Art + Culture Blog
Kelby Olson | 9 May 2013
Sarcasm is an integral part of revolution as people navigate social and political turbulence. Regimes consider humor a threat to their power because of its ability to indirectly expose truth.
While satirical songs are not new in Egypt, there has been a recent outpouring of music mocking various targets, such as President Morsi, the failed attempts by liberals to mobilize politically, and the religio-political Salafis. This development parallels the more general proliferation of artistic output since Mubarak’s ouster in early 2011.
The recent surge in musical satire transcends genres to include rock bands, folk singers, and mahragan music.
Yousra al-Hawary’s “El Soor” (“The Wall”), written by Walid Taher before the revolution, playfully mocks the construction of walls around Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry.
Recently, they also appeared on Bassem Youssef’s television show al-Bernameg. Like Jelly performed songs that mock the lifestyle associated with liberals, the religiosity of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the unwavering, blind enthusiasm of Morsi supporters, and stereotypes associated with activists, thereby covering all aspects of the political and social spectrum.
Some describe sarcasm as a powerful tool of resistance, and there are times when such a description is appropriate. But rather than considering the popularity of musical satire in Egypt as some manifestation of popular resistance to Morsi’s rule, it is important to remember that while at times confrontational, sarcasm is primarily intended to entertain.
Like Jelly’s popularity is a result of the band’s effective employment of pop culture references, which ensures listeners’ understanding and enjoyment of their sarcasm. In short, it is entertaining and it is fun.
Sarah Zakzouk | 7 May 2013
Dokkan Afkar, which translates to ‘Shop of Ideas,’ is a new e-commerce platform that is set to launch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. DokkanAfkar.com will host an extensive range of elegant designs in fashion, home, kitchen and accessories, bringing Saudi Arabia further into the sphere of online retail shopping, promoting local products to Saudi customers.
Ammar Waganah, CEO of Dokkan Afkar spoke about the start-up as a home for creative people, saying:
The concept of the site is not a copy of a Western site, it is a result of creative minds coming together to form a locally relevant internet project. Dokkan Afkar is more than just an e-commerce website; we aim to become a home for creative people who have ideas for products that can add to people’s lives. Our vision is to help these ideas see the light and contribute to the community.
The website has yet to launch, but has been well received in the Kingdom. Prospective customers have already expressed their support via social media, with the e-commerce site gaining an impressive 4,000 ‘Likes’ on its Facebook page in only two weeks.
The team at Dokkan Afkar is adopting a staggered approach to the site, rolling out features over three phases.
The first phase will involve outsourcing to US and European suppliers, and inviting local Saudi suppliers to market their products on the site. The second phase will work on building financial partnerships and furthering idea generation, followed by the third phase which will focus on creating and strengthening a community dialogue with customers.
With communities around the globe becoming increasingly web-orientated, Dokkan Afkar is a much-welcomed venture for customers in Saudi Arabia, helping them gain further access to the power of online retail shopping. Waganah said:
The Saudi e-commerce market has big potential to grow over the next few years and therefore DokkanAfkar.com will focus on the Saudi Arabian market in the beginning and then expand to other Arab countries.
This is about creativity and entrepreneurship in the Kingdom, providing a great example for many others to follow. As Waganah said, “We strongly believe in fresh ideas and our approach is always to blow minds, not budgets.”
Sarah Zakzouk | 30 Apr 2013
The flourishing Saudi art scene is building momentum, with emerging artists gaining a local and global audience. The Saudi Art Guide, an online platform sharing information about upcoming events and exhibitions, is one part of this growing movement.
Since its launch in February 2013, the Guide has gained a global following. It is an incredibly innovative concept for Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene, including a website, iPhone, iPad and Android apps, and a complete guide to exhibitions and events, art book launches, and artist talks.
The platform also has a comprehensive directory of art galleries and spaces in the Kingdom, covering Jeddah, Riyadh, Abha, and the Eastern Province.
The Saudi Art Guide is a refreshing and much-welcomed hub for creative goings on in Saudi Arabia, providing a space for networking, discussion and collaboration both within and between artistic and creative communities. The platform exhibits the talent and expertise of Saudi artists to both local communities and a global audience interested in the Kingdom’s ever-changing and evolving art scene.
Jeddah’s Athr Gallery is a further extension of this ethos. Hosting its third annual exposition of Young Saudi Artists (YSA13) from April 23rd – May 23rd, the gallery aim as always “to unearth exceptional young Saudi talents under the age of thirty.”
For this year’s exhibit, the gallery has chosen the theme of “identity,” exploring how personal expressions can be translated and understood on a global scale by different audiences. The theme of identity extends to limitations on freedom and the hot topic of “change,” a concept Saudi youth are curious to investigate and interpret through creative means of expression. These interpretative expressions take shape on a mixed media palette ranging from oil and acrylics on canvas to the art of ink on paper, video art, and larger scale installations.
The YSA13 project has eighteen participants, some of whom are new to the Saudi art scene and others who have exhibited their work in previous years. Participants include Huda Beydoun, Dana Awartani, Batool Alshomrani, Mohanna Tayeb, Maha Khalawi, and Ayman Zedani.
When asked about her personal experience with the exhibition, artist Dana Awartani said:
“The exhibition itself was a really eye opening experience for me, since just moving back to Saudi after being away for so long, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many talented artists and such a sophisticated art scene in Jeddah. I think it is crucial that I, alongside the rest of the artists, continue to promote and create art in this region; it’s a sort of visual language that can appeal to all on so many levels, and us as artists have so much to say.”
With the extremely positive response to the burgeoning cultural scene in Saudi Arabia, this is undoubtedly just the start of a cultural movement to support and uncover the Saudi art world’s hidden gems.
Laith Ulaby | 1 Oct 2012
CNN recently profiled how an artist in Damascus, Oussama Diab, is using pop art to represent the conflict in Syria:
As bloody unrest has raged around him, artist Oussama Diab has been formulating his own response to Syria’s civil war — through art.
Diab, a 35-year-old painter born of Palestinian parents in Damascus and still living in Syria’s capital, has a new exhibition of works he has created this year.
His exhibition “In the Name of Freedom” opened September 17 in Dubai. Diab says he was unable to get a visa to travel to the United Arab Emirates, so he had to remain in Syria.
In a telephone interview Diab said his new works “are inspired by what’s going on across the Arab world, politics is in everything.”
“My artwork reflects not only what is happening in Syria but what has happened in all the Arab world. One of the artist’s duties is to follow the problems, the worries, the suffering and present it in his work.
“The fact of living inside the situation makes me able to show it better. I can talk about all the suffering that has happened here and also on the other side of the world,” he added.
Laith Ulaby | 24 Sep 2012
Hugh Eakin profiles a plan to build the largest mosque in Turkey in the New York Review of Books. As many of the glamorous endeavors in places like Dubai have shown, such projects can be an integral part of a city or nation’s brand. However the overt religiosity may also be indicative of a shift in Turkish society, which has made some nervous.
In March 1548, having brought the Ottoman Empire to the height of its power, Suleiman the Magnificent decided to build a mosque in Istanbul. “At that time,” an anonymous chronicler explains,
His Highness the world-ruling sultan realized the impermanence of the base world and the necessity to leave behind a monument so as to be commemorated till the end of time….Following the devout path of former sultans, he ordered the construction of a matchless mosque complex for his own noble self.
In late May of this year, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—Turkey’s powerful prime minister, a devout Muslim, and the self-styled leader of the new Middle East—announced that he would be erecting his own grand mosque above the Bosphorus. It will be more prominent than Suleiman’s. The chosen site—the Büyük Çamlıca Tepesi, or Big Çamlıca Hill, overlooking the city’s Asian shore—is 268 meters above sea level; it is easily the most conspicuous point of land in greater metropolitan Istanbul. (A favorite look-out spot, it is here that the protagonist in Namik Kemal’s late Ottoman novel Awakening (1876) begins a tragic love affair with a woman of loose morals.)
“We will build an even larger dome than our ancestors made,” an architect involved in the project, Hacı Mehmet Güner, boasted to the Turkish daily Milliyet in early July. Güner added that the mosque would be built in a “classical style” and have six minarets—more than any in Istanbul save for the Blue Mosque (Suleiman’s mosque, the Süleymaniye, has four). He also said that their height would exceed that of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, whose tallest minarets are 344 feet.
Laith Ulaby | 17 Sep 2012
Street art and graffiti have increasingly become a powerful form of expression across the Middle East and even more so in countries undergoing post-revolution upheavals. In a recent Guardian editorial, Mohamed El Hebeishy discusses the phenomenon.
I was driving with my sister the other day in Cairo’s ever-congested downtown streets. As we stopped at a traffic light, her eyes fell upon some stencilled graffiti and she frowned.
It wasn’t so much the political message that bothered her but the fact that someone had chosen to spray-paint it on a wall. “They are vandalising the streets,” she said.
Ever since the uprising in Egypt last year, graffiti – from the crude to the artistic – have been flourishing. Wherever you turn, especially around Tahrir Square in Cairo, you see them – some just slogans, others full-scale murals.
The Arab spring has brought regime change, but also a whole new dimension of social freedoms – and one aspect of that is the spread of graffiti. But are Arab graffiti a form of art or an act of vandalism?
“Arab societies are conservative,” Ahmed Shitawey a middle-class engineer with a taste for art observed. “At the same time, graffiti are a very controversial form of art, even in the most liberal societies.”
Laith Ulaby | 10 Sep 2012There is no denying that Doris Duke was a fascinating woman. Over her life she amassed one of the world’s greatest Islamic Art collections. Today her collection is primarily exhibited in her Shangrila estate in Hawaii. While the inspiration for the collection seems to be steeped in a fairly mystical view of the “orient” Duke amassed some world-class pieces. Seventy pieces from her collection have now been put together for an exhibition that will start at the Museum of Art and Design in New York before traveling on to the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Fla.; the Nasher Museum at Duke University in Durham, N.C.; the University of Michigan Museum of Art; the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery; the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno; and the Academy of Art in Honolulu. For an overview of the exhibition check out the Museum of Art and Design’s page or the review in the New York Times.
Laith Ulaby | 3 Sep 2012Jadaliyya offers a fascinating profile of Afghan street artist Shamsia Hassani:
After Tunisia and Egypt, it was Afghanistan’s turn to be covered in the bold and beautiful colors of graffiti. It all became possible because of one young woman’s unflinching determination. She stood up and vowed to help her country; she is Afghanistan’s first female graffiti artist. Her cry for freedom is an example of the serious changes she wants to see across the Middle East.
But it was not an easy ride for the twenty-four year-old Shamsia Hassani—who highlights injustices against women in conservative Afghan society. Like all graffiti artists, she is no stranger to vitriolic criticism of her work, which highlights injustices against women. More importantly, she is well aware that she could be assaulted at any time for her work.
She became famous for her art in her hometown of Kabul, while living among the sounds of gunshots and bombs. [For the full article click, here]
Laith Ulaby | 26 Aug 2012
Boston NPR affiliate WBUR did a wonderful profile of and interview with the phenomenal Tunisian singer Sonia M’Barek along with the Palestinian violinist Hanna Khoury. The interview focuses on the classical Maluf tradition that M’Barek has become famous for performing. Listen, here.
Muftah Editors | 20 Aug 2012
The following is an excerpt from an article entitled, “A Small Group of Syrians” published by Mashallah News, that chronicles a project giving regular Syrians an outlet to voice their thoughts about the regime.
This project takes on one of the Syrian Government’s most prominent symbols – the Ba’ath newspaper, part and parcel of the Baath Security State – and turns it upside down to be a place where new thoughts are written by the Syrian people; thus overturning the daily chronicle of government lies.
We emphasize that the comments are not directed particularly to the Ba’ath but rather to the regime itself. Each participant was invited to use the newspaper to write some words symbolizing his or her thoughts within the general idea of the revolution. Those are Syrians; here are their words.
The project began during the earliest months of the revolution. That was a time when the camera was one of the revolution’s most important weapons, and it continues to be so. It has also been important to work in simple and easily accessible ways, while remaining discreet and not attracting too much attention.
The participation in this project gave birth to new friendships – which the revolution itself also has – in bringing together different Syrian individuals. With their talks of freedom, and with their complex emotional mix – ecstasy, sadness and determination – they proudly express their allegiance to the one homeland, Syria.