French artist produces rich portrayals of Saudi history, culture

French artist produces rich portrayals of Saudi history, culture
Short Url
Updated 01 June 2024

French artist produces rich portrayals of Saudi history, culture

French artist produces rich portrayals of Saudi history, culture
  • Joel Alessandra sheds light on his artistic adventures in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Joel Alessandra, the renowned French comic book artist, travelled through Saudi Arabia recently so that he could portray the nation’s rich culture and heritage.

Known for his innovative use of coffee and watercolors in his drawings, Alessandra’s visit was facilitated by the French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise Saudi Arabia.

Having visited Riyadh, Alkhobar and AlUla, Alessandra found himself captivated by the charm of Al-Balad, Jeddah’s old town.

“This part of the city of Jeddah is the one that inspired me the most. We feel the atmosphere of a time when pilgrims stopped here, we perceive this fervent activity, there is an atmosphere of a centuries-old tradition that is still palpable,” Alessandra told Arab News.

The ancient architecture was a rich source of inspiration for his sketches, including the patina-covered walls and the intricate doorways. Alessandra’s drawings during his days in Jeddah aimed to capture the essence of Al-Balad's vibrant past and present.

He also held a live performance in Jeddah, where he recreated scenes from Al-Balad, offering spectators a glimpse into his artistic process.

“The subject was an improvised walk in Al-Balad, based on my sketches from the afternoon, I reproduced them in watercolor on the screen. Scenes of life in the street, buildings from past centuries, mosque minarets from the neighborhoods you pass through,” he said.

For Alessandra, travel serves as a constant wellspring of inspiration. Drawing from his experiences across Africa, he said “it is the atmosphere and the people of a country that shape my way of drawing, my real inspiration is taken on the ground.”

Reflecting on his recent visit to the Kingdom, Alessandra said he was amazed by Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural scene and the enthusiasm for artistic expression among its youth.

While Alessandra’s sketches convey a deep appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage, he shies away from conveying explicit messages.

“I just want to convey the emotion felt in front of all the incredible and immensely rich cultural, architectural, and historical heritage. I am lucky to know how to draw and show this emotion through my sketchbooks and my books ... I hope that my readers will also be sensitive to it,” he said.

He said AlUla left him in awe.

“It would be difficult to forget the fascination AlUla had on me. The Nabataean tombs, just imagining a vibrant life there, in the middle of the desert, at this ancient time is simply incredible.

“Also imagining that the Roman Empire pushed its armies so far from Italy is inconceivable.

“But also the old town with its shaded and covered streets. It is a paradise to inspire designers,” he said.

Joel Alessandra

Last year, he ventured out to sketch in the streets of AlUla with female students from the local art school.

“This moment is engraved in my memory as these students were attentive and wanted to produce and learn how to draw their environment. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered such a desire among young people in other countries.”

His use of coffee as a medium adds depth and richness to his artwork, capturing the nuances of skin tones and desert landscapes.

During his stay in Jeddah, he conducted workshops focusing on the Francophonie, bringing together students from various schools to collaborate on a work of fiction through text and drawings.

Engaging French school students in a collaborative storybook project, Alessandra explored a fictionalized journey of Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta in modern-day Arabia. Through writing and drawing, students reimagined Ibn Battuta’s adventures, blending elements of history and fantasy.

“The quest for a key to access the door of time and allow Ibn Battuta to return to his century, it was very amusing to see how the young people translated this graphically,” Alessandra said.

On his growth as an artist, Alessandra said that constant practice was key, and to aspiring artists, he added: “Draw, draw, and draw some more.”

“Always have a drawing pad in your pocket and train your hand and mind every chance you get. While waiting for the bus, at the cafe, during TV commercials, take advantage of every free moment to scribble in this notebook, there are no issues, just a few lines for practice,” Alessandra added.

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss relations 

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss relations 
Updated 10 sec ago

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss relations 

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss relations 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a call on Wednesday to Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani, the Saudi Press Agency said.

The pair discussed ways of enhancing bilateral relations in all fields.

The call also reviewed issues of mutual interest.

Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli strikes on UN school in Gaza

Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli strikes on UN school in Gaza
Updated 12 min 2 sec ago

Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli strikes on UN school in Gaza

Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli strikes on UN school in Gaza

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has condemned Israel’s targeting the UNRWA-run Al-Razi School in Nuseirat camp in Gaza, and Al-Attar area in Khan Yunis, killing dozens and injuring hundreds, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.

The statement described the attacks as “a series of repeated violations by the Israeli war machine against defenseless civilians.”

Israeli airstrikes killed more than 60 Palestinians in southern and central Gaza overnight and into Tuesday, including one that struck an Israeli-declared “safe zone” crowded with thousands of displaced people.

Tuesday’s deadliest strike hit a main street lined with market stalls outside the southern city of Khan Younis in Muwasi, at the heart of the zone that is packed with tent camps. Officials at Khan Younis’ Nasser Hospital said 17 people were killed.

Saudi Arabia renewed its categorical rejection of the continuation of Israeli genocidal crimes, and demanded an immediate ceasefire and ensuring the protection of civilians, relief facilities and their workers.

“The Kingdom holds the Israeli occupation forces fully responsible for their continued violation of all international and humanitarian norms and laws,” the statement read.

Saudi Arabia also reiterated the legal, humanitarian and moral responsibility placed on the international community to put an end to these ongoing violations of international law and international legitimacy resolutions by the Israeli forces.

The Kingdom said the failure to do so “not only reflects the inability and weakness of the international community institutions, but also portends consequences that go beyond this crisis and affect the foundations of international legitimacy and credibility, and the extent of our ability to maintain regional and international security and stability in the future.”

-With AP

Saudi crown prince, Macron discuss Gaza, Russia-Ukraine crisis 

Saudi crown prince, Macron discuss Gaza, Russia-Ukraine crisis 
Updated 40 min 4 sec ago

Saudi crown prince, Macron discuss Gaza, Russia-Ukraine crisis 

Saudi crown prince, Macron discuss Gaza, Russia-Ukraine crisis 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a call on Wednesday from French President Emmanuel Macron, the Saudi Press Agency said.

The call discussed the situation in Gaza and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, in addition to efforts aimed at achieving security and stability.

The pair also reviewed bilateral relations and cooperation, as well as the latest regional and international developments.

Rock inscriptions in Saudi Arabia’s Baha bookmark a historic era

Rock inscriptions in Saudi Arabia’s Baha bookmark a historic era
Updated 17 July 2024

Rock inscriptions in Saudi Arabia’s Baha bookmark a historic era

Rock inscriptions in Saudi Arabia’s Baha bookmark a historic era
  • Site epitomizes rich cultural tapestry

RIYADH: The “Book Plateau,” in the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Baha region, is drawing visitors from far and wide. Nestled in Baljurashi, the inscribed rock epitomizes the rich cultural tapestry of the area.

Located at the confluence of two streams at the foot of Wadi Khara, this archaeological wonder has been likened to the pages of an open book and earned its name from the old inscriptions adorning its surface, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The carvings are believed to date back some 1,400 years. The site boasts early Islamic inscriptions without diacritical marks, some of which bear the names of the Prophet’s companions and their followers.

There is another rock formation nearby which resembles a palm, bearing different inscriptions. Five graves can be found at the top of Mihras Mountain, two of which are noticeably elevated. While their exact history and occupants remain unknown, it is believed they belong to people who once inhabited the area.

Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi, director general of the Heritage Authority in Baha, told the SPA that the authority had included the site in the National Antiquities Register following a survey in 2005. The inscriptions, which are etched onto granite rock faces, stand as silent witnesses to the area’s historic importance.

Baha’s summer season is attracting local and international visitors to its heritage villages and historic and archaeological sites.

These attractions have become crucial economic drivers, shaping the national tourism vision in line with the Kingdom’s ambitious goals.

They also showcase the region’s historic legacy for present and future generations.

Saudi publishing house creates heritage-led children’s works

Saudi publishing house creates heritage-led children’s works
Updated 17 July 2024

Saudi publishing house creates heritage-led children’s works

Saudi publishing house creates heritage-led children’s works
  • Arab children deserve innovative storytelling where they see themselves as heroes, says Dar Waraqa cofounder

JEDDAH: A Saudi Arabia publishing house focused on works for children is utilizing passion and innovation to turn the page toward a “golden age of creativity” in the Kingdom.

Dar Waraqa is an award-winning company that creates aesthetically-pleasing books and products that reflect Saudi Arabia’s rich culture and heritage.

Layal Idriss, cofounder and creative director of Dar Waraqa, told Arab News during a recent interview: “Our vision revolves around continuing with the passion for creating innovative projects that will create the golden age of creativity locally and represent Saudi Arabia on the global creative publication scene.”

Idriss is a visual storyteller, entrepreneur and educator who has produced over 100 books and products over the past two decades. “I am proud to bring change and innovation to children's publishing in the MENA region by cofounding Dar Waraqa,” she said.

Idriss studied media arts and animation as an undergraduate and earned a master’s degree in fine arts from California State University, specializing in illustration.

After graduating, she taught at her alma mater from 2014 to 2021. Last year she was selected for a Women in Innovation Fellowship at Georgetown University.

Idriss is challenging the status quo of creative entrepreneurship by focusing on the importance of culturally rich products and books tailor-made for children.

“I am constantly working on evolving my storytelling skills by participating in residencies and exhibits that promote experimental and innovative storytelling methods,” she said.

Driven by her own childhood love for reading, she aims to create a library that will inspire future generations and believes that Arab children deserve high-quality art and innovative storytelling where they see themselves as heroes.

Dar Waraqa, or “House of Paper,” is based in Jeddah and offers publishing and distribution services to clients worldwide. It was founded in 2019 by Idriss and her husband Mohammed Hasanain when she had noticed that clients at her creative agency, Radish House, struggled to transform digital creations into tangible products.

Recognizing this, she created Dar Waraqa as a one-stop shop, guiding clients from the idea stage to the final product.

“The company also expanded its services to include post-production, distribution, and marketing, ensuring that books and products reach their intended audience,” she explained. “Collaborating closely with Radish House, we select artists to create magical stories.”

Dar Waraqa also provides extensive guidance and training to artists and designers, focusing on young talent from Saudi Arabia and globally, Idriss added. “We aim to lead the golden age of Saudi children’s books through a collective creative process that leverages the latest technology.”

At the company, the storytelling process begins with in-house ideation, emphasizing innovation and creativity before involving any authors. Once a solid project structure is in place, they seek the best authors, primarily working with Saudi Arabia talent but also international writers when needed.

The publishing house is not working under any government entity currently, Idriss said. “We are fortunate as Saudis that there are many initiatives and support programs available, and we try to apply to most of them. We are an independent small business working on projects with local entities to serve their needs.”

For example, “Aklana” is a collaboration between the Saudi Culinary Commission to create a series of children’s books highlighting recipes and stories from the Kingdom’s 13 provinces.

The title translates to “Our Saudi Food” and the work presents authentic recipes through characters that are meant to be filled with joy and endearing to young readers.

“It is an excellent way to … work with the commission closely on preserving recipes in a fun and innovative way,” Idriss said.

She added that the series is “a great way to innovate and build a community of creatives who collaborate and build visual narratives of our food, culture, and daily life.”

Each book in the “Aklana” series includes a short summary of the region and its natural resources.

Idriss added that the commission put in “tremendous effort” to provide their team with resources and recipes “as they spent the last few years working diligently on traveling around Saudi Arabia researching recipes and documenting them as well as talking to experts.”

The series is designed to be a part of any home or school library for Saudi Arabia children.

“In some comics and stories, we tackle traditions like dishes prepared days before a specific holiday or a wedding feast or the rituals and traditions in local households when a baby is born. With that, we successfully achieved a series that informs and entertains people from all ages and walks of life,” Idriss explained.

The six published “Aklana” books have recently been translated into Mandarin Chinese and Korean, debuting at the 2024 Beijing and Seoul international book fairs, respectively. Currently, only the Madinah edition has been translated into English.

“Once the series is complete, we plan to apply to the Tarjem initiative to have the books translated into various languages,” Idriss said. This would help entertain and inform people worldwide about the diversity of Saudi Arabia’s culture and life, she added.

In 2023, Dar Waraqa collaborated with Ithra at the Eastern Region Book Fair to create an interactive storytelling experience for children and families, which attracted over 10,000 guests.

During Ramadan 2024, Dar Waraqa worked with Hayy Explorers at Hayy Jameel in Jeddah and participated in a panel discussion at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair, to present the publisher’s perspective on the creative process.