Ismail Kadare: A bright light in Albania’s darkest days

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare stands in the Playfair Library before accepting the inaugural Man Booker International literary prize in Edinburgh, June 27, 2005. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2024
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Ismail Kadare: A bright light in Albania’s darkest days

  • Ismail Kadare: ‘Literature has often produced magnificent works in dark ages as if it was seeking to remedy the misfortune inflicted on people’
  • Kadare was often tipped to win a Nobel prize for his towering body of work which delved into his country’s myths and history

TIRANA: Novelist Ismail Kadare — who has died aged 88 — used his pen as a stealth weapon to survive Albania’s paranoid communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
His sophisticated storytelling — often likened to that of George Orwell or Franz Kafka — used metaphor and irony to reveal the nature of tyranny under Hoxha, who ruled Albania from 1946 until his death in 1985.
“Dark times bring unpleasant but beautiful surprises,” Kadare told AFP.
“Literature has often produced magnificent works in dark ages as if it was seeking to remedy the misfortune inflicted on people,” he said.
He was often tipped to win a Nobel prize for his towering body of work which delved into his country’s myths and history to dissect the mechanisms of totalitarianism.
Kadare’s novels, essays and poems have been translated into more than 40 languages, making him the Balkans’ best-known modern novelist.
The prolific writer broke ranks with isolated Albania’s communists and fled to Paris a few months before the government collapsed in the early 1990s.
He wrote about his disillusionment in his book “The Albanian Spring — The Anatomy of Tyranny.”
Born in Gjirokaster in southern Albania on January 28, 1936, Kadare was inspired by Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” as a child and counted the playwright, as well as Dante and Cervantes, among his heroes.
Ironically, the dictator Hoxha hailed from the same mountain town.
Kadare studied languages and literature in Tirana before attending the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow.
After returning to Albania in 1960, he initially won acclaim as a poet before publishing his first novel “The General of the Dead Army” in 1963, a tragicomic tale that was later translated into dozens of other languages.
His second novel, “The Monster,” about townspeople who live in a permanent state of anxiety and paranoia after a wooden Trojan horse appears outside the town, was banned.
His 1977 novel “The Great Winter,” though somewhat favorable toward the regime, angered Hoxha devotees who deemed it insufficiently laudatory and demanded the “bourgeois” writer’s execution.
Yet while some writers and other artists were imprisoned — or even killed — by the government, Kadare was spared.
Hoxha’s widow Nexhmije said in her memoirs that the Albanian leader, who prided himself on a fondness for literature, saved the internationally acclaimed author several times.
Archives from the Hoxha era show that Kadare was often close to being arrested, and after his poem “Red Pashas” was published in 1975 he was banished to a remote village for more than a year.
Kadare, for his part, denied any special relationship with the brutal dictator.
“Against whom was Enver Hoxha protecting me? Against Enver Hoxha?” Kadare told AFP in 2016.
Academics have often pondered whether Kadare was a darling of Hoxha or a brave author risking prison and death?
“Both are true,” suggested French publisher Francois Maspero, who raised the question in his book “Balkans-Transit.”
Writing such work under a government in which a single word could be turned against its author “requires, above all, determination and courage,” Maspero wrote.
“My work obeyed only the laws of literature, it obeyed no other law,” Kadare said.
In one of his last interviews in October, when he was clearly frail, Kadare told AFP that writing transformed “the hell of communism... into a life force, a force which helped you survive and hold your head up and win out over dictatorship.
“I am so grateful for literature, because it gives me the chance to overcome the impossible.”
In 2005 Kadare won the inaugural Man Booker International Prize for his life’s work. He was described by judge John Carey as “a universal writer in a tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer.”
A father of two, Kadare told AFP that he enjoyed seeing his name “mentioned among the candidates” for the Nobel prize, even if the topic “embarrasses” him.
“I am not modest because... during the totalitarian regime, modesty was a call to submission. Writers don’t have to bow their heads.”


Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

  • Saudi Rakan Kurdi will not let his genetic condition affect his desire to create

JEDDAH: Meet Rakan Kurdi, a Saudi artist who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and is determined to navigate life, and explore art, on his own terms.

Kurdi’s journey with paints and brushes began at a young age when he joined the Children with Disability Association, a specialized school for people with disabilities in Jeddah.

He is now one of the coastal city’s most popular artists, selling works and winning many prizes.

Rakan Kurdi’s portraits of Saudi royals has earned him viral recognition on social media. (Supplied)

A graphic designer and motivational speaker in addition to his art, Kurdi spoke to Arab News about his life.

An enthusiast from childhood, he was encouraged by his teacher’s words when she told him at the age of 8: “I can see an artist in you. You must work on your talent, learn more at home and keep practicing to develop your skills.”

Speaking about the challenges he faced in school, he said: “My parents decided to enroll me in a regular school in order to associate with regular kids. Unfortunately it did not work right for me because kids at school bullied me and were making fun of me all the time. That’s why I couldn’t pursue my studies.

I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

“My greatest strength and source of motivation through all this has been my parents. They never let me feel that I lacked anything.”

After leaving school after the fifth grade, Kurdi dedicated himself to his love for painting, eventually realizing that it was his true calling.

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world. (Supplied)

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world.

But creating artwork is no easy task for the 32-year-old, who was born with a neuromuscular genetic disorder that left him paralyzed.

However, it has not dampened his creativity. Kurdi has been painting since the age of 8, with his works being showcased in local group exhibitions.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

He said: “I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition. I would like to know that my work is self-standing and impressive, regardless of the capabilities of its artist.”

Kurdi continues to live life with an ever-present smile, despite his challenges.

He added: “I have never thought my disability was an obstacle to my dream. Since I stopped going to school, I (have) just continued doing art, participated in various local exhibitions, started to sell my portraits nationally and internationally, and most importantly got married. I am so happy with my life.”

Portraits of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Sheikh Zayed, celebrated Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and the late Talal Maddah helped to get Kurdi noticed.

He admits that the biggest project of his career was creating 80 by 110 cm oil paintings of the king and crown prince. His subsequent post on social media received more than 1 million views in less than 19 hours.

He said: “Definitely they are my most expensive and most important portraits.

“I also dedicated a special portrait to Prince Turki bin Salman, who really liked my work and decided to hang it on the wall of the Royal Palace in Jeddah.”

Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad, with commissions ranging from about SR10,000 ($2,666) to SR250,000, depending on the size of the work.

Inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, he said: “We both belong to the same school of art.

“Despite my disability, it’s not difficult to make a realistic painting.”

Social media has proved an important tool to promote his work. He has about 500,000 followers across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and says he receives his orders via the platforms.

With many projects in the pipeline, Kurdi’s hands are full.

He is also continuing his work as a motivational speaker, and added: “(I) just want to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, no matter the obstacles.”

Now that his work has earned recognition in the Kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kurdi hopes to showcase his work in London or Paris.

“It is my dream to showcase my work internationally,” he said.

 

 


Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

Updated 14 July 2024
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Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

  • Vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, workshops

LONDON: The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, the UK’s longest-running festival celebrating Arab arts and culture, runs until July 21 and showcases a vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, and workshops.

Founded in 1998, the festival has become a cornerstone of Liverpool’s cultural calendar.

This year’s program features a diverse lineup of artists from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, offering a dynamic interplay between traditional and contemporary Arab art forms.

Laura Brown, creative producer of the festival, told Arab News: “Artists are dealing with contemporary ideas and art forms, but often the conversations and themes they are tapping into are something Arab communities have been talking about for generations, like migration, identity and conflict.”

One of the highlights will be the festival’s tribute to Palestine. A special screening of “At Home in Gaza and London” will be held on Monday, with ticket proceeds benefiting collaborators in Gaza.

“Oranges and Stones,” a wordless play told through physical action and music, on Thursday will depict 75 years of occupation and settlement in Palestine. Marina Barham, general director of Al-Harah Theater in Bethlehem, will also speak about the therapeutic role of theater in addressing community trauma.

Port city Liverpool has fostered diverse and multicultural communities, with Arabic reportedly being the city’s second most-spoken language.

Brown said: “What’s really important to us is that we work with the community to ensure everyone feels represented. We talk to the community about artists they like and who they want to see, to bring them over. It was a conversation with members of the Somali community that introduced us to Aar Maanta.”

As an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organization, the festival is part of the 2023-26 investment program.

Brown added: “Being an NPO is something the whole team is incredibly proud of and it is something we take very seriously.

“The arts landscape is very challenging and the ability to be able to know your festival is secured for several years in advance allows you to build relationships with venues and creatives to develop programs and projects further.”
 


Bonjour Saudi presents fresh travel and culture experiences for tourists

Updated 11 July 2024
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Bonjour Saudi presents fresh travel and culture experiences for tourists

RIYADH: In the heart of Diriyah’s Samhan district is an old Najdi-style house that’s been given a new lease of life as Bonjour Saudi — a ‘travel and experience design house’ and a local offshoot of UAE-based Bonjour Middle East.

“At Bonjour Saudi we focus on being a bridge between foreigners, expats, tourists and Saudi culture by creating experiences that showcase different parts of that culture — like cuisine, art, and tradition,” French co-founder Cecilia Pueyo told Arab News. “It’s very important for me to work routinely with Saudis to make this happen.

Whether guests are signing up for a multi-day journey around historical sites or for a two-hour cooking or art workshop, though, the aim is the same: to leave them with a better understanding of Saudi culture and history. (AN Photo/ Abdulrhman Bin Shalhuob)

Pueyo is a crafting enthusiast herself, and noticed a gap in the market when she visited the Kingdom and found it hard to access workshops on traditional Saudi crafts such as Sadu weaving, palm weaving, or Kabsa cooking. So, she wanted to create a space for such workshops. It also includes House of Artisans — a store showcasing local handicrafts like candles, abayas, handbags, jewelry, and more, giving guests an opportunity to take a piece of Saudi home with them. 

And Bonjour Saudi also provides guided tours across the country to popular spots including Jeddah, Abha, and AlUla.

Whether guests are signing up for a multi-day journey around historical sites or for a two-hour cooking or art workshop, though, the aim is the same: to leave them with a better understanding of Saudi culture and history. 

In the heart of Diriyah’s Samhan district is an old Najdi-style house that’s been given a new lease of life as Bonjour Saudi. (AN Photo/ Abdulrhman Bin Shalhuob)

“Even though it’s relatively new for the Kingdom to welcome foreigners and expats, (it’s clear that) people want to showcase their culture and share it with you, as well as their hospitality and generosity,” Pueyo said.

“Now, we are in a very important moment and shift in Saudi,” she continued. “This is what I think Bonjour Saudi is about; how we want to make an impact on people. Even if they only have one hour, we can connect them with the right person to deliver a message about the country, about the culture — about their passion — and I hope the guests will understand his or her vision of the Kingdom.”


Immersed in lilies — ‘Imagine Monet’ brings art to life in Jeddah

Updated 09 July 2024
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Immersed in lilies — ‘Imagine Monet’ brings art to life in Jeddah

  • The tech-powered exhibition showcases more than 200 masterpieces

JEDDAH: Visitors have the chance to immerse in the ethereal artworks of Claude Monet as the “Imagine Monet” exhibition, created by renowned artists Annabelle Mauger and Julien Baron, debuts in Jeddah.

Part of the 2024 Jeddah Season 2024 until July 28, the exhibition is powered by large scale displays of the paintings of one of the foremost figures of the impressionist school of art.

The exhibition also features a dedicated section for children, designed to engage young visitors with a blend of fun and education. (Supplied)

“Imagine Monet” showcases more than 200 masterpieces and is organized into three distinct sections, each offering a deep dive into different aspects of Monet’s life and work.

The first section shines a spotlight on Monet himself, his family, garden, and the landscapes that inspired him. The second section is dedicated to his famous series, including “Haystacks,” “Rouen Cathedral,” and “Gare Saint-Lazare.” The exhibition ends in a breathtaking display of Monet’s garden in Giverny and his iconic “Water Lilies” series.

HIGHLIGHTS

• ‘Imagine Monet’ brings the artist’s masterpieces to life through the innovative use of 40 HD projectors and Image Totale technology.

• Developed by Albert Plecy and enhanced by Hans Walter Muller’s topo-projection, this technique allows Monet’s artworks to transcend their frames.

• The exhibition space is designed as a discovery room, offering 360-degree views on walls and floors to capture Monet’s artistic journey.

Abdullah bin Slaih, an educational guide at the exhibition, elaborated on Monet’s innovative use of light and nature in his work: “He loved to paint … he especially loved to paint nature as he saw it exactly. That’s why they call it Impressionism, because he impressions nature as it is right in front of him, spot on, without any single error.”

The exhibition also features a dedicated section for children, designed to engage young visitors with a blend of fun and education. (Supplied)

The exhibition showcases works from the 1872 “Impression, Sunrise” to the “Water Lilies” series painted between 1914 and 1926, Slaih noted. “Monet, with no assistance, was inspired very much by nature … the Japanese bridge, for example. He made different paintings of it. So, we can see it in variations, for example, where we can see the same scene but with different lighting effects.

“The water lilies from Japan fascinated him so much that he brought them back home to Giverny, France. He painted them in different variations, angles, and reflections of the sun and lighting. This exhibition allows us to see the same subjects in different settings, such as sunshine, sunset, and different seasons,” he explained.

The exhibition also features a dedicated section for children, designed to engage young visitors with a blend of fun and education. (Supplied)

The exhibition combines the authenticity of Monet’s art with the advancements of modern technology, providing an educational yet deeply engaging experience suitable for all ages.

Visitors to the “Imagine Monet” exhibition are invited to immerse themselves in a transformative experience where Monet’s masterpieces come to life through the innovative use of 40 HD projectors and Image Totale technology.

Part of the 2024 Jeddah Season, the exhibition is organized into three distinct sections, each offering a deep dive into different aspects of Monet’s life  and work. (Supplied/SPA)

Developed by Albert Plecy and enhanced by Hans Walter Muller’s topo-projection, this technique allows Monet’s artworks to transcend their frames, filling the exhibition space with high-definition projections. The exhibition space itself is designed as a discovery room, offering 360-degree views on walls and floors that provide a comprehensive perspective on Monet’s artistic journey.

Visitors can explore Monet’s works from various angles, engaging in an audio-visual experience that deepens their understanding of his artistry while following their own path through the art, discovering new details and connections at their own pace.

The exhibition also features a dedicated section for children, designed to engage young visitors with a blend of fun and education. This area includes a green grass maze where kids can explore and play, surrounded by art installations and plants that reflect Monet’s love for nature. Interactive activities, such as creating their own artworks inspired by Monet’s style, and Monet-themed storybooks that introduce them to the artist’s life and work, are also available for younger visitors.

Arwah Masoud, a local art enthusiast, said: “Walking through the ‘Imagine Monet’ exhibition felt like stepping into a dream. The immersive experience brings Monet’s masterpieces to life in a way I've never seen before. It's breathtaking to see the same scenes in different lights and seasons, and the music adds an emotional depth that truly transports you into Monet’s world.”

Mohammed Saud, visiting with his children, expressed: “This exhibition is ideal for all ages. My kids were fascinated by the vibrant colors and interactive elements. It’s more than just an art display; it’s an educational journey that deepened our appreciation of Monet’s genius.

“They especially enjoyed painting and creating artwork in the kids’ section, which allowed us to explore the space and discover new details in each painting. It’s a great way for parents to keep their children engaged while we enjoy the exhibition.”

 


AlUla unveils groundbreaking study on Neolithic settlements in northwest Saudi Arabia

Updated 09 July 2024
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AlUla unveils groundbreaking study on Neolithic settlements in northwest Saudi Arabia

  • Research, conducted under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AlUla, reveals a more sophisticated society than previously imagined
  • Jane McMahon from the University of Sydney explained that they have uncovered a complex community that engaged in cattle herding, crafted jewelry, and participated in extensive trade

RIYADH: New archaeological evidence reshapes the understanding of Neolithic life in northwest Saudi Arabia, according to a study published in the journal Levant.

The research, conducted under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AlUla, reveals a more sophisticated society than previously imagined, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Jane McMahon from the University of Sydney, working with a research team as part of an RCU-supervised excavation project explained that they have uncovered a complex community that engaged in cattle herding, crafted jewelry, and participated in extensive trade networks. The strategic location of these settlements facilitated commerce with distant regions, including eastern Jordan and coastal areas along the Red Sea.

The research team has presented its latest conclusions and observations on archaeological investigations of structures known as standing stone circles. These dwellings consist of vertically placed stone slabs forming circles with diameters ranging from four to eight meters.

The study examined 431 standing stone circles at various sites in Harrat Uwayrid in AlUla, with 52 undergoing field surveys and 11 being excavated.

Researchers found that stone slabs, arranged in two concentric rows, likely served as foundations for wooden poles, possibly made of acacia. These poles would have supported the structure’s roof. At the center of each circular dwelling, a single stone slab appears to have anchored the main wooden column. This architectural feature suggests a sophisticated understanding of weight distribution and structural support among the ancient inhabitants. The discovery of various tools and animal remains at the site has led archaeologists to propose that dwelling roofs were fashioned from animal hides.

McMahon explained that “this research challenges hypotheses about how early northwest Arabian inhabitants lived.” She emphasized that these people were not merely simple pastoralists but had distinctive architecture, domesticated animals, jewelry, and diverse tools. Based on the number and size of stone circles, their population was likely substantial and much larger than previously thought.

Rebecca Foote, who heads archaeology and cultural heritage research at the RCU, has emphasized the significant impact of the commission’s archaeological initiatives. Under the RCU’s supervision, what is described as the world’s most comprehensive archaeological program has yielded crucial insights into the lives of Neolithic inhabitants in the region. Foote underscored the commission’s dedication to continued research efforts aimed at highlighting AlUla’s diverse cultural heritage and ongoing work towards establishing a globally recognized hub for archaeological studies.

Researchers examining animal bones from the Harrat Uwayrid site have uncovered evidence of a robust prehistoric economy. The findings indicate that the ancient inhabitants relied on a mix of domesticated animals like goats and sheep, and wild animals such as gazelles and birds for their livelihood. This diverse approach to animal exploitation likely provided the population with resilience in the face of environmental fluctuations.

Excavations have unearthed tools linked to animal husbandry, including implements for wool shearing and sheep slaughter.

Arrowheads discovered match types used in southern and eastern Jordan, indicating clear interaction between the regions.

Small perforated snail and seashells, likely used as decorative beads, were found at the sites. These shells correspond to those from the Red Sea, 120 km away, suggesting import from the coast during the Neolithic period.

Other artifacts include sandstone and limestone ornaments and bracelets, as well as a piece of red sandstone chalk, possibly used for drawing.

Researchers concluded that the study “greatly clarified the connected (yet distinct) nature of the Neolithic period in AlUla.”

The research team included experts from King Saud University, local AlUla residents like Youssef Al-Balawi who provided ethnographic and cultural insights, and students from the University of Hail.