Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

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Updated 19 June 2024
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Inside Gharem Studio, the Saudi cultural ‘think tank’ 

  • Founder Abdulnasser Gharem discusses the sweeping changes he has witnessed over his career as an artist in the Kingdom

DUBAI: There is perhaps no better person to ask about the magnitude of Saudi Arabia’s current cultural boom than Abdulnasser Gharem. Gharem has been creating art for decades, and has established himself as one of the Kingdom’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, despite the many obstacles he faced starting out at a time when there was really no pathway to becoming a professional artist from Saudi Arabia and most of those with a creative bent in the country were left with little choice but to pursue other careers. 

“I was in the army for 23 years,” Gharem, 51, who comes from the south of the Kingdom, tells Arab News. “There was no way you were going to be an artist with an income in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Most of my friends and relatives were in the army, so it was a popular thing. I became an officer, just to make sure that I could earn (money), and art would be something I’d do on the side.” 

Gharem also remembers how he discovered that two of his best friends from high school, raised in a strict environment, were part of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. “After high school, they just disappeared. We thought that maybe their parents moved to another city,” he says. “And suddenly I found their names in the list of the 19 hijackers. I was really shocked, because I was asking myself: ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ We were in the same neighborhood, the same school, the same environment, and had the same education. I think that’s why I became an artist: I was insisting that I wasn’t going to just rely on others. I just needed to create my own path.” 

And that is exactly what Gharem has done over the past two decades. In 2003, he co-founded Edge of Arabia in London. The arts platform, which highlighted Saudi artists through touring exhibitions, became hugely influential.  

A decade later, Gharem decided to set up his “own space” in Riyadh, which made him realize that there was a huge lack of support for the country’s up-and-coming generation of artists. 

“I had the experience of establishing a studio, dealing with challenges, bringing in sponsors, and setting up programs,” he says. “I was shocked to see how young Saudi talents — boys and girls who were interested in fashion, art, photography, filming — didn’t have their own space.” 

In Gharem Studio, young creatives from a variety of fields are invited to use Gharem’s library, art, filming equipment, the space itself, and — most importantly — to share ideas among themselves. He is much more than simply the founder of the studio, and has become a mentor to several young artists. He hopes that his non-profit arts organization can inspire self-expression and freedom of thought.  




Abdulnasser Gharem, founder of Gharem Studio. (Supplied)
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“It’s really fascinating for me. We have artists like photographer Haitham Alsharif who discusses gender issues, and the artist Halla Bint Khalid (the studio’s co-owner), who is looking into family and children,” he says. “So, it’s all related to society. It’s nice when you listen to issues from different aspects, ages and slices of society. The studio became a think tank.” 

When Gharem Studio was launched, its artists flew abroad to experience art fairs in Europe and exhibited their own works in the UK and the US, traveling across 15 states. Gharem admits that in the beginning there were some hurdles to overcome, not just at home but overseas too.  

“We were doing international shows, because contemporary art wasn’t accepted yet in Saudi Arabia,” he says. “It was honestly tough to sell Saudi art. Of course, now it’s different. Now the government is putting us on the cultural map of the world. We are living in what I call ‘a grant narrative,’ and that’s what we have been looking for since we were young. I can’t believe our dreams became true. Suddenly everything changed. We have two biennales in this country. We have Desert X and Noor Riyadh Festival. These kinds of cultural events have become part of people’s daily lives. They can spend time at the movies, in a restaurant or at a concert, or a biennale. The public sphere has become totally different.” 

In early May, a selection of predominantly photographic works from Gharem Studio were displayed in an exhibition at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery in Dubai. This month, the studio will be moving to its new home in the cultural hub of JAX District in Riyadh. According to Gharem, there are also plans to establish a bio-art lab in the studio, where artists can explore environmental issues.  

“Our mission,” he says, “is to bring something new to the artist and society.”  


Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor

Updated 24 July 2024
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Adidas apologizes to Bella Hadid after 1972 Olympics ad furor

  • Brand dropped supermodel from shoe campaign amid outrage from Israel-linked pressure groups
  • ‘We apologise for any negative impact and we are revising the campaign’

LONDON: Adidas has apologized to supermodel Bella Hadid after pulling her from an advertising campaign that referenced the 1972 Munich Olympics, Sky News reported on Wednesday.

Israel-linked pressure groups accused the campaign of causing offense due to Hadid’s part-Palestinian background.

At the 1972 games, 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer were killed by the Black September group.

Hadid is reportedly considering legal action over Adidas’ decision to remove her from the campaign, which is promoting the relaunch of a shoe from the 1972 Olympics.

The brand said on Instagram: “Connections continue to be made to the terrible tragedy that occurred at the Munich Olympics due to our recent SL72 campaign.

“These connections are not meant, and we apologise for any upset or distress caused to communities around the world. We made an unintentional mistake.

“We also apologise to our partners, Bella Hadid, ASAP Nast, Jules Kounde, and others, for any negative impact on them and we are revising the campaign.”

A number of Israeli and Jewish pressure groups targeted Hadid’s involvement in the ad campaign.

The supermodel has long been an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause and has criticized Israel’s war in Gaza.

The American Jewish Committee claimed that Adidas was using “a vocal anti-Israel model” for a campaign that “is either a massive oversight or intentionally inflammatory.”

The CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement said: “To have her launch a shoe commemorating an Olympics when so much Jewish blood was shed is just sick.”


‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’

Updated 24 July 2024
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‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ exhibition depicts how ‘the world seems to be falling apart’

DUBAI: Beirut’s Dalloul Art Foundation latest exhibition, “Hope in an Age of Dystopia,” features 66 works by creatives from all over the Arab world — and beyond.
With pieces by artists such as Hady Sy and Selim Mawad of Lebanon, and Palestinian Amer Shomali, the event runs in Beirut until Aug. 15 and also showcases the work of Lebanese-Canadian creative Johanne Allard.
Director of Dalloul Art Foundation Wafa Roz told Arab News that the show captured how “the world seems to be falling apart.”
She said: “The past few years have been especially difficult. However, despite all this, there remains a sense of diffident hope — that even with all these terrible events and increasing power differences that seem inescapable, we are able to resist and to find different ways to move forward.”
Roz added the artistic pieces shared a glimpse into how global power structures affected people’s daily realities and shaped their needs, desires and feelings.
“The social issues depicted in the exhibition are both on the global and local scale … Each artwork depicts a part of the ongoing narrative of overarching systems of control,” she said.
Allard’s work from the “A Feast In The Ruins” series fits seamlessly into the theme.
“Each piece in this series uses embroidery on metal sculptures of moths to symbolize the destruction and erosion of cultural and societal fabrics caused by war and imperialism in the Levant and MENA regions,” explained the artist.
Allard said her work served as both a remembrance of the past and a critique of ongoing systemic issues, while also including elements of hope and resilience.
“Ultimately, ‘Hope in an Age of Dystopia’ is about acknowledging the challenges of our time without giving in to despair. It inspires us to confront difficult truths, reimagine possibilities, and actively contribute to change, where hope prevails over uncertainties,” she added.
Roz also spoke of how trends in the world of art constantly evolved.
“We are seeing more conceptual works that move away from direct depictions, most likely as a reflection of the complexities of the themes and concepts which the artists are exploring,” she said.


Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

Updated 24 July 2024
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Review: ‘Elden Ring’ expansion offers more of the same excellence 

LONDON: “Shadow of Erdtree” is the highly anticipated expansion for the critically acclaimed game, “Elden Ring.” The original game, released in 2022, swept numerous awards upon release and captivated players with its intricate world, challenging gameplay, and immersive lore. Within a week of its release, the expansion has seen over 5 million players dive into its dark world, a testament to the game’s allure and the reputation of its creator, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Miyazaki, also the president of FromSoftware since 2014, cemented his and the developer’s legacy with the release of “Dark Souls” in 2011, a game that defined a genre and set a new standard for difficulty and storytelling. 

Jumping into “Shadow of Erdtree” is no small feat. Even for seasoned players with over 130 hours invested, accessing the new content requires overcoming significant challenges, including defeating an optional boss to unlock the entrance to the “Land of Shadow.” This expansion continues the trend of demanding gameplay, rewarding perseverance with new content that expands the lore and challenges of “Elden Ring.”

The plot of “Shadow of Erdtree” continues the enigmatic and complex narrative established in the base game. Players find themselves amid the turmoil of demi-gods battling for fragments of the once all-powerful Elden Ring. Into this chaos steps a “tarnished,” an outcast whose journey is intertwined with the mysterious figure of Miquella the Kind. The story remains cryptic and layered, inviting players to piece together its many facets through exploration and discovery.

Fundamentally, “Shadow of Erdtree” offers more of the same elements that made “Elden Ring” a success. The expansion preserves the dark, epic, and dangerous atmosphere of The Lands Between. New areas and the addition of Scadutree fragments provide fresh content while maintaining the game’s signature aesthetic. Enemies are as unforgiving as ever, ensuring that players will face numerous deaths as they navigate the perilous landscape.

The sense of reward in “Shadow of Erdtree” is immense. The expansion enriches the game with a plethora of new items, crafting options, flasks, clothes, weapons, magic, key items, and Ashes of War. These additions enhance the depth of gameplay, offering new strategies and customization options for players to explore.

For those who love delving into the intricate lore and challenging gameplay of “Elden Ring,” “Shadow of Erdtree” is a must-play. It expands on the original game’s strengths, delivering a compelling and demanding experience that will test even the most seasoned players. Supporting wikis and community resources will undoubtedly be invaluable as players navigate the expansion’s new content and uncover its many secrets.


Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food

Updated 24 July 2024
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Ambani wedding brings spotlight to Mumbai’s oldest restaurant for South Indian food

  • Cafe Mysore was established in Mumbai’s Matunga area in 1936
  • Viral clip shows India’s wealthiest family paying respect to its owner

MUMBAI: In the line of A-lister guests that Radhika Merchant and Anant Ambani greeted at their glitzy wedding, it was one elderly lady who had them bow and shout in reverence: “Thank you so much for coming! Every Sunday we eat your food.”
A short clip showing the scene soon went viral on social media, where the multimillion-dollar nuptials that took place over a week ago are still making the rounds.
The lady whom the son of Asia’s richest man and his bride received with so much warmth is Shateri Nayak, the owner of Cafe Mysore, the oldest restaurant in Mumbai for South Indian food.
Located near the King’s Circle railway station in Matunga area, it was founded in 1936 by Nayak’s father-in-law, Nagesh Rama Nayak, who moved to Mumbai from the southern state of Karnataka, and brought with him the flavors and quality that soon turned his business into a legendary spot.
But it was the recognition from the son and daughter-in-law of billionaire Mukesh Ambani that shot the place to Internet fame.
“I heard a lot about this, so I decided to visit,” Yashi Raj, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, whose curiosity was piqued by India’s most expensive wedding.
She ordered Cafe Mysore’s special dosas — thin, savory crepes stuffed with paneer cheese, capsicum and vegetables — and dahi vada, or light round fritters with curd and spices on top.

“Both were superb and very tasty,” she told Arab News. “After visiting this cafe, I realized why it is so famous. It stays true to its taste and the food is very authentic.”
The restaurant’s nondescript interior is like of any other Indian eatery, but the flavors, diners say, are something else.
“I crave South Indian food quite a time and this is one of my very go-to places in Matunga, because they have an amazing rasam vada,” said Shrishti Tiwari, a student and Mumbai native.
She was referring to a popular appetizer made with lentil fritters in a soup that has tamarind juice as a base and is considered one of the healthiest South Indian comfort foods.
“I love their rasam, very frequently I come over for rasam vada,” Tiwari said. “I love this place because of the distinct flavors that come out in the masalas and the sambar ... and the people here treat you very nicely.”
Mythili Mistri, a business professional and the restaurant’s regular, comes almost every day for afternoon coffee and bonda, a crispy and savory potato snack.
Cafe Mysore’s coffee is typical filtered South Indian coffee — light and flavorful at the same time.
“I have been coming here for years actually ... I always come here for coffee and if I come in the afternoon they have this vegetable bonda which is excellent,” Mistri said.
She was not surprised that the restaurant appealed to all Indians, including the Ambanis.
“They are serving good food. We don’t get such good South Indian food in many locations,” she told Arab News.
“Just because you are rich it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to enjoy good food ... I think everybody likes to enjoy good food.”


Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’

Updated 24 July 2024
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Sofia Boutella unveils poster for ‘The Killer’s Game’

  • Boutella plays the role of the protagonist’s love interest
  • Cast includes Dave Bautista, Terry Crews, Ben Kingsley

DUBAI: French Algerian actress Sofia Boutella took to social media recently to share the poster for her latest film “The Killer’s Game,” and revealed that it would hit theaters on Sept. 13.

Set against a bold red background, the poster features her alongside the ensemble cast, including Dave Bautista, Terry Crews, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Pom Klementieff and Ben Kingsley.

Bautista stands at the center of the image, surrounded by his co-stars, each holding various weapons including knives, swords and axes. The tagline “Winning is all in the execution” appears at the bottom.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Directed by JJ Perry and based on the novel by Jay R. Bonansinga, the screenplay was written by Rand Ravich and James Coyne.

Diagnosed with a terminal illness, hit man Joe Flood (Bautista) decides to take a hit out on himself. However — and here is where the comedy kicks in — the hospital made a mistake and Flood is not dying at all. And now he has to escape a steady stream of hit men who will not be called off.

Boutella plays the role of the protagonist’s love interest, who gets caught up in the mayhem.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Boutella this week also shared the trailer of the director’s cut of her film “Rebel Moon,” directed by Zack Snyder.

Both “Rebel Moon – Chapter One: Chalice of Blood” and “Rebel Moon – Chapter Two: Curse of Forgiveness” will be released on Netflix on Aug. 2, Boutella wrote on Instagram.

The cuts are the extended and more intense versions of the initial releases. The new drops will include entirely new scenes, alternate takes, and a different sequence of events.

Boutella plays the role of Kora, a mysterious stranger living on a peaceful moon settlement threatened by the armies of the tyrannical Regent Balisarius. Kora, a former soldier of the Imperium, becomes the settlement’s best hope for survival.

She is tasked with finding and assembling a group of warriors — outsiders, insurgents, peasants, and orphans of war — to make a stand against the oppressive forces of the Motherworld.

Her journey delves into themes of redemption and revenge as she leads this diverse group to defend their home.