Le Mépris: Godard’s masterpiece still smoulders after all these years

Brigitte Bardot, right, and Jean-Luc Godard, left, on the set of Godard’s ‘Masculin-Feminin’ in 1965. (AFP)
Updated 09 May 2018

Le Mépris: Godard’s masterpiece still smoulders after all these years

  • Godard proved a master at thrusting bare-faced Marxist ideology onto cinema screens
  • With “Le Mépris” Godard also proved a master manipulator of human emotion

ROTTERDAM: Director Jean-Luc Godard is a master of many things. With his stylish, noir-ish debut “Breathless” (À bout de soufflé, 1960), he was established as the French New Wave’s master of moody, monochrome, cigarette-sucking, fedora-touting cool.

With his later, post-1968 protest works, Godard proved a master at thrusting bare-faced Marxist ideology onto cinema screens. And throughout his entire six-decade career, Godard has proved a master of tearing up the rulebook — pioneering a fiercely original, cerebral, grainy, jump-cut, narrative-free and often impenetrable approach which best embodies every cliché, good or bad, about so-called arthouse cinema. 

But with “Le Mépris” (Contempt), which turns 55 in December, Godard also proved a master manipulator of human emotion. I recently had the chance to re-watch this 1963 masterpiece on a big screen. It’s a film I’ve seen perhaps a dozen times before, but even anticipating every bitter conversational turn and faux-profound witticism, the emotional rigor of Godard’s sixth picture remained undiminished. I left the cinema in a nervy but electrified state, needing an hour in a quiet café to steady and appreciate the tragic freewheeling chain of thoughts unravelling. 

Michel Piccoli plays a French scriptwriter, recently arrived in Rome to sell his soul, and maybe his beautiful young wife — a timeless turn from Brigitte Bardot — to a crass American movie producer (Jack Palance) making a narcissistic version of Homer’s “Odyssey.” With stately satire, German expressionist master Fritz Lang, of “Metropolis” authorship, plays himself as the project’s cynically aloof director. 

A movie about moviemaking, but also about love. And hate. The breakdown of Piccoli and Bardot’s marriage — over a single, real-time, 31-minute conversation, inside the claustrophobic, barren walls of their new apartment — is the film’s emotional core, a stunningly virtuoso second act of three. 

But there’s so much more to chew on: “Le Mépris” is about Greek gods and movie goddesses. About integrity, lust and power. About America and postwar Europe. About the poetry of Technicolor sunlight. “Le Mépris” is about humans — and how vicious, cruel and transactional we truly are.

Saudi fashion designer inspires futuristic cultural attire

Updated 29 February 2024

Saudi fashion designer inspires futuristic cultural attire

  • Mohammed Al-Jishi is a self-taught fashion designer who uses his experience as an architect to create his own unique and eye-catching outfits
  • Al-Jishi: My background in architecture influences my approaches in creating fashion garments, mostly focusing on innovation, and how clothing interacts with the human body and space

RIYADH: Saudi fashion designer Mohammed Al-Jishi is known for thinking outside the box when it comes to his futuristic cultural designs.

Al-Jishi is a self-taught fashion designer who uses his experience as an architect to create his own unique and eye-catching outfits that draw attention every time he attends a big event.

“My background in architecture influences my approaches in creating fashion garments, mostly focusing on innovation, and how clothing interacts with the human body and space. I tend to think way beyond the box, which results in creating these unique attires,” said Al-Jishi.

Ever since he was a child, he has always been interested in fashion, but due to gender stereotypes in Saudi Arabia, this was only a pipe dream.

“As a young boy, society always related fashion to girls generally, so I wasn’t even allowed to think that I had a shot in the industry.”

However, he believed that getting into architectural studies would open doors for him in other design areas including fashion.

“I made the decision that I am not going to let what others expect from me define who I am. I pursued fashion, I started reading about it, watching fashion shows over and over, it was something I could do without boredom.”

After enrolling in multiple classes to improve his fashion sense, he began creating outfits for himself.

“I moved from the Eastern Province to Riyadh because the chances were higher to prove what I’m capable of doing. I started participating in the big events that are happening in Riyadh and thankfully they were successful experiences.”

Al-Jishi drew media attention to himself during the Saudi Cup by donning a unique outfit, which he claimed was influenced by Al-Soudah mountains in Abha.

“I had a great time in the Aseer region, especially in the city of Al-Soudah, which is famous for its beautiful views and mountains, known as the ‘City of Clouds’ due to its high mountain terrain. It was a great experience, there was one thing missing, that was wings, so I added wings to my outfit which were inspired by the traditional way of wearing the Masnaf. I hope that in the future it will be possible to fly above the clouds in the Abha to enjoy the maximum experience of its beauty,” Al-Jishi told Arab News.

He continued: “Therefore, I used traditional southern attire as a reference for the design and developed a way of wearing them in a futuristic, modern style in line with this year’s theme, the past and the future, In other words, heritage in the future.”

At the last Saudi Cup 2023, Al-Jishi wore a look that he imagined Saudi Arabia’s future city-dwellers might wear. He began to envision the traditional Saudi attire being elevated, and the result was an outfit inspired by the thobe, the mohazam, and the bisht. They have been redesigned to honor Saudi Arabia’s history and to demonstrate how quickly the country is developing.

“My design represents a creation that is traditional but modernized in a futuristic perspective,” said Al-Jishi.

He wore a satin black outfit during Riyadh Fashion Week, representing the black oil that the Kingdom is famous for.

“In this design, oil was used as a reference for inspiration to express its importance and impact on the Kingdom’s economy. Shiny organza fabric was used to symbolize oil and its luster and fluidity. Additionally, a golden belt made of iron was incorporated into the design to add an industrial touch, symbolizing oil as the black gold,” Al-Jishi said.

As for the silhouette, it is a sophisticated dramatic narrative inspired by the thobe chosen to represent and celebrate fashion from the region of the first Saudi state.

Al-Jishi approached the fashion industry with the goal of making a unique piece, which he saw as a challenge.

His attitude to fashion design is influenced by his architectural experience, producing clothes that are not only physically arresting but also take into account the human shape and how it interacts with its surroundings.

“I was initially trained to conceptualize and design buildings, the architecture brings a unique understanding of form and space to their new endeavor. The main approach is to think conceptually and tell a narrative through design that adds depth and meaning to the garment, not just something that looks good,” he said.

“All these designs are the beginning of what is coming,” Al-Jishi added.

He draws inspiration from the Kingdom’s past and portrays it in a futuristic way, which makes his creations stand out. He is now developing his own clothing line.

Palestinian artist Dima Srouji’s ‘This is Not Your Grave’ explores architecture as shelter, resistance, oppression

Updated 29 February 2024

Palestinian artist Dima Srouji’s ‘This is Not Your Grave’ explores architecture as shelter, resistance, oppression

  • The artist was the 2022-2023 Jameel Fellow at London's Victoria & Albert Museum and is currently teaching at the Royal College of Art in London
  • Projects by artists Abbas Akhavan, Asma Belhamar and Vikram Divecha will be developed over the course of the year and will complement Srouji’s work

DUBAI: Located in three distinctive areas of Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, a creative hub in the city, is a new site-specific work by Palestinian artist Dima Srouji titled “This is Not Your Grave,” which explores architecture’s uses as shelter, resistance and oppression.

The work is part of “Walk with Me,” Alserkal Avenue’s 2024-2025 edition of public art commissions curated by London-based Zoe Whitley, a curator, writer and the director of Chisenhale Gallery in the British capital.

Whitley was inspired by Alserkal Avenue’s accessibility and range of cultural offerings for visitors on foot rather than by car. The commissions thus invite the visitor to walk in the area and discover new work. The Alserkal public art commissions, which launched in 2015, realize ambitious new works in a way that makes them accessible to Alserkal Avenue visitors both aesthetically and intellectually.

“Library,” Dima Srouji. (Supplied)

A cornerstone of Srouji’s practice is what she refers to as “the failure of architecture.”

“It is meant to protect its people and its users, mostly in relation to the basic concept of architecture, which is shelter,” she told Arab News recently.

“Over the last few years, especially during COVID, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of shelter as a sanctuary and what it means to actually create a shelter in the middle of a crisis during my childhood in Palestine,” she added. “As we’re seeing it again now in Gaza under genocide, and that we’ve noticed in the imagery of Gaza since October, but also in Palestine in general since 1948, architecture has been used as a weapon to build a Zionist state,” the artist said.

“Library,” Dima Srouji. (Supplied)

One aspect Srouji says she has been thinking about in relation to shelter is how “it is not necessarily just architectural spaces and domestic spaces where you can hide in a tunnel underground or use the tunnel underground as a space of resistance, but also elements as simple as a bathtub used as sites of shelter … because if the bombing is happening in the neighborhood nearby and you can’t run downstairs as quickly as you need to, then the closest safe space is a bathtub. The same thing with the staircase.”

The three-part installation represents a bathtub, staircase and tunnel as architectural aspects that reflect shelter.

“Sanctuary,” Dima Srouji. (Supplied)

“I’m not just interested in them architecturally because of their sense of scale as compressed spaces and so on, but actually because they are spaces where people can gather and the family structure becomes the actual sanctuary and then they serve as shelter,” she said.

Whitley says she first encountered Srouji’s work in a group exhibition in Jeddah. “I was immediately transfixed by her sensitivity to her surroundings and careful study of how cities are made, then evolve. She shows us how we move through and within spaces — often not in the way an architect intended,” she told Arab News.

“Library,” Dima Srouji. (Supplied)

“Dima’s three-part installation very literally encourages a walk through Alserkal Avenue,” she added. “Every curator aims for ‘dwell time’ from viewers and Dima’s concept encourages us to gather, to linger and to reflect.”

Projects by artists Abbas Akhavan, Asma Belhamar and Vikram Divecha will be developed over the course of the year and will complement Srouji’s by activating and punctuating places across the site.

Srouji was 2022-2023 Jameel Fellow at London's  Victoria & Albert Museum and is currently teaching at the Royal College of Art in London. Her work is part of the permanent collections at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Victoria & Albert Museum, Institut du Monde Arabe, Corning Museum of Glass and TBA21.

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi: Five thought-provoking panels to catch

Updated 29 February 2024

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi: Five thought-provoking panels to catch

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi is welcoming cultural leaders from around the world to the sixth edition of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi.

Taking place from March 3-5, this year’s edition is titled “A Matter of Time,” and will take place at Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Organized by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, the summit will bring together thought leaders, artists and culture specialists to share inspiring stories, case studies and world perspectives.

Visitors can register their interest on the summit’s official website. All sessions will be streamed live on Culture Summit Abu Dhabi’s YouTube channel.

Here we take a look at five thought-provoking panels taking place at the summit:

Keynote speech by Adonis

On the first day of the summit, Syrian poet and essayist Ali Ahmad Said Esber, also known as Adonis, will deliver a keynote speech. He is the author of many collections of poetry and is considered the leader of the modernist movement in contemporary Arabic poetry in the second half of the 20th century. He has been a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature and is the first Arab writer to win the Goethe Prize in 2011.

The speech will be delivered at 9.50 a.m. on Sunday.

Ministerial dialogue

The 2024 edition of the summit will also inaugurate a new series entitled “Ministerial Dialogue,” jointly organized by DCT Abu Dhabi and UNESCO. The platform offers culture ministers the opportunity to share reflections with the global culture and creative sector on the outcomes of UNESCO’s MONDIACULT 2022 summit and how they see their work paving the path towards the 2025 summit. This year’s session will feature Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, and Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, assistant director-general for culture at UNESCO, along with several other ministers from around the world.

The panel will take place on Monday at 10 a.m.

Creative conversation with Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wole Soyinka

Famed Nigerian playwright and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wole Soyinka will be in conversation with Manthia Diawara, professor in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Soyinka was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature for “a wide cultural perspective and poetic overtones fashioning the drama of existence.”

The conversation will take place on Sunday at 10.40 a.m.

Creative conversation on Batman

Abu Dhabi Film and Television Commissioner Hans Fraikin will be in conversation with film producer Michael E. Uslan, popularly known as the “father of the modern Batman.” He will be joined by son and producer David Uslan as they look back at the history of the series.

The session will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Panel on artificial intelligence

The hot button topic of the moment, artificial intelligence, will also get its time in the spotlight as industry experts answer the question: “Is the journey of AI worth the cost of human creativity?” Speakers including Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of The Recording Academy; Hans Fraikin, Abu Dhabi Film and Television commissioner; Cathy Hackl, prominent tech futurist and emerging tech executive; and Tom Wainwright, tech and media editor at The Economist, will take part in the panel.

The discussion will take place on Monday at 2.35 p.m.

Thousands of artists ask Venice Biennale to exclude Israel

Updated 29 February 2024

Thousands of artists ask Venice Biennale to exclude Israel

ROME: Almost 9,000 people, including artists, curators and museum directors, have signed an online appeal calling for Israel to be excluded from this year's Venice Biennale art fair and accusing the country of “genocide” in Gaza.

Israel has been facing mounting international criticism, including in the arts world, over its military offensive in the Palestinian enclave, which happened after an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel.

“Any official representation of Israel on the international cultural stage is an endorsement of its policies and of the genocide in Gaza,” said the online statement by the Art Not Genocide Alliance (ANGA) collective.

ANGA said the Venice Biennale had previously banned South Africa over its apartheid policy of white minority rule, and excluded Russia after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the appeal was an “unacceptable, as well as shameful ... diktat of those who believe they are the custodians of truth, and with arrogance and hatred, think they can threaten freedom of thought and creative expression.”

He said in a statement that Israel “not only has the right to express its art, but also the duty to bear witness to its people” after being attacked by “merciless terrorists.”

The Venice Biennale press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Signatories of the appeal include Palestine Museum US director Faisal Saleh, activist US photographer Nan Goldin and British visual artist Jesse Darling, who won last year’s Turner Prize.

Dubbed the “Olympics of the art world,” the Biennale is one of the main events in the international arts calendar. This year’s edition, “Foreigners Everywhere,” is due to host pavilions from 90 countries between April 20 and Nov. 24.

Third edition of AlUla Arts Festival champions public art and cross-cultural dialogue 

Updated 29 February 2024

Third edition of AlUla Arts Festival champions public art and cross-cultural dialogue 

  • The festival showcases AlUla as a global and regional destination for art and culture  

ALULA: Positioned outside Madrasat Addeera — a former girls’ school in AlUla that has been turned into a creative arts center — are creations by five design practices, the results of the first AlUla Design Residency.  

Hall Haus, a creative collective from France, took inspiration from the traditional Arabic majlis for its giant modular sand-colored sofa, entitled “Haus Dari.” “Peculiar Erosians,” meanwhile, is a series of sculptural works by another French designer, Leo Orta, that were inspired by the mud-brick architecture of AlUla and the geology of the region. And Saudi artist Leen Ajlan created her modular seating area, “Takki,” from reclaimed wood and was inspired by regional boardgames, popular in the evenings in AlUla, such as jackaroo, backgammon and carrom. The two other works are “Surface!” from Bahrain-based design studio bahraini-danish, and “From Debris” by Studio Raw Material from India. 

Leen Ajlan's 'Takki' on show at the Design Residency Exhibition. (Lorenzo Arrigoni/ Supplied)

Together, the works form “Unguessed Kinships,” an exhibition curated by Ali Ismail Karimi, which runs until April 30.  

“For the duration of a period from the end of October 2023 to the end of January 2024 these designers have been based in AlUla exploring materiality, objects, furniture and the ways in which design mediates public space,” Karimi told Arab News. “Of course, during the residency a series of conversations came up on the role of design in a place like AlUla and within the larger vision for Saudi Arabia in this moment and the conversations led us to the way design objects act as mediators between different unities and different publics from around the world, Saudi Arabia, and the wider Middle East, coming to AlUla and interacting.” 

“Unguessed Kinships” is one of several exhibitions taking place during the third edition of the AlUla Arts Festival, which runs until March 2, and which immerses visitors in a vibrant showcase of visual and public art and design throughout the ancient city. 

Highlights include the return of the international open-air art exhibition Desert X AlUla, and two exhibitions of Saudi artist Manal AlDowayan’s work that form part of the pre-opening program for Wadi AlFann, a new “cultural destination.” 

Elsewhere there is AlUla 1445, an outdoor exhibition of typically vibrant photographs taken by Moroccan pop artist Hassan Hajjaj of residents of AlUla, including farmers, sports teams, merchants, craftspeople and the creative community, taken in February last year.  

Hassan Hajjaj's 'AlUla 1445.' (Supplied)

And this year’s festival includes is the first public showing of Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi’s Ithra Art Prize-winning piece, “Palms in Eternal Embrace,” which explores what Alsafi calls “the dialogue about the deeper relationship between the landscape and humanity.” The work, staged in AlUla’s AlJadidah Arts District, is a site-specific installation comprising 30 palm trunks intricately woven together using a diverse array of locally sourced organic or recycled textiles in collaboration with local artisans. The work encourages viewers to reflect on ways to safeguard the natural environment and the endangered palm trees.  

The first of the two exhibitions of the work of Manal AlDowayan, who will also represent Saudi Arabia at the Venice Biennale this year, marks the lead-up to her monumental new land art commission “Oasis of Stories” (also the name of the exhibition), a large-scale labyrinthine installation inspired by AlUla’s Old Town, which will be permanently placed in the desert around AlUla from 2026. It features hundreds of drawings gathered from the artist’s participatory workshops with communities across AlUla. The drawings and stories will eventually be inscribed into the walls of “Oasis of Stories.” The second exhibition, “Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths,” examines AlDowayan’s practice and the recent inspiration she has derived from AlUla.  

The festival also marks the opening of Design Space AlUla in the AlJadidah Arts District, a focal point for AlUla’s wide-ranging design initiatives, and a major contribution to the vision that AlUla will become a global destination for art and culture. 

Hall Haus's 'Haus Dari' from the Design Residency Exhibition. (Lorenzo Arrigoni/ Supplied)

The event also presents the results of the annual AlUla Visual Arts Residency in “The Shadow Over Everything,” curated by Maryam Bilal. The show transfroms Mabiti’s palm grove into an outdoor experiential exhibition featuring works by artists from across the world. 

“We created the residency so that it becomes the source for our longer-term projects, such as the museums,” Arnaud Morand, head of innovation and creation at the French Agency for AlUla Development, said. “It is a way for us to create a laboratory of contemporary creation that will feed the other long-term projects. 

“We are also trying to identify talent through the residency that could be invited afterwards to pursue research into more ambitious commissions, whether for museum pieces to feed our collection strategy, or public art strategy, or otherwise,” he added.  

Works on view at “The Shadow Over Everything” include an installation/performance artwork by Emirati artist Maitha Abdalla titled “If…to be born,” which consists of mud sculptures and a live performance that delves into Arab folklore and myth.  

And in the dazzling, mirror-clad Maraya Concert Hall “More than Meets the Eye,” an exhibition of contemporary works of art by Saudi artits on loan from collectors across Saudi Arabia, is intended to “re-canonize the history of contemporary art movements in Saudi Arabia, documenting the story of artists and the role of collectors in the development of the art scene,” according to a press statement. 

Curated by Dr. Effat Abdullah Fadag, the exhibition presents key works by pioneering Saudi artists including Abdulhalim Radwi, Mohammed Alsaleem and Mounirah Mously alongside leading contemporary artists from the Kingdom such as Ahmed Mater, Muhannad Shono and Dana Awartani. The exhibition showcases works that have rarely been presented to the public.