‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 

Special ‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 
Visitors attend art exhibition by Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore on March 23, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 29 March 2024
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‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 

‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 
  • 28-year-old visual artist Saad Mehmood began restoring Qur’an pages ready for ritual disposal as part of BA final-year thesis
  • Renowned artists describe the effort as “positive,” say it is vital to expand ways in which we experience the holy book 

LAHORE: For Saad Mehmood, it was a routine visit to a mosque in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore for Friday prayers in 2017 when the then 22-year-old stumbled upon a store room with sheaves of paper stored carefully on a shelf. 
The worn pages were fragments from everyday copies of the Qur’an, which were awaiting ritual disposal. In Pakistan, pages of the holy book that are disposed are often called shaheed, or martyred, copies. 
In Islam, widely accepted methods of disposing worn pages of the holy book are to wrap them in a cloth and bury them, ideally in a mosque, or to burn them respectfully. 
But Mehmood, at the time a final year student of fine arts at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU), was inspired by the worn copies and decided to restore them as part of his thesis. 
“Saad asked for some of these pages that were torn or worn out, and started to restore the ordinary, mass-printed sheets with gold paper and the finest ink — bringing that which was ‘martyred’ back to life,” the artist’s statement accompanying an ongoing exhibition of his works in Lahore reads. 
The effort is “an act of artistic devotion,” Mehmood told Arab News at the exhibition last week, saying all his work now revolved around restoring the holy pages and turning them into artforms. 
“This work started in 2017,” Mehmood, now a 28-year-old visual artist, said. “I collect the pages of the Qur’an that are shaheed, then there’s an entire process to their restoration, I fill in the damaged parts so that the pages are readable again.”




Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, speaks to a visitor during his exhibition in Lahore on March 23, 2024. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal.  (AN Photo)

Mehmood said he had done extensive research on damaged Qur’anic pages and what happened to them and where they went from storerooms of mosques and homes.
“I saw that they’re buried in graveyards, or floated in clean and flowing water. Sometimes, I even saw the pages being burned and their ashes buried in some corner of a graveyard,” he explained. 
This got Mehmood thinking: instead of disposing of the sacred texts, he could restore them.
The process of restoration was a difficult one, as many Qur’an pages Mehmood came across had no references.
“When we open these [Qur’anic] collections… there are [some] smaller pages which don’t have any references [which ayat, surah, what page number],” he said. “So, this was a conundrum… how do I restore them when there’s no reference to work with?“
Mehmood decided to make a collage of such pages.
“So, at least they are still visible, still accessible,” he said. “So, we don’t accidentally disrespect the words, they will remain in front of our eyes, and then turn them into art to be appreciated.”
Mehmood has also visited multiple religious scholars to present his idea and his work. 
“There are a lot of organizations in Pakistan like Tahaffuz-e-Auraq [who dispose of pages in the prescribed manner],” Mehmood said. “I restored them and then I started showing people that basically this is the work I’m doing.”
The idea found wide acceptability, he said. 
“GOLD LEAF”
The ongoing exhibition in Lahore, organized by the Pakistan Art Forum, includes collages of restored Qur’anic fragments, concentric circles around Islamic calligraphy, decorative additions like gold leaves, and paintings with Arabic diacritics on Vasli and white paper. And this is all by design.
Mehmood said he wants to further explore this Islamic art form and create something new, like his painting of the diacritics without any words, or of punctuation marks without any sentences.
“The Qur’an came to us from Arabia, and the diacritics were added later, so that non-native Arabic speakers [Ajmi] could understand the text,” he said. “[Helping] in how to pronounce and enunciate it, zeir, zabr, that is also something I’ve worked on, and will continue to work on.”
There is also a reason why Mehmood uses gold leaf so often.




This photograph taken on March 23, 2024 shows an art piece by Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal.  (AN Photo)

“When you look at my work… I have used gold leaf on the shaheed [damaged] Qur’anic pages,” he said. 
“I used that gold leaf specifically and consciously, because gold is considered a divine material. And where the words are missing, pages torn, I’ve also used gold leaf to show the preciousness of the lost words, using a precious material.”
“EXPAND WAYS TO EXPERIENCE QUR’AN”
The visual artist has held a number of group exhibitions at the Alhamra Arts Center in Lahore and Sanat Gallery in the southern port city of Karachi. Last week, he held his second solo show in Lahore, titled Al-Qadr, referring to the night when Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed.
While most of the visitors to the Lahore exhibition said they had come out of curiosity, they left with admiration for the intricate work and beautiful calligraphy or collage technique that Mehmood uses.
“Calligraphy is a part of [what I do], but this is something else [entirely],” he explained. “You can call it a collage. You can call it an installation. You can call it painting, you can call it artwork.”
Shahid Rassam, a famous Pakistani painter and sculptor, described Mehmood work as “positive,” saying he had seen other works, though rare, in which worn Qur’an pages were restored as a form of art.
Rassam, who has himself made contemporary forms of the Qur’an, including one in which he used metal engravings, said it was “vital to expand the ways in which we experience the sacred text, even as art installations.”
“I think what this young man [Saad Mehmood] is doing is objectively a positive thing,” the artist said. “He’s taking sacred pages and giving them their rightful respect, instead of just letting them lie in poorly-kept stores and boxes.”




Visitors attend an art exhibition by Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore on March 23, 2024. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal. (AN Photo)

 


Saudi Arabia concludes participation in Beijing International Book Fair 2024

Saudi Arabia concludes participation in Beijing International Book Fair 2024
Updated 24 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia concludes participation in Beijing International Book Fair 2024

Saudi Arabia concludes participation in Beijing International Book Fair 2024
  • Kingdom participated at the Beijing International Book Fair as the guest of honor
  • Visitors were able to learn about Saudi culture, arts and heritage through an integrated cultural experience

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has concluded its participation in the Beijing International Book Fair 2024, which was held from June 19 to 23 in the Chinese capital.

Saudi Arabia participated at the Beijing International Book Fair as the guest of honor, where it highlighted aspects of Saudi culture.

The Kingdom’s pavilion was widely visited by the Chinese public, being the highlight of the exhibition, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Visitors were able to learn about Saudi culture, arts and heritage through an integrated cultural experience.

The Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission led the effort, while various other cultural entities took part, such as the Heritage Commission, the Culinary Arts Commission, the Fashion Commission, the King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), the King Salman Global Academy for the Arabic Language, the King Abdulaziz Public Library, the Saudi Publishing Association, and the Ministry of Investment.

The Saudi pavilion played a significant role in fostering cultural dialogue and introducing the Saudi culture to the Chinese public through a cultural program that included 15 dialogue sessions.

The Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China had a special pavilion at the exhibition, to emphasize the importance of cultural exchange and cooperation between the two countries.

The King Salman Global Academy for the Arabic Language organized the Saudi-Chinese Linguistic Forum in cooperation with the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, which included a symposium — “The Arabic language and the Chinese language, history and relationship.”

The academy’s participation in the Saudi pavilion under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, was part of its activities aimed at introducing its projects and programs in disseminating the Arabic language, teaching it to non-native speakers locally and globally, and highlighting the efforts of the Kingdom in serving Arabic in a way that enhances the status of the language and culture.

At the book fair several agreements were signed between Saudi and Chinese publishers, including a cooperation agreement that is part of the Tarjem translation initiative, entailing translating into Arabic the books “The Forbidden City: A History of China Since the Fifteenth Century” and “Historical Tales of the Great Wall of China.”

The Beijing International Book Fair was launched in 1986 by the China National Publications Import and Export Group. It is one of the largest book fairs in the world and the most influential in China and the Asian continent, with more than 2,600 exhibitors from 100 countries.


Qiddiya unveils new performing arts center

Qiddiya unveils new performing arts center
Updated 24 June 2024
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Qiddiya unveils new performing arts center

Qiddiya unveils new performing arts center
  • The center will host over 260 indoor and outdoor performances each year
  • It will serve as an incubator for young Saudis, providing educational opportunities and resources to nurture the next generation of writers, producers, and actors

RIYADH: Qiddiya Investment Company has unveiled a new performing arts center as an addition to Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural landscape.
The center, expected to attract more than 800,000 visits each year, will enhance the attractions within the newly announced Qiddiya City. An official statement said it would redefine the cultural experience for residents and visitors alike with its architecture, pioneering technology, and commitment to artistic innovation.
The center’s unveiling follows the announcement of other entertainment, sporting and cultural attractions, including a multi-use gaming and esports district, the multi-sports Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium, motorsport track, Dragon Ball theme park and Aquarabia, the first water theme park of its kind in the Kingdom.
Abdullah Al-Dawood, managing director of Qiddiya Investment Company, said: “Qiddiya City is more than just the home of entertainment and sports, it is also a leader in the preservation and promotion of Saudi culture. For this reason, we are thrilled to announce the addition of the Qiddiya Performing Arts Centre to Qiddiya City. It will be a beacon of creativity and innovation that will elevate Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape to new heights. With its ground-breaking modern design, pioneering technology, and commitment to nurturing talent, the centre embodies the spirit of Qiddiya City as a place where imagination knows no bounds.”
Dr. Osama Ghanem Al-Obaidy, a professor from the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, told Arab News: “The new performing arts center is a significant cultural initiative that will contribute to the promotion of Saudi culture and heritage to both residents and foreign visitors alike. It will allow the year-round enjoyment of community, cultural and entertainment areas showcasing various aspects of Saudi culture, including music, dancing, and folk arts.
“It will provide a platform for individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds to show their talents through diverse cultural events,” he added.
He added the center was testament to the city’s commitment to fostering creativity and innovation as it would host over 260 indoor and outdoor performances and events every year.
With over 3,000 seats spread across three theatres, each will offer a 360-degree experience merging physical and digital elements. A cantilevered amphitheater offers breathtaking views of the City’s lower plateau with a fully adaptable 500-seat venue suspended from above.
The center will serve as an incubator for young Saudi talent, providing educational opportunities and resources to nurture the next generation of writers, producers and actors. It will stimulate economic growth by creating thousands of career opportunities across the creative and cultural sectors.
Beyond the performance spaces, the center will act as a vibrant community hub, inviting residents and visitors to explore dining, retail and educational entertainment options.
A rooftop sky garden, art galleries and green spaces will extend the cultural experience, while its iconic architecture will serve as a symbol of civic identity.


Federation de la Haute Couture names Saudi fashion icon Nojoud Al-Rumaihi as Middle East ambassador

Federation de la Haute Couture names Saudi fashion icon Nojoud Al-Rumaihi as Middle East ambassador
Updated 24 June 2024
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Federation de la Haute Couture names Saudi fashion icon Nojoud Al-Rumaihi as Middle East ambassador

Federation de la Haute Couture names Saudi fashion icon Nojoud Al-Rumaihi as Middle East ambassador
  • Influencer will share shows, events from Haute Couture Fashion Week with a global audience

DUBAI: The Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the organization that oversees Paris Fashion Week and Haute Couture Week, has appointed Saudi influencer Nojoud Al-Rumaihi, who is also a fashion and luxury consultant, as its first Middle Eastern ambassador for haute couture. 

Through the ambassadorship, the federation and Al-Rumaihi will collaborate to share the latest shows, collections and events from the upcoming Haute Couture Fashion Week, which runs from June 24-27, with audiences around the world, according to a statement. 

“It is a profound honor to join the federation as an ambassador, marking a significant milestone in celebrating the pinnacle of fashion, couture. It is truly inspiring to have the opportunity to create content and share the latest updates with the Arab world,” Al-Rumaihi told Arab News.

When it comes to her goals in her new role, Al-Rumaihi said building bridges was key.

“My goal is to create a vibrant bridge between the fashion scene of the Middle East and the international community,” she said.

In addition, the fashion industry insider is keen to showcase regional talent on the international stage.

“By fostering collaborations, showcasing Middle Eastern talent on global stages, and promoting cultural exchange, I aim to enhance mutual understanding and appreciation between these diverse fashion worlds,” she said.

Al-Rumaihi is a notable fashion figure in the Kingdom. 

Earlier this year, she teamed up with German luxury e-tailer Mytheresa for a Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr campaign shot in Saudi Arabia. 

The edit featured the influencer’s top picks from labels such as London-based Roksanda, New York-based fashion house Markarian, British brand Self-Portrait, and red-carpet mainstay Taller Marmo.

It was the e-tailer’s third partnership with Al-Rumaihi, which the influencer previously told Arab News was key in understanding the coveted Saudi market.

“Having a Saudi creative perspective can help international brands and e-tailers gain valuable local cultural insights with an authentic perspective that can help them connect with the Saudi market more effectively,” she said, adding that including local voices in the decision-making process can ensure international brands project a message that is culturally relevant. 


Spanish jewelry brand PDPAOLA expands in Saudi Arabia

Spanish jewelry brand PDPAOLA expands in Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 June 2024
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Spanish jewelry brand PDPAOLA expands in Saudi Arabia

Spanish jewelry brand PDPAOLA expands in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Spanish jewelry brand PDPAOLA, founded by siblings Paola and Humbert Sasplugas, is expanding into Saudi Arabia with the opening of new stores in the Kingdom.

Al-Nakheel Mall in Dammam and Al-Noor Shopping Center in Madinah saw recent openings of the outlet, with Panorama Mall in Riyadh already playing host to a PDPAOLA store.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by PDPAOLA (@pdpaola_jewelry)

The Kingdom’s fourth store is scheduled to open at U WALK in Jeddah on Aug. 4 and comes after a busy first half of the year for the brand, which marked its first store opening in China in May and also opened a new boutique in Peru this spring.

“We feel there is a natural fit with our value and selling proposition in this market,” Humbert told Arab News of their decision to target Saudi Arabia. “The key of PDPAOLA is that it constitutes a new jewelry language that blends effortless elegance with contemporary lines to create timeless sophisticated pieces,” he said.

“Our desire and plan is to naturally engage with Saudi women in a fresh yet respectful way,” he added. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by PDPAOLA (@pdpaola_jewelry)

The brand offers rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. It is known for shaping natural gemstones into signature shapes using contemporary techniques and blending them with traditional artistry.

The element of traditional artistry is important to Paola, who told Arab News that she has been passionate about jewelry since she was a young girl.

“I used to hand-make jewelry pieces for myself, intuitively discovering my identity with every creation,” she said.

“Our pieces are designed for modern living, versatile designs with a comfortable fit that transcend occasions and become the ultimate symbol of self-empowerment,” she explained. 

The founders are also planning to expand into key markets in the region, including the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

“We want to center the presence of the brand in cosmopolitan and contemporary areas that align with the brand such as the United Arab Emirates,” Humbert said. 


Gigi Hadid hits the runway on horseback in Paris

Gigi Hadid hits the runway on horseback in Paris
Updated 24 June 2024
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Gigi Hadid hits the runway on horseback in Paris

Gigi Hadid hits the runway on horseback in Paris

PARIS: US Dutch Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner rode horses, Moroccan Egyptian Dutch star Imaan Hammam hit the runway alongside French Algerian icon Farida Khelfa and Venus and Serena Williams and Katy Perry modeled on the cobbles. This was Paris’s Place Vendome as never seen before.

On International Olympic Day, Vogue World took over the last day of Paris Fashion Week’s menswear collections with a show-cum-spectacle themed around the Olympics, with Saudi influencer Nojoud Al-Rumaihi in the well-heeled audience. 

Saudi influencer Nojoud Al-Rumaihi attended the show in Paris. (Getty Images)

The rare event blended athleticism, French fashion, and pure, unadulterated razzmatazz from the past century — marking 100 years since the last Games in Paris in 1924. The event also referred back to June 23, 1894, the day on which the founder of the modern Olympics, French nobleman Pierre de Coubertin, launched the International Olympic Committee.

Matching different sports to different eras and styles, the high-octane collection extravaganza felt like a polished Broadway musical — with amazing clothes — as the sun set on Paris’ magnificent Place Vendome.

Dancers on the runway during Vogue World: Paris at Place Vendome on June 23, 2024. (Getty Images)

For the third Vogue World event, following a New York street fair in 2022 and a tribute to London’s theater scene in 2023, the show dovetailed with the Paris Games — celebrating all things French and runway. Fashion designs were showcased to a backdrop of tap dancing, pirouetting waiters, and even models clutching baguettes.

Tracing a century, each decade was paired with a designer and style era. The ‘20s was cycling and featured white coats by designers such as Chanel and Schiaparelli. The ’30s was “track and field” by Balenciaga. The ‘40s, the era that gave the bikini to the world, featured “aquatics” by Jacquemus. The ’50s brought “equestrian” styles shown through the prism of the decade-defining New Look by Dior. The ‘60s was Courreges’ fencing looks.

Models walk the runway during Vogue World: Paris at Place Vendome on June 23, 2024. (Getty Images)

By the time the ’70s came up with choreographed Givenchy-fueled “gymnastics,” some journalists had completely forgotten to keep taking notes, caught up in the intoxicating sight of the choreographed spectacle on the picturesque plaza, whose star-filled front row, including Pharrell Williams, rivaled even the stars that trod the runway.

Vogue World took place in Paris at Place Vendome. (Getty Images)

The ‘80s focused on martial arts and the ’90s on soccer, with a reinterpretation of late Tunisian icon Azzedine Alaia's tricolor dress. Cheers rose when the Williams sisters appeared for the “tennis” section, Venus in a bold figure-hugging mermaid dress and Serena warrior-like in a black, utilitarian split gown.

The finale featured breakdancing. The atmosphere was electric, serving as an unofficial kickoff for the Paris Games, which will run from July 26 to Aug. 11.