Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

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Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi poet and artist Hana Almilli: ‘After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion’ 

DUBAI: Saudi artist Hana Almilli and her two siblings grew up in a household where creativity and self-expression were actively encouraged. “My mom is a poet,” Almilli tells Arab News. “And my dad was very motivating in terms of doing photography.” Her two brothers, she adds, “are both talented in terms of music and art.” And with her Syrian maternal grandmother, Almilli shares a love of nature and of textiles. 

But aside from being one of the main inspirations behind her creative output, Almilli’s family are also the subject of most of it. Through her poetry, embroidery, weaving, dyeing and photography, she explores her own history and her diverse cultural identity (she has Saudi, Syrian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Palestinian ancestry).  




Detail from 'Memoirs 2,' which shows Almilli's maternal grandmother in Syria. (Supplied)

“It’s about me and my family history,” Almilli says of her work, which was most recently on display at Art Dubai in March. “It does really focus on heritage, history, personal narratives.  

“Being from all these different identities, it’s always been important to be a part of those cultures,” she continues. “They’re all very different. And sitting with each and every grandparent, which I’ve had the privilege of doing, you learn so much. Growing up I’d have Turkish lullabies from my Turkish grandma, Kurdish news on the televsion that my grandpa would translate. My memory’s not great, but those specific moments from my childhood still remain; I still write about them and I’m still inspired by them. And I still want to almost recreate them in my work.” 

Aside from her family history, the other major theme running through Almilli’s work is alienation or estrangement (as made clear in the title of her ongoing series “The Echoes of My Alienation”). That may seem odd in someone who talks so warmly of her close and nurturing family ties, but those same ties could, perhaps, have been one of the causes of her alienation. 




'A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell' on display at SAMOCA. (Supplied)

It really began when she moved to the US to attend the California College of the Arts in 2014. Initially, she was studying architecture, but, “I just hated it. I couldn’t express myself in any way that I wanted to.” She shifted courses, eventually graduating with a focus on textiles and creative writing, the latter allowing her to build on her poetry writing, which began as a teenager with verses that were “hidden under the bed — ‘No one’s looking at this.’” 

It was towards the end of her college years that she began “The Echoes of My Alienation,” although the emotions it explores had surfaced almost as soon as she arrived in the States.  

“My first day in the US, there was an earthquake, and I’d never experienced an earthquake. So it was almost like the beginning of this trial of alienation,” Almilli says. “I was, like, ‘I don’t know if this is for me.’ So persevering, and staying there for five years, was an interesting experience. It grew that alienation. And I wouldn’t say it has dissipated. It still stays, because if it doesn’t then that curiosity about finding out where I come from is gone.” 

The series features a number of different works, including several self-portraits and images of family members embellished with embroidery. 

“You can see the pieces are obsessively embroidered with little maps. I was almost mapping myself out — those identities that have always been a part of my life but that, to some extent, I had lost as I travelled to the US and was far from home. My grandma had Alzheimer’s at the time, too, so that history was lost with her. My grandpa had passed away in the first year I was in the US as well, so there’s this aspect of rediscovering and recreating history through myself in self-portraits.” 




 'Languages Interlacing 2,' one of Almilli's self-portraits. (Supplied)

The “most emotional” section of the series, she says, is “Memoirs.” In “Memoirs 2” Almilli has embroidered delicate jasmine flowers over an image of her maternal grandmother in Syria, standing among trees.  

“It’s the same technique I use every time, but I intuitively highlight specific parts of an image, whether it’s to hide or accentuate,” Almilli explains. “My grandma and I have a great connection with flowers.” 

As she explored working with textiles, Almilli also developed her poetry skills. She has even published the poems that she once hid under her bed.  

“At art school, you don’t really have that fear of exposing yourself, because everyone is. So I found the courage to take part in this school publication that went around California as well. That really re-started everything in terms of writing and, ever since, every piece I make has been inspired by a written poem.  

“Usually, my works are unique pieces representing a story, or a dream, or someone,” she continues. “It’s interesting, because nowadays, with contemporary art, you’re meant to look at it and make your own sense of it. But, to me, it’s important to know the story of what happened. Being able to write, as an artist, is very important for me because it gives context to my work — what it represents, what it feels like.” She cites her piece on display at the Saudi Arabia Museum of Contemporary Art — “A fragile dawn, a floating wish, a fleeting farewell.” “That was initially a long poem that got turned into an embroidered piece that has the poetry within it,” she explains. 

With so many different outlets for her creativity, her mind must be constantly churning with ideas, which seems like it could get exhausting, I suggest. But Almilli, who returned to Saudi Arabia in 2019, explains that she’ll often take a lengthy break after finishing a piece or a series. 

“After each piece, there’s some sort of conclusion,” she says. “For example, the piece I just spoke about talks about how, in my dreams, I meet people I’ve loved, but they’re forever drowning in my dreams. Like, my grandma had Alzheimer’s for a few years and we couldn’t get her to Saudi. It’s almost like the only connection I had with her was when she showed up in my dreams. And to be able to write that and grasp it, and put it into something that is physical… it’s very difficult, in the beginning, because you’re facing the idea of that loss in the future, but after that comes a conclusion of sorts: ‘Now I understand these emotions.’ I try to think about what I wrote when I’m making each piece, and — if it’s a difficult piece — to try and heal from it in the process. That difficult feeling becomes something you can bear, whatever it might be.” 

And even though her pieces are so personal, Almilli has found her work connects with people on a very emotional level.  

“As much as my stories are about my personal history, and my family’s oral history and heritage, at the end of the day there are a lot of people that feel an alienation, or a craving after the loss of a person for that person. So they are stories that people can relate to,” she says.  

“I cherish my pieces so much. It’s very difficult for me to let go of them, but I’ve grown to understand that it’s really about being able to share that story with people and show them that there are others going through that,” she continues. “It’s beautiful too, because I hear stories from others that they’ve never spoken about. It’s important, because it shows them that you can embrace multiple aspects of yourself, and that’s OK.”  


Book Review: ‘The Undiscovered Self’ by Carl Jung

Updated 14 sec ago
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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 15 min 3 sec ago
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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.


‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

Updated 23 May 2024
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‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

  • The first four episodes of Season 3, in which Nicola Coughlan plays the revolving lead role, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend

DUBAI: Irish actress Nicola Coughlan, known for her role as Penelope Featherington in Netflix’s hit series “Bridgerton,” demonstrated her solidarity with Palestine this week by wearing the Artists for Ceasefire pin during an interview with USA Today as she promoted the latest season of the show, in which she plays the lead role.

When asked about the pin, the artist said: “It’s very important for me because I feel like I’m a very privileged person. I’m doing my dream job and I’m getting to travel the world, but then I’m hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah at the moment.”

The actress, whose family lived in Jerusalem in the late 70s, said her father was in the Irish army and was part of the United Nation’s Truce Supervision Organisation which worked towards brokering peace in the Middle East.

@splendiferous Nicola Coughlan speaks about her Ceasefire pin she has been wearing during the Bridgerton Press Tour #NicolaCoughlan original sound - splendiferous

“I feel very passionately about it. I’m Irish also, so it’s sort of a different perspective,” Coughlan added. “I just feel, if I have this global platform, which I do at the minute, I think if I can hopefully raise funds for aid organizations — I have a fundraiser on my Instagram right now for Medical Aid for Palestine and if people would like to donate to that or share it, I think it would be a wonderful thing to do.”

Coughlan has continuously shown her support by wearing the pin during various occasions, including the premieres of the third season of “Bridgerton,” promotional events and her television appearances such as “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Good Morning America.”

Season three of Netflix’s Regency-era drama has become the most successful season so far based on viewership numbers, Forbes reported this week.

With part two set to drop in June, “Bridgerton” Season 3: Part 1 was the most-watched title on Netflix from the period of May 13 - 18, according to Variety. The first four episodes, released on May 16, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend.