Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 
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Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

DUBAI: Saudi artist Hana Almilli and her two siblings grew up in a household where creativity and self-expression were actively encouraged. “My mom is a poet,” Almilli tells Arab News. “And my dad was very motivating in terms of doing photography.” Her two brothers, she adds, “are both talented in terms of music and art.” And with her Syrian maternal grandmother, Almilli shares a love of nature and of textiles. 

But aside from being one of the main inspirations behind her creative output, Almilli’s family are also the subject of most of it. Through her poetry, embroidery, weaving, dyeing and photography, she explores her own history and her diverse cultural identity (she has Saudi, Syrian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Palestinian ancestry).  




Detail from 'Memoirs 2,' which shows Almilli's maternal grandmother in Syria. (Supplied)

“It’s about me and my family history,” Almilli says of her work, which was most recently on display at Art Dubai in March. “It does really focus on heritage, history, personal narratives.  

“Being from all these different identities, it’s always been important to be a part of those cultures,” she continues. “They’re all very different. And sitting with each and every grandparent, which I’ve had the privilege of doing, you learn so much. Growing up I’d have Turkish lullabies from my Turkish grandma, Kurdish news on the televsion that my grandpa would translate. My memory’s not great, but those specific moments from my childhood still remain; I still write about them and I’m still inspired by them. And I still want to almost recreate them in my work.” 

Aside from her family history, the other major theme running through Almilli’s work is alienation or estrangement (as made clear in the title of her ongoing series “The Echoes of My Alienation”). That may seem odd in someone who talks so warmly of her close and nurturing family ties, but those same ties could, perhaps, have been one of the causes of her alienation. 




'A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell' on display at SAMOCA. (Supplied)

It really began when she moved to the US to attend the California College of the Arts in 2014. Initially, she was studying architecture, but, “I just hated it. I couldn’t express myself in any way that I wanted to.” She shifted courses, eventually graduating with a focus on textiles and creative writing, the latter allowing her to build on her poetry writing, which began as a teenager with verses that were “hidden under the bed — ‘No one’s looking at this.’” 

It was towards the end of her college years that she began “The Echoes of My Alienation,” although the emotions it explores had surfaced almost as soon as she arrived in the States.  

“My first day in the US, there was an earthquake, and I’d never experienced an earthquake. So it was almost like the beginning of this trial of alienation,” Almilli says. “I was, like, ‘I don’t know if this is for me.’ So persevering, and staying there for five years, was an interesting experience. It grew that alienation. And I wouldn’t say it has dissipated. It still stays, because if it doesn’t then that curiosity about finding out where I come from is gone.” 

The series features a number of different works, including several self-portraits and images of family members embellished with embroidery. 

“You can see the pieces are obsessively embroidered with little maps. I was almost mapping myself out — those identities that have always been a part of my life but that, to some extent, I had lost as I travelled to the US and was far from home. My grandma had Alzheimer’s at the time, too, so that history was lost with her. My grandpa had passed away in the first year I was in the US as well, so there’s this aspect of rediscovering and recreating history through myself in self-portraits.” 




 'Languages Interlacing 2,' one of Almilli's self-portraits. (Supplied)

The “most emotional” section of the series, she says, is “Memoirs.” In “Memoirs 2” Almilli has embroidered delicate jasmine flowers over an image of her maternal grandmother in Syria, standing among trees.  

“It’s the same technique I use every time, but I intuitively highlight specific parts of an image, whether it’s to hide or accentuate,” Almilli explains. “My grandma and I have a great connection with flowers.” 

As she explored working with textiles, Almilli also developed her poetry skills. She has even published the poems that she once hid under her bed.  

“At art school, you don’t really have that fear of exposing yourself, because everyone is. So I found the courage to take part in this school publication that went around California as well. That really re-started everything in terms of writing and, ever since, every piece I make has been inspired by a written poem.  

“Usually, my works are unique pieces representing a story, or a dream, or someone,” she continues. “It’s interesting, because nowadays, with contemporary art, you’re meant to look at it and make your own sense of it. But, to me, it’s important to know the story of what happened. Being able to write, as an artist, is very important for me because it gives context to my work — what it represents, what it feels like.” She cites her piece on display at the Saudi Arabia Museum of Contemporary Art — “A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell.” “That was initially a long poem that got turned into an embroidered piece that has the poetry within it,” she explains. 

With so many different outlets for her creativity, her mind must be constantly churning with ideas, which seems like it could get exhausting, I suggest. But Almilli, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2019, explains that she’ll often take a lengthy break after finishing a piece or a series. 

“After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion,” she says. “For example, the piece I just spoke about talks about how, in my dreams, I meet people I’ve loved, but they’re forever drowning in my dreams. Like, my grandma had Alzheimer’s for a few years and we couldn’t get her to Saudi. It’s almost like the only connection I had with her was when she showed up in my dreams. And to be able to write that and grasp it, and put it into something that is physical… it’s very difficult, in the beginning, because you’re facing the idea of that loss in the future, but after that comes a conclusion of sorts: ‘Now I understand these emotions.’ I try to think about what I wrote when I’m making each piece, and — if it’s a difficult piece — to try and heal from it in the process. That difficult feeling becomes something you can bear, whatever it might be.” 

And even though her pieces are so personal, Almilli has found her work connects with people on a very emotional level.  

“As much as my stories are about my personal history, and my family’s oral history and heritage, at the end of the day there are a lot of people that feel an alienation, or a craving after the loss of a person for that person. So they are stories that people can relate to,” she says.  

“I cherish my pieces so much. It’s very difficult for me to let go of them, but I’ve grown to understand that it’s really about being able to share that story with people and show them that there are others going through that,” she continues. “It’s beautiful too, because I hear stories from others that they’ve never spoken about. It’s important, because it shows them that you can embrace multiple aspects of yourself, and that’s OK.”  


Lolo Zouai co-writes track for K-Pop band NewJeans

Lolo Zouai co-writes track for K-Pop band NewJeans
Updated 24 sec ago
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Lolo Zouai co-writes track for K-Pop band NewJeans

Lolo Zouai co-writes track for K-Pop band NewJeans

DUBAI: French Algerian singer Lolo Zouai has written a song for K-Pop band NewJeans for the five-piece’s Japanese debut.

The 29-year-old hitmaker shared a snipped of the song and its video on Instagram, where she shared her excitement about the co-songwriting credits.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lolo Zouaï (@lolozouai)

“‘Right Now’ by @newjeans_official out now!! Written by me. I’ve been a fan of NewJeans for a while and I’m honored to be a part of their Japanese debut! Also sang some background vocals on this one. Shoutout the incredible @freerangeneighborkid, we had so much fun writing in Korea last summer. I (love) this song and these girls,” she captioned the post.

NewJeans is a South Korean girl group composed of five members: Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein. They are known for their 1990s and 2000s-style pop tracks, with “Right Now” hitting streaming platforms as part of a double release alongside a song titled “Supernatural.”

Zouai has had a busy year so far, most recently performing at China’s Strawberry Music Festival while she works on a new album.

The artist, who divides her time between Brooklyn and Los Angeles, took to Instagram earlier this month to share images and videos of the concert with her 298,000 followers. “72 hours in China,” she wrote, mere weeks after she took to social media to tell fans she is working on a new, unnamed, album.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lolo Zouaï (@lolozouai)

The songwriter and producer, known for her unique blend of R&B, club-pop and hip-hop, has gained an international fanbase for her dynamic stage presence and genre-blending music.

Her career highlights include the release of her debut album “High Highs to Low Lows” in 2019 and her follow-up album “PLAYGIRL” in 2022.

In April, Zouai took to Instagram to celebrate the five-year anniversary of her debut album. “Happy 5 years to the album that started it all (sic),” she wrote. “Thank you to all my lil lo-riders for being on this ride with me from the beginning (sic).”

To celebrate the milestone, Zouai announced to her fans that she brought back merchandise pieces originally created at the time of her debut album. The collection included sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring Zouai’s name, some of which were signed.

Meanwhile, her follow up record “PLAYGIRL” featured 13 songs.

After the album’s release in October 2022, the singer was featured on a billboard in New York’s Times Square.

The singer, who has over 300 million digital streams, embarked on an expansive tour for the album, showcasing her music to audiences across North America and Europe in 2023. The tour, which included 30 stops, featured cities in the US, France, Canada, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 


Review: Jessica Alba-starring ‘Trigger Warning’ lacks punch, poise or purpose

Review: Jessica Alba-starring ‘Trigger Warning’ lacks punch, poise or purpose
Updated 34 min 39 sec ago
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Review: Jessica Alba-starring ‘Trigger Warning’ lacks punch, poise or purpose

Review: Jessica Alba-starring ‘Trigger Warning’ lacks punch, poise or purpose

LONDON: It’s hard to take “Trigger Warning” — Netflix’s latest attempt to create a pseudo “John Wick” franchise of its own — too seriously. After all, the movie’s outlandish premise sees special forces operator Parker (Jessica Alba) returning to her sleepy hometown after the mysterious death of her father. Once there, she winds up in the middle of a violent gang’s machinations and has to dispense justice in her own unique, knife-wielding way. Director Mouly Surya lets us know this by opening the film with a decidedly lackluster high-speed (but very clearly not) car chase, ostensibly set in Syria (but very clearly not), during which Parker, confronted by a violent gang, dispenses justice in her own unique, knife-wielding way. She also smacks down a corrupt fellow soldier when he executes a prisoner. Because she really hates injustice, you see? High-concept filmmaking this is not.

And, as becomes even more apparent over the next 106 minutes, many of the creators of “Trigger Warning” aren’t taking the movie very seriously either. The script is littered with rote plot cliches, eye-wateringly clunky dialog, one-dimensional characters and abandoned storylines. By the climatic third act, “Trigger Warning” doesn’t even have the good grace to try and hide its gaping plot holes anymore. It just stumbles towards the finish like a bad guy who’s been beaten up by a knife-wielding hero who really hates injustice.

Alba, at least, tries to take the film seriously while Gabriel Basso (star of the recent, surprisingly enjoyable Netflix series “The Night Agent”) makes for an amiable sidekick.

Some movies can offer glorious bouts of escapism, others, like this one, are simply thrown together without any seeming sense of cohesion or care, relying on a charismatic lead to drag the whole mess toward some kind of satisfying conclusion. “Trigger Warning” is a film that should come with one.

 


Chef Fadi Kattan’s debut cookbook celebrates Palestinian cuisine

Chef Fadi Kattan’s debut cookbook celebrates Palestinian cuisine
Updated 22 June 2024
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Chef Fadi Kattan’s debut cookbook celebrates Palestinian cuisine

Chef Fadi Kattan’s debut cookbook celebrates Palestinian cuisine

DUBAI: Franco-Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan says the release of his debut cookbook, which pays tribute to Palestinian cuisine, feels “confusing.”

More than eight months have passed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, and the current catastrophe is something Kattan could never have predicted when he began writing the book two years ago.

However, in the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity, as they say.

Kattan is based in Bethlehem. (Supplied)

“None of us imagined this horror,” Kattan, who is based in Bethlehem, told Arab News. “On the one hand, I think we need it. People need to see what we are and who we are. We have had enough of this monolithic, dehumanizing image of Palestinians. At the same time, it’s very difficult to be talking about food and celebrating food in this situation.”

The pages of Kattan’s book, “Bethlehem,” reveal a personal portrait through vibrant snapshots of local foods and markets, natural landscapes, Kattan’s family members, and Bethlehem’s culinary community. Designed by Lebanese illustrator Nourie Flayhan, the book cover features warm hues of red and yellow, embellished with a border of patterned embroidery, reportedly native to Bethlehem. It is a love letter to Kattan’s ancient hometown.

Divided into the four seasons of the year, “Bethlehem” features over 60 recipes. (Supplied)

“Bethlehem is called ‘the city’, but in reality it’s a small town,” he said. “It’s a very interesting place. It has a lot of history. The symbolism is very strong because you have (one of) the oldest churches in the world, Church of the Nativity, and opposite it you have the Mosque of Omar. It refers to Omar Ibn Khattab’s pledge to not build mosques in place of churches, but next door. And I think that’s a very strong message of the fact that there’s no coexistence here: We’re all Palestinian. It’s beyond coexistence.” 

Despite Bethlehem’s vibrancy, Kattan says his home has been impacted by the Israeli occupation. The settlements and concrete walls give the “feeling that the city is being choked more and more. At the same time, what I see in Bethlehem is the resilience of people and the fact that people are still surviving and are still here, even though a lot of the components of a normal life are not there.”

“Bethlehem” includes recipes such as taboon bread, cauliflower makloubeh and stuffed eggplant. (Supplied)

Tourism in Bethlehem has also taken a hit since last year’s Oct. 7 attacks, he adds.

Divided into the four seasons of the year, “Bethlehem” features over 60 recipes including classics such as taboon bread, cauliflower makloubeh and stuffed eggplant. The chef describes his recipes as accessible, aiming to make Palestinian food as approachable as French or Italian cooking. He also touched upon the contested topic of Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian food and culture. “I don’t always fight it. I think that just telling our story is enough, because our story is the real story,” he said with a smile.

Kattan, who founded the modern Palestinian eatery “Akub” in London, hopes readers will “make a mess” out of his book. “I want them to cook with it and make their copies dirty,” he said. “I want it to be a book in kitchens across the world.”

Chef Fadi Kattan’s cheese-stuffed grape leaves

Chef Fadi Kattan’s cheese-stuffed grape leaves. (Supplied)

Serves 10

Ingredients:  

Cheese parcels 

20 fresh grape leaves (or substitute leaves stored in brine) 
1 tablespoon raisins 
Olive oil, for brushing 
150 g / 5 1⁄4 ounces Akkawi or Nabulsi cheese (or substitute another fresh brined cheese, 
such as halloumi, fresh Syrian cheese, or queso blanco) 

2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced 
3 tablespoons dried and crumbled zaatar leaves (or substitute oregano)

Dressing: 

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1 pinch of salt 
Leaves of 5 sprigs of fresh mint or fresh zaatar or another green herb of choice 
2 drops of water (optional)

Method: 

  1. To make the parcels, if you’re using fresh grape leaves, blanch the whole leaves in a large pot of lightly salted water until they turn a deep green and are soft to the touch, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the thickness of the leaves. Drain well. 
  2. Put the raisins in a bowl filled with enough warm water to cover them, because we need to hydrate them slightly.
  3. Brush ten little ramekins, 5 to 7 cm / 2 to 3 inches in diameter, with a bit of olive oil. Place two grape leaves in each one, with the top side downwards so that when we flip the ramekin, we’ll end up with the outside of the leaves facing up.
  4. Cut the cheese into ten equal portions. Drain the raisins.
  5. Put one piece of cheese, a slice of tomato, a few raisins, and a bit of zaatar leaves on the grape leaves. Fold the leaves to enclose the filling in the ramekins.
  6. Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F. Place the ramekins in a roasting pan and fill the pan with water to the height of the grape leaves in the ramekins.
  7. Cover the top of the ramekins with a baking sheet; we don’t want the grape leaves to dry out.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, flip the ramekins onto plates to see the beautiful stuffed grape leaves.
  10. To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, salt, and herbs in a blender and process to a homogenous green sauce. Add the water to thin the dressing, if needed.
  11. Sprinkle it on top of the grape leaves and serve.

Mona Tougaard stuns at 032c’s Paris Fashion Week show

Mona Tougaard stuns at 032c’s Paris Fashion Week show
Updated 22 June 2024
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Mona Tougaard stuns at 032c’s Paris Fashion Week show

Mona Tougaard stuns at 032c’s Paris Fashion Week show

DUBAI: Berlin-based magazine-turned-fashion label 032c presented its menswear spring/summer 2025 collection this week at Paris Fashion Week, featuring Middle Eastern model Mona Tougaard.

The catwalk star, who has Danish, Turkish, Somali and Ethiopian ancestry, strutted down the runway in a form-fitting suit with a cropped blazer and a blue buttoned-shirt layered underneath. Her look was enhanced with dark shades, and her hair was slicked back in a low bun.

She was not the only regional model on the runway; Tougaard was joined by British Moroccan model Nora Attal, who wore a sheer, reflective fishnet-like black dress.

Tougaard's look was enhanced with dark shades, and her hair was slicked back in a low bun. (Getty Images)

American catwalk star Amelia Gray also graced the runway alongside the Arab models. She confidently donned the first look, a skintight black ensemble with contrasting collared additions.

The collection, designed by Maria Koch, is titled “Everything Counts,” and spanned outerwear, feminine suiting and versatile denim co-ords suitable for both day and night.

Collarless 032c jackets featured tonal gothic lettering, while army parkas and deconstructable cargo pants were paired with boxy vinyl tops.

Amelia Gray donned a skintight black ensemble with contrasting collared additions. (Getty Images)

The party-ready looks included sheer gowns adorned with hundreds of rhinestones, offering a glimpse of skin.

Staple suiting appeared in versatile khaki tones, followed by shimmering bottoms, “Workshop”-printed hoodies, and blurred floral shirts created in collaboration with Georgian-American artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili.

The venue’s elongated corridors reverberated with techno beats, starting softly and swelling to a crescendo as models showcased timeless, dance floor-ready outfits on the runway.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Joerg Koch / 032c (@032c)

This month, 032c announced on Instagram that Tougaard had been named the artistic talent director for the collection.

“Tougaard is an inherent member of the 032c universe, who has starred on our magazine covers, our editorials, and our previous FW-24 show. It is an organic progression to involve Tougaard more closely in 032c’s creative processes together with creative director Maria Koch and fashion director Ras Bartram,” the post read.

Tougaard started her modeling career in 2017 after winning the Elite Model Look Denmark competition at the age of 15. Since then, she has become a prominent figure in the fashion industry, known for her work with top designers and luxury brands including Prada, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Chanel and Valentino.


Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury

Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury
Updated 21 June 2024
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Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury

Hijabi heavy metal trio to make Indonesia’s debut at Glastonbury
  • Voice of Baceprot will play Glastonbury’s Woodsies stage on June 28
  • Hijabi trio has toured Europe, US, and was named to Forbes Asia’s 30-Under-30 list

JAKARTA: Hijabi heavy metal band Voice of Baceprot is set to become the first Indonesian act to perform at the UK’s iconic Glastonbury Festival next week, marking another milestone in the all-female trio’s trailblazing career.

More than a decade after first emerging, Voice of Baceprot was named in Forbes Asia’s 30-Under-30 list just last month. The group has toured Europe and the US, and released its debut album last year.

With lyrics that address issues from gender inequality to climate change, members of the group from Garut, West Java said on Friday that they hope to help improve the world for future generations through their music.

“We care about what’s happening around us, that’s why we make a lot of songs about what we ourselves experience, see, and hear. We only want the world that we live in to become a better place for the generations after us,” Firda “Marsya” Kurnia, who is the lead singer and guitarist, told reporters.

“We certainly feel excited and proud, especially after finding out that we are going to be the first Indonesian musicians to perform in Glastonbury. It will also be our first performance in the UK.”

Voice of Baceprot will play the Woodsies stage at Glastonbury on June 28, sharing the glory of performing at the legendary music festival alongside artists such as Coldplay, Dua Lipa and Cyndi Lauper.

“We will try to use this opportunity to also uplift Indonesian culture through music, including using tonal elements from Sundanese music,” Marsya said, referring to their ethnic origins.

Voice of Baceprot sings a mix of English, Indonesian and Sundanese — their native tongue. The word “baceprot” is Sundanese for “annoyingly noisy.”

Marsya met the other band members — drummer Euis Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati — at an Islamic boarding school and established the group in 2014.

Now in their early 20s, they have been overcoming prejudice and shattering stereotypes about Muslims and Islam.

“We try to introduce the other side that is closer to the truth,” Marsya said.
The band has already gained praise from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and was met with great interest during its 2021 and 2022 Europe tours.

“It was beyond expectation. Every time we have an international tour, I am afraid that no one will show up ... because we’re not that big yet,” Siti said.

“But after a few times performing there, we’ve seen how enthusiastic the audience was. Some would even wait for our performance.”

The trio’s accomplishments have also been noticed by the Indonesian government, which is supporting the group’s upcoming UK trip.

“This is a form of soft diplomacy,” Desra Percaya, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UK, told reports.

“Voice of Baceprot is truly taking up the role of Indonesia’s ambassadors and, of course, they are on a mission to make Indonesia proud.”