‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 

Visitors attend art exhibition by Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore on March 23, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 29 March 2024
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‘Act of Devotion’: Pakistani artist turns worn Qur’anic pages into works of art 

  • 28-year-old visual artist Saad Mehmood began restoring Qur’an pages ready for ritual disposal as part of BA final-year thesis
  • Renowned artists describe the effort as “positive,” say it is vital to expand ways in which we experience the holy book 

LAHORE: For Saad Mehmood, it was a routine visit to a mosque in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore for Friday prayers in 2017 when the then 22-year-old stumbled upon a store room with sheaves of paper stored carefully on a shelf. 
The worn pages were fragments from everyday copies of the Qur’an, which were awaiting ritual disposal. In Pakistan, pages of the holy book that are disposed are often called shaheed, or martyred, copies. 
In Islam, widely accepted methods of disposing worn pages of the holy book are to wrap them in a cloth and bury them, ideally in a mosque, or to burn them respectfully. 
But Mehmood, at the time a final year student of fine arts at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU), was inspired by the worn copies and decided to restore them as part of his thesis. 
“Saad asked for some of these pages that were torn or worn out, and started to restore the ordinary, mass-printed sheets with gold paper and the finest ink — bringing that which was ‘martyred’ back to life,” the artist’s statement accompanying an ongoing exhibition of his works in Lahore reads. 
The effort is “an act of artistic devotion,” Mehmood told Arab News at the exhibition last week, saying all his work now revolved around restoring the holy pages and turning them into artforms. 
“This work started in 2017,” Mehmood, now a 28-year-old visual artist, said. “I collect the pages of the Qur’an that are shaheed, then there’s an entire process to their restoration, I fill in the damaged parts so that the pages are readable again.”




Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, speaks to a visitor during his exhibition in Lahore on March 23, 2024. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal.  (AN Photo)

Mehmood said he had done extensive research on damaged Qur’anic pages and what happened to them and where they went from storerooms of mosques and homes.
“I saw that they’re buried in graveyards, or floated in clean and flowing water. Sometimes, I even saw the pages being burned and their ashes buried in some corner of a graveyard,” he explained. 
This got Mehmood thinking: instead of disposing of the sacred texts, he could restore them.
The process of restoration was a difficult one, as many Qur’an pages Mehmood came across had no references.
“When we open these [Qur’anic] collections… there are [some] smaller pages which don’t have any references [which ayat, surah, what page number],” he said. “So, this was a conundrum… how do I restore them when there’s no reference to work with?“
Mehmood decided to make a collage of such pages.
“So, at least they are still visible, still accessible,” he said. “So, we don’t accidentally disrespect the words, they will remain in front of our eyes, and then turn them into art to be appreciated.”
Mehmood has also visited multiple religious scholars to present his idea and his work. 
“There are a lot of organizations in Pakistan like Tahaffuz-e-Auraq [who dispose of pages in the prescribed manner],” Mehmood said. “I restored them and then I started showing people that basically this is the work I’m doing.”
The idea found wide acceptability, he said. 
“GOLD LEAF”
The ongoing exhibition in Lahore, organized by the Pakistan Art Forum, includes collages of restored Qur’anic fragments, concentric circles around Islamic calligraphy, decorative additions like gold leaves, and paintings with Arabic diacritics on Vasli and white paper. And this is all by design.
Mehmood said he wants to further explore this Islamic art form and create something new, like his painting of the diacritics without any words, or of punctuation marks without any sentences.
“The Qur’an came to us from Arabia, and the diacritics were added later, so that non-native Arabic speakers [Ajmi] could understand the text,” he said. “[Helping] in how to pronounce and enunciate it, zeir, zabr, that is also something I’ve worked on, and will continue to work on.”
There is also a reason why Mehmood uses gold leaf so often.




This photograph taken on March 23, 2024 shows an art piece by Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal.  (AN Photo)

“When you look at my work… I have used gold leaf on the shaheed [damaged] Qur’anic pages,” he said. 
“I used that gold leaf specifically and consciously, because gold is considered a divine material. And where the words are missing, pages torn, I’ve also used gold leaf to show the preciousness of the lost words, using a precious material.”
“EXPAND WAYS TO EXPERIENCE QUR’AN”
The visual artist has held a number of group exhibitions at the Alhamra Arts Center in Lahore and Sanat Gallery in the southern port city of Karachi. Last week, he held his second solo show in Lahore, titled Al-Qadr, referring to the night when Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed.
While most of the visitors to the Lahore exhibition said they had come out of curiosity, they left with admiration for the intricate work and beautiful calligraphy or collage technique that Mehmood uses.
“Calligraphy is a part of [what I do], but this is something else [entirely],” he explained. “You can call it a collage. You can call it an installation. You can call it painting, you can call it artwork.”
Shahid Rassam, a famous Pakistani painter and sculptor, described Mehmood work as “positive,” saying he had seen other works, though rare, in which worn Qur’an pages were restored as a form of art.
Rassam, who has himself made contemporary forms of the Qur’an, including one in which he used metal engravings, said it was “vital to expand the ways in which we experience the sacred text, even as art installations.”
“I think what this young man [Saad Mehmood] is doing is objectively a positive thing,” the artist said. “He’s taking sacred pages and giving them their rightful respect, instead of just letting them lie in poorly-kept stores and boxes.”




Visitors attend an art exhibition by Pakistani artist Saad Mehmood, 28, in Lahore on March 23, 2024. Mehmood’s work aims to restore worn Qur’anic pages ready for ritual disposal. (AN Photo)

 


UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

Updated 25 May 2024
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UK literary festival cancels sponsor after pro-Palestine boycott

  • Speakers, performers pull out from scheduled appearances in protest over Baillie Gifford sponsorship
  • Boycott organizer: Hay must shun future sponsorship by companies with links to ‘Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide’

LONDON: The UK’s Hay literary festival has dropped its main sponsor over a boycott criticizing its links to Israel and fossil fuel companies.

Speakers and performers at the festival pulled out from scheduled appearances in protest over investment firm Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, The Guardian reported.

On Friday, the festival said it was canceling its sponsorship deal with the firm.

Singer Charlotte Church and comedian Nish Kumar had earlier pulled out of appearing at the event.

In a statement on her social media channels, Church said she had taken part in the boycott “in solidarity with the people in Palestine and in protest of the artwashing and greenwashing that is apparent in this sponsorship.”

Fossil Free Books, the group that has led the campaign against Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of the event, has demanded that the firm divest from companies “that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide.”

More than 700 writers and publishing professionals have signed a statement by FFB concerning the Hay festival campaign.

Kumar shared the statement online in announcing the cancelation of his appearance.

An FFB organizer said: “Hay festival is right to listen to the concerns of hundreds of book workers who are working to create fossil-free and genocide-free festivals.

“Hay must now develop a fundraising policy that rules out any future sponsorship by companies that invest or profit from the fossil fuel industry, Israeli occupation, apartheid or genocide, and any other human rights abuses.”

Hay CEO Julie Finch said the festival’s decision to cancel the sponsorship deal with the firm was taken “in light of claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw.”

She added: “Our first priority is to our audience and our artists. Above all else, we must preserve the freedom of our stages and spaces for open debate and discussion, where audiences can hear a range of perspectives.”

Baillie Gifford began its relationship with the festival in 2016 as a principal sponsor. A spokesperson said: “It is regrettable our sponsorship with the festival cannot continue.”


Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

Updated 25 May 2024
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Saudi’s ‘Norah’ receives the Special Mention accolade at Cannes

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah,” starring actress Maria Bahrawi, this week received the Special Mention accolade, which recognizes films for outstanding achievements, at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard awards.

The cast and crew, accompanied by director Tawfik Al-Zaidi, stepped onto the stage to accept the accolade in front of a full house.

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

“Norah” had its official screening at the festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie 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.

Un Certain Regard’s mission is to highlight new trends in cinema and encourage innovative cinematic works.

Chaired by Canadian actor, director, screenwriter and producer Xavier Dolan, the jury included French Senegalese screenwriter and director Maimouna Doucoure, Moroccan director, screenwriter and producer Asmae El Moudir, German-Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps, and American film critic, director and writer Todd McCarthy.

Chinese director Guan Hu’s “Black Dog” won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section.

Marking Guan’s debut at Cannes, the film follows a former convict who forms an unexpected bond with the titular animal while clearing stray dogs in his remote hometown on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The jury prize was awarded to “The Story of Souleymane,” directed by Boris Lojkine, marking his return to the festival after a decade since his 2014 feature “Hope.”

The film portrays the journey of a Guinean food delivery man who must create a compelling narrative for his asylum application interview in Lyon within a two-day timeframe.


Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

Updated 25 May 2024
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Hollywood’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit ‘Bad Boys’ red carpet in Riyadh

RIYADH: Cameras flashed and crowds cheered as Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hit the red carpet at Roshn Front’s VOX Cinema in Riyadh on Friday night to mark the fourth installment of the “Bad Boys” film franchise.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” arrives 30 years after Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, played by Smith and Lawrence, respectively, teamed up as the infamous buddy cops.

The latest film, exclusively in cinemas on June 6, shows how the characters have changed over the years.

“Their backs have gotten weaker, and their knees hurt more,” Smith said jokingly.

“Part of what we wanted to do with the franchise is to have the characters grow in an age-appropriate way,” he told Arab News.

“We are trusting that the audience wants to grow with us, wants to go with us, and wants to follow the natural progression of life and what these characters would be going through.”

The film continues to mix action, drama and comedy, but also allows the characters to grow and develop spiritually.

“The core of the movie is about friendship, love, and family,” Smith said.

“And would you ride or die for your partner?” Lawrence added.

The film builds on the success of the third installment, “Bad Boys For Life,” released in 2020, with the directorial duo for the latest production, Bilall Fallah and Adil El-Arbi,  reportedly inspired by video games.

Lawrence said the “top notch” directors were great to work with, and inspired the actors to “come up with magic.”

Smith added: “It’s interesting working with non-American directors; there’s such a different perspective… You know, they were (young) when the first movie came out, so there’s such a reverence for the original films. They’re bringing that energy, but they also want to put their signature on it. Energetically, it was fun to work with them, and also their openness to the spirituality of the film was also refreshing.”

Action films, whether “Mission Impossible” or the more recent “Monkey Man,” have enjoyed a revival in recent years, and both actors believe the genre will always have a place in the industry.

“The physical wars of humanity represent the inner wars that we go through. So, I think human beings are always going to like watching a good visualized external battle that they can relate to,” Smith said.

“We all know internally that life is kind of a series of ordeals. How do you manage these ordeals and put things back together? And I think that this movie is a comedic look at two people trying to be friends, surviving ordeals together, which changes them without life breaking their relationship. It’s like a standard bromance.”

With the film premiere taking place in Saudi Arabia’s capital, both stars expressed their excitement over initiatives underway in the Kingdom.

Smith said: “I performed at Soundstorm and everything is brand new. The energy of 40 and 50-year-old people in Saudi is like the energy of 20 and 30-year-old people in America.

“It’s like there is this powerful sense of being on the cusp of the future. It’s showing up in music, it’s showing up in art, it’s showing up in architecture, and hopefully shows up at the cinema tonight.”


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Updated 24 May 2024
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Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

Updated 24 May 2024
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World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

  • Red Sea International Film Festival sponsors for fourth year
  • Demi Moore was host, which Elizabeth Taylor held in 1993

DUBAI: Some of the world’s biggest stars, in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, made appearances on Thursday at the 30th annual amfAR gala as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival took on the role of presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Among those in attendance were Demi Moore, Michelle Yeoh, Heidi Klum, Kelly Rowland, Andie MacDowell, Diane Kruger, Colman Domingo, Michelle Rodriguez, Winnie Harlow, Robin Thicke, Diplo, Paris Jackson, Petra Nemcova, Karolina Kurkova, Natasha Poly, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

The RSIFF’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and chairwoman Jomana Al-Rashid were also present.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmfAR, is dedicated to the support of AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy. It has raised nearly $900 million since 1985.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Demi Moore, whose film “The Substance” caused a stir at Cannes, hosted this year’s gala, a role launched by Elizabeth Taylor in 1993.

The red carpet at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc, was awash with models, actors, singers and fashion designers as well as plenty of festival movers and shakers.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Garrn wore a purple beaded strapless gown with scalloped edges and spider web-like details, while Scott was adorned with a rose gold off-the-shoulder sheer tulle beaded gown, and Soares opted for a hooded gold beaded short dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered tassels.

German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Dammer (@kimdammer)

Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads and featuring a plunging neckline.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkly silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the designer.