AlUla’s Wadi AlFann celebrates Saudi contemporary artist Manal AlDowayan 

Manal AlDowayan at 'Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths.' (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 23 February 2024

AlUla’s Wadi AlFann celebrates Saudi contemporary artist Manal AlDowayan 

  • Two exhibitions of the influential Saudi artist’s work mark the pre-opening program of a new cultural destination  

ALULA: The work of Manal AlDowayan, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading contemporary artists, is often focused on cultural metamorphosis, collective narratives and the representation of women, particularly from her home country. 

AlDowayan, who will represent the Kingdom at this year’s Venice Biennale, is currently the subject of two exhibitions in AlUla as part of the pre-opening program of Wadi AlFann, a major new cultural destination for art, design and performance.  

The first exhibition, “Oasis of Stories,” features hundreds of drawings and tales from local communities across AlUla. It will run in the AlJadidah Arts District as part of the AlUla Arts Festival 2024 until March 23.  

Part of the exhibition 'Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths’ by Manal AlDowayan. (Supplied)

“AlUla is a library of stories,” AlDowayan said in a statement. “This land holds an archive of narratives and identities that numerous civilizations engraved into its rocks for centuries, telling us about the tools they used, the animals they farmed and the lives they led.” 

The detailed drawings of daily personal and collective life in AlUla were created during workshops AlDowayan held that attracted 700 participants from AlUla, including farmers, cooks, teachers, tour guides, rangers, artists, students, craftspeople, junior football teams and a disability association. AlDowayan asked them to draw their personal stories on paper. The results are poignant and endearing renderings that detail the realities, hopes and dreams of AlUla’s residents as well as the beauty of the region’s natural landscape. 

“I want to give the contemporary inhabitants of AlUla a space for their narrative, allowing it to live permanently in a public artwork for future generations to contemplate,” AlDowayan said. 

Part of the exhibition 'Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths’ by Manal AlDowayan. (Supplied)

The exhibition marks a turning point in the development of AlDowayan’s permanent large-scale desert installation for Wadi AlFann, which will also be titled “Oasis of Stories,” and is expected to be completed in 2026. That work takes inspiration from the labyrinth-like passages and walls of AlUla’s Old Town. The drawings and stories from the workshhops will be inscribed into its walls, meaning that AlUla’s residents will leave their mark on a major piece of art in the region they call home.  

“I decided to speak with the AlUla residents to learn about their old town,” AlDowayan told Arab News. “I realized that the story of the people of AlUla has not been documented. (And I thought they needed to) inscribe their story onto something in the surrounding landscape. 

“I visited women’s homes and asked them to document their recipes; I attended weddings and danced and also asked eldery women to tell their stories,” she continued. “Me and my studio manager, Carla, were constantly trying to build a relationship of love and trust with the people from AlUla.” 

One of the pieces in the 'Oasis of Stories' exhibition. (Supplied)

Wadi AlFann is a 65-kilometer “Valley of the Arts” in the desert of AlUla. It will include large-scale art installations set against the natural desert landscape and alluring rock formations. The first five commissions will be by AlDowayan, her fellow Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, and the US-based artists Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, and James Turrell.  

“There is no desert quite like the AlUla desert,” Wadi AlFann’s lead curator Iwona Blazwick said during the press tour. “This was once a large plateau that was underwater over millennia. The cliffs have been eroded. They’re made of sandstone. There are 7,000 years of human presence in this area, and we find it through rock art markings, petroglyphs, pictograms and hieroglyphs. They’re everywhere you look. But we want to find an expression of the 21st century that we can also add to the landscape.”  

Wadi AlFann, AlUla. (Supplied)

AlDowayan’s second exhibition, presented in collaboration with Madrid-based Sabrina Amrani Gallery, is “Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths,” a solo exhibition that delves further into her artistic practice. Sculptural works and drawings in a range of mediums explore the idea of ruin — all inspired by the engravings and architecture of the ancient tombs of AlUla. 

In several rooms of the exhibition, there are soft desert rose-shaped sculptures made from tussar silk, on which are printed subtle images reflective of AlUla’s heritage. Elsewhere, AlDowayan’s labyrinth-like drawings bring to mind the winding passages of AlUla’s Old Town.  

The 'Oasis of Stories' exhibition in Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)

There are also intricate works created by Sadu weaving, a technique traditionally used by Bedouin women, mounted on the wall. Once again, AlDowayan engaged the larger AlUla community, and its imprint powerfully resonates throughout.  

“I want to be sure that everyone enjoys art,” AlDowayan told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia is going through a huge transformative moment and public art is being commissioned across the Kingdom. This is part of a vision that art will be ingrained in our communities.” 

HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 

Updated 7 sec ago

HIGHLIGHTS: Rana Al-Mutawa’s exhibition ‘Everyday Life in the Spectacular City’ 

DUBAI: The exhibition, which runs until July 4 at Dubai’s Kutubna Cultural Center, features images from Rana Al-Mutawa’s book of the same name, which is subtitled “Making Home in Dubai.”


The exhibition is billed as an “urban ethnography that reveals how middle-class citizens and longtime residents of Dubai interact within the city’s so-called superficial spaces to create meaningful social lives.”  



In her book, Al-Mutawa argues that Dubai’s often-spectacular (at least in size) buildings, though regularly criticized as superficial and soulless, in fact “serve residents’ evolving social needs, transforming (these spaces) into personally important cultural sites,” perhaps disproving “stereotypes that portray Dubai’s developments as alienating and inherently disempowering.” 


‘A Sense of Belonging’ 

In a press release, Al-Mutawa says that the work is an attempt to show that “superficial” places are “important cultural sites: ones where social and gender norms are observed and negotiated.” She adds: “I hope (the work) can generate debate about how to go about understanding these places without repeating the stereotype about inauthentic Gulf cities.” 

Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi to create Riyadh Air cabin crew uniforms

Updated 15 min 31 sec ago

Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi to create Riyadh Air cabin crew uniforms

DUBAI: Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi, founder of the Paris-based label Ashi Studio, is set to design the inaugural fashion line for the cabin crew of the Kingdom’s new airline, Riyadh Air, which is on track to make its maiden flight in 2025. 

Ashi is set to unveil the uniform design concepts and share his inspiration for the creations at Haute Couture Week in Paris from June 22-27. The full uniform launch is scheduled for later this year.

Riyadh Air’s CEO Tony Douglas said: “The cabin crew fashion line is one of the first things our guests will see when they board our aircraft in 2025, and we are confident that Ashi’s unique designs will leave a lasting impression, ensuring the experience lives long in their memory after they have landed.

“It’s such an honor to collaborate with Riyadh Air to design the airline’s first ever cabin crew fashion line,” the designer said in a released statement. “The airline will play an important role in the future of Saudi Arabia by making Riyadh one of the world’s key destinations.

“I am delighted to be part of a project so significant for our nation. It’s an exciting time to be in Saudi Arabia and to witness another Saudi brand going global,” he added. “I am looking forward to sharing the cabin crew fashion line with the world, and to seeing the Riyadh Air team wearing my creations when it takes its maiden flight in 2025.”

Ashi became the first couturier from the Gulf region to join the Fédération de la Haute Couture in Paris as a guest member in 2023. He also became the first designer from the Gulf to be included in the BoF 500 list, the Business of Fashion’s index of the people shaping the fashion industry in 2023.

Ashi’s creations have been worn by the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, Kylie Minogue, Penélope Cruz, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Queen Rania of Jordan and more.  

Dua Lipa denounces ‘Israeli genocide,’ calls for Gaza ceasefire

Updated 29 May 2024

Dua Lipa denounces ‘Israeli genocide,’ calls for Gaza ceasefire

DUBAI: British singer Dua Lipa has taken to social media to denounce Israel’s military operations in Gaza as an “Israeli genocide” in an Instagram Story post shared with her 88 million followers.

The Grammy-winning artist, who has Kosovo Albanian heritage, also used the trending hashtag #AllEyesOnRafah that is being used online following Israel’s bombing of the Palestinian city.

“Burning children alive can never be justified. The whole world is mobilising to stop the Israeli genocide. Please show your solidarity with Gaza,” the singer wrote.

The singer shared a post on an Instagram Stories. (Instagram)

It is the strongest condemnation Lipa has made so far in Israel’s eight month bombing campaign that followed an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

In December, she wrote: “With each passing day, my heart aches for the people of Israel and Palestine. Grief for the lives lost in the horrifying attacks in Israel. Grief as I witness the unprecedented suffering in Gaza, where 2.2m souls, half of them children, endure unimaginable hardships. For now, I desperately hope for a ceasefire in Gaza and urge governments to halt the unfolding crisis. Our hope lies in finding the empathy to recognise this dire humanitarian situation. Sending love to Palestinian and Jewish communities worldwide, who bear this burden more heavily than most.”

Meanwhile, English singer-songwriter  Paul Weller, who performed in front of a Palestinian flag on his recent tour, spoke against Israel in an interview with British newspaper the Observer in May, saying: “Am I against genocides and ethnic cleansing? Yes, I am, funnily enough. I can’t understand why more people aren’t up in arms about what’s going on. We should be ashamed of ourselves, I think. One minute you’re supplying bullets and bombs and guns, and then you’re sending over food. How does that work?”

Elisabeth Moss turns British spy in action thriller ‘The Veil,’ alongside Lebanese-Palestinian Yumna Marwan

Updated 29 May 2024

Elisabeth Moss turns British spy in action thriller ‘The Veil,’ alongside Lebanese-Palestinian Yumna Marwan

  • Lebanese-Palestinian actress Yumna Marwan plays suspected terrorist
  • Show explores the fraught, surprising relationship between the 2 women

DUBAI: US actress Elisabeth Moss — who made her name through prestige shows including “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” — is returning to television as a British MI6 agent in FX’s “The Veil,” available to stream in the Middle East on Disney Plus.

“I love the spy genre. I love all the spy franchises, but I don’t know if we’ve seen this kind of story on television before. At least, not in a while. For that reason, I am excited for people to get hooked by how fun, entertaining and global this story is,” said Moss in a recent interview with Arab News.

Elisabeth Moss is MI6 genius Imogen Salter. (Supplied)

The show explores the surprising and fraught relationship between two women who play a deadly game of truth and lies on the road from Istanbul to Paris and London. Moss is MI6 genius Imogen Salter, while Lebanese-Palestinian actress Yumna Marwan plays Adilah El-Idrissi, a suspected commander of a terrorist organization.

Imogen finds Adilah in Turkiye and convinces her to flee with her. During their journey, Adilah and Imogen bond in unexpected ways, while the rest of the world’s spy network hunt them down.

“‘The Veil’ is an action-packed and international drama. I think that’s the hook. And then, of course, there are these two characters at the center of it all. Imogen and Adilah are the emotional truth and the emotional heart of the story. I think we’ve achieved a great balance between the character drama and the complexity of that, as well as a lot of fun,” added Moss.

For Moss, all of 1.6 meters in height, playing an action hero did not come naturally. “I’ve done a fair amount of fight scenes before, but it’s usually on the defensive. Usually, I play a character who isn’t trained to fight.

“What was really fun and different about this was she’s a trained fighter, so she would have learned how to do the things she does and be quite good at them. That was really cool for me,” said Moss.

The actress took quite a few hits in the process, too.

“When there’s a huge, massive leap and fall, obviously I physically don’t know how to do that, so my stunt double would do that for me — but I certainly got pushed really hard.

“I actually fractured my back when we shot on the rooftop scene (in episode one), so we had to go back six weeks later and shoot that again. What you see in the show is actually our second attempt. We got really good at it by then,” she said.

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media

Updated 29 May 2024

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media

DUBAI: US Dutch Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid on Wednesday took to Instagram to explain the symbolism behind the keffiyeh print and spotlight designers who have “highlighted the Palestinian cause over the years.”

The catwalk star, daughter of real estate mogul Mohamed Hadid and US Dutch model Yolanda Hadid, made a powerful fashion statement on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival on May 23 by wearing a red-and-white dress inspired by the keffiyeh. The dress was designed by US designers Michael Sears and Hushi Mortezaie in 2001.

This week, the model shared pictures of the dress with her 61.1 million followers on Instagram, describing the ensemble as “a beautiful way to represent the history, labor of love, resilience, and most importantly the art of historic Palestinian embroidery.”



A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)


She then explained the meanings behind the patterns of the Palestinian keffiyeh, noting that they symbolize various themes.

The olive leaves represent “strength, resilience and perseverance,” she wrote. 

“The larger part of the of the keffiyeh is the fishnet pattern which resembles the relationship between the Palestinian fisherman and the sea. It symbolizes abundance and grace,” she explained. “To many of us, the sea also means freedom, especially to Palestinians living in the West Bank (who) have no access to the sea due to restricted movement.”

Hadid added that the sea waves resemble the “strength and resilience” of those who “persevered after 73 years under military occupation and oppression.”

Some commenters have claimed that the sea waves actually represent olive leaves, which Hadid considers an “important symbol.” However, after speaking with Judeh Hirbawi, the founder of the Hirbawi Factory fabric manufacturer in Hebron, she says she learned that the pattern indeed represents sea waves.

The bold lines “represent the trade routes going through Palestine, which played a vital role in carving the history and rich and diverse culture of our communities,” the supermodel added. 

Her post also included a heartfelt message about her heritage.

“Palestine on my mind, in my blood and on my heart (sic),” she said. "Always… while I still have to go to work, even through this horror, to wear our culture makes me a proud Palestinian and I want the world to continue to see Palestine, wherever we go.”