The story behind Saudi artist Alia Ahmad’s alluring abstracts

The story behind Saudi artist Alia Ahmad’s alluring abstracts
Alia Ahmad's 'Alwasm' at the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

The story behind Saudi artist Alia Ahmad’s alluring abstracts

The story behind Saudi artist Alia Ahmad’s alluring abstracts
  • Ahmad is garnering international attention, with two solo exhibitions in Europe  

RIYADH: Hanging at the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh is a large canvas titled “Alwasm,” a 2023 painting by Saudi artist Alia Ahmad. It’s an instant showstopper. Guests on the opening night of the event, which runs until May 24, gathered around the painting, which was inspired by Wadi Hanifah in the Najd region of Riyadh, which is where the biennale is being staged. Commissioned for the event, the painting’s alluring warm tones and lively hues capture the titular period between October and December when the weather becomes cooler and there is respite from the arid desert heat.  

Ahmad is on a roll. Since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art with a Master’s in 2020, the 28-year-old Riyadh-based painter has staged several solo exhibitions in her home country and has increasingly garnered international attention for her abstract expressionist canvases that depict the natural and urban landscape of her home country. Ahmad says she considers paintings “social spaces” as well as “blueprints.” 




Alia Ahmad's 'Malga—The Place In Which We Gather,' which sold for $128,786 at auction this year. (Courtesy of Phillips)

“These paintings represent my version of the landscape,” Ahmad tells Arab News. “They include elements that may be references to birds or various color palettes that aren’t necessarily found in the landscape, but that represent how I view it. I’m addicted to incorporating my imagination.” 

The desert landscape, she stresses, “is not necessarily dry or empty. It has so much more.” And that is what she captures in the lush, lyrical brushstrokes of her abstract works, which are filled with references to local culture. “The traditional Arab bedouin dress is filled with color. As are the tents,” she says. “Women here have traditionally embellished their gowns. Where does this sense of vibrant creativity come from? The color and playfulness we imbue our traditional dress and items with comes from the landscape.” 

Ahmad recently staged her first solo exhibition in Europe. “Terhal Gheim (The Voyage of the Clouds)” runs at White Cube in Paris until May 18.  

On March 7 this year she sold her first work at auction at the Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale in London. Her painting “Malga — The Place in Which We Gather” sold for four times its estimate, bringing in a remarkable £101,600 (roughly SAR475,825). 




Ahmad's works on display in London's Albion Juene Gallery. (Gilbert McCarragher)

And on May 2, another solo exhibition — “Thought to Image” — opened in London at Albion Jeune. Running until June 12, the show presents Ahmad’s alluring abstract landscapes, inspired by the hues of traditional textiles created by Sadu weavers of Bedouin tribes and the Arabic calligraphic script known as khatt. 

“Much of my inspiration comes from textiles,” she explains. “At one point I was obsessed with making collages and with buying pieces of fabric.”  

She also used to draw stick-figure cartoons as a child, she adds. Those amateur drawings were works in progress — an aspect Ahmad continues to enjoy in her practice. “I loved the idea of having a drawing in progress to then fill in the blanks of what the character might look like later,” she says.  

Ahmad’s paintings today are an amalgamation of various aspects of her homeland — its rich natural environment from the desert to the lush palm trees and other vegetation, local dress, jewelry and animals. She brings all of them together to depict in colorful abstract forms the richness of Saudi heritage, particularly that of her home region of Najd. 

Her works, as international gallerists and collectors have found, are rife with specific local details that connect in some way with people across the world, even if only by piquing their curiosity about a country that has only recently really opened up to visitors. 

Ultimately, Ahmad’s paintings serve as a unique reference point during a time of monumental social and economic change in the Kingdom, revealing and documenting a moment of both transformation and a desire to retain and promote Saudi’s rich heritage. 

Her imaginary landscapes also include flattened perspectives, nods to her previous training in digital culture at King's College London. They reflect the futuristic visages of the modern world coupled with the beauty of the undulating curves of the desert landscape and the colorful attributes of Arabian culture. 

Each painting takes the viewer on a voyage into a vibrant abstract world that echoes aspects of everyday reality. 

As Ahmad puts it: “They are all playful paintings and I make sure that each work and each show I stage retains that aspect of curiosity.” 


Egyptian rapper Marwan Pablo on being a Diesel brand ambassador

Egyptian rapper Marwan Pablo on being a Diesel brand ambassador
Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Egyptian rapper Marwan Pablo on being a Diesel brand ambassador

Egyptian rapper Marwan Pablo on being a Diesel brand ambassador

CAIRO: Egyptian rap artist Marwan Pablo was recently named a regional brand ambassador for Italian fashion label Diesel — and the up-and-coming star spoke to Arab News about his relationship with the luxury brand.

"My connection with Diesel goes way back, long before I became an ambassador and one of its faces globally," the Alexandria-born rapper, whose real name is Marwan Matawa, said.

Known for his streetwear style, Pablo is not one to shy away from patterns and color — and that keen fashion sense was sparked by a gift from his father.

"My clothing and accessories now reflect my growing relationship with this luxury brand, which started back in 2007 or 2008 when I was in school and my father bought me a pair of Diesel jeans,” he explained. “That gift changed how I viewed and wore clothes for life. Those pieces remained with me for a long time … I feel a sense of daring and ambition with Diesel, something that I've busily incorporated into the brand's unique identity, which I find distinct from other youth-oriented brands."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MARWAN PABLO (@marwanpablo_)

Born in 1995, the “Lelly Yah” hitmaker briefly quit music in 2020 citing personal reasons. He returned to the spotlight in 2021, however, with the hit track "Ghaba" that gained more than four million views on YouTube within the first 24 hours. His latest offering, "Al Mabda,” was released in 2024 and condemns the global silence over the attacks carried out by Israeli forces on the people of Gaza.

When asked about his future plans, the artist stressed the need to remain flexible, saying: "I always want to stay flexible and integrated, whether it's with my new music or my fashion style."

Meanwhile, Diesel took to social media to praise its new ambassador, saying: “Pablo's music serves as a raw and introspective canvas, drawing inspiration from his life experiences, thoughts, emotions, and the world around him.”

 


Dubai Fashion Week announces preliminary schedule for spring/summer 2025

Dubai Fashion Week announces preliminary schedule for spring/summer 2025
Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Dubai Fashion Week announces preliminary schedule for spring/summer 2025

Dubai Fashion Week announces preliminary schedule for spring/summer 2025

DUBAI: The global and regional fashion labels expected to set the upcoming spring/summer 2025 season’s biggest trends at Dubai Fashion Week have been announced.

Scheduled ahead of New York Fashion Week, DFW will be held from Sept. 1-7 this year at Dubai Design District (d3).

Co-founded by d3 and the Arab Fashion Council, DFW will feature more than 30 brands from France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Palestine, Russia, the UAE and the UK, showing streetwear and haute couture collections alongside internationally acclaimed guest designers.

The event’s footprint extends citywide, with 40 invitation-only presentations, private dinners and collection launches hosted by global brands and industry stakeholders.

The first three days of DFW will focus on haute couture collections.

The final three days will spotlight ready-to-wear collections by acclaimed designers such as Alia Bastamam, April & Alex, Benang Jarum, BLSSD, Dima Ayad, Born in Exile, Buttonscarves, Choice, Heaven Lights, Riva, Self Made, Viva Vox and Weinsanto, presented and supported by the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the governing body behind Paris Fashion Week.

The last day of the calendar will focus on private appointments and a buyers’ market.

Launching for the first time is the International Buyers Programme, enabling retailers worldwide to enrol in DFW’s tier benefits. The programme expands buyers’ reach and talent discovery through DFW and within Dubai’s vibrant fashion ecosystem, reinforcing the city as the region’s de facto fashion capital.

“Dubai is the pulsating heart of fashion in the region, and Dubai Fashion Week is disseminating its rhythm globally,” said Khadija Al-Bastaki, senior vice president of d3 – part of TECOM Group. “The collections and designers displayed on our runway inject diversity into the global fashion dialogue and demonstrate the powerful talent emerging within our region.

“DFW has unveiled incredible opportunities, partnerships and global networks to participating designers and buyers, and we look forward to pushing the envelope further with this latest edition that includes a new buyer’s platform, an expanded venue, more events and an extended schedule of designers.

“Dubai Fashion Week will once more raise the bar for fashion excellence and cement Dubai among the global fashion capitals,” Al-Bastaki said. 


Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe

Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe
Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe

Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe
  • Tour from Oct. 5 to Dec. 16 features 30 stops
  • Fans also want ‘Woledto’ concerts in Mideast

DUBAI: Chilean-Palestinian music sensation Elyanna is reportedly expanding her world tour “Woledto,” with new dates and locations in Europe.

The tour, from Oct. 5 to Dec. 16, will have 30 stops.

The 22-year-old artist announced on Instagram this week that presales will start on July 17, with general sales from July 19.

“THE WOLEDTO TOUR from North America to Europe! See you soon,” she wrote to her 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Her fans quickly took to the comments section, requesting gigs in Lebanon, Dubai, Los Angeles, Australia, Barcelona, Lisbon, Milan and more.

Elyanna, who was the first artist to perform a full set in Arabic at California’s Coachella music festival in 2023, has been normalizing Arabic lyrics in the Western world.

She has been inspired by artists including Lana Del Ray and Beyonce, as well as Middle East legend Fayrouz.

The Los Angeles-based singer’s music is a mix of Arabic and Western beats, which she attributes to her multicultural upbringing. She is known for her songs “Ghareed Alay,” “Ala Bali,” “Ana Lahale,” “Mama Eh,” among others.

Elyanna dropped her debut album in April featuring nine songs: “Woledto,” “Ganeni,” “Calling U,” “Al Sham,” “Mama Eh,” “Kon Nafsak,” “Lel Ya Lel,” “Yabn El Eh” and “Sad in Pali.”

Before releasing the album, she wrote to her Instagram followers: “This album is the embodiment of pride to be an Arab woman, to be from Nazareth, to be from the Middle East.”

“This is the closest I’ve been to where I come from,” she added. “The only feature on my album is my grandfather.”

In May this year, she made her television debut on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The music sensation delivered a medley of hits from her debut album including “Callin’ U (Tamally Maak)” and “Mama Eh,” the first song performed entirely in Arabic on the show.


Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch

Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch
Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch

Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch

DUBAI: US Palestinian Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid is the face of Adidas Originals’ new campaign for its SL “Super Light” 72 sneaker.

The brand is reintroducing the running shoe, which launched in the summer of 1972, in five colorways. Hadid took part in the launch campaign, which sees the model star in a digital and billboard campaign for the brand — with her image taking over a largescale billboard in New York this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“Lucky to still be able to have these (kinds) of pinch me moments,” Hadid posted on Instagram alongside a carousel of photos of the billboard.

The photographs for the campaign were shot in Paris and see Hadid posing in the shoes while wearing an Adidas top-and-shorts set with the brand’s identifiable three stripes. She holds a bouquet of red-hued flowers in the photos.

Hadid is celebrating more than just her latest campaign — this spring, the model launched her own brand Orebella. The inaugural products were three perfumes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

In July, the beauty entrepreneur announced that a percentage of the proceeds from her brand are being donated to the Orebella Alchemy Foundation, a charitable initiative aimed at creating positive change across various communities.

The Orebella Alchemy Foundation partners with organizations that are “deeply personal” to Hadid, such as Girls Club New York, which empowers young women and “youth of color,” and the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), which aims to change lives by providing equine-assisted services to people with disabilities.

“We will be donating a minimum financial donation of 1 percent of all Orebella net sales to charity, as well as delivering service hours, community outreach and social promotion,” Hadid wrote on social media. “I can’t wait to keep growing and including even more amazing organizations. I have so many different organizations that are important to me and we will continue to roll them out.”


Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’

Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’
Updated 16 July 2024
Follow

Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’

Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’

DUBAI: Amid the hype surrounding the release of the first “Captain America: Brave New World” trailer, Marvel Studios is seeking to distance itself from the controversial roots of one of its characters.

A story published on Marvel’s official website contained the following information  about new character Ruth Bat-Seraph, whose inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was previously confirmed in 2022.

“New to the cast is Shira Haas, who joins as Ruth Bat-Seraph. A former Black Widow, Ruth is now a high-ranking US government official who has the trust of President Ross,” said Marvel.

The description confirms some significant changes from the comics, where Ruth is originally a mutant named Sabra, an Israeli superhero and an agent of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. The character has long been controversial owing to her connection to the Israel-Palestine conflict — a controversy that has taken on even greater significance recently due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Although the term “Sabra” refers to a Jewish person born in Israel, the name is also considered insensitive considering the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982.

Ruth is played by Israeli actress Shira Haas, who was first cast in the role in 2022. She has previously appeared in movies including “Asia” and “The Zookeeper's Wife,” as well as the Netflix series “Bodies.”