‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says

‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says
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Updated 30 May 2024
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‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says

‘Beauty is needed for your soul,’ Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim says
  • The Saudi artist discusses societal shifts, art as therapy, and ‘putting it all out there’ 

DUBAI: The emerging Saudi artist Nasser Almulhim is an open book. A little over 10 minutes into our interview, Almulhim, speaking from his studio in Riyadh, admits to dealing with mental health issues, particularly depression. He copes, he says, by deep breathing, praying, walking barefoot on the grass, and getting in touch with his spiritual side. The topic arose when I asked about his childhood in Saudi Arabia, at a time when the country was much more restrictive.  

“I never confronted this question, because I always feared looking back at memories. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle for men or women,” Almulhim, who was born in 1988, tells Arab News. 




 'Balance' by Nasser Almulhim. (Supplied) 

Almulhim comes from a large family of four sisters and three brothers. They were raised in Riyadh’s Al-Malaz neighborhood, largely populated by an expat community of Sudanese, Egyptians and Jordanians, according to the artist. Interacting with people of different backgrounds enriched his upbringing.  

“My parents raised me well and taught me to respect people from a young age,” he says. “It was a very simple lifestyle. We didn’t have much, but my family provided us with safety and a good education. I studied in a public school and we were in the street a lot. We were playing football and we used to spray paint, just being rebellious, and the police would come,” he says. “Art was dead back in the day. It was haram.”  

Despite this, Almulhim, who enjoyed math and science as school subjects, was always sketching. “My parents saw something within me,” he says. It is also possible that Almulhim, who describes himself as a visual, nature-loving person, inherited his artistic sensibilities from his family. Almulhim says his grandmother was a poet, and his father was passionate about analog photography. 




The aritst's 'Distance is Near.' (Supplied)

“I believe he has an artistic side, but he is not embracing it,” he says. “He has a beautiful vision, even with the way he decorated the house. It came from someone who was vulnerable and sensitive.”  

During Almulhim’s high school years, he started to notice how ‘different’ he was as a Saudi, compared to other Arabs in the region. “We used to travel to Syria and Lebanon,” he recalls. “In Beirut, everyone was hanging out on the beach. People were doing their thing, and then I would come back to Riyadh, and it was the complete opposite. I would ask my dad, ‘Are we outsiders?’ And he would say, ‘There is a system. This is our tradition and culture.’ So I was always trying to do the opposite.” 

After graduating from high-school, Almulhim, who didn’t speak English at the time, travelled all the way to Sydney, Australia, to study intensive English courses, and later moved to the US to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “The funny part is, I went there to study engineering,” he says, adding that the men in his family were doctors or engineers. At university, he spent time with creative people studying music and theatre, and they noticed something about him.




 'Face Your Own Madness.' (Supplied)

 “They saw me reading books, sketching, playing the guitar, watching art documentaries, and going to museums. They were telling me to shift my major. It was a big deal for me and for my family as well. I shifted to study fine arts, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I felt light, I felt like myself,” Almulhim, who graduated with a degree in studio art from the University of West Florida, says.  

As reflected in his colorful paintings, Almulhim isn’t afraid of embracing his feminine side, something that stems from his close relationship with his sisters.  

“I always felt comfortable talking to them, even about sensitive topics, which I couldn’t talk to my parents about. There was a gap,” he says. But, it has invited criticism from male viewers. “With using pink, for example, I’ve had men ask me, ‘Why are you using pink? You’re a man.’” 

He says he wants to go “back to basics” with his painting, by appreciating beauty again.  

“In art, beauty is my greatest inspiration. The late Lebanese artist Etel Adnan said that, nowadays in the art scene, we’ve neglected the idea of beauty and we’re just focused on the conceptual,” he says. “People like distraction, which makes sense because we live in distraction. But I feel like beauty is needed for your soul, your physical self, and being nice to other people.” 




Nasser 'Gazing at The Sea Horizon.' (Supplied)

Almulhim fills his calming canvases, composed of floating geometric forms, with open spaces of color.  

“In painting, I like colors that bring happiness and might heal you. It puts you in a state of mind that doesn’t numb you, but makes you disconnect from the distraction around you. I always say that art is therapy for me. Part of it is, I feel like I’m escaping, maybe from some pain that I need to heal from, and part of it is that I’m confronting that pain,” he explains, adding that he hopes to one day pursue a doctorate degree in art therapy. His paintings also contain a psychological and spiritual element, creating a universe of his own, where he is “channeling the Higher Power, Allah, this great universe, this divinity that is outside and within us.”   

On June 6, Almulhim will open his new exhibition, “On In-Between,” at Tabari Art Space in Dubai. Through his new paintings, the artist is tackling the psychological stages of the subconscious, pre-consciousness, and consciousness.  

“I’m telling the audience that we have to understand this world to heal and to know ourselves,” he says. “Also, it’s fine to flow between these two or three fields. I’m telling you as a humble human being, I am all of these things: My chaos, my order, my vulnerability, my beauty, my ugliness. I’m putting it all out there.”  

Almulhim is also driven at this stage of his career by collaborating with fellow artists in the Arab region. He would like to set up art-residency exchanges, where artists from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan can work in his Riyadh space, and vice-versa. He says it was the ongoing tragedy in Gaza that sparked this idea.  

“I’m an artist, but, above that, I’m a human being,” he says. “How can I help? How can I contribute? How can we learn from each other as Arabs and as citizens of the globe? I feel in our region, we are in need of this unity.” 


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.” 


Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
Nadine Dorries, who at the time was the British secertary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, visits Gharem Stud
Updated 13 June 2024
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Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 
  • Founder Abdulnasser Gharem discusses the sweeping changes he has witnessed over his career as an artist in the Kingdom

DUBAI: There is perhaps no better person to ask about the magnitude of Saudi Arabia’s current cultural boom than Abdulnasser Gharem. Gharem has been creating art for decades, and has established himself as one of the Kingdom’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, despite the many obstacles he faced starting out at a time when there was really no pathway to becoming a professional artist from Saudi Arabia and most of those with a creative bent in the country were left with little choice but to pursue other careers. 

“I was in the army for 23 years,” Gharem, 51, who comes from the south of the Kingdom, tells Arab News. “There was no way you were going to be an artist with an income in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Most of my friends and relatives were in the army, so it was a popular thing. I became an officer, just to make sure that I could earn (money), and art would be something I’d do on the side.” 

Gharem also remembers how he discovered that two of his best friends from high school, raised in a strict environment, were part of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. “After high school, they just disappeared. We thought that maybe their parents moved to another city,” he says. “And suddenly I found their names in the list of the 19 hijackers. I was really shocked, because I was asking myself: ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ We were in the same neighborhood, the same school, the same environment, and had the same education. I think that’s why I became an artist: I was insisting that I wasn’t going to just rely on others. I just needed to create my own path.” 

And that is exactly what Gharem has done over the past two decades. In 2003, he co-founded Edge of Arabia in London. The arts platform, which highlighted Saudi artists through touring exhibitions, became hugely influential.  

A decade later, Gharem decided to set up his “own space” in Riyadh, which made him realize that there was a huge lack of support for the country’s up-and-coming generation of artists. 

“I had the experience of establishing a studio, dealing with challenges, bringing in sponsors, and setting up programs,” he says. “I was shocked to see how young Saudi talents — boys and girls who were interested in fashion, art, photography, filming — didn’t have their own space.” 

In Gharem Studio, young creatives from a variety of fields are invited to use Gharem’s library, art, filming equipment, the space itself, and — most importantly — to share ideas among themselves. He is much more than simply the founder of the studio, and has become a mentor to several young artists. He hopes that his non-profit arts organization can inspire self-expression and freedom of thought.  

Abdulnasser Gharem, founder of Gharem Studio. (Supplied)
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“It’s really fascinating for me. We have artists like photographer Haitham Alsharif who discusses gender issues, and the artist Halla Bint Khalid (the studio’s co-owner), who is looking into family and children,” he says. “So, it’s all related to society. It’s nice when you listen to issues from different aspects, ages and slices of society. The studio became a think tank.” 

When Gharem Studio was launched, its artists flew abroad to experience art fairs in Europe and exhibited their own works in the UK and the US, traveling across 15 states. Gharem admits that in the beginning there were some hurdles to overcome, not just at home but overseas too.  

“We were doing international shows, because contemporary art wasn’t accepted yet in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “It was honestly tough to sell Saudi art. Of course, now it’s different. Now the government is putting us on the cultural map of the world. We are living in what I call ‘a grant narrative,’ and that’s what we have been looking for since we were young. I can’t believe our dreams became true. Suddenly everything changed. We have two biennales in this country. We have Desert X and Noor Riyadh Festival. These kinds of cultural events have become part of people’s daily lives. They can spend time at the movies, in a restaurant or at a concert, or a biennale. The public sphere has become totally different.” 

In early May, a selection of predominantly photographic works from Gharem Studio were displayed in an exhibition at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery in Dubai. This month, the studio will be moving to its new home in the cultural hub of JAX District in Riyadh. According to Gharem, there are also plans to establish a bio-art lab in the studio, where artists can explore environmental issues.  

“Our mission,” he says, “is to bring something new to the artist and society.”  


Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
Updated 13 June 2024
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Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
  • Controversial media personality Guy Hochman tried to rush stage in Athens wearing Israeli flag
  • Frontman Chris Martin: ‘We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide’

LONDON: A Coldplay concert in Athens had to be paused after a man with an Israeli flag injured himself trying to reach the stage, The Independent reported on Thursday.

Footage of the man, later identified as Israeli media personality Guy Hochman, was posted to social media showing him trying to climb over a lighting rig before falling, knocking over several pieces of equipment.

Lead singer Chris Martin was seen asking the rest of the band several times to “stop” after witnessing the event directly in front of him, gesturing at crew around him to assist. He and bandmate Johnny Buckland then tried to help Hochman from the edge of the stage.

 

 

Hochman identified himself on social media, posting an image of himself at the concert wearing a black baseball cap and draped in the Israeli flag.

He also posted footage of himself on TikTok, saying he had led chants of “bring them home” in the audience in relation to Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Hochman then posted footage of his efforts to climb onto the stage, narrating as he got closer that he was “smelling Chris Martin’s sweat.”

After the fall, Hochman wrote on social media that he had damaged his ribs. “I have fallen. Right rib gone,” he said.

Hochman, who has courted controversy in the past for making jokes about the killings of Palestinians in Gaza, received mixed responses from fellow Israelis on social media despite his claims that he had “made history” with the failed stunt.

One person wrote on his TikTok: “I’m glad it didn’t work out. It saved us a great embarrassment and maybe even increased antagonism from Chris.”

Another said: “Really unnecessary and would have made us (a joke) if you came to him with an Israeli flag. Be healthy and glad you didn’t succeed.”

Last month, Hochman claimed that he was removed from the Eurovision village in the Swedish city of Malmo for waving the Israeli flag.

The event was dogged by controversy over the participation of an Israeli entrant in the annual song contest, with local protesters and other performers critical of the decision.

At a Coldplay concert in Tokyo in November, Martin appeared to speak out against Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

He told the audience that there were “so many terrible things happening,” and that he believed “most people on Earth are full of love and full of kindness, compassion.”

He added: “We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide, nothing like that.”


Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
Updated 13 June 2024
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Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
  • The Bahrain-based indie outfit have built a fanbase in the Kingdom over the past two years and make their Riyadh debut later this month

ALKHOBAR: “It’s just across the border, but it’s a whole different world, right?” Debbi Francisco, the Filipino frontwoman of Bahrain-based band Juniper’s Club, told Arab News ahead of her group’s show at Alkhobar’s Bohemia Cafe & Records in early June.  

“The Saudi energy is different. While playing, I have the habit of always looking down. And then I look up and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re actually staring at me.’ The Saudi fans really focus on you,” Francisco’s Indian bandmate, guitarist Sean Fernandes, added with a smile. 

Since the pair formed Juniper’s Club two years ago, they have performed many live shows in Saudi, all in Alkhobar. They love their mini tradition of driving across the King Fahd Causeway to perform. For their gigs, they are joined by John Goodwin on drums and Ryan James on bass.  

Francisco and Fernandes, both in their 20s, met in 2019, when they were both music instructors. “We realized we had a lot of things in common, musically,” Francisco said. “And we actually started a bunch of projects together, but, eventually, we were, like, ‘Yo. Why don’t we just do something with just the two of us?’” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Their music seamlessly transitions from cutesy indie-pop to full-on rage-rock — but remains danceable, relatable, and sonically cohesive. Fernandes cites Coldplay as a major influence on his guitar playing and mentions Blink 182 and The Beatles as early favorites.  

“I actually started playing music very late. I didn’t play anything until I was 18,” he said. “My brother left his guitars behind when he went to college to pursue sound engineering. I had no siblings around, so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the guitar, and here I am.” 

Francisco, meanwhile, was brought up on gospel music. “That was my main reason for going to church as a kid, I would just watch musicians play,” she said. “I learned by watching people play live. I was also big on the Jonas Brothers — then I grew out of that and into Paramore. I started playing drums because of Paramore. I wanted to learn all their songs.” 

Growing up in Bahrain, neither of them ever ventured into Saudi Arabia. 

“Saudi was like a neighbor you’ve been wanting to say hi to for a long time, but you were a bit shy and they were a bit shy. And then one day they invite you to dinner,” Francisco said. “Now, we’re breaking bread and rocking out! Honestly, it’s such an honor to play in Saudi. Less than 10 years ago that wasn’t in the picture at all. It was almost impossible.” 

They’re now building a solid following in the Kingdom with their mix of indie-pop and alternative rock, featuring haunting, sometimes angsty, lyrics with melodic hooks. Live, their music is considerably heavier than on recordings.  

“We always try to make our shows as energetic and fun as possible,” Francisco said. “We want the crowd to have as much fun as we are. At its core, Juniper’s Club is just me and Sean, but it’s evolved into something else live; it becomes a Juniper’s Club club.” 

On June 28, Juniper’s Club will make their Riyadh debut at The Warehouse in the JAX District. 

“We also have an EP coming out, hopefully by the end of June,” Francisco said. “We’re going to introduce some of those new songs live. We’ve really revamped our setlist, so it might get a bit crazier than usual. It’s going to get loud.” 


Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas
Updated 12 June 2024
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Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

DUBAI: US singer Joe Jonas was spotted enjoying a beach day in Greece with Lebanese actress Laila Abdallah as they attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens along with other celebrities.

The paparazzi shots sparked an international internet manhunt for Abdallah, who was previously identified by magazines around the world as a “mystery brunette,” according to the Daily Mail.

The pair did not attend the opening event together, and mingled among other high-profile guests, including former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, actor Welsh actor Luke Evans, French designer Olivier Rousteing and Australian pop icon Kylie Minogue, among others.

But paparazzi at the resort were solely focused on Jonas and Abdallah, who enjoyed a beach day on Monday.

Jonas, who filed for divorce from British actress Sophie Turner in September, was photographed swimming in the sea and lounging on the shore along with Abdallah and others.

Although the snaps sparked international headlines and speculation amongst fans, neither camp has commented on the photographs and according to multiple reports they are just friends.

The 28-year-old actress was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents on Jan. 8, 1996, and began acting in the early 2010s, landing roles in Arab TV series.

Laila Abdallah attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens. (Getty Images)

Abdallah can speak in sign language as she was raised by parents who are deaf and mute. The actress is the oldest of four siblings and previously spoke to Emirati podcast host Anas Bukhash about that responsibility.

“Because I’m the oldest among my siblings, and always I’m the one who does everything… I mean, I call myself the man of the house, the father, the big sister, I’m everything, so it’s impossible for anyone to see me cry, impossible,” she said.

Abdallah previously starred in a music video for Saudi singer Abdul Majeed Abdullah but her first acting role was in the TV show “Saher Al-lail” in 2010,  which was directed by Muhammad Daham Al-Shammari. The director also cast her in a recurring role in his series “Tu Nahar.” Abdallah most recently starred in the TV series “London Class” in 2023.

She boasts five million followers on Instagram and is known for sharing behind-the-scenes shots from her international travels, as well as her red carpet moments — notably, she recently hit the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In December 2017, she married Iranian actor Abdallah Abass, but they divorced in 2018.