Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 

Experimental film photographer Abdullah Alhumaid has produced a piece of work called “Rats of Bat’ha,” a project capturing daily life in a Riyadh neighborhood. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Saudi artist Abdullah Alhumaid puts Riyadh street life in the frame 

  • Abdullah Alhumaid drives film photography’s revival at the crest of a wave of creative potential in the Kingdom
  • The experimental film photographer’s ‘Rats of Bat’ha’ project captures daily life in one Riyadh neighborhood

DUBAI: Experimental film photographer Abdullah Alhumaid is not your average 25-year-old Saudi. His creative journey, which began unexpectedly on the streets of Beirut, has flourished, resulting in “Rats of Bat’ha,” a project capturing daily life in a Riyadh neighborhood.

In the age of smartphones and Instagram filters, old-fashioned film photography is a dying art — limited by a finite roll of film and the patience required to develop it. But Alhumaid’s eye-opening work could provide the flash of inspiration needed for a wider comeback.

“The experimental experience started at the beginning of 2018 when I was going for a quick trip to Beirut,” Alhumaid told Arab News. “Two hours before my flight, I met a friend who had a film camera, which I had never operated. I borrowed it for the trip to experiment and to see how it goes.”

What stuck with Alhumaid after his trip were interactions with Beiruti locals who became his photographic subjects. While convincing them to shed their inhibitions and pose for portraits, he too was coaxed out of his comfort zone. Something had clicked.

“It was surprisingly beautiful, given I’d never operated a camera before, especially a film one, which was not at the top of my list,” he said. “The interactions were breathtaking — I allowed myself to interfere with people’s daily lives and tried to put them on the spot.”

Although many of his subjects were hesitant at first, the process of persuading them was central to Alhumaid’s experience, from careful first impressions to the questions he posed to put them at ease.

“It’s not about nagging, because that’s not comfortable,” he said. “I got to interact with different types of people, including homeless people, and got to know their stories. It’s about connecting in a human way. And when you open up to them, that gives you a worthwhile experience that you wouldn’t normally think of.”

Unfortunately, his first roll of film was damaged, erasing his earliest work. His second shoot, however, proved far more successful thanks to some valuable tips from an experienced Beirut photographer who took him under his wing.




Although many of his subjects were hesitant at first, the process of persuading them was central to Alhumaid’s experience. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

The end result is Alhumaid’s signature style of moody city snapshots, many of them employing the sharp dualities of light and shadow, while others mesh urban straight lines with a blur of motion. The dated quality of film lends the images a hue of nostalgia.

“What I love about the film camera is that you’re not attached to the results,” he said. “You don’t see results immediately, so you’re not distracted by the tool; rather you’re inspired to be in the moment and to place your focus on the interaction.

“You only get 36 images, so you’ll be pickier and more aware of what you shoot because you don’t want to waste your whole film on one subject.”

In the age of digital photography, where pictures can be captured, cropped, retouched and deleted faster than you can say cheese, it is surprising to see old film cameras making a comeback in modern Saudi Arabia.

However, there are now very few stores in the Kingdom fitted with darkrooms to develop rolls of film — just one in all of Riyadh in fact. As a result, Alhumaid is on the lookout for like-minded shutterbugs who want to rebuild the industry.

Al-Bat’ha is one of the oldest commercial districts of downtown Riyadh — increasingly diverse and always buzzing. In October 2018, after returning from Beirut, Alhumaid made this distinctive neighborhood his source of inspiration.

“It is unfortunately left behind, and now only expats live there,” Alhumaid said. “It used to be the downtown of Riyadh. Going there and seeing the contrast we live in, in terms of bubbles we create for ourselves, was mesmerizing — the simplicity, the colors, the fruits, the expats, and how they were shocked at how we were taking photos of them. It was lovely to touch base with the city.”

It was here Alhumaid framed the idea for “Rats of Bat’ha.” And in case you were wondering, he and his shoot team are the eponymous rats, weaving through the urban maze with rodent-like curiosity, he says.

“Al-Bat’ha is the street that pushed me again to take this passion forward and keep it as a funnel feeding itself with simplicity,” he told Arab News. “I didn’t want to plan anything; I wanted everything to be spontaneous and take it everywhere.”

And that he did. From Japan, Portugal, Versailles in France, and everywhere else his photography has taken him, Alhumaid has tried to connect with local street life by capturing people on film. In the process, he said he has evolved.




From Japan, Portugal, Versailles in France, and everywhere else his photography has taken him, Alhumaid has tried to connect with local street life by capturing people on film. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

Born and raised in Riyadh in a conservative household of academics and consultants, Alhumaid feels blessed to have grown up without technology. “They forbid it, not just because of religion, but because of how much it consumes you,” he said of his parents.

“And I’m grateful for that, because they allowed us the space to create, to generate ideas and to work with what you have so it reflects your intellect.”

As such, his five siblings ended up in fashion design, psychology, French literature, law and medicine. “It’s derived from not having a TV,” he said. “These elements played a role.”

After a six-month stint playing for Al-Shabab football club, Alhumaid’s interest turned to Riyadh’s art scene, which was burgeoning in 2013. There he met a whole new community. After working in Dubai for a short period with Careem Wallet, he moved back to Saudi Arabia in July 2019 and enrolled at the Misk Art Institute, in collaboration with the palace of Versailles.

“We went to Versailles for five weeks and it was unbelievable,” he said. “I worked in the cultural development department, where we did this program to attract Saudi tourists to Versailles, given that the smallest number of visitors come from the Middle East and the GCC.”




Alhumaid is continuing to build his photography portfolio and someday hopes to feature his work in local and international exhibitions. (Supplied/Abdullah Alhumaid)

After completing his program, he worked in the brand team of the Al-Musafer travel agency in the Kingdom for seven months, before an opportunity with the content team at the Saudi Tourism Authority presented itself.

“We work with international agencies from New York and London in terms of development and content creation. I’m only six months in and I’m just ecstatic,” Alhumaid said.

“It’s beautiful, because we see the country opening up and people changing their behavior and their misconceptions. We, as a society, have so much to offer.”

In the meantime, Alhumaid is continuing to build his photography portfolio and someday hopes to feature his work in local and international exhibitions. Luckily for him, a great wave of creative potential is cresting in Saudi Arabia, bringing with it whole new industries in art, music and film.

“Some people started their own production houses, studying abroad and coming back to the country,” Alhumaid said. “Saudi Arabia is booming now more than ever — tourists have started visiting and that’s how you learn from each other, by being exposed.

“It doesn’t help anyone to be divided. And that’s how we move forward, as the bad apples start changing their behavior.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek

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Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

  • Nusuk will organize the entire process, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights
  • Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a new unified government platform on Monday through which pilgrims can plan and book their visits to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

With Nusuk, travelers from all over the world can easily organize their entire visit to the Kingdom, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights.

The platform provides a wide range of services and information for pilgrims and visitors that enable them to perform their Umrah rituals easily. It is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives to better the quality of services provided and enrich the religious and cultural experience of pilgrims.

Nusuk is being launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority, and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website “Visit Saudi Arabia” with the aim of enriching pilgrim experiences and facilitating reservation and communication procedures to provide them with various packages and programs.

Those wishing to perform Umrah will be able to use Nusuk to obtain the necessary visas and permits and book packages and programs electronically.

A range of other services will be added to the platform at a later stage and these will include interactive maps, a calendar for offers and activities, a digital instruction guide in several languages, and health information and services.

The Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage.

The Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah explained that the Nusuk platform is an extension of continuous efforts to improve the quality of services provided to pilgrims using the latest technology.

He added that the platform is a result of several government agencies coming together to facilitate pilgrim procedures with the aim of enriching their spiritual journey.


Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

  • ‘The indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate’: Prince Faisal bin Farhan
  • ‘We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict, but if we have to defend ourselves we will’

RIYADH: The truce in Yemen must be extended, but the actions of the Houthi militia seem to indicate they do not want to lengthen the ceasefire beyond its expiry, the Saudi foreign minister said on Friday.

“We think it must be extended. However, the signs are not positive at this point,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan. “Unfortunately, the indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate in an extension.”

He said the Iran-backed militia had failed to fulfil the commitments of the current agreement, and have now put forward demands that are unreasonable.

“I am very concerned by these developments because we will lose the momentum,” he added. “We are fully engaged with the UN representative and with others who are trying to convince the Houthis to extend the truce. Right now, the indications are worrying.”

A truce between the Houthis and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen was brokered by the UN in April and is set to end on Oct. 2. 

The truce has brought a semblance of normality for Yemenis, and has enabled the government to begin providing more services to the public.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, chairman of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, said diplomacy has been wasted on the Houthis, who have repeatedly disregarded their treaty commitments.

Prince Faisal said the truce had created the possibility for wider peace in Yemen. “We have an opportunity here to build on a truce to work towards a permanent ceasefire, towards political dialogue. It is hard for me to understand why the Houthis would turn this down,” he said, adding that the militia’s proposals indicate “that they are looking for an excuse.”

The build-up of armaments as well as probing attacks on the frontlines by Houthi fighters indicate that they are seriously considering not renewing the truce, he told France 24 in New York.

When asked if war was back on the horizon in Yemen, he said: “Unfortunately, this seems to be what the Houthis want.”

The foreign minister reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, but said his country will do what is needed to defend its people if the Houthis return to hostilities.

“We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict. We are committed primarily to a truce but, of course, if we have to defend ourselves we will,” he said.

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Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

  • US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US officials discussed energy security on Friday.

Brett McGurk, US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, and Amos Hochstein, senior advisor for energy security, met the crown prince in Jeddah.
They also discussed “investment in the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They and US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking also discussed the latest developments in Yemen.
The US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia during the war in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, mediation sponsored by the crown prince led to the release of 10 prisoners from various countries as part of an exchange of captives.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the mediation was part of the crown prince’s efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives toward the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan confirmed on Friday that the crown prince had engaged directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the prisoners’ release.


Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

Updated 23 September 2022

Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

  • Traditional dress encouraged for music, folklore shows
  • Popular local and Arab singers to perform live

The marking of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day comes at a momentous time in the nation’s history because of its remarkable journey of transformation and development.

Citizens and residents alike will be celebrating over the course of the week to come, with events paying homage to the Kingdom’s heritage, art and culture.

Riyadh

Riyadh is set to celebrate Saudi National Day with a range of events and activities including music, theater and a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show.

Night view of the national capital, Riyadh. (SPA)

In preparation, the capital city’s main roads have been bedecked with hundreds of green national flags.

The sky will light up with fireworks in front of Al-Thaghr Plaza on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will have an acrobatics display with jets and civilian aircraft that can be viewed from Um Ajlan Park on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Royal Guard will conduct a parade at Riyadh Front to the tune of the national anthem played by a military band, ahead of a procession of classic cars on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Admission is free to the fireworks display, airshow and Royal Guard parade.

The Saudi Hawks rehearse for the 92nd Saudi National Day celebrations in Riyadh. (SPA)

In addition, Jump Saudi will host a two-day showjumping competition. Tickets are SR57.50 ($15.30) and can be obtained online through Riyadh Platinum or Enjoy Saudi via the General Entertainment Authority website. The event will take place on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

This year, the national circus is presenting a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show entitled “The Wealth of a Nation” at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University theater from Sept. 21 to 24 from 8 p.m. to 12 midnight.

Arab musicians Ahlam and Abady Al-Johar will perform on Sept. 23 at Abo Baker Salim stage from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight.

The Ministry of Interior is organizing its own festivities under the slogan “The Pride of The Nation” at Riyadh Front from Sept. 21 to 24. The event will also feature a live orchestra and 12 interactive pavilions.

A festival will be held at the Diplomatic Quarter’s Grassy Park from Sept. 21 to 24, which will include heritage shows, handicrafts displays, a dancing fountain, action games for children and food stalls.

The AMC-2 theater auditorium is set to feature a live 90-minute stand-up comedy show on Sept. 22 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with three international acts alongside a Saudi performer.

Jeddah

The General Entertainment Authority has organized several events for Jeddah’s citizens and residents to mark the country’s 92nd National Day celebrations, including fireworks, air and marine military shows, music concerts, and interactive festivals.

The city’s coastline will be lit up with a massive, seven-minute fireworks show on Sept. 23 at the Jeddah Season carpark area, which is expected to be seen from any location in the city. This show will coincide with 17 other similar displays around the country.

For three days, from Sept. 18 to 20, Jeddah residents can enjoy an airshow near the Hilton Hotel on the corniche, beginning from 4:30 p.m. This will also be the location for a marine show on Sept. 23.

Jeddawis can also enjoy a military parade at 5 p.m. on national day organized by the Ministry of Interior at the Jeddah Art Promenade. The venue will also see fireworks displays from 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade area will feature a light-and-sound display on Sept. 23. There will also be a Saudi folklore show from 6 p.m. to midnight on Sept. 22, 23 and 24. Moreover, there will be “Layali Watan” events and activities held over the same period.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade will feature a Mosaic Wall with various pieces of art on Sept. 22, 23 and 24, showcasing the history of the Kingdom.

The promenade will also have a National Day Corner, with a Photography Kiosk and an exclusive show for children on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

The venue will have several music concerts, with Saud Sanan performing on Thursday Sept. 23, female singer Dukhuon on the same day, and Ahmed Ashour on Sept. 24.

Egyptian singer Angham and her compatriot Ahmed Saad will perform at Benchmark Theatre on King’s Road at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 24. According to the Ticketing Box Office website, all VVIP tickets have been sold.

There will also be festivals held from 5 p.m. to midnight at the city’s Prince Majed Park, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Eastern Province

The Eastern Province has a series of fun events for all ages to celebrate the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day including live performances, fireworks, and marine and air shows.

King Abdullah Park in Dammam is set to host a four-day celebration from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight, featuring a variety of festivities including folkloric dances and fountain shows.

During the celebrations, performers will roam through the park dressed in traditional attire. There will be several action games and giveaways for families. The event is free and open to children of all ages.

Families are encouraged to dress up in traditional attire for the events throughout the week.

Dammam will host the annual fireworks show that will be visible from the corniche on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. Admission is free and open to all ages.

Eighteen cities across the Kingdom will feature fireworks displays simultaneously with Dammam including Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha, Tabuk and Al-Ahsa.

Nearby Alkhobar will also be hosting a marine show led by the Royal Naval Forces. The show will take place on Sept. 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the corniche.

Following the marine show, the corniche seafront will hold an airshow from Sept. 25 to 26 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In addition, King Abdullah Cultural Center in Jubail will hold live concerts featuring some of the most popular regional performers including Moudi Alshamrani, Sultan Khalifa, Shamma Hamdan and Khadijah Moath, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Children will not be allowed to attend the concerts. Tickets are available on the Enjoy Saudi website.

Southern and Northern regions

The southern and northern regions of the Kingdom are preparing to celebrate the 92nd National Day on Sept. 23 with various shows and concerts including “A Homeland Salute” by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

On Sept. 23 from 9 p.m., a massive five-minute fireworks display will be held across several cities.

In Jouf, north of the Kingdom, Sakaka’s residents will be able to gather at King Abdullah Cultural Center to watch the show.

In the Northern Borders region, spectators in Arar can see it at the city’s Water Tower Park.

In the southwest, it can be enjoyed in Al-Nahdah district in Najran, while in Abha in Asir they can do so at Sama Abha Park.

The activities include air and marine shows.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will perform for 10 days with Typhoon, F-15, Tornado, and F-15C fighter jets across 14 cities. The show is titled “A Homeland Salute,” to celebrate the country’s achievements under its leadership.

In Abha, the airshow will be held at Abha Airport Park on Sept. 22 and 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Various festivals with folklore dances, games and handicrafts will be held at several public parks from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight.

People in the north can celebrate at Al-Nakheel Park in Sakaka, and in Al-Refa District in Arar.

Those commemorating the day in the south can participate at Sama Abha Park in Abha, and Aba Al-Rashash Park in Najran.

Prominent artists are set to perform on the occasion. In Abha, a concert by Mohamed Abdo, led by Maestro Walid Fayed, will be held at Talal Maddah Theatre on Sept. 24.


Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

Updated 22 September 2022

Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

BALI: Saudi Commerce Minister Majid Al-Qasabi met Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan on Thursday on the sidelines of the G-20 trade, investment and industry working group meeting in Bali.

The two sides agreed on a road map, with periodic follow-ups, for boosting trade exchanges between the two countries, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ministers also discussed ways to enhance and support the business sector to aid the development of trade relations, and ways to take advantage of the opportunities available in the two countries and turn them into tangible partnerships.