What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs

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Updated 30 March 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Desert Designs

If you appreciate antiques and are into the Arabian boho look, check out Desert Designs.
An authentic Saudi furniture shop that has been in business since 1990, it celebrates and promotes the beauty of artisanal work in the Kingdom, drawing on local culture while keeping today’s needs in mind.
Its wares are inspired by local art, heritage and culture. The most interesting part of the way they design furniture and interiors is how Saudi heritage is incorporated in such a way that it enhances a piece of furniture or art object.
The brand is reviving the forgotten arts and encourages artisans to continue their handcrafting skills so people can appreciate one-of-a-kind furniture and high-quality work.
Desert Designs pieces can be custom-made, and are ideal as heirlooms of the future.
Nineteen percent of their products are handmade and some modern technologies are applied. The collection includes old carvings, mosaics, antique doors, Bedouin heritage jewelry and Arabian hand-painted items.
Carpets, tableware, decor and lighting, storage and organizing products are also on offer.
For more information, visit Instagram @desertdesignssa.


UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

Updated 19 June 2021

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

  • Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd
  • She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, after it finished a close second

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended the final day of the Ascot races on Saturday, where environmental protesters urged the monarch to press politicians to act faster against climate change.
The 95-year-old queen, a keen racing fan and racehorse owner, has attended Ascot almost every year of her seven-decade reign. She was absent last year, when the event was held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her return came two months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, at 99.


Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd as she arrived to cheer on four horses she owns that were racing on Saturday. She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, Reach for the Moon, after it finished a close second.
The annual racing meeting west of London is a heady mix of horses, extravagant headwear, fancy dress, champagne and strawberries with cream.
Protesters from environmental group Extinction Rebellion unfurled a banner reading “Racing to Extinction” at the racecourse on Saturday. The group said four women glued themselves to their banner and chained themselves to the fence in a protest intended to be seen by the queen. She was not nearby at the time.


What We Are Reading Today: Seeing Serena by Gerald Marzorati

Updated 18 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Seeing Serena by Gerald Marzorati

Seeing Serena is an in-depth chronicle of the return to tennis of Serena Williams after giving birth to her daughter, and an insightful cultural analysis of the most consequential female athlete of her time.
It is a riveting chronicle of her turbulent 2019 tour season and a revealing portrait of who she is, both on and off the court.
Author Gerald Marzorati shadows her through her 2019 season, from Melbourne and the Australian Open, to Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, and on to the US Open as she seeks her 24th Grand Slam singles title.
He writes about her tennis and her forays into fashion, investing, and developing her personal brand on social media.
Seeing Serena illuminates Williams’s singular status as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time and — in a moment when race and gender are the most talked-about topics in America and beyond— a pop icon like no other.
Marzorati observes her, listens to her, studies her, explores her roles in society and history— sees Serena fully, in all the ways she has come to matter.


A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

Updated 12 June 2021

A collection of works of female writers of Arab heritage sets out to ‘win hearts, change minds’

  • A spirited new anthology of poems and stories by Arab women down the ages overturns common expectations of gender 
  • ‘We Wrote in Symbols’ celebrates the literary works of 75 female writers of Arab heritage spanning five millenia

DUBAI: British-Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh hopes a new book featuring 75 stories of love and desire penned by Arab women will help pave the way for more female authors to emerge from the Middle East region.

The English-language anthology “We Wrote in Symbols,” edited by Dabbagh, was published in April this year, marking a literary first in showcasing the works of women from the region on subjects many might consider bold.

Spanning several millennia, the volume includes the works of classical poets, award-winning contemporary authors and emerging writers.

“It brings together a diverse range of voices who are writers in English, French and Arabic, coming from all of the three main monotheistic religions, as well as those that are not religious at all,” Dabbagh told Arab News.

‘We Wrote in Symbols’ editor Selma Dabbagh. (Courtesy of Sussana Baker Smith)

The idea arose after Dabbagh stumbled on an anthology called “Classical Poems by Arab Women,” which contained writings from the pre-Islamic period up to the fall of Andalusia in 1492.

The collection left a lasting impression. “Some were what you would expect. There were poems lamenting the loss of a brother in battle,” Dabbagh said.

“But other women were talking about sexuality in a way that was very self-assured. Some were being a bit provocative, but others were just content with that aspect of their life. The voices were surprising, but they also felt fresh, contemporary and spirited.”

Dabbagh began to notice similar themes in the work of contemporary female authors discussing issues of love and desire — in some cases dealing with the disconnection between the two in relationships, which were portrayed with remarkable sensitivity.

As a fiction writer, Dabbagh had always found this a difficult topic to handle, partly due to self-censorship stemming from her own notions of shame.

“There is a universal insistence on associating the actions of a character with the behavior of an author, which we need to be freed from,” she said.

Sabrina Mahfouz. (Courtesy of Greg Morrison)

“To be a writer who is able to depict those delicate shifts in mood and connections between people takes an enormous amount of skill and imagination. So, the collection is basically a combination of the older, classical poets and the newer voices looking at this difficult terrain.

“A lot of them are very funny, some are quite daring and explicit, and it’s just a different way for women identified with the region to have their writing viewed — through matters of the heart and the body.”

Dabbagh said there is an expectation among English readers that most Arab fiction is slightly depressing, political or downbeat. In the words of Nathalie Handal, one of the poets featured in the anthology, “people think Arabs don’t love with a beating heart.” The book aims to challenge this misconception.

“It tries to bring that sense of emotional excitement and tenderness to a vast, diverse and varied region through the writing of women,” Dabbagh said.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate about women in Arab literature, which actually predates anything published by a female author in the English language. One of the earliest poems included in the anthology dates back almost 5,000 years.

“You have this tradition, mainly in poetry, of writing and letter writing by Arab women before women started writing in Europe,” Dabbagh said. “I really wanted to show that, because it’s not something that is associated with the Arab world in terms of having higher levels of advancement in female literacy.”

Hanan Al-Shayk. (Supplied)

For Dabbagh, whose debut novel “Out of It” was nominated as a Guardian book of the year in 2011-12, navigating the affairs of the heart is not something that necessarily becomes easier with age.

Although she read the works of Hanan Al-Shaykh and Ahdaf Soueif avidly in her 20s, she wishes there had been more Arab women writers in her youth. “Sadly, I only read fluently in English,” she said.

“It was really radically life-changing for me to read accounts by women of a similar background. I grew up between the Gulf and Europe mainly, and I always found it such a difficult subject matter for me to find my voice.”

Reading their stories made Dabbagh more articulate about her own feelings.

“It just gives you a set of tools with which to negotiate this tricky emotional terrain,” she said. “I think (my book) might help to provide a level of self-knowledge because there are so many different characters in it that readers should be  able to relate to.”

Having read the works of critically acclaimed American writers, whose brash depiction of the hook-up culture she found dulling, her interest returned to the writings of women of Arab heritage to see how their interpretations of romance, sentimentality, vulnerability and desire affected her.

Laura Hanna. (Supplied)

In these works, she found creativity, humor and craft. “We’re always being told to see these two worlds I come from (the West/Europe and the Arab world) as almost antithetical to one another,” Dabbagh said.

“But with the language of love and looking at the Mediterranean as a kind of sea of stories, we can see how there’s been influence over time between Europe and the Arab world.

“In the 19th century, you had a lot of writers and explorers who came to the Arab world because it was a place of freer sensuality. It seemed to be less restrictive than the puritanical backgrounds these writers came from.

“Now that pattern has, to some extent, been reversed.”

During the Abbasid period, the topic  was written about and seen almost as a scientific study. “You could have a book which dealt with astrology and physics as well as expounding on sensuality, because sensuality and getting that harmony right between a couple was something that was indicative of how you can have harmony in the society as a whole,” Dabbagh said.

Elif Shafak. (Supplied)

“So, it was a way of ensuring that the community was in balance and that, to me, is such a beautiful idea. But it’s something that is rarely associated with the religion anymore.”

Nowadays, any associations between religion, women and sexuality appears to be overwhelmingly negative. “I wanted to show that range, to try to break up that stereotype,” she said.

And although one book is unlikely to change opinions overnight, Dabbagh believes women’s voices are gradually subverting traditional methods of censorship.

“The region has been engulfed with images, films and TV for the past 70 years, and most of it was state-run,” she said. “But now with Netflix and online streaming, we have a lot more content coming in and it’s hugely influential.”

Nevertheless, the depiction of Arabs and the Islamic world in Hollywood has improved little in the past century. “There is a kind of mass absorption of negative images of the region from outside, which is going to influence behavior,” Dabbagh said.

“We need to find ways of writing stories which are connected to regional history, cultures, which are exciting, dramatic, sleek and sexy. It’s just about being trained up, opting into it and starting to influence the way these stories are told.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Three agreements signed to shoot Hollywood, Saudi movies in AlUla

Updated 11 June 2021

Three agreements signed to shoot Hollywood, Saudi movies in AlUla

  • ‘Film Commission is doing all it can to help local talents to harness the benefits of modern technology’

RIYADH: The Film AlUla department at the Royal Commission for AlUla has signed agreements to shoot three films in the governorate — an American movie directed by and featuring big Hollywood names and two Saudi movies.

The Saudi projects are “In Sands” directed by Muhammad Al-Atawee and “Nourah” directed by Tawfeeq Al-Zayedi. The Hollywood film has not yet been named.

The Film Commission at the Ministry of Culture will finance both Saudi films in full and will coordinate with Film AlUla to meet all shooting requirements in AlUla.

The agreements were signed following the great success of the American movie “Cherry” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Scenes from “Cherry” were shot in AlUla and Riyadh, a first for Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with Film AlUla, which is working hard to attract Saudi and global talents to shoot movies here.

Mohammad Al-Asmari, a documentary film director, said that the exchange of expertise in the filmmaking industry is a great stimulant for Saudi talent, noting that the industry is a lucrative source of income and a stimulant for domestic and foreign investors.

FASTFACTS

The Saudi projects are ‘In Sands’ directed by Muhammad Al-Atawee and ‘Nourah’ directed by Tawfeeq Al-Zayedi. The Hollywood film has not yet been named.

The agreements were signed following the great success of the American movie ‘Cherry’ directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Scenes from ‘Cherry’ were shot in AlUla and Riyadh, a first for Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with Film AlUla, which is working hard to attract Saudi and global talents to shoot movies here.

Al-Asmari commended the Film Commission for encouraging the success of Saudi production and setting up the regulatory framework to help Saudis make their dreams come true.

The Film Commission is doing all it can to help local talents to develop their filmmaking skills and to harness the benefits of modern technology, Al-Asmari said.

The Film Commission was established in February last year. Its board of directors chaired by the minister of culture is responsible for developing the film sector in the Kingdom and encouraging individuals, institutions and companies to develop content.

Tariq Al-Khawaji, a cultural consultant at Ithra Programs, said the Kingdom’s attractive landscapes, including its historical heritage, have played a key role in promoting the development of the film industry.

Since Saudi Arabia started issuing tourist visas, it has been visited by numerous movie and television production companies exploring shooting in AlUla and other locations.

AlUla’s landscapes are among the best filming locations in the world and Film AlUla is seeking to establish AlUla as international filming and content destination and to create a film infrastructure in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

It provides a package of services to attract international filmmakers. This includes a team of film experts in AlUla to facilitate production and build a suitable ecosystem for filmmaking.

On the practical side, it can handle film crew visas, secure ground and air transportation, facilitate the import and export of cameras and other production equipment, sort out accommodation in Riyadh and AlUla and grant permits.

In addition to its cultural heritage dating back more than 200,000 years, AlUla has a fascinating diversity of terrains covering an area of more than 22,500 km that includes charming valleys and amazing rock formations created by wind and water over millions of years. The governorate’s farms, villages and cities with their range of old and new architecture offer a variety of options for filmmakers.

Film AlUla also works to stimulate local film production, in partnership with other government agencies, based on the Royal Commission’s endeavor to empower national talents in the film industry.


What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

Updated 11 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

In her new book, Life on the Line, New York Times journalist Emma Goldberg focuses on six young doctors during the COVID-19 surge in New York City last spring.
Woven together from in-depth interviews with the doctors, their notes, and Goldberg’s own extensive reporting, this page-turning narrative is an unforgettable depiction of a crisis unfolding in real time and a timeless and unique chronicle of the rite of passage of young doctors.
In this powerful book, Goldberg offers an up-close portrait of six bright yet inexperienced health professionals, each of whom defies a stereotype about who gets to don a doctor’s wArab Newshite coat.
Goldberg illuminates how the pandemic redefines what it means for them to undergo this trial by fire as caregivers, colleagues, classmates, friends, romantic partners and concerned family members.
This is a raw and emotional depiction of young professionals thrust into the middle of a crisis.
As the surge of cases “hit New York hospitals like a tsunami” in March and April 2020, some medical schools graduated fourth year students early so they could work at understaffed hospitals.