‘Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale’ was coined by the man who gave the world some of the most iconic stories of our times. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, published 169 fairy tales in his lifetime, and gave us the fascinating tales of The Ugly Duckling, Wild Swans, The Tinder Box, Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and many more. Each story comes with a metaphor and has life lessons that are relevant even today. From The Ugly Duckling we learn about the pain of rejection, bullying and eventually self acceptance. The Little Mermaid opens our eyes about the pitfalls of making deals. The Emperor’s New Clothes exposes the king’s vanity and his hypocrisy.
Paying ode to Andersen’s fairy tales is a two month long exhibition titled Worlds from the Imagination at the Sharjah Art Museum. Hosted in collaboration with the UAE Board on Books For Young People (UAEBBY) the exhibition runs till 30th May. On display are artistic replicas of characters and settings from his stories with interactive quotes and pop-ups.
Tomorrow, I will Fly — a book of essays written by Dubai prison inmates will be launched at the Emirates Literature Festival, to be held from February 4 to 9, 2020. The book, a ground-breaking venture is the culmination of a two-year long collaboration with the Dubai Police and a year-long project with authors Clare Mackintosh and Annabel Kantaria. Both authors worked with inmates to help them pen their stories. The title of the book, Annabel said, was inspired by a Ugandan inmate who flew only once in her lifetime, the day she came to Dubai.
Intense creative writing workshops helped male and female inmates to process their own emotions and experiences through words. The collection of essays and personal reflections, all on the topic of Tomorrow, were collated in an anthology. To be launched on February 6 at the Penal and Correctional Institutions in Dubai, it will enable the writers involved to read their work aloud and celebrate their achievements among their peers. The book is also an attempt to help them harness their skills to acquire job opportunities once they complete their sentence.
‘’Words are extremely powerful tools. They can change people, and shape how we view the world and who we will become,” said Ahlam Bolooki, festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. “Tomorrow, I Will Fly” is a truly ground-breaking initiative for the UAE. It is humbling to be able to creatively support inmates in Dubai and through this project, make a difference to their lives.” At the conference she also announced that over 31 literary festival directors will be attending the festival and that there will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of free events and activities that the public can attend.
Gazans are noted to be resilient but little is known about their rich culinary tradition. Ironically, years of living under occupation has dispossessed the Palestinian kitchen resulting in several ingredients and recipes disappearing from dinner tables. The Palestinian Hosting Society founded in 2017 by Mirna Bamieh, an artist and cook, aims to reconstruct some of these lost recipes through food walks and shared meal tables.
In keeping with her collective’s tradition of food art displays Mirna brought alive the Gazan Dukka — a traditional Palestinian recipe eaten dipped in olive oil at the Jameel Arts Center in Dubai last week. Also called the ‘soil of the Gazans’ because of its colour, the Dukka is essentially a mix of roasted ingredients pound together.
To make the Dukka Mirna mixed half a kilo of powdered wheat kernels into a large bowl . The kernels had been roasted in a thick bottomed pan on low heat. To this she added roasted and crushed brown lentils, dil seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sesame. Mixing them liberally together Mirna added some salt, summac, lemon salt and lots of red chili flakes as the Gazans like their Dukka hot.
The interactive picnic concluded with small takeaways jars of Dukka and a tasting session where we savoured it with an assortment of bread, cheese and salads with ladles of olive oil. The Dukka recipe seemed easy and very similar to the Indian style of chutney powder mix especially due to the strong aroma of roasted cumin and coriander seeds.
According to the UN over 5 million Palestinians are living as refugees today. Restrictions over food and water resources and wild plant foraging has not only damaged the richness of Palestinian cuisine but it also taken away the identity of the Palestinians’ role as a host.
Mirna’s collective reactivates Palestinian recipes through public tables. After an intensive research period the Palestinian Hosting collective creates a menu that is shared over one long table for 50-60 guests. To date, the collective has created several such tables including — ‘Family Dinners’, ‘Our Nabulsi Table’, ‘Our Jerusalem Table’, The Old City of Jerusalem, a table, a tour and a map’, ;The Wheat Feat and ‘The Edible Wild Plants table’.
Some of the disappearing Palestinian recipes and ingredients that Mirna showcased in a talk before the Dukka demonstration included — the red tahini, rich with a nutty flavour, its ingredients are roasted on fire for close to 8 o 11 hours; rolled cyclamen leaves with rice and meat stuffing; a bitter almond drink, carob bseseh are roasted semolina balls mixed with carob molasses and sesame and Malateet an ancient printed bread depicting circles symbolising rain droplets when they first touch the soil. More details of several such interesting recipes can be found on Mirna’s page https://www.palestinehostingsociety.com/.
The historic medieval town of Pietrasanta in Tuscany, Italy, is famous for its marble and bronze workshops. Artists and sculptors have lived and worked across centuries in Pietrasanta since the time of Michelangelo. Some of the well-known sculptures and artworks from this artistic town are now on display at the newly opened OBLONG Contemporary Gallery in Dubai.
Located in Bluewaters Island, OBLONG Gallery was inaugurated under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahayan, Cabinet Member, Minister of Tolerance, UAE. The debut exhibition titled The Nascence showcases the works of Igor Mitoraj, Stefano Bombardieri, Pablo Atchugarry, Robert Indiana, Gustavo Velez, Helidon XhiXha and Jimenez Deredia, to name a few. For most of these artists, Pietrasanta has played a significant role in the development of their artistic careers.
Founded by three women entrepreneurs — Mara Firetti, Emanuela Venturini and Paola Marucci — whose love for art brought them together, OBLONG aims to create a platform for cross-cultural exchange between Italy and the UAE. The gallery’s name was derived from the ‘oblong’ shape, which comes from three other shapes; a square, a circle and a rectangle. Firetti, Marucci and Venturini described the shape as a representation of their different backgrounds and characters. The gallery will host workshops, educational initiatives and a cross-cultural art exchange programme between the two cities .
“I believe art is an instrument for social and cultural integration through which differences between cultures are merged. The UAE is becoming the centre of art in the Middle East, thanks to the vision of its respective leaders who have embraced art in different ways. The country is home to more than 200 nationalities who have individual preference for art, and I am thrilled about the contribution that the opening of OBLONG Contemporary Gallery will make. I envision it to bolster the art scene in Dubai and the UAE through the different exhibitions, workshops and activities that we will offer,” says Marucci, who has lived in Pietrasanta for the past 20 years.
A few tomes on Palestinian embroidery are placed strategically across the long table. I open one of them, a page where a pink slip was used as a bookmark, the headline here reads – ‘Embroidery under military occupation’.
mid-afternoon and as I sit leafing through the book, the other chairs in the
conference room of Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, slowly fill in with a diverse
group of enthusiastic women, who like me had signed up a few days ago for this
Palestinian tatreez embroidery workshop with artist Joanna Barakat.
Jerusalem, Joanna’s family moved to the United States when she was only a year
old. So, according to her tatreez (Arabic for embroidery) was part of her
growing up years only in the form of nostalgia sewn on cushion covers at home. Yet
for people in Palestine, tatreez was one of the finest art forms intrinsic to
village life, passed on through generations. During war and displacement it
took on a new meaning as women kept it alive in refugee camps. The creativity
of the art form provided a calming effect to them. It was also used as a weapon
against the occupation when embroiders stitched motifs of the Palestinian flag
Joanna, who is also the co-founder of The Tatreez Circle in the UAE, begins her workshop with a presentation on tatreez styles across Palestine before 1948. Each region, it seems had a distinctive embroidery pattern. In Bethlehem embroiders used to follow a unique couching format. As the area had several traders and merchants, their embroidery styles reflected the influence they carried from their travels. The region was synonymous with heavy embroidery on long sleeves and geometric patterns woven on silk wedding dresses called Malak.
On the other hand Ramallah was well-known for the cross stitch embroidery pattern. Dresses from this region were sewn with a wine-red cross stitch. Jerusalem interestingly had both couching and cross-stitch tatreez patterns.
The designs depicted the socio-economic status of the people and the motifs they sewed were influenced by their daily life. Famous for their native oranges, embroiders in Jaffa, for instance, stitched orange blossom patterns. Natural dyes using indigo were woven on dresses to ward off the evil eye. The hems of long dresses worn by Bedouin women were stitched with dark blue embroidery. If they remarried they added bursts of red along with the blue to showcase joy back in their lives.
Post the historic Nakba in 1948, however, these distinct embroidery styles became a mishmash of patterns drawn from each region to become universally known as Palestinian tatreez.
This informative presentation was followed by the actual workshop that involved some real stitching and sewing. Each participant was given a kit with a needle, a meshed cloth and a tatreez pattern. The goal was to learn to sew a cypress tree motif from either — the Hebron style, Beersheba, Gaza, Ramallah or Jaffa areas.
Joanna showed us that to maintain an easy grip on the thread the length of the yarn should be only as long as one’s hand. She quickly measured a red thread and effortlessly put it through the needle and showed us a simple cross stitch pattern. We could choose a style we wanted to follow and stitch on.
Only it wasn’t as easy as it looked. As women around me were sewing cypress trees with their nimble fingers I was still struggling to put the thread through the eye of the needle. Exasperated after a few failed attempts I took the assistance of the skilled lady next to me. Then funnily enough went on to sew a motif that nowhere resembled the ones synonymous to Palestine. Amused at her errant student Joanna readily offered to resew it so that I could start afresh. In reality the most fitting outcome of the workshop for me was not stitching the embroidery but going back richer with insights on the tradition and history of tatreez.
Driving through the scenic roads of Fujairah on family holidays Sadaqat Pervaiz often stopped enroute to admire the historic Al Bidiya Mosque. The diminutive rock and mud structure known as the oldest existing house of worship in the emirates held a special place in his heart. Over the years he captured its rustic charm by clicking innumerable pictures till the artist in him decided to pay the ultimate ode to his muse with strokes of paint on a canvas.
The allure of portraying a slice of the bygone era through his art led him to paint a number of historical sites of the UAE. Curated as part of his Heritage Collection these paintings will be showcased in his upcoming solo art exhibition – Back to Basics – at Gallery 76 in Dubai International Art Centre from June 22 to 29, 2019. Forty incredible artworks from Sadaqat’s collection will be on display. Besides Al Bidiya five other heritage sites are part of the exhibition. These include the Al Bastakiya Mosque, which was first established at the end of the 19th century by textile and pearl merchants, the Al-Hayl Castle, once used as the headquarters for Fujairah’s ruling family, Al Jazirah Al Hamra — an old abandoned town in Ras Al Khaimah considered by experts to be one of the best places to study traditional coral-stone architecture, the Khor Kalba Village and the iconic RAF Sharjah
Well known as a celebrated landscape artist in his native Pakistan, Sadaqat has lived in the UAE for over two decades. A deep appreciation of the local culture and the untouched nature of the historical sites of the UAE inspired Sadaqat to paint them. “It was almost like stepping back in time and that feeling is what I hoped to convey through my paintings. There is no shortage of inspiration in the UAE as all the seven emirates have a wealth of historic sites.”
He believes in using art as a form of documentation to preserve culture and history. “History is a bridge to the past and art is a bridge to connecting with people. Both leave you feeling like you have learned something valuable with a new appreciation and outlook towards life,” says Sadaqat.
Photography is an integral part of his artistic process. “Often the journey begins when I hear about a site from someone or find it over the Internet. After I drive to the location, I carefully examine the details and take several shots of the forts and castles from different angles. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to most of the places do not have conditions that permit one to paint on site. So, the photos I click become the premise for most of my paintings,” he says.
Through his art he hopes to draw attention to the incredible historical restoration work done in the UAE. Most of all, he wants to ignite a desire in people to visit some of these locations, to learn more about them and then share their experiences.
Born in 1956 in Wazirabad, Pakistan, Sadaqat grew up in an art inspired environment. His father, a government officer, was also a water colour artist. This early encouragement led him to pursue a formal art education in the National College of Arts in Lahore. Under the mentorship of a famous landscape artist Sadaqat developed a distinct personal style.
But family circumstances paved way for him to move to Sharjah in 1991. Soon after he took on the job of an art director at the Expo Centre in Sharjah. For the next 18 years he spear headed the formation of the company’s first art department. It was only when both his children completed their education he felt it was time to go back to art.
Water colours and oil paints are his preferred medium today. “Sometimes I like to experiment with charcoals, chalk and coloured paper. But most of my landscapes are in water colour and some of my portraits are in charcoal and chalk,” he points out.
Back to Basics is Sadaqat’s first solo exhibition in Dubaiat DIAC from June 22 to 29, 2019.
Bold illustrations showcasing contemporary and culturally-inspired designs is the forte of Emirati artist Khalid Mezaina’s work. Centered around local traditions his art largely includes hand-drawn elements. He has a Bachelor’s degree in visual communication from American University of Sharjah and a Master’s in textiles from Rhode Island School of Design, USA. Khalid is an independent artist, illustrator and graphic designer, who has participated in several exhibitions and has some iconic projects to his credit. In 2016, he was commissioned by ADMAF (Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation) to create a series of illustrations called cafeterias of the UAE, depicting a slice of the vibrant shawarma shops and cafeteria culture in the emirates. At Jam Jar, in Al Serkal Avenue, he presented a project on talismans. With Sharjah Art Foundation he curated a workshop called Tapestries exploring the trends and history of tapestries in Sharjah’s old textile souk. From illustrating the walls of a music store in a mall to his textile project on wearable capes Khalid’s artistic vision is diverse and deeply personal.
At the recent Ramadan Flow Talk series Khalid shared his work and his thoughts on what went behind their creation. Here is an excerpt from the interview he gave me for middleeastmasala.
What does art mean to you?
I think art is about having something to say and also speaking to anyone out there that shares the same sentiments as you.
How would you describe your style of work?
I would describe my style of work as illustrative. I illustrate things that I see, things that interest me or things that I would like to talk about.
Is there a common artistic thread that we can find in your designs?
I like to incorporate something hand drawn in all my work. Everything starts as a hand drawing which is then scanned and enhanced digitally. Be it an artwork for exhibition purpose, a design for a pattern layout, or work for a client — everything starts with a hand drawing in my sketchbook.
Do you feel it’s time we broke stereotypical representations of the region in art — for instance the overuse of lanterns and camels?
There is a common tendency to appropriate or recycle stereotypical visuals to depict the region. For it to be less predictable, I think the challenge is figuring out a way to use these common motifs and imagery in a fresh way. I personally do not mind the use of certain imagery that is a direct representation of the culture or region we’re in. I just think what makes something stand out is not copying something that’s already been done before.
How do you represent iconic cultural motifs of the Emirates through your art?
I create work that represents my experiences of belonging to the Emirates. I try to create visuals that are contemporary and relevant to the times so that my work does not look redundant or appear to be similar to what something someone has seen before. Artists do tend to fall in this trap where they use certain motifs the same way. I hope my use of cultural motifs represent a different perspective that is based on my understanding of what it means to be from the Emirates, which can be a unique take compared to others.
Take us through the journey of documenting the designing of the ‘cafeterias of the UAE’ project that you did for Abu Dhabi Music and Art foundation in 2016. ‘Cafeterias of the UAE’ was an illustration series for ADMAF’s 2016 exhibition ‘Portrait of a Nation’. The exhibit showcased different perspectives of the United Arab Emirates through the works of the selected artists. I thought a perfect idea to represent the Emirates was through the cafeterias found all over the country. Emiratis, expats and everyone in between flock to these cafeterias daily for an affordable sandwich, a humorously titled juice, or a plastic cup of sugared, steaming hot chai. These cafeterias are iconic structures in the UAE’s cultural and urban landscape. The final result was a series of six illustrated cafeterias that caught my attention as I drove around finding them.
What are your favourite cafeterias in town — any childhood memories that make them special?
I do not have a favourite cafeteria. But the word cafeteria instantly brings a flood of memories from high school and university days, when my friends and I would walk or drive to one close by after classes, to get a quick (affordable) bite to eat and chat together.
What are your current projects?
In the lead up to summer, I am trying to take things easy. It has been a year since I moved back home after completing my master’s and I have been mainly occupied with commissioned work and client based projects. Now I would like to be playful in the studio to experiment and work on projects for myself. I am currently completing a couple of client based illustrations including a mini comic with a friend. I am also scheduled to teach a series of workshops for young creatives at Tashkeel and Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and at Warehouse 421 in Abu Dhabi.
Lastly, what do you want people to take away from your art?
Honestly, at the end of the day, I hope the audience would relate to my work in some way. I hope it would make people connect to the stories or narratives conveyed through them, they would relate to the messages shared, and feel happy and positive.
“Two overjoyed kids in a candy store!” that’s what we transformed into as we pushed open the glass door of Al Samadi sweet shop in Deira. Surrounded by trays full of sweet treats in all hues, oozing appetizing aromas, it was overwhelming to make an appropriate choice to begin our sugary adventure. So, we hopped from one end of the store to the other, curiously absorbing each colourful detail of the Middle eastern delicacies on display, asking the patient Filipina shop attendant for their names, toppings and ingredients. This conversation opened a window to the several unique Arabic desserts I had never heard of, let alone tasted.
Now here I have to confess that I have never been a big fan of baklava and kunafa, the most common Arabic desserts laid out in iftar meals and in Middle eastern restaurant menus. But I have enjoyed eating milk based puddings — Umm Ali and Mahalabia. That is why we started our culinary trip at Al Samadi — with the familiar bowl of Mahalabia — only this one was covered generously with sliced pistachios, slivers of almonds, topped with cream and cherry and looked more like the pastry version of Mahalabia.
Creamy and crunchy, we savoured each spoonful of the milk dessert made by boiling corn starch mixed with flavoured milk. Interestingly the dessert gets its name from a seventh century Arab general called Al Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra . The general was served the milk pudding by his Persian cook and he liked it so much that he named it after himself. It is today a popular dessert in all the Middle Eastern countries. My first memory of eating Mahalabia was in a street shop in Cairo, a much simpler version topped only with powdered cardamom and pistachios.
The bowl of Mahalabia was accompanied by a cream filled Ghraybeh. These melt in the mouth Middle eastern butter cookies are a staple all year around, but at Al Samadi, the shortbread came with a rich filling of cream, making it a mix of crumbly and sweet squishy when eaten. Well-known in the middle east Ghraybeh has a string of variant pronunciations and diverse ingredients — in Iran it is called qurabiye and is made with almond flour, sugar, egg whites, margarine and pistachios. In Morocco it is made with semolina and goes by the name Ghoriba. It is also an equally popular tea time snack and dessert in Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Greece. This Lebanese version was filled with cream, unique to the country called kashta or ashta. Made by boiling milk with a tinge of rose or orange blossom, kashta is a local delicacy and used as a filling for many other desserts. At al Samadi most of the sweets, specially made for Ramadan, were filled with kashta.
Here they look appetizing as toppings on kunafas and inside qatayefs (the d-shaped folded desserts in the picture). Qatayefs, I discovered, are specially made during Ramadan in many Arab countries. They can have various fillings — including unsalted cheese or an assortment of nuts, are usually fried and coated with sugar syrup or drizzled with powdered sugar.
The kunafa, of course, is more well-known and comes in several shapes and colours. A historic sweet delicacy from the Levant region it is made with phyllo pastry dough and also with semolina. Layered with cheese, cream and nuts kunafas are soaked in sugar syrup. At Al Samadi there were trays full of kunafas, pictured above is the popular bird’s nest (also called osh al bulbul) kunafa filled with ashta and topped with nuts. For this a stringy version of the kunafa dough is used. And for that bright orange colour confectioners add food dye in the kunafas.
In this sweet paradise the most delicious of all desserts turned out to be the mafruka.
Very similar to the kunafa the mafruka is a Lebanese dessert made with crushed pistachio dough, clotted cream and semolina. It was buttery soft, moist and heavenly.
A visit to an arabic sweet shop is incomplete without tasting the baklava. So iconic is the baklava to the Middle East that its origin and invention is widely debated and claimed by several nations in the region.
The crunchy sweet treat is made by layering phyllo pastry dough and chopped nuts, drenched in a sticky sugar syrup. It is typically prepared in large trays and then sliced into different shapes. For the baklava lover Al Samadi has quite a wide range — one of their most popular is the bukaj baklava — it looks like a purse or a parcel (bukaj in Arabic) and is stuffed with pistachios, pine nuts or cashews. The Borma baklava is cylindrical in shape and is made with stringy kunafa dough and nuts. Cashews crushed inside phyllo dough shaped as fingers are called Asabi and chopped pistachios sandwiched between layers of kunafa dough become Basma.
There is quite a staggering variety of Arabic desserts at Al Samadi. There is enough to try one sweet every day of the month, spoken like a true dessert fan. Originally established in Lebanon in 1872 the store today has branches in Ukraine, UK and in the UAE. We hope to come back soon for more luscious times.
Two writers based in Dubai. Their books — historical fiction — set in diverse eras — one in 1930s Germany and the other in 16th century Turkey and England. How did they conceive these intriguing plots from a past they had not lived in — what were their points of reference, their inspiration and their writing process? As part of a talk at the Emirates Literature Festival the writers gave the audience an insight into researching and writing gripping historical fiction.
Film producer Daniela Tully’s debut novel Hotel on Shadow Lake is based on a mysterious disappearance and family secrets that date back to New York in 1910s and Germany in 1930s. The book is inspired by a personal experience involving a letter received by Daniela’s grandmother from her twin brother after the fall of the Berlin Wall 46 years after he had sent it. Rehan Khan’s book, the first of the Tudor Turk trilogy, is titled The Chronicles of Will Ryde and Awa Maryam al Jameel. Set in Istanbul in 1591 the story revolves around the theft of Moses’ precious staff from the Topkapi Palace. It is Rehan’s third book following the Tasburai series of novels. Continue reading “Writing historical fiction at DubaiLitFest”→
An interlacing web of red threads crisscrossing across a room, tied around an old wooden boat — aptly titled ‘Departure’– is one of the most bewitching art exhibits at the Jameel Art Centre in Dubai. In her signature style Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota weaves a vision in red igniting myriads of emotions in her viewers. Silent and awe-struck, each one of one of us in the room felt at once connected and transported into the stunning mess of tangled threads staring at us.
Located on the second floor in one of the art rooms, most visitors are caught unaware by the aesthetic brilliance surrounding this room full of thread. In the centre are two pieces of an old broken dhow, emanating out of its sides and engulfing the whole room are strings of bright red yarn.
The stunning installation was created using around 12,000 balls of yarn by Shiota. She was aided by a team of 10 volunteers and it took her two weeks to complete. The project will be part of the Jameel Art centre till May 2019, said Dawn Ross, manager, collections, during an art room talk I attended.
Born in Osaka, Japan in 1972, Shiota now lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Today she is well-known world over for her large-scale installations created using threads and ordinary objects such as shoes, keys, boats, windows, dresses and suitcases. She says ordinary everyday objects help her to connect to people’s memories and unlike a canvas there are no limitations of space with threads.
One of her iconic projects is Dialogue from DNA (2004) designed in Poland and then recreated in Germany and Japan. As part of the project she invited people to donate shoes with memories attached to them. People donated thousands of old shoes for the exhibit — some of those who had died, others from their first dates, weddings and family trips. With four miles of red yarn tied to 400 shoes Shiota connected them all from a single point. For yet another of her famous projects — Key in the Hand (2015) at the Venice Art Biennale she used 50,000 personal keys tied around red threads, hanging in a room over two ancient boats.
In Departure, Shiota, has used two old boats sourced locally in Dubai. She says, the boat is a symbol of memories and emotions attached to people in the emirate. Colour Red is a metaphor for relationships. The thread creates a sea of human connections and through Departure she wanted to depict how we are all connected in one way or the other.