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.

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Saudi illustrator dives into digital art to highlight community’s daily life

Each of her artworks embodies the deep emotional side of the Saudi community’s daily life, interpreted into a magical swirl of artistry portraying characters, events and stories. (Supplied)
Updated 12 September 2021

Saudi illustrator dives into digital art to highlight community’s daily life

  • Bayan Yassin, 27-year-old conceptual artist and writer, illustrates the Saudi culture, heritage in her work

JEDDAH: Although digital illustration is not the easiest medium to work in, Bayan Yassin has adopted it to broadcast her ideas to a wider audience.

Yassin, a 27-year-old conceptual artist and a writer with a flair for illustration, talked to Arab News about her art.
Each of her artworks embodies the deep emotional side of the Saudi community’s daily life, interpreted into a magical swirl of artistry portraying characters, events and stories.
“It is really important to me to convey human sensations that my audience will be able to relate to at first glance,” she said. “I admire all details related to my Saudi culture, heritage, the past and the present that has made what we are now.
“In my art, you will see family warmth, love, and devotion presented as these are the daily treasures that I am fond of and that feed my inspiration.”
She started as a passionate six-year-old drawing her favorite cartoon characters from TV and copying from magazines.
Her attention is often drawn to the problems of her profession such as artist’s block. One social media platform close to her heart is Instagram. She utilizes it to highlight such subjects by posting simple illustrations that catch the viewers’ eye and makes them think.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Bayan Yassin showcased her art gallery at Medd cafe in Jeddah.  

• One of her artworks was displayed on a 36-floor skyscraper in Dubai Festival City.  

• She participated in national shows between 2005 and 2011.  

• She worked on many projects for the Saudi public sector, including a story for King Khalid Foundation and a children’s book about the Saudi customs titled ‘The Customs Champion.’

• Yassin sells her posters via her Instagram page @unique.beno, represented by @radishhouseagency, and will soon have an online shop to display all her artwork.

What makes a skill valuable is being true to the message behind it, Yassin said. Emotions, love, peace, and stability are among the themes displayed in her artworks.
She said that the features of the characters that she illustrates are mostly inspired by those close to her, including her relatives, son and husband. The viewer will find an eye symbol in each of Yassin’s illustrations, which, she said, symbolizes the first two initials of her name and that of her husband. “It also refers to the beauty and power of perception, an angle that no one can see but me.”

In my art, you will see family warmth, love, and devotion presented as these are the daily treasures that I am fond of and that feed my inspiration.
Bayan Yassin

Yassin illustrated the full series of the Saudi children book “Habib the Camel,” where she created the two main characters. “I am so proud and happy to see my characters turning into dolls.”
Yassin is currently working collaboration with Dar Waraqa, a creative publishing house based in Saudi Arabia, on a book about how to have a strong heart and face one’s fear.
She is also working on a new board game and three children’s books.
The Saudi artist harnesses her art to create a form of communication. Since her visual art simulates cultural identity, the written comments on her illustrations are in Hejazi dialect. “Using the easy yet expressive words in colloquial Saudi is my way to approach the hearts of my audience.”
The interactive topics and conversational, contemporary style of her illustrations resonate with a large audience from the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, so many of her artworks are available as puzzles and posters.
Yassin sells her posters via her Instagram page @unique.beno, represented by @radishhouseagency, and will soon have an online shop to display all her artwork.
She is also planning several workshops about enhancing art through the use of color.

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Belmondo, French film’s handsome devil, dies at 88

Updated 06 September 2021

Belmondo, French film’s handsome devil, dies at 88

  • Director Francois Truffaut described Jean-Paul Belmondo as ‘the most complete European actor’ of his generation
  • The charmer was often cast opposite glamorous women, from Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren to Claudia Cardinale

PARIS: With his devil-may-care charm, Jean-Paul Belmondo, who has died aged 88, was the poster boy of the New Wave, France’s James Dean and Humphrey Bogart rolled into one irresistible man.
With his boxer’s physique and broken nose, his restless insouciance chimed with the mold-breaking French cinema of the 1960s.
Director Jean-Luc Godard, the New Wave’s brilliant enfant terrible, cast Belmondo in his break-out role as a doomed thug who falls in love with the Jean Seberg’s pixie-like American in Paris in “Breathless” (1961).
The film floored critics and audiences worldwide and, with Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” changed the history of cinema.
Time magazine in 1964 declared Belmondo the face of modern France.
“The Tricolor, a snifter of cognac, a flaring hem — these have been demoted to secondary symbols of France,” it said.
“The primary symbol is an image of a young man slouching in a cafe chair... he is Jean-Paul Belmondo — the natural son of the Existentialist conception, standing for everything and nothing at 738 mph.”
Yet Belmondo was far from a sauve intellectual and spent most of his career in he-man roles that played on his raw sex appeal.
Despite making his name as a charming gangster, the actor was brought up in the bourgeois Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of a renowned sculptor, Paul Belmondo.
Born in 1933, he performed poorly at school during the war but was a talented boxer, winning three straight round-one knockouts in a brief amateur career.
He then trained at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art.
His first foray into cinema in 1957 in the forgettable comedy “On Foot, On Horse and On Wheels,” ended up on the cutting-room floor.
But undeterred Belmondo went on to work with some of the most talented directors of his generation, making a trio of films with Godard, and then with Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Louis Malle and Jean-Pierre Melville.
Truffaut described him as “the most complete European actor” of his generation.
The charmer was often cast opposite glamorous women, from Catherine Deneuve and Sophia Loren to Claudia Cardinale in the period romp “Cartouche,” and he constantly reworked his persona in diverse roles.
But from the 1970s he took on more bankable action movies in which he performed his own stunts.
Swashbuckling comic adventure films and farces such as “Swords of Blood” (1962) and the Oscar-nominated “That Man from Rio” (1964) introduced Belmondo to legions of new fans across the globe.
He enjoyed the mix of arthouse and more box office-friendly fare, saying, “It is like life. One day you laugh, the next you cry.”
Belmondo also briefly — and forgettably — ventured across the Atlantic for two English-language films, “Is Paris Burning?” in 1966 and the spoof James Bond “Casino Royale” a year later.
In the 1980s Belmondo experimented with more mature dramatic roles, earning a French Oscar, a Cesar, for Claude Lelouch’s “Itinerary of a Spoiled Child” in 1988 about a foundling raised in a circus.
But he rejected the prize because the artist who sculpted the statuette, Cesar Baldaccini, had once disparaged the works of his father.
Twice married and twice divorced he also lived with the ex-Bond actress Ursula Andress for seven years. Belmondo had four children including the racing driver, Paul Belmondo, with his youngest born in 2003 when he was 70.
His eldest daughter, Patricia, died in a fire in 1994.
He suffered a stroke in 2001 while on holiday in Corsica, which affected his speech, sparking a huge outpouring of love for the actor.
It effectively put an end to Belmondo’s career, though he did make one last touching movie as old man whose only consolation was his dog.
Worse was to follow.
His final relationship with ex-Playboy model Barbara Gandolfi, who was 42 years his junior, ended in scandal in 2012 with her convicted of swindling the actor out of 200,000 euros.
But in 2016 the Venice film festival awarded him a Golden Lion for lifetime’s achievement.
“I never think about my past,” he told reporters there. “Forward, forward, forward.”


Hollywood has a problem portraying Arabs — and a veteran actor aims to fix it

Updated 03 September 2021

Hollywood has a problem portraying Arabs — and a veteran actor aims to fix it

  • After career spanning more than half a century, Bo Svenson tells Arab News he is now looking to the Arab world for new stories and collaborators
  • Arab American characters are largely absent from US productions, which usually resort to stereotypes when portraying Arabs, says rights campaigner

LONDON: Hollywood actor-turned-producer Bo Svenson has had enough of the US entertainment industry’s one-dimensional depiction of characters from the Middle East. He is working on films he hopes will shake up the industry and position Arabs and Muslims to be the stars of their own stories.

Svenson, who was born in Sweden and is now an American citizen, has been appearing in blockbuster films for decades, including “Breaking Point,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Kill Bill 2” and “Inglourious Basterds.” With more than 120 film and TV acting credits to his name since his debut in the mid-1960s, the 80-year-old can justifiably claim to be one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors.

Now the CEO of production company MagicQuest Entertainment, he told Arab News that for his next venture he wants to use his position as a renowned filmmaker to “be of service to the Arab world.” He explained that he hopes to recruit Saudis to be part of his upcoming projects, and that one of his latest screenplays “is an opportunity to address the humanity within the Muslim world.”

Bo Svenson

Set centuries ago, “The Red Cloth” features a Muslim character who flees religious persecution in Norway and becomes one of the first Europeans to set foot in what is now North America. Svenson described the story’s main character, Meshaal, as a “truly dignified human being” — a depiction he believes is sorely lacking in the modern US film industry.

“Many people in Hollywood take the easy way out,” he said. “They need a bad guy in a modern film? They use a Muslim, they use an Arab.

“I’m not into the easy way out. I want to do that which is nuanced, worthwhile, that which is dignified, and that which serves others.”

This would be a welcome change from the typical Hollywood portrayals of Arabs — and American Arabs in particular — according to Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“Before the Sept. 11 attacks there was no nuance at all in how Hollywood portrayed Arabs and Muslims,” he said. “It was pure ‘Allahu Akbar’-screaming terrorists. That was the extent of the Arab character in just about any movie that touched upon it.

“Since then, the industry has moved forward slightly but there is still nobody writing from the Arab or Muslim perspective. They’re relying on centuries-old stereotypes when writing their characters. There is no nuance.

“There’s no normal, everyday, average Arab American being portrayed. In reality, there are Arab Americans and Muslim Americans from all walks of life, but in the films they are never being portrayed as normal people.”

This reflects ignorance about the role Arabs have played in American society for well over a century, Khalaf added.

“There’s no realization that Arab Americans have been part of the fabric of this country since the mid-to-late 1800s,” he said. “Those Arabs are silent in the movies. The character is always based on the Arab or Muslim that is a new immigrant, out of their depth in a new world and speaking with a heavy accent.”

Such depictions inevitably skew public perceptions of the millions of Arabs in America, Khalaf said.

“If you go to Middle America, where maybe people have not had the opportunity to meet an Arab or a Muslim, they are going to rely on what they see on the news — where they’re exposed to the most horrible aspects of what’s happening in the Middle East — or what they see in Hollywood,” he added.

“Right now, the bottom line is that a lot of movies that depict Arabs are foreign-based; they’re stories that happen in the Middle East. I cannot think of any, off the top of my head, that actually depict an Arab American lead character.”

Even those that do feature Arabs or Muslims in prominent roles are often based on the “white savior message, the whole idea that we need Western heroes to save us either from ourselves or our evil governments,” Khalaf said.

Recent agreements between streaming service Netflix and Israeli studios compound this effect, he added. “They are bringing in Israeli shows that are extremely racist and stereotypical about Arabs, particularly Palestinians.”

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‘Zorba the Greek’ composer Theodorakis dies aged 96

Updated 02 September 2021

‘Zorba the Greek’ composer Theodorakis dies aged 96

  • It was the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ ‘Zorba the Greek’ in 1964, and the slow-to-frenetic title score by Theodorakis that made him a household name
  • He spoke at rallies supporting Palestinian statehood, against the war in Iraq and more recently in opposition to an agreement to end a name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia

ATHENS, Greece: Mikis Theodorakis, the beloved Greek composer whose rousing music and life of political defiance won acclaim abroad and inspired millions at home, died Thursday. He was 96.
His death at his home in central Athens was announced on state television and followed multiple hospitalizations in recent years, mostly for heart treatment.
Theodorakis’ prolific career that started at age 17 produced a hugely varied body of work that ranged from somber symphonies to popular television and the film scores for “Serpico” and “Zorba the Greek.”
But the towering man with trademark worker suits, hoarse voice and wavy hair also is remembered by Greeks for his stubborn opposition to postwar regimes that persecuted him and outlawed his music.
“He lived with passion, a life dedicated to music, the arts, our country and its people, dedicated to the ideas of freedom, justice, equality, social solidarity,” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said in a statement.
“He wrote music that became intertwined with the historical and social developments in Greece in the postwar years, music that provided encouragement, consolation, protest, and support in the darker periods of our recent history.”
Born Michail Theodorakis on the eastern Aegean island of Chios on July 29, 1925, he was exposed to music and politics from a young age.
He began writing music and poetry in his teens, just as Greece entered World War II. During the war, he was arrested by the country’s Italian and German occupiers for his involvement in left-wing resistance groups.
Some of those same groups bitterly opposed the government and monarchy that led immediately Greece after the war, leading to a 1946-49 civil war in which the Communist-backed rebels eventually lost.
Theodorakis was jailed and sent to remote Greek islands, including the infamous “re-education” camp on the small island of Makronissos near Athens. As a result of severe beatings and torture, Theodorakis suffered broken limbs, respiratory problems and other injuries that plagued his health for the rest of his life. He suffered tuberculosis, was thrown into a psychiatric hospital, and was subjected to mock executions.
Despite the hardships, he managed to establish himself as a respected musician. He graduated from the Athens Music School in 1950 and continued his studies in Paris on a scholarship in 1954.
A prolific career as a composer began in earnest, as he worked in a huge range of genres from film scores and ballet music to operas, as well as chamber music, ancient Greek tragedies and Greek folk, collaborating with leading poets including Spain’s Federico Garcia Lorca and the Greek Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis. A music series based on poems written by Nazi concentration camp survivor Iakovos Kambanellis, “The Ballad of Mauthausen,” described the horrors of camp life and the Holocaust.
But it was the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Zorba the Greek” in 1964, and the slow-to-frenetic title score by Theodorakis that made him a household name.
The movie starring Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates and Irene Pappas picked up three Academy Awards.
As Theodorakis’ fame grew, political turmoil in Greece continued, and his compositions were banned by a military dictatorship that governed the country between 1967 and 1974 — turning his music into a sountrack of resistance that would be played at protest ralies for decades. Tireless in later life, Theodorakis continued to work with emerging artists and compositions that included music for the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and maintained an active interest in politics.
He was a member of parliament for the Greek Communist Party for most of the 1980s but later served the cabinet of the conservative government. He spoke at rallies supporting Palestinian statehood, against the war in Iraq and more recently in opposition to an agreement to end a name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia.
His defenders saw him as a unifier, willing to take bold decisions to try to heal the country’s bitter and longstanding political divisions, many rooted in the Cold War. Fans who disagreed with him looked past his politics, and tributes to Theodorakis Thursday came from all of Greece’s political parties as well as his fellow artists.
“He was a giant and we were all proud of him. His music, his life, he was unique,” singer Manolis Mitsias, who worked extensively with Theodorakis said. “Greece was orphaned today.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared three days of national mourning, posting a photograph with Theodorakis at his home following a recent hospitalization.
“I had the honor of knowing him for many years ... and his advice has always been valuable to me, especially concerning the unity of our people and overcoming divisions,” Mitsotakis wrote.
“The best way to honor him, a global Greek, is to live by that message. Mikis is our history.”
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.


Female Kurdish musician Aynur Dogan wins prestigious international award

Updated 30 August 2021

Female Kurdish musician Aynur Dogan wins prestigious international award

  • Prize inspires ‘positive message’ to the community, says artist 

ANKARA: A Kurdish singer-songwriter has won a prestigious international award for maintaining the “highest artistic integrity in the face of political pressure.”

Aynur Dogan received the WOMEX 21 Artist Award, which was introduced in 1999 to acknowledge the social and political importance of musical excellence at an international level. The prize also recognized Dogan's “long-term dedication to the preservation and innovation” of Kurdish and Alevi culture.

The 46-year-old artist said she was honored that her “years-long efforts on this rocky path” was accepted and welcomed internationally.

“I know that it is hard to make it acknowledged (get acknowledgement for) a traditional music that is not familiar to everybody,” Dogan told Arab News. “It is also very challenging to make it with a language that is not recognized widely.”

She was born in the southeast Turkish province of Dersim (Tunceli) and left home in 1992 for Istanbul, where she was able to establish contact with the music world, attend music classes and learn to play instruments.

She released her first album in 2002 with Kurdish songs — a significant taboo at the time — and faced restrictions and bans on her songs and concert appearances.

A court banned her 2004 album “Kece Kurdan,” alleging its lyrics had inspired separatism. The ruling was later annulled.

One of her concerts during the Istanbul Jazz Festival in 2010 was interrupted by audience members who booed her for singing in Kurdish, causing her to leave the gig.

Her rise to stardom was not easy, but Aynur Dogan has become a cultural symbol for the Kurdish community. (Supplied)

But the restrictions were gradually lifted over the years, and her melancholic music and rich voice became popular among a wide Turkish audience.

She has become a cultural symbol for the Kurdish community, releasing several albums that focus on its folk music and oral traditions.

“This prize reminded me that I’m not alone and I have a point in promoting music in my mother tongue,” she said. “It also inspired a positive message to the community I belong to. Their happiness, their pride makes me so happy. I used my music as an instrument to overcome the challenges I face. My previous experience showed me that your determination and your self-awareness help yourself in breaking the national boundaries and making your music globally accepted.”

Her popularity goes beyond Turkey, with several international awards and appearances in national and international documentaries such as “Crossing the Bridge,” directed by Fatih Akin, and “The Music of Strangers,” directed by Morgan Neville.

She has collaborated with several artists and groups, including Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

“To hear Aynur’s voice is to hear the transformation of all the layers of human joy and suffering into one sound,” the famous cellist said when speaking about Dogan. “It reaches so deep into our soul, tears into our hearts, and then we are for one moment, joined as one. It is unforgettable.”

Music critic Naim Dilmener said that Dogan’s musical style was one of the strongest examples of world music being performed beyond mainstream languages.

“She performs in Kurdish and she is doing it in the best way,” he told Arab News, praising her “great interpersonal communication (skills) and social network” that had given her a broad audience on an international scale.

She was able to sing at the most famous musical festivals around the world and had “plentiful” followers, he added.

Dogan performs more often in Europe than in Turkey, with concerts planned for the coming months in Germany, the UK and Netherlands.

Her rise to stardom was not easy, but Aynur Dogan has become a cultural symbol for the Kurdish community. (Supplied)

She was awarded the Master of Mediterranean Music Award in 2017 from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in the category of Mediterranean Women in Action, for her efforts to promote Kurdish folk oral traditions and blend it with modern Western styles.

“Another characteristic of Aynur Dogan is her ability to move us to tears in each of her songs. I don’t know how she can do it, but I think it is because of her superhuman skills,” Dilmener said.

She has also used her success to build her audience and connect the younger generation with the roots of Kurdish music.  

Turkish people mostly know Dogan for her cameo in the blockbuster movie “Gonul Yarası” (Heartbreak). She sang “Dar Hejiroke” (Fig Tree of the Mountain) and made the movie’s main character cry with the lyrics and her rich voice. 

Her latest album “Hedur / Solace Of Time” has eight songs and was released in Feb. 2020.

She will be on a European tour in the coming months to promote the album, and will receive the WOMEX award on Oct. 31 in Porto.

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