Painting the words: ‘Sauce of Mango’ mixes between the beauty of Arabic fables and art

Made up of a hundred short fables, written in Arabic and showcasing 96 artworks, it began in 2012 when Saad Almotham found his niche, initially using Twitter to share the stories in 140 and, later, 280 characters. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 September 2021
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Painting the words: ‘Sauce of Mango’ mixes between the beauty of Arabic fables and art

  • The book fits all age groups but primarily caters to an older audience as some stories have dark themes

JEDDAH: Finding the right art to represent literary work is a challenge. With so much to choose from, one Saudi author decided to get help through an art platform for diversity and inclusion.

Saad Almotham mixed with his literary work with artwork provided by a group of 56 Saudi and Arab artists to create a book that is an art project in itself, titled “Sauce of Mango.”

Made up of a hundred short fables, written in Arabic and showcasing 96 artworks, it began in 2012 when Almotham found his niche, initially using Twitter to share the stories in 140 and, later, 280 characters. 

“I had a word limit and I had to tell a story within that limit, and that’s quite a challenge,” he said. “I often had to go back and forth through the stories I wanted to tweet as I wanted them to be meaningful and short at the same time.”

It was after posting 200 stories that Almotham got the idea of compiling them in a book. He selected 100, and decided on the title after the main character from one short fable.

“The main character is afraid of trying new things and I too was experiencing something new, so I chose his name as a reference to my own story in writing as we’re both trying to create something new and different,” said Almotham. 

The book fits all age groups but primarily caters to an older audience as some stories have dark themes.

For the artwork, the author wanted to select things that would accommodate the storyline best. With the help of artists through the Fitrh Art platform, he was able to have a unique and distinct piece of art for most of his literary works.

Fitrh Art is a platform that serves as a home to Arab artists interested in being part of a storytelling adventure. 

Selected artists were given the stories and worked on the ones that attracted them the most. “I didn’t interfere much with the artists past the initial rough sketch, I wanted to preserve their style and what they were comfortable with. I didn’t want it to look like a comic book, I wanted it to be a work of art,” said Almotham.

Hana Kanee, a 29-year-old Saudi artist, was part of the creative set that contributed to the book.

“I didn’t know the author beforehand; I found this opportunity through Instagram and the way they showcased it was ‘as a collection of stories where animals will be expressing themselves through Arabic poetry,’ it sounded very creative and made me imagine the possibilities,” she artist told Arab News. 

Kanee chose the stories that resonated with her most. She described the process as fun, saying that “the stories made me laugh immediately and the artist’s description of the stories was very colorful, which is perfect for my artwork. It reminded me of my childhood as well.”

The artists had the freedom to bring their creative talent to the mix and were given enough space to pursue it.

Bringing the book together proved to be quite a challenge for Almotham; he said he felt like it was impossible at times. The pandemic did not help this initial dread, and he added: “The fact that we were able to pull it off and put this project out in the world makes me feel very proud.” 

Once the book was complete, the author organized an online art exhibition in collaboration with the Fitrh Art platform, where they showcased the artwork with the stories as a description. 

Almotham is currently working on the English translation of the book, and hopes to publish it soon.

“During the exhibition we roughly translated the stories and those too were very well received, so I thought I should work on the translation for English readers to enjoy.”


Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

Updated 01 March 2024
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Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu, Jordan’s Petra become sister cities

  • This year is 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries
  • Mayor: Brazil seeks to ‘strengthen commercial, cultural, friendship relations’ with Arab states

SAO PAULO: Foz do Iguacu in Brazil and Petra in Jordan officially became sister cities this week.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Foz do Iguacu’s Mayor Chico Brasileiro and Maen Masadeh, Jordan’s ambassador to Brazil.
The ceremony took place at the Palacio Cataratas, the city hall headquarters in Foz do Iguacu.
The MoU consolidates a partnership that promises to strengthen cooperation in various areas such as culture, local economic development, public services and social policies.
“In 2024, we celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Jordan, and signing this document … means that we (Foz do Iguacu and Petra) are aligned with foreign policy,” Masadeh said.
The process began in 2018 when the Foz do Iguacu city hall expressed its interest in establishing ties with Petra, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Wonders of the World.
Foz do Iguacu has one of the seven Natural Wonders, the Iguacu Falls, and one of the Wonders of the World, the Itaipu Dam.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Brasileiro said at the signing ceremony. “This is a strategy of Brazil, to … strengthen its commercial, cultural and friendship relations with Arab countries.”
The first concrete step toward implementing the MoU took place on Thursday with the opening of the exhibition “City of Petra, Jordan” at the Cultural Foundation in Foz do Iguacu.
The free exhibition, which will continue until the end of March, portrays the historical and archaeological richness of Petra in southern Jordan, with stunning images, authentic artifacts and detailed information.
“The presence of this exhibition in our city is not only a celebration of the history and beauty of Petra, but also a bridge that connects our communities in a special way,” said Juca Rodrigues, president of the foundation.
“Cultural diversity is a treasure that should be shared and appreciated by all, and this exhibition is a crucial step in that direction.”
Jihad Abu Ali, director of international affairs in Foz do Iguacu, said: “This is a moment of joy and fulfillment, as we see the materialization of the fruit of a collective effort to promote cultural understanding and friendship between our communities.”


AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

Updated 01 March 2024
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AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of AlUla is launching its first-ever global marketing campaign.

Revealed on Feb. 29 with launch events in six major international cities — Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Mumbai — “Forever Revitalizing” is being described as a “data-driven endeavor” that aims to redefine tourism in the region.

Melanie D’Souza, executive director of destination marketing at The Royal Commission for AlUla, described the new brand campaign as a “transformative moment” for AlUla as it looks beyond the historic site’s travel potential to spotlight the programs and initiatives designed to “create a better future for all those who live, work and visit our ancient oasis.

“This initiative redefines AlUla as more than just a travel destination by emphasizing its profound heritage, breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, presenting a holistic view that transcends the conventional,” she told Arab News in an email interview.

As AlUla’s first-ever global marketing campaign, “Forever Revitalizing” has been launched with the goal of transforming the city into a world-renowned heritage and cultural destination.

“At its core, ‘Forever Revitalising’ aims to drive visitor numbers and spur economic prosperity by showcasing AlUla’s comprehensive revitalization efforts. From ecological restoration projects within nature reserves to the rejuvenation of age-old crafts and traditions, and the advancement of local skills and cultural enrichment, the campaign positions AlUla as a pioneering figure in the creation of an experience-driven economy,” said D’Souza.

AlUla Old Town. (Supplied)

The new campaign coincides with a significant increase in visitor numbers to AlUla, rising from 185,000 in 2022 to 263,000 last year, she added.

Additionally, the share of international visitors increased from 25 percent to 35 percent, reflecting the destination’s growing global appeal.

“This aligns with AlUla’s strategic vision for ‘light touch tourism,’ aiming to attract 1.1 million visitors by 2030, while steadfastly maintaining its commitment to sustainability and preserving the destination’s integrity,” she said.

Hegra AlUla. (Supplied)

The campaign is specifically targeting four kinds of travelers: The luxe seeker, wanderlust nomad, intrepid voyager, and affluent and active retirees. This highlights AlUla’s amibition to remain a luxury destination.

“Modern tourists, increasingly disillusioned with overcrowded and inauthentic destinations, seek authentic, meaningful connections. They prefer destinations that offer a genuine sense of place, sustainability and social responsibility — qualities that AlUla has been promoting since opening its doors to the world three years ago,” said D’Souza.

The recently opened Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town is a promising new addition to the area, D’Souza said.

The hotel was designed by Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy.

Fahmy, who was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla, and her team restored 30 buildings in the historical village. They turned multiple old two-story mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  

The architect previously told Arab News that the early inhabitants in the city used the ground floor as a workplace and to meet with family and friends, while the first floor was for bedrooms and bathrooms.  

People who lived in the city 800 years ago whitewashed the interior walls and adorned them with red and blue murals, Fahmy said. Her team managed to preserve the existing designs in collaboration with the archaeological team. 

Banyan Tree Resort AlUla Canyon Pool. (Supplied)

“This boutique hotel revitalizes the ancient mud-brick structures of Old Town, which was continuously inhabited since the 12th century until the 1980s. It stands out for its commitment to cultural preservation, employing local artisans for restoration efforts and showcasing the area’s rich heritage through traditional decor, furniture and artistic treatments, complemented by storytelling elements that bring the intangible heritage of the area to life,” she added.

Looking ahead, three new luxury hotels are all set to open in AlUla.

“The Sharaan Resort by Jean Nouvel, inspired by ancient Nabataean architecture, promises to blend seamlessly with the Sharaan Nature Reserve’s landscape, embodying innovative design while respecting the environment,” said D’Souza.

“The Chedi Hegra is another milestone, positioned within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. Opening in mid-2024, it will offer guests unparalleled access to the historic site, featuring guest rooms with views of Hegra’s monumental landscape, an International Summit Center, hospitality pavilions and private villas,” she added.

In 2027, AlUla will welcome the AZULIK AlUla Resort. “This project, a collaboration between AZULIK and Roth Architecture, will be located in the Nabatean Horizon District, integrating design elements that highlight ancient rock art, utilize natural waterways for irrigation and promote eco-friendly transport to minimize environmental impact,” said D’Souza.


Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Updated 01 March 2024
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Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

  • How two childhood friends made their newfound love for camels the heart of a Netflix hit 

LONDON: It takes a certain level of trust to go into business with your best friend. It takes an even greater degree of faith to do so in an industry that is new to both of you. And it takes a crazy amount of love and commitment to document that journey together and showcase it to audiences around the world.  

But ‘a crazy amount of love and commitment’ is a pretty good way to sum up the relationship between childhood friends Safwan Modir and Omar Almaeena, the stars of comedy docuseries “Camel Quest,” which premiered on Netflix at the start of February and went straight into the streaming service’s regional top 10. The show sees the duo travel across Saudi Arabia in a bid to reach the Crown Prince Camel Festival, learning more about the revered animal — and themselves — along the way.  

Key to the show’s success is the fact that Modir and Almaeena, now 40, have known each other for more than half their lives. 

Safwan Modir (L) and Omar Almaeena (center) shooting “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

“We met when we were 16,” says Modir. “We met at a mutual friend’s house, and we clicked immediately. We’ve been good friends since then. Omar was studying in the United States, so we used to talk through Messenger or phone calls, and then every time he came back to Saudi, we would do crazy things. And we were always dreaming of doing something together as we grew up.” 

And while no obvious opportunity to work together presented itself — “Saf went into being a hotelier,” Almaeena recalls, “and I was bouncing around trying to figure out what I was good at” — that desire to create a project together never went away. The pair’s separate careers continued to develop. Modir became the youngest Saudi general manager of a five-star hotel, and Almaeena became a seasoned entrepreneur with a series of successful startups. 

“Omar came back after COVID,” Modir recalls, “and he had been bitten by the bug of entrepreneurship. He came to the hotel to visit, and he saw the setup, and he said to me: ‘Safwan, I think we should do something together.’ That’s when everything started to cook.” 

Omar Almaeena (center) and Safwan Modir. (Supplied)

That ‘something’ turned out to be the camel business — an industry that, Almaeena admits, he “wasn’t very keen on” at first. “But we found it to be a very lovely world that can be passionate and loving towards the camels, yet also financially viable if done properly.” 

“There was a lot of movement in the camel world,” Modir adds. “It’s going in a similar direction to the horse industry — it’s becoming super-fancy; you have beauty competitions, you have races, you have competitions all over the world, with royalty attending. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed love camels, and one of the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 is to take the camel industry to the next level — to the level of the horse industry and maybe even beyond. 

“And,” he adds with a laugh, “it’s something that we had absolutely no clue about. We had never seen camels (up close) in our lives. So that was a challenge. It took me time to convince Omar that there was an opportunity here.” 

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in their Netflix show “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

And therein lies the second reason the pair have had such success. Modir and Almaeena share the kind of comedic chemistry that can’t be workshopped or choregraphed — and the kind of trust that convinces two successful men to leave their existing careers and start something new together. 

“The fear was there, but the support from my family, especially my wife, was there too,” says Modir. “And having my best friend beside me made it easier.” 

The two started the Redsea Camel Company — a camel breeding farm (and soon to be racing stable) in Al Qassim — powered by their collective experience and ceaseless enthusiasm. And it’s been such a rewarding experience that Almaeena suggested making a TV show about it. So, looking back now, was he scared too? 

“No, no, no…” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve done this so many times, and I’ve failed so many times, what’s one more…?”  

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

The chuckle is swiftly upgraded to a full-blown laugh from both men — something that happens a lot during their conversation with us. “There’s trust there, that was so important. I can’t lie, and I don’t know how to sugarcoat things.” 

Despite the fact that they had as much experience with TV production as they had previously had with camels — i.e. none — the pair made smart decisions, surrounding themselves with professionals who could help them tell their story. Director Tarek Bou Chebel, creative directors Rana Sabbagha and Amin Dora (who also served as showrunner) bought in, convinced as much by the relationship between the two friends as by the concept for the show — which wound up being perfectly timed with the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of the Camel. 

They started filming in November 2021, and finished in the first weeks of 2022. The pair recall being scared on the morning of the first day, but that getting the first shot in the can did a lot to calm their nerves — not to mention those of the director.  

“We thought we would be repeating that first scene 20 times,” says Modir. “But we did it, and the director said we were amazing. And that he had been worried, but that we had surprised him.” 

“He came clean afterwards,” Almaeena says with a laugh. “He said we were naturals. That gave us a lot of confidence.” 

Safwan Modir (top) and Omar Almaeena in a promo shoot for “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

Although the pair’s comedic chemistry is key to “Camel Quest,” it was important that the real stars of the show were given the respect they deserved. 

“The joke is always on us, as it should be,” says Almaeena. “There have been instances in the past where the joke was on the camel, and it wasn’t very well received.” 

“The joke is about Omar pranking me,” adds Modir. “Just like when we were kids. But it’s never about the camels; we were very careful to take that into consideration.” 

“The (idea) is to build this business, and to understand how it takes us across Saudi Arabia to see the camels in different cities,” Almaeena continues. “To see the beauty contests, to see camels raised for milk, or for meat. You see all the different variations. But the point is, whoever has them, you see the ultimate love for this animal.” 

The pair insist they didn’t fall out during the trip — Modir, when pressed, slightly amends this and says it did happen once, but only because Almaeena cancelled his food order — and they would love to do a second series. But that’s only the start of their plans for their camel empire. 

“The breeding program has shot up now, and Saf’s come up with some brilliant ideas for the program and getting people involved,” Almaeena explains. “People are signing up to buy camels from us, and we’re close to finalizing the racing team, which will have its first race in May. And we have one movie hopefully close to preproduction, and another in the pipeline.” 

But in all of these projects, one thing remains constant — and no wonder, given how well it’s served them thus far. 

“I’m handling the camels, and Omar is handling everything to do with the movies and production,” says Modir. “But, with all of these things, we’ll be doing it together.” 


Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 

Updated 01 March 2024
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Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar discusses ‘Last Breath’ painting 

  • The Gaza-born artist discusses her harrowing ‘Last Breath,’ which has drawn comparisons to Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ 

DUBAI: “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says London-based Palestinian artist Malak Mattar. The statement refers to her rectangular black-and-white painting, “Last Breath,” completed in February, and it is true both literally and metaphorically.  

“Last Breath” portrays hellish scenes unfolding in Mattar’s native city of Gaza, the target of Israeli military aggression since October last year. “I feel it summarizes a lot of things I want to say,” she tells Arab News.  

When the current war began, Mattar says she had no creative urge whatsoever. “It was like artistic paralysis: I couldn’t hold a piece of paper, or paint, or look at paintings. For me, nothing had meaning to be honest,” she explains.  

Malak Mattar is a London-based Palestinian artist. (Supplied)

But things started shifting when she spent December making more than 100 sketches, based on graphic photographs, on brown paper. They mostly portrayed victims of the Israeli bombardment, which began just days after Mattar returned to the UK from a visit to her hometown.  

Mattar spent a month creating “Last Breath,” using a ladder at times to work on the canvas, which is more than two meters high. During that month, there were two weeks when she didn’t hear from her family in Gaza.  

“It was a complete blackout — there were no messages, no calls, no news,” she recalls. “But that didn’t stop me. To keep painting a work like this, you have to pressure yourself. For a while, I blocked my feelings; the urgency and commitment that I had was bigger than any personal feelings I had.” 

The result is confrontational and compelling. Mattar has created an unflinching and disturbing scene of terrified faces, broken buildings and poignant graffiti that is hard to swallow. At the center of it all is a horse. It pulls a cart laden with household belongings — a mattress, a chair, blankets — as well as a dead body wrapped in white cloth. But there is also a young boy, alive, perched on the front of the cart. 

“The horse has a symbolism and a place in the current time of war,” Mattar explains. “Its role has changed from carrying fruits and vegetables to being an ambulance. There’s a strength and hardness to a horse, which is how I also see Gaza; I don’t see it as a weak place. In my memory, I think of it as a place that loves life. It always gets back on its feet after every war.” 

Mattar says the hardest section for her to paint was the image’s left side, which includes large, black birds picking at corpses.  

“The most shocking thing was how birds were eating martyrs’ bodies. Even the animals couldn’t find food,” says Mattar.  

The painting also notes the loss of cultural heritage, portraying how important landmarks, such as the Great Omari Mosque, the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church and the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center have been severely damaged.  

And then there are the glimpses of children’s toys, indicating the loss of youth and innocence.  

“Inside every child there is an adult. When a child starts speaking as an adult, it’s dangerous,” says Mattar. “A whole generation hasn’t lived its childhood and adolescence.” 

“Last Breath” is difficult, uncomfortable viewing. Deliberately so. “It’s a very dark time and this painting is not about hope — not even an ounce of it,” Mattar says. “It’s not something we will ever recover from.”  

Some have said that the painting resembles Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica,” created during the Spanish Civil War, and also a response to the bombing of a city. Mattar was particularly flattered when a commentator called it “Guernica Al-Jadida” (the New Guernica).  

“Last Breath” is currently being stored in the vault of London’s National Gallery. It will be on display at a solo exhibition between Mar. 6 and 10 at Cromwell Place in the British capital. Mattar hopes the work will become a permanent part of a museum’s or public institution’s collection, but not a private one.  

“The goal for this work is for it to be seen,” she says. “It’s not for sale, because it’s impossible to put a price on it. For the first time, I feel like (my work) belongs to something bigger than me; it belongs to a bigger cause.” 


Saudi art on show as 17th edition of UAE fair launched

Updated 29 February 2024
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Saudi art on show as 17th edition of UAE fair launched

  • Jeddah-based Hafez Gallery will be showcasing rare black-and-white works on cardboard by Saudi artist Abdulsattar Al-Mussa
  • Jeddah’s Athr Gallery will be putting on a solo exhibition of works by Saudi artist Ayman Yossri Daydban

DUBAI: The 17th edition of Art Dubai will showcase works from more than 120 galleries around the world.

And Saudi artists will be among the participants in the international art fair running from March 1 to 3.

Jeddah-based Hafez Gallery will be showcasing rare black-and-white works on cardboard by Saudi artist Abdulsattar Al-Mussa.

Born in Al-Ahsa in 1955, and educated in the Soviet Union during the 1970s, his works were created in the 1980s and use thickly contoured lines to depict everyday scenes in his native Saudi Arabia.

The gallery’s curatorial director, Alexandra Stock, told Arab News: “People have been asking a lot of questions about Abdulsattar’s work. They’re very intrigued by the technique.

“I think it’s important to show Abdulsattar at Art Dubai because he has had a lot of success abroad, but it’s very nice that he is having another upwind, a push in the region, that he’s being acknowledged back home,” she said.

The fair’s sections cover contemporary, bawwaba, modern, and digital art.

In the contemporary part, a Hafez Gallery booth will be displaying the work of Saudi creative Bashaer Hawsawi, whose visual artwork has been constructed from dried palm leaves formed into patterns and figures.

She told Arab News: “I used to come to Art Dubai just to visit. Being here means a lot to me.”

Her exhibit, “Holy Thirst,” was inspired by her maternal family’s fashioning of palm fronds into everyday domestic tools.

Jeddah’s Athr Gallery will be putting on a solo exhibition of works by Saudi artist Ayman Yossri Daydban, who for decades has worked in a variety of mediums.

Some of the European galleries represented at the fair will also be highlighting artists from the Kingdom.

From Austria, Galerie Krinzinger will be displaying a piece by Maha Malluh, known for creating large installations made from items popular in bygone eras. Her long rectangular panel festooned with cassette tapes is part of her “Food For Thought” series in which she mounts countless objects on walls, many collected from markets in Saudi Arabia.

Madrid-based gallerist Sabrina Amrani has dedicated half of her booth to a selection of photographic, sculptural, and textile works by Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan, who will represent the Kingdom at the Venice Biennale in April.

Amrani told Arab News: “The feedback has been amazing. Manal is a very dear artist of Dubai. She had her studio here for many years, contributing to the arts scene greatly here. These works feel at home.”