onto the stage to accept the accolade in front of a full house.

The film, shot entirely in AlUla, is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the professional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. Besides Bahrawi, the movie also stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Satian. It follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” had its official screening at the festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation’s programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.

Un Certain Regard’s mission is to highlight new trends in cinema and encourage innovative cinematic works.

Chaired by Canadian actor, director, screenwriter and producer Xavier Dolan, the jury included French Senegalese screenwriter and director Maimouna Doucoure, Moroccan director, screenwriter and producer Asmae El Moudir, German-Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps, and American film critic, director and writer Todd McCarthy.

Chinese director Guan Hu’s “Black Dog” won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section.

Marking Guan’s debut at Cannes, the film follows a former convict who forms an unexpected bond with the titular animal while clearing stray dogs in his remote hometown on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The jury prize was awarded to “The Story of Souleymane,” directed by Boris Lojkine, marking his return to the festival after a decade since his 2014 feature “Hope.”

The film portrays the journey of a Guinean food delivery man who must create a compelling narrative for his asylum application interview in Lyon within a two-day timeframe.


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 25 May 2024
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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
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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.”