Culture is a giant step ‘toward getting to know each other’ — Jack Lang, president of the Arab World Institute

Jack Lang
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Updated 20 November 2020

Culture is a giant step ‘toward getting to know each other’ — Jack Lang, president of the Arab World Institute

  • Education, schools and the media have an important role to play in combating the confusion between Islam and terrorism.
  • “When we study the history of the Arab world, we see that at many times religions, cultures and peoples have met and been mutually enriched.”

PARIS: Historically a source of discovery and wonder, culture has played a big role in knowing and understanding others. In this regard, the Arab World Institute (AWI), under the chairmanship of Jack Lang, is helping to build a bridge between cultures.
Have the attacks in France changed the outlook of the French toward their compatriots of Arab origin and toward the Arabs? Lang does not think so. “Most citizens are educated, civilized people. They know full well that the crimes perpetrated by terrorists are acts committed by fanatics, by obscurantists, and they know that these murderers invoke religion to justify the unjustifiable.”
For the president of the AWI, most French people know that these “criminals have nothing to do with Muslims.”
Referring to the murder of school teacher Samuel Paty on Oct. 16, Lang, a former education minister, said that he was “deeply hurt, traumatized and shocked by this crime.”
In all circumstances, he said, a teacher is sacred, just like any human being, whatever his or her religion, ethnicity or age.
“The person of a teacher must be sacred, because he is someone who elevates the dignity of his students, who helps to transmit knowledge.”
Education, school and the media have an important role to play in combating the confusion between Islam and terrorism.
“Culture has played and is playing a very important role, especially in certain neighborhoods. A very large number of artists, today very famous, very well- known, creators, painters, musicians, poets, writers and filmmakers come from these neighborhoods where there is a large Muslim representation, and bring their talent and their imagination. We want to say thank you to all these artists and creators who today are fully part of French culture. All the French recognize themselves in them. ”
The AWI and its president are dedicated to promoting the richness of an enlightened Muslim civilization. A few years ago, a successful Hajj-themed exhibition was co-produced with the King Abdul Aziz Library, and other scientific institutions.
“Very often, Islam is present in our conferences, in our exhibitions, in our meetings,” Lang said. “We maintain regular relations with representatives of Muslim organizations in France. We have often invited imams to the Arab World Institute. Frequently, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, which is 300 meters from the institute, and with which we have developed a close bond, comes to visit us. I also visit there regularly. We have relationships with many other imams and many other mosques. “

Culture, a bridge between civilizations
For Lang, this is obvious. “Culture is a real bridge between civilizations, peoples and countries. The enemy of peace is ignorance, unawareness. All cultural institutions, schools, universities and anything that contributes to raising the knowledge of history, of the present, of art, are sources of understanding. It’s absolutely obvious,” he said.
“When we study the history of the Arab world, we see that at many times peoples, religions, cultures have met and enriched each other.”
Lang is convinced that the beauty of literature, painting and creativity in general will help advance mutual understanding.
“Islam is a great religion of the world, enlightened and peaceful. These criminals have nothing to do with this religion. Many do not even speak Arabic and know nothing about Muslim civilization. They are fanatics who would like to impose their law by force. It is not a reflection of the Muslim religion, which, on the other hand, deserves respect.”
Lang also refers to “misunderstandings” and explains that French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments have often been misinterpreted.
“It is obvious that the French president respects Muslims. Muslims in France are full citizens. They are part of us, of our life. Muslim citizens, practicing or not, bring a lot to the French nation: their energy, their work, their creativity, and their intellectual and artistic qualities. I just believe that we should speak positively about this subject and not in a fearful way.”
The AWI president is optimistic. “I would like to use a lovely expression from Nelson Mandela. His dream was, speaking about South Africa, to create a ‘rainbow nation.’ Well, I believe that France has also become in its own way a rainbow nation.”

Do more for real equality of opportunity
The Francophonie is a tool for integration, the AWI president believes, provided that it is “a fraternal and egalitarian Francophonie.” It brings together French-speaking countries around the world that speak French.
“For me, it is not limited to France. The Francophonie is a great idea if it is shared, truly shared, by countries with multiple traditions,” he said.
“The French language, which is enriched by various contributions from other languages, from Quebec, the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa, is a reflection of our society. Just as Arabic is a language shared by hundreds of millions of people, from different cultures and traditions, which makes it fantastic. The Arabic language is universal, but spoken with particular nuances in each country, and this is also what makes it strong.”
However, he said: “It is true that there are some residents in all districts of France who are not sufficiently supported materially to be able to integrate into life. Of course, efforts are being made by schools, universities, and art and culture centers. But we must continue to act.”
Moreover, he said “there is a feeling of common belonging to a nation which has succeeded for centuries, not only recently, in being a real ‘melting pot,’ as the Americans would say.”
But Lang still believes that there is still a lot of work to be done, especially with youth, and he wants to continue fighting so that the right to equality for all young people in France, whatever their origin and their religion, “is fully guaranteed.”



Mummy of King Ramses II to go on show in Jeddah

Updated 19 January 2023

Mummy of King Ramses II to go on show in Jeddah

  • Exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts coincides with first Biennale of Islamic Arts
  • Traveling show ‘highlights the value of our ancient civilization,’ Egypt says

CAIRO: The mummy of Egypt’s King Ramses II will go on show in Saudi Arabia from next week as part of a global tour of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The traveling exhibition, titled “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” is organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and its arrival in the Kingdom coincides with the inaugural Biennale of Islamic Arts.

The remains of the famous pharaoh will be on display at the Hajj Terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah from Jan. 23 to April 23.

The exhibition will give visitors an insight into the life and accomplishments of Ramses II, dubbed Ramses the Great, who was one of the most remarkable and celebrated rulers of ancient history.

As well as his mummy, the display will feature more than 180 Egyptian artifacts, including sculptures and treasures, and state-of-the-art multimedia reproductions that demonstrate the opulence and beauty of ancient Egyptian civilization.

There will also be a number of more recently discovered animal mummies and treasures from the royal tombs of Dahshur and Tanis.

The exhibition was inaugurated in Houston in November 2021 before moving on to San Francisco in August last year. In the Kingdom, the artifacts will be shown as part of the biennale alongside items of Islamic art relating to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah.

The touring exhibition is being staged with the approval of the Egyptian government, which said it “highlights the value of our ancient civilization.”

After Saudi Arabia, the show will travel to Paris, where it will remain from April 1 until Sept. 17, before moving on to Sydney.

Where We Are Buying Today: Bastahh

Updated 28 October 2022

Where We Are Buying Today: Bastahh

RIYADH: The mobile phone business is both highly profitable and very competitive.

There are plenty of independent stores and kiosks in the crowded marketplace selling accessories.

Abdullah Suliman is the 24-year-old Saudi entrepreneur behind online store Bastahh, which sells more than 500 products for cell phones from various international brands.

Items offered on the website include mobile and computer accessories, games, chargers, power banks, cases, covers, and headphones, all at competitive prices.

The store’s prices start from SR4 ($1.06), and Bastahh offers phone covers and cases that have been discontinued and which the company claims cannot be found elsewhere.

Suliman first started his business in 2017 but closed it down due to financial issues. He started up again two years ago, and his all-Saudi team prides itself on serving the community with a quick delivery of items.

“The market is profitable, but the competition is high. Therefore, you need someone patient to get into it,” he said.


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Graffiti: Shift22 celebrates once suppressed art form in Riyadh 

Updated 20 October 2022

Graffiti: Shift22 celebrates once suppressed art form in Riyadh 

  • The festival is held at the abandoned hospital, holding true to the vintage graffiti fashion

RIYADH: The walls of Irqah Hospital’s compound, thought among young Riyadh locals to be haunted, has been transformed into a canvas for local and international graffiti artists. 

Once suppressed, the art is now celebrated as the Kingdom'd Visual Arts Commission presents its inaugural annual street art festival, Shift22. 

The festival showcases commissioned and existing works from over 30 Saudi and international graffiti artists, focusing on murals, sound and video installations, and unconventional sculptures built by repurposing the abandoned hospital’s discarded materials. 

Visual Arts Commission's CEO Dina Amin said: “Shift22 is part of the commission’s efforts to celebrate and encourage local and international visual artists by providing platforms for creative exchange and dialogue. This festival is an example of the many exciting visual arts opportunities that are a result of the growing local art scene.” 

Saudi artist Deyaa Rambo’s piece ‘Harwala,’ an Arabic word for jogging, reflects a culture that is moving only forward with intention. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Saudi artist Deyaa Rambo’s piece is inspired by the transformation of the country and its modern reality. “Harwala,” an Arabic word for jogging, reflects a culture that is only moving forward with intention. 

“As a culture, we carry the past and present with us, to walk towards the future … The idea talks about how culture is moving forward towards development, but not at an incomprehensible speed: It’s a calculated speed,” Rambo told Arab News.

Coming from an artistic family, he credits his passion to the environment he was raised in. In the early 2000s, when graffiti first began surfacing within the region as a legitimate art form, he discovered the underground scene. 

“Meeting other graffiti artists, I got inspired and realized I need to develop as an artist myself,” Rambo said 

After creating a small community of like-minded individuals, importing spray cans, taking part in small projects, and the occasional bit of street vandalism, they opened up the first graffiti store in the Kingdom: DHAD.

Locally, the DHAD family has collaborated with schools, institutes, exhibitions, galleries, and companies such as Mercedes and HP to design inspiring, unique interiors and exteriors. 

Globally, the community’s work was recognized and showcased in exhibitions and events across the Gulf and beyond, including Tunisia, Morocco, Malaysia, Germany, and France. 

“DHAD is basically all about the lifestyle of graffiti, (providing) tools, spray cans for artists, This is when the community was first created in Saudi Arabia,” Rambo said. 

Deriving his inspiration from fantastical elements, his piece reimagines a modern Saudi as an anonymous figure trotting forward in a traditional thobe and shemagh. 

According to Rambo, the responsibility of spreading awareness about the art form lies ultimately with local artists, not just in dedicated spaces, but true to traditional graffiti style: Publicly.  

“That’s our mission, because graffiti globally was fought against, that it sends a negative message. Graffiti art isn’t restricted to exhibitions or museums to see the art. It’s in the streets — it’s for everyone.”

Contributing Saudi artist Zeinab Al-Mahoozi began her journey in 2011, credited to her curiosity, using stencil techniques to create dynamic and captivating artworks. She made a promise to herself that if she succeeded in her first attempt at the method, she would dedicate a whole exhibition to her street artworks. 

Contributing Saudi artist Zeinab Al-Mahoozi's mural shows her graffiti-d self setting a bird free into a corner of the universe. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Her mural is a whimsical self-portrait, showing herself setting a bird free into a corner of the universe. 

“Graffiti art is known as an illegal art form, but to be supported as graffiti artists from government sectors — either the Ministry of Culture, or media, or others — that’s something we really needed. We’re very happy about it, and we’re very lucky,” she said. 

While Shift22 is dedicated to platforming local talent, it also creates cultural exchange opportunities as it hosts various artists from around the world to contribute to the festival. 

Europe-based Australian artist James Reka, like many graffiti artists, was first introduced to the underground scene through skateboarding and hiphop culture. His 20 years of experience started off with traditional letterform graffiti, which later developed into characters and figures. 

“I’m honored to be invited to come to Saudi Arabia to be able to leave my own message behind … It’s nice to be acknowledged that it is something special, it is an art form,” he told Arab News. 

Australian James Reka’s work shows colorful hands reaching for each other, carrying the message that love and community are at the heart of graffiti culture. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Adhering to his signature style, Reka’s work is abstract, but carries a message of unity. A closer look at the mural would show colorful hands all reaching for each other, embedding the idea that love and community are at the heart of graffiti culture.

“(I’m honored) to also be able to paint and meet with a lot of local artists and share common knowledge about art, creativity, life in general — we’re all children of this earth. It’s a small world sometimes, even though I came from the other side of the world, we have a lot of things in common,” Reka said. 

The festival is held at the abandoned hospital, holding true to the vintage graffiti fashion of marking underground and deserted spaces. 

The open-air exhibition was curated by the New York-based artistic agency Creative Philosophy, dedicating the theme to geometric patterns to parallel the hospital’s architecture. 

In addition to featured works by renowned and upcoming artists, such as Saudi REXCHOUK and Turkish-American Refik Anadol, the festival will hold a series of workshops, seminars, and activities highlighting the various elements of street art. 

The festival will run until Oct. 30 alongside live music, streetwear shops, street food, breakdancing, and skateboarding. 


Art forms combine in Madinah to showcase Saudi talent

Updated 20 October 2022

Art forms combine in Madinah to showcase Saudi talent

  • Talaqi art exhibition aims to bridge the gap between artistic movements while showcasing local Saudi talents

RIYADH: Realism, cubism, and abstraction are among the many different labels assigned to painters to describe their artistic form of expression.

But in Madinah, the Talaqi art exhibition aims to bridge the gap between artistic movements while showcasing local Saudi talents.

The second edition of the event, recently launched at Madinah Art Center, features the works of 16 Saudi artists, eight of whom are publicly exhibiting for the first time.

Each edition of the exhibition features a non-repetitive concept from a new set of artists.

Artist Mubarak Khaled and Amal Shahan showcase their work for the first time in front of an audience during Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

Co-founder of Talaqi and the Thalothya arts project, Manar Ghazzawi, told Arab News: “We are excited to announce that after the success we’ve seen with the previous two editions, from the third onwards each exhibit will feature a single concept expressed uniquely by each participating painter.”

Ghazzawi was among those displaying at Talaqi’s second edition. She described her artwork as a tale of a long-term state of isolation evident in herself in the past and present as two separate people — both comforting the other.

She said: “An embodiment of my being one of the people who tend to isolate, in addition to the fact that all the details in the painting have psychological connotations.”

To prevent the meaning of artwork being lost in translation, Talaqi has affiliated with Thalothya, which hosts intellectual discussions and trends in modern and contemporary art discourse.

Co-founder Manar Ghazzawi presented her work at Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

Co-founder Meshal Al-Hujaili, said: “Thalothya is an art community based in Madinah that promotes a culture of interpretive dialogue that transcends our own preconceived notions and limitations.”

Al-Hujaili said Thalothya was the result of a seven-year journey that he and Ghazzawi had partaken in.

“We did exhibitions … went to experienced artists and hosted them to ask them for their opinions and constructive criticism of what we produced,” Ghazzawi added.

“Throughout our experimentation phase, we learned to filter the good and bad in order to elevate the engagement level of artists from the community within the city itself,” Al-Hujaili added.

Artist Mubarak Khaled and Amal Shahan showcase their work for the first time in front of an audience during Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

The co-founders identified a lack of dialogue-centric local art communities in Madinah.

Al-Hujaili said: “Most art communities available that we noticed have people come into a space and paint or create artwork each on their own canvas.

“So, we’ve created Thalothya to normalize intellectual, dialogue-setting gatherings in the Kingdom and endorse it in the Saudi art culture.

“I would love to see throughout the Kingdom Thalothya as a blueprint community in every city.”

Ancient carvings discovered at iconic Iraq monument bulldozed by Daesh

Updated 19 October 2022

Ancient carvings discovered at iconic Iraq monument bulldozed by Daesh

  • Now, US and Iraqi archaeologists working to reconstruct the site have unearthed extraordinary 2,700-year-old rock carvings among the ruins
  • The carvings were likely taken from Sennacherib's palace and used as construction material for the gate

MOSUL, Iraq: When Daesh group fighters bulldozed the ancient monumental Mashki gate in the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2016, it was part of the extremists’ systematic destruction of cultural heritage.
Now, US and Iraqi archaeologists working to reconstruct the site have unearthed extraordinary 2,700-year-old rock carvings among the ruins.
They include eight finely made marble bas-relief carvings depicting war scenes from the rule of the Assyrian kings in the ancient city of Nineveh, a local Iraqi official said Wednesday.
Discovered last week, the detailed carvings show a soldier drawing back a bow in preparation to fire an arrow, as well as finely chiselled vine leaves and palms.
The grey stone carvings date to the rule of King Sennacherib, in power from 705-681 BC, according to a statement from the Iraqi Council of Antiquities and Heritage.
Sennacherib was responsible for expanding Nineveh as the Assyrians’ imperial capital and largest city — siting on a major crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Iranian plateau — including constructing a magnificent palace.
Fadel Mohammed Khodr, head of the Iraqi archaeological team working to restore the site, said the carvings were likely taken from Sennacherib’s palace and used as construction material for the gate.
“We believe that these carvings were moved from the palace of Sennacherib and reused by the grandson of the king, to renovate the gate of Mashki and to enlarge the guard room,” Khodr said.
When they were used in the gate, the area of the carvings poking out above ground was erased.
“Only the part buried underground has retained its carvings,” Khodr added.
ALIPH, the Swiss-based International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, said the Mashki gate had been an “exceptional building.”
Daesh targeted the fortified gate, which had been restored in the 1970s, because it was an “iconic part of Mosul’s skyline, a symbol of the city’s long history,” it added.
ALIPH is supporting the reconstruction of the Mashki Gate by a team of archaeologists from Iraq’s Mosul University alongside US experts from the University of Pennsylvania.
The restoration project, which is being carried out in collaboration with Iraqi antiquities authorities, aims to turn the damaged monument into an educational center on Nineveh’s history.
Iraq was the birthplace of some of the world’s earliest cities.
It was also home to Sumerians and Babylonians, and to among humankind’s first examples of writing.
But in the past decades, Iraq has been the target of artifacts smuggling. Looters decimated the country’s ancient past, including after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Then, from 2014 and 2017, the Daesh group demolished pre-Islamic treasures with bulldozers, pickaxes and explosives. They also used smuggling to finance their operations.
Iraqi forces supported by an international coalition recaptured Mosul, the extremists’ former bastion, in 2017.