Highlights from the fifth annual Saudi Design Week

Art of heritage pieces. (Supplied)
Updated 11 October 2018

Highlights from the fifth annual Saudi Design Week

  • Saudi design week showcased a variety of different designers and artists

DUBAI: Saudi Design Week wrapped up last week and offered visitors a wealth of innovative creations. We picked out some of our favorites just in case you missed the show.

The theme of Saudi Design Week this year was “Sustainability in Design.” While each exhibitor interpreted that concept in their own way, Desert Designs was already a natural fit. The Khobar-based company creates upcycled homeware and —  for Design Week —  focused on using “heritage and heirloom pieces,” including a wooden door that the designers transformed into a glass-topped coffee table.

The Saudi Arabian luxury fashion brand uses traditional techniques including embroidery and sadu to create its womenswear, in keeping with its mission to “celebrate culture and preserve craftsmanship” in contemporary design. It’s feminine take on the farwa —  originally an oversized coat worn by desert nomads in the winter, adapted by Abadia for “the contemporary global woman,” is its most celebrated garment.

This beautifully crafted take on the traditional Khaleeji zamzamiah water canteen comes from Jeddah-based Efreez Studio. The designers claim that this version, handmade from red clay, is a healthy option, being free of the “harmful lead and chemicals found in the majority of plastic water bottles.” Each piece, the studio claims, is unique, thanks to the handcrafted top section, and the fact that this “mix of functional art and hydration” is made on a potter’s wheel and corked means it fits well with the sustainability theme of Design Week.

A Design Week veteran, Kabli —  an “interior architect” —  creates furniture with a twist. Sometimes literally. The main concept behind her “Kappa” collection, she has said, is “to present the beauty of geometric design by creating harmony and illusion of movement.”

Old Castle founder Amal bint Bandar Alsudairy combines her love of art, antiques and design in her contemporary homeware and furniture pieces. Her design is predominantly based, she says, on “modern arabesque.” Alsudairy is currently studying for a master’s degree in architectural design.

Riyadh-based Art of Heritage displayed handmade pottery and gifts from its non-profit organization Yadawy, so all the pieces are created by Saudi Arabian women with physical disabilities, all are unique, and all are stamped and signed by their makers, some of whom are now able to make a living from their art.

Bouzo is one of the co-founders of Saudi Design Week, and interpreted the ‘sustainability’ theme to mean “sustaining our heritage” as well as using sustainable materials. As such, her eye-catching miniatures are recreations of historical Islamic art painted on reclaimed wood and recycled material.

It might look like a fancy food blender or juicer, but Nota Nota is actually a machine that allows users to design their own perfume. Created by Saudi Arabian entrepreneur Abdullah Bahabri, Nota Nota comes with its own app (of course it does), which enables users to share their fragrant (or not) recipes with others. Earlier this summer, talking about his creation to Kawa News, Bahabri said, “In Arabia, perfume has been part of the culture for centuries. The famous scent codes are built on oudh, particularly. And nowadays French perfumery is also very common in Saudi, people do love to wear both French perfume and scents that come from the region.”

Ranin Kurdi and Sufanah Dairi create handmade wooden art that draws inspiration from their Arabic and Islamic heritage, with influences including calligraphy, particularly Kufic design. Their machine-free craftsmanship results in striking pieces of art that rely heavily on history while retaining a modern touch.


Johnny Depp walks the red carpet at ‘Jeanne Du Barry’ Red Sea Film Fest premiere 

Updated 01 December 2023

Johnny Depp walks the red carpet at ‘Jeanne Du Barry’ Red Sea Film Fest premiere 

JEDDAH : Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp on Friday walked the red carpet at the Red Sea International Film Festival for the regional premiere of his film “Jeanne Du Barry.”

The actor wore a black suit as he posed for pictures on the red carpet. 

French director Maïwenn’s period drama features the director as the titular 18th Century courtesan Madame du Barry opposite Depp, who plays King Louis XV. The director also hit the carpet at the Red Sea Mall.

Mohammed Al-Turki and Johnny Depp. (Huda Bashatah)

RSIFF provided post-production support for the period drama, marking the first time the foundation co-produced a French movie. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May. 

On Thursday, Depp attended the opening night of the festival alongside US star Will Smith, US actress Michelle Williams, German actress Diane Kruger, Lebanese songstress Maya Diab, Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio, Saudi singer Aseel Omran — among many more — it was an affair to remember.

The glittering event kicked off with a gala screening of Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri’s “HWJN,” which is based on a YA novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas. Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of a kind-hearted jinn — an invisible entity in Islamic tradition — as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage.

French director Maïwenn’s period drama features the director as the titular 18th Century courtesan Madame du Barry opposite Depp, who plays King Louis XV. (Huda Bashatah)

This year’s celebrity-studded festival jury is presided over by director Baz Luhrmann, joined by Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (“Suicide Squad”); Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Egyptian actor Amina Khalil (“Grand Hotel”) and Spain’s Paz Vega (“Sex and Lucía,” “The OA”). 

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures. 

The theme of year’s festival is “Your Story, Your Festival.”

Visitors to compose their own symphony of lights at Noor Riyadh 2023

Updated 01 December 2023

Visitors to compose their own symphony of lights at Noor Riyadh 2023

RIYADH: From Nov. 30 to Dec. 16, Noor Riyadh, the largest annual light art festival in the world, returns for its third edition, boasting 120 large-scale works from 100 contemporary artists from over 35 countries.

The festival lets every visitor follow the map to glowing artworks within each location, with pieces spread not just across Riyadh, but throughout the landscapes of the five main festival hubs: King Abdullah Financial District, Salam Park, Wadi Hanifa, Wadi Namar, and Jax District.

“For us, it’s very important that people in Riyadh feel like this is their festival. The main purpose of it is to be part of the fabric of Riyadh … It’s to make the city vibrant, beautiful, and relevant to the citizens and residents,” Miguel Blanco-Carrasco, adviser at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City and Riyadh Art, told Arab News.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 16, every Riyadh resident will get a chance to forge a path for their own story using illuminating artworks from across the globe. (Arab News)

After running over 20,000 surveys across the Saudi populace, the team found that Riyadh’s citizens and residents preferred a more concise experience.

Nouf Almoneef, director of the festival, told Arab News: “Last year, a lot of people didn’t get the chance to go to the other locations …We want accessibility for everyone.”

Their approach was to create a contained, yet conspicuous experience: last year’s 40 locations became the five main hubs, each containing over 15 artworks, and some partnering activations in other areas.

Berlin-based French-Swiss artist Julian Charriere’s artwork “Vertigo.” (Arab News)

“Our mission is to transform the city to a gallery without walls … We’re building this legacy for artists to grow and show their works internationally. Our aim is to highlight our artists and the festival globally and for the people to also come and visit,” Almoneef said.

What truly marks out the festival is its strong curatorial narrative which leaves visitors to build a narrative out of the existing pieces placed across Riyadh.

Jerome Sans, co-founder of Palais de Tokyo in Paris and lead curator of this year’s festival, said: “We invented this as a symphony with different acts. You can take it in any order.

“Here for example, in KAFD, the story starts in the city — from mineral to nature; from the Financial District to the door of the desert, or vice versa. Salam Park is a way for us modern people to create our own garden, to shape it, but then there’s a real nature in itself. So we create all different flavors and steps where you can go from one to the other.”

Sans, supported by curators Pedro Alonzo, Fahad bin Naif, and Alaa Tarabzouni, took six months in curation to orchestrate a symphonic storyline within the city’s multifaceted landscape.

Nouf Almoneef, director of the festival said: “Last year, a lot of people didn’t get the chance to go to the other locations … We want accessibility for everyone.” (Arab News)

On the theme, the lead curator noted that desertification is a growing issue globally, not just within Riyadh, which is located in the heart of the Nafud desert. The theme “Bright Side of the Desert Moon” contemplates the light within the arid.

Like the moon, the hubs physically circle Riyadh. As visitors approach each location, they create a celebratory cross-city bonfire marked by gleaming artworks. 

For Sans, the concise number of locations act as members of the “family,” bringing the festival to a much more human scale and “easier for everyone to understand.”

For Bjornstjerne Christiansen, one of the three founders of Copenhagen-based collective SUPERFLEX, the theme lay close to the group’s way of thinking as an expanded collective, that “we need to change our behavior and perspective, and we believe we can do that through art,” he told Arab News.

Public art is an important aspect of SUPERFLEX’s work, bringing unique projects to corners of the globe, like the famous Superkilen Park in Denmark with works from 80 nationalities, The Bank urban park in UAE’s Sharjah, a projection on the UN headquarters in New York City, and many others.

SUPERFLEX’s artwork “Vertical Migration” explores territories buried within the depths of the sea projected on a high-rise building in KAFD. (Arab News)

Noor Riyadh, under the umbrella of Riyadh Art, aims to create space for the city’s populace to engage with art in a much more dynamic way. It strays away from confining the works merely within an art space and incorporates them within everyday locations, such as KAFD, a home to many corporate buildings and popular dining spots, and Salam Park, where families go to picnic and play.

SUPERFLEX’s artwork “Vertical Migration” explores territories buried within the depths of the sea projected on a high-rise building in KAFD. It highlights the importance of understanding the ocean’s health through a siphonophore, a creature that comes in trillions every night from the bottom to the surface to clean.

“It’s very beautiful but has a lot of layers of politics in it. And that’s the good thing about art: you can look at it as beauty or aesthetics while also having many layers,” Christiansen said.

Saudi artist Dur Kattan’s “Closer than They Appear” is a collection of approximately 400 car side mirrors, using the blindspot within them as a metaphor for people’s collective blindness to our own humanity.

“In a city like Riyadh, things are very busy. It’s amazing, all these changes that are happening, but you also have to somehow ground yourself and find time to reflect on yourself, your own blindspots, and that will basically protect you from crashing,” Kattan told Arab news.

Kattan is an emerging artist whose contribution to the festival becomes her second showcase after her debut in the exhibition “Heartache” by Very Public earlier this year. While the festival hosts big-name international artists like Yayoi Kusama, it also acts as a platform for younger contemporary names to surface.

Noor Riyadh has become a staple event in the city’s events calendar, the success of which was made possible by “these amazing, talented (artists) and the teams behind the festival” as well as the interaction of the public, Almoneef said.

New Zealand brings ‘Miles from Nowhere’ to Red Sea International Film Festival   

Updated 01 December 2023

New Zealand brings ‘Miles from Nowhere’ to Red Sea International Film Festival   

JEDDAH: The latest production from New Zealand film company Homegrown Pictures will be unveiled at the third edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, which runs until Dec. 9. 

“Miles from Nowhere” tells the story of Said, a young Muslim living in Auckland, who forms a dangerous friendship with the Security Intelligence Service agent spying on him and risks his whole community to fulfil his dreams. 

Using dark comedy, it explores the immigrant experience of Arab families in New Zealand’s multicultural neighborhoods. 

Homegrown Pictures is joined by two other leading New Zealand film companies, NHNZ Worldwide and Greenstone, which are also set to make their debut appearances at the festival. 

Julie Christie, CEO of NHNZ Worldwide — an Emmy-winning, specialist factual documentary production company — will attend the festival to “build on (the company’s) extensive relationships and collaborations in the region.” 

Greenstone, which is growing its programs and partnerships in the Middle East, is working to take stories about and from the region out into the world. 

Barney Riley, New Zealand’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “We are thrilled to have Homegrown Pictures, NHNZ Worldwide, and Greenstone representing New Zealand at the Saudi Red Sea International Film Festival for the first time. 

“Their presence demonstrates the quality and diversity of New Zealand’s film and television industry. We are proud to support our homegrown talents as they take their creative works to a global audience.”

Amjad Al-Rasheed on ‘Inshallah A Boy’ and the future of Arab cinema 

Updated 01 December 2023

Amjad Al-Rasheed on ‘Inshallah A Boy’ and the future of Arab cinema 

  • The Jordanian filmmaker’s acclaimed debut feature premieres regionally at RSIFF this week 

DUBAI: It’s been more than six months since Jordanian filmmaker Amjad Al-Rasheed took the stage to accept the Rail d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and the world still can’t stop talking about his first feature, “Inshallah a Boy.”  

Filled with pointed criticism of modern Jordanian society, the film has become an early favorite for a 2024 Academy Award nomination, bolstered by big wins at festivals across the world. Now, at the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, the film is finally set to premiere in the region. 

Looking at the field of films from the Arab world debuting at the third edition of the festival, Al-Rasheed is proud not only of how far Arab cinema has come, but of how that progress has allowed so many filmmakers to dive deeper into the intricacies of the multi-faceted region. It’s also a moment to highlight just how significant Saudi Arabia has become to the region’s industry—as “Inshallah a Boy” is one of a number of films screening this year that was backed by the Red Sea Fund.  

“This is a very exciting moment for Arab cinema — and it really feels like we finally have something we can call ‘Arab cinema.’ I say that because no single country is dominating the field. There are so many powerful voices coming out of Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. We each have different personalities, different cultures, different struggles, but we have so much in common. It’s incredible that we finally have a chance to tell our stories, and have the power to lift up each other’s voices,” Al-Rasheed tells Arab News.  

“Inshallah a Boy” follows a young widow who discovers that the death of her husband is only the start of her troubles. The law, she is told, says her husband’s brother can take half her house and more, and the brother intends to collect what tradition says is his. There is, however, a loophole: If she is pregnant, and gives birth to a son by her late husband, the inheritance is fully theirs. So she concocts a lie, forges documents, and buys herself some time before the walls close in on her any further.  

“Inshallah a Boy” follows a young widow who discovers that the death of her husband is only the start of her troubles. (Supplied)

“I began with a question — and it was a question inspired by a situation a close relative of mine found herself in that is very similar to what the main character is experiencing,” Al-Rasheed says. “She explained it all to me, and I thought to myself, ‘What if she says no to all of these laws and traditions? What if she wants to fight? And how is it possible that we’re still governed by laws created more than a 1000 years ago?’ All of this inspired ‘Inshallah a Boy.’” 

Social commentary in Jordanian cinema, of course can be a tricky proposition. Earlier this year, director Bassel Ghandour’s film “The Alleys” was massively popular when released on Netflix, but quickly stirred huge controversy, with members of parliament going as far as to openly condemn the acclaimed film. While “Inshallah a Boy” was already completed before “The Alleys” began to dominate the national conversation, Al-Rasheed was keenly aware that his own film may generate fierce debate. That was exactly the point.  

“Jordan has a young film industry, and people are still not used to seeing themselves in a mirror — especially if that mirror image is an ugly one. It’s a sensitive audience. There is still no clear understanding that film does not exist to promote, or to make things look beautiful. Cinema is storytelling — it’s expression and point of view. But even if we, as artists, depict a bitter reality, that does not mean we don’t love our country. It just means we want to have an open discussion and ask questions without judgment. I’m not here to provide solutions,” Al-Rasheed states.  

For Al-Rasheed, “Inshallah a Boy” is also a thank you of sorts to the many women who helped make him the man he is today. (Supplied)

“I don’t want to change anything. I don’t believe that an artist even has the power to do so. But we do have the power to start a conversation. If I had the intention to change anything, I’d be a teacher. Cinema can certainly open eyes, but we can’t give it too much credit. If art could change things by itself, we’d be living in a much better world than we are. But we’re not, so it can’t,” he adds with a laugh.  

Even if art doesn’t have the power to rewire society on its own, it can still be a powerful tool. For Al-Rasheed, “Inshallah a Boy” is also a thank you of sorts to the many women who helped make him the man he is today — who shaped his perspective and yet have rarely had their own perspectives represented on screen, especially in the region. 

“I was raised in a family full of women, and I’ve been listening to their stories since I was a little kid. Most of these stories do not reflect well on the male figures in their lives, if I’m being honest. And their stories stayed in my mind, as did the injustices they experienced. I felt I wanted to tell those stories because I felt so connected to them — I can’t tell a story if I don’t have a deep link to it —so there was no choice for me but to make this film,” he says. 

Amjad Al-Rasheed took the stage to accept the Rail d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. (Supplied)

In executing that vision, the only thing that concerned Al-Rasheed was authenticity, because there was no point in telling a story that he felt was so true unless it was true at every level of its depiction. That meant recruiting his two female co-writers — Rula Nasser and Delphine Agut — to be sure that the film was centered on Arab female voices and was thus realistic beyond just his personal perception of those stories. In casting, he focused more on the person auditioning than the way they performed, looking for actresses who matched the characters even unintentionally.  

“I just sat there in the auditions and talked to them about life, society, and the film — arguing with them about the issues at hand. I wanted to understand them as people, and to study their body language — because I could see in the way they moved if they fit the characters,” says Al-Rasheed. 

Now that the film has proven to be a hit across the world, Al-Rasheed is both proud and a little melancholy. As excited as he is to finally generate the conversations he once envisioned, it’s also been hard to say goodbye to the process of making the film, even as he looks forward to the next projects he has in the works as he approaches the next level of success.  

“It’s a mixed feeling. The film is out there, and that means it’s not for me anymore. I can’t control it. It has its own life. It’s for the people. My job is done,” he says. “But that’s part of what I love about what we do. That’s the beauty of cinema.”  

THE BREAKDOWN: Liane Al-Ghusain discusses her conceptual work ‘Womb Amulets’  

Updated 01 December 2023

THE BREAKDOWN: Liane Al-Ghusain discusses her conceptual work ‘Womb Amulets’  

DUBAI: The Kuwait-based artist discusses her conceptual work that forms part of a group show in NIKA Project Space, Dubai, until Jan. 13, 2024.  

Womb Amulets. (Supplied)

I’m fully Palestinian. All my grandparents moved to Kuwait to do nation-building efforts there. I was born in 1987, the year of the First Intifada, and I remember the Second Intifada. I was 13 and I became a woman and a Palestinian at the same time. At that point, the injustice really started coming home to me. Over time, my grandparents entrusted me with more of their memories. My connections to my grandmothers have so much to do with my understanding of Palestine. I was very conscious of their trauma.  

“Womb Amulets” started mostly through experimentation with material. I grew up watching my paternal grandmother cross-stitch and my stitching practice was what brought me back to school to do my MFA. I was curious about how I could stitch into clay and turn it into a kind of amorphous fabric, a stand-in for earth. It became a metaphor for stitching together selfhood, identity, and my place on this planet. I wanted to make an imperfect sphere and stitch it together. The first sphere I made did feel like the womb. It came out pink from the oven, although the clay itself is brown. It was a surprise. 

Each ‘womb’ can fit in your palm. Your fist is supposed to be the size of your heart, so I saw a kind of poetry to that. Most of the works are about two fists together – so they are two sides of my heart. I made the first one to mourn the death of photographer Tarek Al-Ghoussein (in 2022), who was a relative. The ‘wombs’ serve as a boundary between life and death for me. My mentor walked into my studio and said, “This is special. Make more of it.” I went into an assembly-line mentality. 

I wanted to make a thread that melded with the clay so the whole thing felt very organic. Once I started to serialize my artwork, I thought that I could bring attention to the number of prisoners, including children, who are illegally imprisoned. I put their names inside the amulets. 

I wanted them to look vulnerable — it’s a little scary for your organs to be out on display. I put cushions underneath them so that there’s an element of care, and bound them together so that there are instances of universal solidarity, binding us all.