Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural by Syrian artist

A refugee artist from Syria has created a unique piece of art that captures the spirit and courage of those fleeing war and poverty. (@RESCUE_UK/Diala Brisly)
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Updated 22 June 2021

Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural by Syrian artist

  • Syrian artist Diala Brisly: “It’s very important to show solidarity among refugees”
  • “Courage is having fears, having all this worry, having all this trauma, and still having the energy to keep going”

LONDON: A refugee artist from Syria has created a unique piece of art that captures the spirit and courage of those fleeing war and poverty.
To mark World Refugee Day 2021, which was on Sunday, Diala Brisly created a mural with one key theme: The courage it takes to flee one’s home.
Commissioned by the International Rescue Committee, the piece depicts various people against a backdrop of a bombed city.
Now safe in France, Brisly said her work is about having the “energy to keep going through fear, trauma and upheaval.”
She added that the piece’s message — “refugees are courageous” — captures the essence of what it means to be forcibly uprooted.
“I really like the slogan because it shows strength, regardless of all the troubles that we’re going through,” she said.
The artwork depicts people of various ethnicities and identities, including children, and one man poignantly wearing a life jacket — a staple item of refugee migration across the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere.
“It’s very important to show solidarity among refugees. I believe in solidarity between all people. When we have this struggle in common, and we understand each other’s pain, we’re able to help each other because we share similar experiences,” said Brisly
“The media puts the spotlight on refugees when they’re in the middle of the sea. But it’s very important to understand that the crisis didn’t start in the Mediterranean, it started before,” she added.
“For me, courage is having fears, having all this worry, having all this trauma, and still having the energy to keep going.”
During the revolution against the Assad regime, journalists shared Brisly’s artwork to supplement their reports.
But this exposure, she said, put her life in danger. She fled Syria via Turkey and ended up in France.
Now she uses her talent to create moving works that support the causes she believes in, and runs art therapy workshops for children affected by war.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, nearly 82.4 million people were uprooted in 2020, fleeing war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses.

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Updated 18 July 2024

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

DUBAI: Global hip-hop star Eminem will be part of a stellar lineup for the 16th edition of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the 2024 Yasalam after-race concerts.

The American rapper will perform on Dec. 7, joining US pop rock band Maroon 5, who appear on Dec. 6, and British rock group Muse, who will hit the stage on Dec. 8.

Eminem has won 15 Grammy awards and an Academy award. His 2010 album “Recovery” was the first in the US to be certified platinum digitally. In March 2021, his greatest hits album, “Curtain Call: The Hits,” became the first hip-hop album to spend a full decade on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

His latest album, “The Death of Slim Shady (Coup de Grace),” was released on July 12, 2024, and currently sits in the top 10 on the Rhythmic radio charts.

The after-race concerts will take place from Dec. 5-8, with access exclusive to Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix ticket holders.

Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux

Updated 18 July 2024

Ahmed Mater: The Saudi artist documenting a kingdom in flux

  • Christie’s London is hosting ‘Ahmed Mater: Chronicles,’ a retrospective collection of his work, until Aug. 22
  • The exhibition highlights major milestones of the physician-turned-artist’s career

LONDON: Using metal filings, X-rays adorned with calligraphy, and a grandiose mihrab transformed into a body scanner, leading Saudi artist Ahmed Mater is documenting a kingdom undergoing a swift process of change.

Born in Tabuk in 1979, Mater grew up in Abha in southwestern Saudi Arabia, close to the militarized Yemeni border, at a time of immense social change in the region.

The first presentation of his art outside the Kingdom came in 2005 at an exhibition hosted by the British Museum in London. Just over a decade later, he became the first artist to host a solo exhibition in the US, with “Symbolic Cities: The Work of Ahmed Mater” in 2016.

Now, the 44-year-old has returned to England with the exhibition “Ahmed Mater: Chronicles,” hosted by Christie’s London until Aug. 22. The mid-career retrospective collection features more than 100 of his works, and promises to highlight the major milestones of his career.

Ahmed Mater at the opening of ‘Chronicles.’ (AN photo)

“It’s very amazing and extraordinary for me to be back and connect again with the audience here in London after 2005, and now, maybe, with more artwork to share and 20 years of experimental work,” Mater told Arab News on the exhibition’s opening day.

“So, it’s something that, really, I want the audience to share all of this — the experiment and the time and sharing all of this journey together.”

Despite being heavily influenced by his mother’s work as an Asiri calligrapher and painter, and art being the “passion and DNA” of his childhood, Mater began his professional life working in medicine.

Mater first encountered city life as a teenager in Abha. (AN photo) 

“At that time, there was no … you have to do something, especially in Saudi Arabia, there was no school of art,” he said.

“So, medicine was very close to me. I studied a more human science; that’s very close to me.”

Despite “building a lot of things and experiences” during his work as a physician, Mater returned to his roots in art “because it became the only voice that I could continue with.”

The artist began experimenting with X-rays during his medical studies. (AN photo)

The physician-turned-artist described the difference between his two careers as one of “subjectivity versus objectivity.”

Mater’s oeuvre, from the satirical to the striking, details the changes, big and small, in a kingdom undergoing unprecedented social, religious and economic transformation.

“I think it’s a kind of synergistic study of all of the artwork together,” he said. “When you are an artist, you are also a philosopher, you are a thinker, and all of these events together shape our generation at a time, our societies.

“I was really fascinated by studying a community — about urban change surrounding me. Maybe I take this from medicine, maybe I take it from the art, or maybe I take it from my transition from the village to the city.”

In the photograph “Hajj Season” (2015), which is part of his “Desert of Pharan” collection documenting change in Makkah, masses of pilgrims wait patiently in a gated courtyard. Behind them, KFC and Burger King restaurants can be seen.

“Stand in the Pathway and See” (2012) shows a narrow alleyway bisecting dilapidated buildings, part of an old settlement that was soon to be demolished to make way for new hotels. A young boy sits in the shadows amid the waste and graffiti. The alley appears to be illuminated by the fierce glow of Makkah’s Clock Tower, which looms ominously, or as a figurative light at the end of the tunnel, over the old city.

The dual meaning of the photograph is a hallmark of Mater’s work. In “Nature Morte” (2012) and “Room With a View ($3,000/night)” (2012), Mater again reveals some of the peculiarities of Makkah’s transformation through simple photographs.

Left to right: ‘Nature Morte,’ ‘Stand in the Pathway and See’ and ‘Room With a View ($3,000/night).’ (AN photo)

In both, the Kaaba and masses of pilgrims are seen at a low angle through the windows of a luxury hotel room, replete with a bowl of decorative fruit and cable TV. Viewers will inevitably be divided in their reaction.

Mater’s status as a passive spectator taking the photographs reinforces his self-described role as a documenter of change, and is part of the subtlety that typifies much of his work.

For other pieces he takes a more direct approach, however. Viewers are met with loud beeping and flashing red lights in his simple but ingenious “Boundary” (2024), for example. The artist combines a mihrab, a prayer niche from the interior of a mosque, with a body scanner; the result is a striking summation of modern-day security fears and the commercialization of religion.

Viewers should expect a surprise with Mater’s modern mihrab. (AN photo)

Many of Mater’s works explore the theme of the individual sublimating to the group, which emerges as a distinct entity. This is epitomized in “Magnetism IV” (2012), a diminutive model of the Kaaba surrounded by perfectly arranged iron filings, representing a swirling mass of pilgrims.

The artist depicts the magnetism of Islam’s holiest site. (AN photo)

To create a similar effect in a photograph, Mater used a long exposure to capture the Kaaba at the height of Hajj in “Tawaf” (2013), an image in which the resulting movement of pilgrims resembles a hurricane around the holiest site in Islam.

The artist admits that the theme might be an unconscious effect of his Islamic upbringing.

A selection from Mater’s ‘Magnetism’ series. (AN photo)

“I think it’s something that is unconsciously done by an artist in their practices,” he said. “You know, sometimes I didn’t pay full attention but after I did my artwork, I noticed. I noticed these kind of things. But maybe spirituality has this feeling.

“So, I come from a religious background and this has, maybe, shaped a lot of my understanding. It’s given me a lot of imagination. You know, religion is part of this big imagination.”

Long exposure creates a hurricane effect at the height of Hajj. (AN photo)

For Mater, 1938 might have been the most important year in the Kingdom’s history. Oil was struck on March 3 that year at the Dammam No. 7 well, and the liquid gold that began to flow would soon begin to finance the Kingdom’s transformation.

Again juxtaposing old and new, traditional and modern, in “Lightning Land” (2017) the artist captures a stunning shot of lightning arcing toward the ground, with a disused Bedouin tent in the foreground and oil machinery in the background.

Mater’s ‘Lightning Land’ highlights the tensions between old and new in Saudi Arabia. (AN photo)

“Evolution of Man” (1979) is Mater’s most morbid work. A horizontal collage begins with a front-on X-ray shot of a man holding a gun to his own head. The next shots morph as a square shape begins to form. The final image is a gas pump, with the nozzle resembling the gun featured in the first image.

The former physician’s prognosis of the Kingdom’s arts scene takes a more positive path, however. Mater believes that cooperation between the public and private sectors is the key to further unleashing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural industries.

A “big, big awakening of art and culture” is taking place in the Kingdom, he said. Mater himself is part of this public-private synthesis, and one of five leading artists commissioned by Wadi AlFann (Valley of the Arts) in AlUla to produce a large-scale installation in the desert sands.

The result is Ashab Al-Lal, a mighty but unintrusive oculus that will harness light refraction, in a homage to the scientists of the Islamic golden age. Wadi AlFann will start welcoming visitors in 2025.

A model of Mater’s Ashab Al-Lal installation was unveiled at Christie’s. (AN photo) 

“I think now it’s a very optimistic generation; there is a lot of movement,” Mater said.

“So, it’s from both the private body and the public body, together shaping a new future. That’s what I’ve noticed today.”

Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe

Updated 17 July 2024

Elyanna expands her world tour from North America to Europe

  • Tour from Oct. 5 to Dec. 16 features 30 stops
  • Fans also want ‘Woledto’ concerts in Mideast

DUBAI: Chilean-Palestinian music sensation Elyanna is reportedly expanding her world tour “Woledto,” with new dates and locations in Europe.

The tour, from Oct. 5 to Dec. 16, will have 30 stops.

The 22-year-old artist announced on Instagram this week that presales will start on July 17, with general sales from July 19.

“THE WOLEDTO TOUR from North America to Europe! See you soon,” she wrote to her 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Her fans quickly took to the comments section, requesting gigs in Lebanon, Dubai, Los Angeles, Australia, Barcelona, Lisbon, Milan and more.

Elyanna, who was the first artist to perform a full set in Arabic at California’s Coachella music festival in 2023, has been normalizing Arabic lyrics in the Western world.

She has been inspired by artists including Lana Del Ray and Beyonce, as well as Middle East legend Fayrouz.

The Los Angeles-based singer’s music is a mix of Arabic and Western beats, which she attributes to her multicultural upbringing. She is known for her songs “Ghareed Alay,” “Ala Bali,” “Ana Lahale,” “Mama Eh,” among others.

Elyanna dropped her debut album in April featuring nine songs: “Woledto,” “Ganeni,” “Calling U,” “Al Sham,” “Mama Eh,” “Kon Nafsak,” “Lel Ya Lel,” “Yabn El Eh” and “Sad in Pali.”

Before releasing the album, she wrote to her Instagram followers: “This album is the embodiment of pride to be an Arab woman, to be from Nazareth, to be from the Middle East.”

“This is the closest I’ve been to where I come from,” she added. “The only feature on my album is my grandfather.”

In May this year, she made her television debut on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The music sensation delivered a medley of hits from her debut album including “Callin’ U (Tamally Maak)” and “Mama Eh,” the first song performed entirely in Arabic on the show.

Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024

Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

  • Saudi Rakan Kurdi will not let his genetic condition affect his desire to create

JEDDAH: Meet Rakan Kurdi, a Saudi artist who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and is determined to navigate life, and explore art, on his own terms.

Kurdi’s journey with paints and brushes began at a young age when he joined the Children with Disability Association, a specialized school for people with disabilities in Jeddah.

He is now one of the coastal city’s most popular artists, selling works and winning many prizes.

Rakan Kurdi’s portraits of Saudi royals has earned him viral recognition on social media. (Supplied)

A graphic designer and motivational speaker in addition to his art, Kurdi spoke to Arab News about his life.

An enthusiast from childhood, he was encouraged by his teacher’s words when she told him at the age of 8: “I can see an artist in you. You must work on your talent, learn more at home and keep practicing to develop your skills.”

Speaking about the challenges he faced in school, he said: “My parents decided to enroll me in a regular school in order to associate with regular kids. Unfortunately it did not work right for me because kids at school bullied me and were making fun of me all the time. That’s why I couldn’t pursue my studies.

I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

“My greatest strength and source of motivation through all this has been my parents. They never let me feel that I lacked anything.”

After leaving school after the fifth grade, Kurdi dedicated himself to his love for painting, eventually realizing that it was his true calling.

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world. (Supplied)

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world.

But creating artwork is no easy task for the 32-year-old, who was born with a neuromuscular genetic disorder that left him paralyzed.

However, it has not dampened his creativity. Kurdi has been painting since the age of 8, with his works being showcased in local group exhibitions.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

He said: “I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition. I would like to know that my work is self-standing and impressive, regardless of the capabilities of its artist.”

Kurdi continues to live life with an ever-present smile, despite his challenges.

He added: “I have never thought my disability was an obstacle to my dream. Since I stopped going to school, I (have) just continued doing art, participated in various local exhibitions, started to sell my portraits nationally and internationally, and most importantly got married. I am so happy with my life.”

Portraits of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Sheikh Zayed, celebrated Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and the late Talal Maddah helped to get Kurdi noticed.

He admits that the biggest project of his career was creating 80 by 110 cm oil paintings of the king and crown prince. His subsequent post on social media received more than 1 million views in less than 19 hours.

He said: “Definitely they are my most expensive and most important portraits.

“I also dedicated a special portrait to Prince Turki bin Salman, who really liked my work and decided to hang it on the wall of the Royal Palace in Jeddah.”

Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad, with commissions ranging from about SR10,000 ($2,666) to SR250,000, depending on the size of the work.

Inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, he said: “We both belong to the same school of art.

“Despite my disability, it’s not difficult to make a realistic painting.”

Social media has proved an important tool to promote his work. He has about 500,000 followers across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and says he receives his orders via the platforms.

With many projects in the pipeline, Kurdi’s hands are full.

He is also continuing his work as a motivational speaker, and added: “(I) just want to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, no matter the obstacles.”

Now that his work has earned recognition in the Kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kurdi hopes to showcase his work in London or Paris.

“It is my dream to showcase my work internationally,” he said.



Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

Updated 14 July 2024

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

  • Vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, workshops

LONDON: The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, the UK’s longest-running festival celebrating Arab arts and culture, runs until July 21 and showcases a vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, and workshops.

Founded in 1998, the festival has become a cornerstone of Liverpool’s cultural calendar.

This year’s program features a diverse lineup of artists from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, offering a dynamic interplay between traditional and contemporary Arab art forms.

Laura Brown, creative producer of the festival, told Arab News: “Artists are dealing with contemporary ideas and art forms, but often the conversations and themes they are tapping into are something Arab communities have been talking about for generations, like migration, identity and conflict.”

One of the highlights will be the festival’s tribute to Palestine. A special screening of “At Home in Gaza and London” will be held on Monday, with ticket proceeds benefiting collaborators in Gaza.

“Oranges and Stones,” a wordless play told through physical action and music, on Thursday will depict 75 years of occupation and settlement in Palestine. Marina Barham, general director of Al-Harah Theater in Bethlehem, will also speak about the therapeutic role of theater in addressing community trauma.

Port city Liverpool has fostered diverse and multicultural communities, with Arabic reportedly being the city’s second most-spoken language.

Brown said: “What’s really important to us is that we work with the community to ensure everyone feels represented. We talk to the community about artists they like and who they want to see, to bring them over. It was a conversation with members of the Somali community that introduced us to Aar Maanta.”

As an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organization, the festival is part of the 2023-26 investment program.

Brown added: “Being an NPO is something the whole team is incredibly proud of and it is something we take very seriously.

“The arts landscape is very challenging and the ability to be able to know your festival is secured for several years in advance allows you to build relationships with venues and creatives to develop programs and projects further.”