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.
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.