Ithra Art Prize-winning artwork unveiled as AlUla Arts Festival kicks off in Saudi Arabia

The Ithra Art Prize-winning artwork “Palms in Eternal Embrace” was unveiled in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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Ithra Art Prize-winning artwork unveiled as AlUla Arts Festival kicks off in Saudi Arabia

ALULA: On Friday, Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi unveiled his Ithra Art Prize-winning artwork “Palms in Eternal Embrace” in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla during a jam-packed schedule at the AlUla Arts Festival.

The 6th edition of the annual prize run by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is the first in collaboration with Arts AlUla. This year’s theme, Art in the Landscape, called for submissions of public artwork proposals that are site-specific to AlUla and that present interpretations of AlUla’s unique landscape and natural heritage. Alsafi’s winning installation will be exhibited for six weeks amid the 2.3 million date palms of the AlUla Oasis.

The unveiling took place amid a wider schedule of events in AlUla, including Desert X AlUla 2024, Wadi AlFann, the “More than Meets the Eye” show, the AlUla Artists’ Residency, and “AlUla 1445.”




AlUla 1445 features images by Moroccan pop artist Hassan Hajjaj. (Supplied)

This year’s edition of Desert X AlUla sees contemporary artworks by Saudi and international artists placed in the desert landscape of AlUla. Under the curatorial guidance of Maya El-Khalil and Marcello Dantas – with artistic direction from Raneem Farsi and Neville Wakefield – the exhibition features 15 newly commissioned artworks.

Wadi AlFann explores the work of Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan in the lead-up to her land art commission, “Oasis of Stories,” which will be unveiled in 2026. During the ongoing AlUla Arts Festival, two exhibitions will explore the artist’s work. The first exhibition features hundreds of drawings gathered from the artist’s workshops with communities across AlUla. These drawings and stories will eventually be inscribed into the walls of “Oasis of Stories.”  A parallel exhibition presented in collaboration with Sabrina Amrani Gallery, titled Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths,” delves further into AlDowayan’s practice, with works including soft sculptures made of tussar silk printed with images related to AlUla’s heritage.

“More than Meets the Eye” is an exhibition of contemporary works by Saudi artists on loan from collectors in Saudi Arabia, hosted at the Maraya concert hall.

Arts AlUla is also presenting two Artist Residency exhibitions: The Visual Art Residency exhibition “The Shadow Over Everything,” and the Design Residency exhibition “Unguessed Kinships,” which will run until April 30.

AlUla 1445 features images by Moroccan pop artist Hassan Hajjaj. He photographed local residents in February 2023 in an outdoor studio in AlUla and those photographs form the basis of this exhibition. 

Meanwhile, Design Space AlUla will host an exhibition titled “Mawrid: Celebrating Inspired Design,” curated by Sara Ghani.


How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

Updated 24 May 2024
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How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

  • From generating story ideas to streamlining post-production, artificial intelligence could revolutionize Saudi filmmaking
  • Digital arts expert thinks Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends, but recommends they start simple

DHAHRAN: When William “Wink” Winkler of Samford University landed in Saudi Arabia earlier this month for the 10th edition of the Saudi Film Festival, held in Dhahran, he felt he had discovered a new frontier in cinema and technology.

At the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce and US Consulate in Dhahran, the instructor of digital arts brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to conduct a masterclass in artificial intelligence in filmmaking.

However, during his week-long visit, Winkler also gained a fresh perspective on the Saudi film industry, its burgeoning local talent, and how breakthroughs in AI will transform the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“I learned that the Saudi people are passionate and excited,” Winkler told Arab News. “They can tell amazing stories, original Saudi stories, and as they start to embrace new and emerging technology, that will help them to do that.”

William “Wink” Winkler

AI is still considered an emerging technology, but one that is evolving rapidly. In just the past two years, generative AI programs have progressed from producing janky text and surreal images to creating prose and visuals that could pass as human-authored.

As a giant aggregator of sorts, AI can instantly sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing scripts and screenplays to identify patterns and generate curated story ideas.

While the creative aspect of AI is still imperfect and causes some discomfort among screenwriters, the technology has many other more rudimentary applications in the filmmaking process.

AI could make work easier by automating parts of the filmmaking process that are grueling and time-consuming, says digital arts instructor William “Wink” Winkler. (Supplied)

In pre-production, for instance, AI can help streamline location scouting by analyzing images and videos in real time to suggest settings based on a prompt. It can also cut casting time by instantaneously analyzing audition tapes to identify which actor best fits a particular character.

Post-production is another area where AI will transform filmmaking by using automated editing tools, which can analyze footage and accurately suggest instant edits based on factors like composition and pacing.

It can also assist with traditionally manual tasks, such as color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

DID YOUKNOW?

• AI can sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing screenplays to generate story ideas.

In pre-production, AI could help streamline location scouting and cut casting time by analyzing footage.

In post-production, AI could automate editing and assist with color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

Many filmmakers already use computer-generated imagery — or CGI — to digitally create an asset, character, or effect that was not caught on camera. This advancement has thereby automated parts of the process that were often grueling and time-consuming.

CGI has also benefited from recent AI advancements with more curated algorithms that can generate realistic characters and create fantastical environments from thin air, reducing the need for extensive practical effects or location shoots.

However, AI in filmmaking is not without its issues. The tool will undoubtedly negate many jobs in the industry, while machine-generated stories might seem inauthentic, lacking in depth, relatability, and human spirit.

AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi

“Films invoke emotion, and they can create feelings because they’re told from a human story,” said Winkler. “And humans have felt feelings and have dealt with real human problems. And the computer hasn’t.

“All it can do is read what has been written and repeat it, but it doesn’t actually know what to say, or how to convey it. It can only try to replicate what a human said before.”

There are also ongoing concerns about data protection and bias in AI algorithms — something that has been an issue for social media for some time, as the algorithm merely mimics what already exists.

William “Wink” Winkler along with fellow US expert Travis Blaise who flew in to Dhahran to conduct workshops for the Saudi Film Festival. (AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi)

AI systems have a tendency to perpetuate and amplify demographic and racial biases. This can lead to discriminatory outcomes that are not inclusive, such as only generating characters it deems conventionally beautiful — oftentimes slim, blonde, and light-skinned.

Another consideration is the ethics of plagiarism, as AI pulls from existing works created by humans and generates an entirely new work without providing credit.

To manage the potential for plagiarism and the amplification of harmful biases by AI systems and those employing them, Winkler believes a thoughtful discussion leading to robust regulation is required.

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“There’s always going to be evil people. We can fight it, just like we’ve always fought it — through rules and regulations,” he said.

“I think that creating communities and discussions at small local levels — to larger governance levels — creates some guardrails around what’s happening. The more ethical, morally good people get involved to help fight the evil, the better.”

Sora is a groundbreaking text-to-video AI model developed by OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — that takes written prompts and converts them into dynamic videos.

The technology can instantly generate high-quality videos with detailed scenes and complex camera movements — with just a few written descriptions.

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

There are concerns, however, about the potential misuse of programs like Sora to create “deepfakes” — digital forgeries that take a human likeness and fabricate images of them saying or doing things that never happened in reality.

These fabricated images can look and seem so realistic that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Besides the obvious reputational risks, such deepfakes could also undermine trust in institutions and even lead to conflict.

In the film world, such technology could also cost jobs. Why would studios hire human actors if the AI can make their digital likeness do and say anything without rehearsal — performing better than the original, perhaps?

This image, which is part of the "Salt" short-film series by Fabian Stelzer and was created via Stable Diffusion. (Supplied)

Winkler believes Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends — but recommends they start simple.

“I think the place that I would start is actually not in AI,” he said. “Start with a journal and a piece of paper and a pen — and document. Get the stories from your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather.

“Everyone’s ancestors have done amazing things, and that should be documented and shared.”

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

One Saudi creator who is dabbling in AI is Dhahran resident Omar Al-Abdulhadi. While he believes AI technology has not yet been perfected, he is keen to see the market thrive and grow in the creative industries.

“All the anti-AI artists will accept the fact that AI is the future,” Al-Abdulhadi told Arab News, acknowledging the seeming inevitability of the technology’s adoption. But, with the right regulation and careful use, it does not have to be bad.

Winkler agrees. Furthermore, he believes the Kingdom is ideally placed to help this emerging industry grow. With such a young population made up of digital natives, Winkler says Saudi creatives can be future leaders in the field.

“The technology is not available right now, but I imagine that it will be very soon,” he said. “I don’t have the team or the time to do it — but maybe the Saudis can do it and change visual effects forever.”

 


Book Review: ‘The Undiscovered Self’ by Carl Jung

Updated 23 May 2024
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Book Review: ‘The Undiscovered Self’ by Carl Jung

  • Loss of personal responsibility, the author suggests, can lead to the rise of mass movements and, ultimately, totalitarianism

“The Undiscovered Self,” written by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in 1957, delivers a warning about the dangers of modern collectivism, arguing that individuals are increasingly losing touch with their true selves.

Loss of personal responsibility, the author suggests, can lead to the rise of mass movements and, ultimately, totalitarianism. 

The book offers a prescription for individual psychological development and moral autonomy as an antidote to society’s collectivist forces.

Jung explains the structure of the psyche, with the conscious ego and much larger subconscious, which contains universal archetypes, as well as personal complexes and shadows that shape our behavior.

The book emphasizes the importance of understanding and integrating the unconscious rather than just relying on the conscious mind.

Jung also explores the notion of “self,” defining “individuation” as the process of integrating the conscious and unconscious to become a whole, individualized person. 

This requires embracing one’s shadow side and personal complexes, not just the socially acceptable persona. 

True individuality and freedom come from this process of self-discovery and self-realization, Jung believes. 

He encourages individuals to take responsibility for their psychological development, a process that involves introspection, self-knowledge, and a willingness to confront the unconscious. 

For additional reading, I would recommend “The Red Book,” which outlines the development of many of Jung’s major theories. 
 


British directors resign as patrons of London cinema over Israeli film screening

Updated 23 May 2024
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British directors resign as patrons of London cinema over Israeli film screening

  • Ken Loach, Mike Leigh protest Seret film festival’s links to Israeli Culture Ministry
  • ‘Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre’ covers Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack

LONDON: British film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have pulled out as patrons of London’s Phoenix Cinema in objection to the hosting of an Israeli film festival, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
One of the UK’s oldest movie theaters, Phoenix is set to host a special screening of “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre” on Thursday as part of the Israeli Seret film festival.
Loach and Leigh independently confirmed their resignations as patrons of Phoenix over the airing of the documentary.
Directed by Yossi Bloch, Duki Dror and Noam Pinchas, “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre” tells the story of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on the Nova festival in Re’im through the eyes of survivors.
An unidentified number of staff and managers from Phoenix, along with pro-Palestine solidarity groups, have demanded that the movie theater’s management avoid airing the film, over the Seret festival’s links to the Israeli Embassy in London and Culture Ministry.
Demonstrations and counter-protests are expected to take place later this evening in front of the Phoenix Cinema. On Thursday morning, the site was reported to have been sprayed with red graffiti saying: “Say no to artwashing.”
In 2015, dozens of artists and movie directors, including Loach and Leigh, had addressed a letter to The Guardian calling for a boycott of the Seret film festival.
“By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli Embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies,” said the letter.
Loach told The Guardian after resigning: “My resignation as a patron of the Phoenix shows what I think of their decision. It is simply unacceptable.”
In a response to the Guardian, the cinema’s trustees acknowledged the disagreement from “two of our patrons” and said that the board had discussed the hiring of the venue again.
“The board’s conclusion is that for all private hires, including this one, the Phoenix should not aim to censor or veto the content of screenings, provided they are legal and, in this instance, unless we are advised by the police that it would be unsafe to proceed,” a statement said.
The trustees said they made the decision “with an awareness of our status as a charity committed to education through the arts.
“We appreciate that some do not agree with our decision. Despite this, we hope that most people will remain committed to our vision of a vibrant, sustainable and independent cinema in East Finchley for our local community and for London.”
Picturehouse and Curzon, other UK cinema chains, had canceled all Seret screenings over safety concerns.


Cannes fashion highlights: Bella Hadid makes a statement, Mila Al-Zahrani hits the red carpet

Updated 23 May 2024
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Cannes fashion highlights: Bella Hadid makes a statement, Mila Al-Zahrani hits the red carpet

DUBAI: US Dutch Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid made a powerful fashion statement in Cannes, expressing her support for Palestine, while Saudi actress Mila Al-Zahrani stole the spotlight at the 77th Cannes Film Festival in a gown by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.

The star, who attended the screening of Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga,” dazzled in a strapless, voluminous dress that was cinched at the waist from the designer’s ready-to-wear 2024/2025 collection.

Hadid turned heads with stylish appearances in Cannes too. 

She made a bold statement in the streets of the French city by wearing a red and white dress inspired by the keffiyeh, showcasing her support for Palestine

The supermodel was also spotted in a striking silver dress from the DSquared Fall-Winter 2006 collection for Chopard’s “Once Upon A Time” Gala this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

She was also seen in a vintage silk yellow Versace minidress at the Hotel Martinez. 

Hadid wore a vintage silk yellow Versace minidress at the Hotel Martinez. (Getty Images)

During her time in Cannes, she was also photographed in a vintage beige low-cut halter neck midi dress, with a plunging neckline, from Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2005 collection. 

Hadid was also photographed in a vintage beige low-cut halter neck midi dress. (Getty Images)

For the “The Apprentice” red carpet, she opted for a sheer halter neck dress from Saint Laurent’s Fall 2024 collection. 

Meanwhile, Arab designers have been dominating the red carpet with their creations worn by celebrities from around the world.

Canadian model Winnie Harlow was spotted on the red carpet of French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo,” wearing a black lace dress with a mesh train and purple floral details from the Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad’s Fall 2023 collection. 

Murad, the celebrity-loved designer, also dressed Brazilian model Izabel Goulart. She opted for a white chiffon gown with a black lace bodysuit and floral appliques that was also from the couturier’s Fall 2023 collection.

Rami Kadi also made a splash on the red carpet this week with his designs.

He was championed by US actress Loreto Peralta at the same screening as Harlow and Goulart. 

She wore a mauve, off-the-shoulder gown embroidered with three-dimensional flowers from his “Les Miroirs” collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Juliana Paes (@julianapaes)

Brazilian actress and model Juliana Paes chose a metallic off-white gown by Emirati designer Hamda Al-Fahim. The dress featured side pleats, sequin detailing and a side-attached train.


Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie, filmed entirely in AlUla and directed by Tawfik Al-Zaidi, is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival.

The movie is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

The film is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the prefessional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. It stars Maria Bahrawi, Yaqoub Al-Farhan, and Abdullah Al-Satian and follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” is in competition with 19 other films from around the world.

The cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.” (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

On Wednesday, the cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival Mohammed Al-Turki and Jumana Al-Rashed, respectively, appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.”

“Norah” was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation's programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.