Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Strange World of Old Jeddah

Walking in Old Jeddah (also known as Al-Balad) is like going back in time, but strangely that time really isn’t all that long ago. While parts of it were built in the 7th Century as a route for the pilgrims on their way to Mecca, other parts were built just a 100 years ago.

The harsh weather and sea air in the area has left many of the buildings in ruin, but they are still charming in their own way.  Most of them were constructed out of bricks of coral showing how the people of the time used what was available in the area – or in this case, the sea – for building supplies.  

The shutters also were constructed in such a way that they hid the women while still allowing a breeze to flow through the homes to keep them cool during the hot summers in the area.

As Jeddah grew in size and in wealth, many of the residents moved out of the old town and into the newer homes in the North. But still Al-Balad is bustling with life in the late afternoons. 

The mosque is the oldest one in the city and still widely used, and the bakeries, fabric shops and other stores are also visited by the locals.  And many of them have been there for generations and carrying on the traditions of the ancestors.

Friday, January 13, 2017

PHOTO MOMENT: Prepping for a creativity

Library at KAUST set up for a workshop in Calligraphy during WEP2017.

Contemporary art in Saudi Arabia

People always seem to be surprised that art (and really good art) exists in Saudi Arabia.  There may be certain restrictions due to Muslim religion, but art can still bloom within restrictions.  And often what comes out are powerful and memorizing images that speak to you.

This was the case of the Maïmouna Guerresi's  Solo Exhibition entitled, "The Journey Of The Sparrow Hawk & Other Stories." You can see more of her work on her website:

Her work is currently being shown in the Hafez Gallery ( in Jeddah and the work is haunting with images showing the emptiness hidden under the abaya of the women and the isolation.  And yet in each piece you sense the quiet strength within the women.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mesmerized by the art and words of Qin Tian

Qin Tian's exhibit at KAUST in January 2017
Writing has always been a part of my life. I wrote my first novel when I was 6 about an Irish Setter named Cinnamon and his adventures living with a koala bear in New Zealand (it wasn’t very good). All my life, I have always jotted down lines of poetry, movie plot ideas or the first couple chapters of a book whenever inspiration hits.

But it was art that I focused on throughout university. My art went on hold when I became a journalist over 20 years ago, but my artist’s soul is still there.

This week I had the honor of having dinner with Qin Tian, one of China’s national artists. His work is incredible to see, but when you hear him talk about his passion and the vision behind the paintings, they completely come to life.

The talk he gave at KAUST during their WEP2017 lecture series was in his native dialect from his area China, but I asked his interpreter to send me the English version so I could share it with you.

These are his words:

I'm Qin Tian from China.

I have long been yearning for an opportunity to pay a visit to your esteemed university ever since I gained my understandings of it via internet. Today I am so much thrilled with joy to personally visit here, and I am overwhelmed by your hospitality and I am really honored.

This visit to your university has been greatly supported and assisted by my friends in China and the leaders of the university. I hereby extend my sincerest appreciation to them. Also, I appreciate your attendance to my speech. Hopefully, may all of you have a general understanding of Chinese calligraphy and painting arts through my academic lecture and exhibition of my works, and may you be benefited in this wonderful visual feast.

The following is what I am about to share with you:


1. Calligraphy works

My calligraphy works are mainly divided into two categories: Modelled calligraphy -- including the regular script structure and the structure of Jiucheng Palace of Ouyang Xun; the Hundred Rhyme Song in cursive writing by Wang Xizhi; and the Memorial before Battle in cursive writing by Yue Fei.

Painting elements are added in my calligraphy works so that the writing and painting are perfectly blended. In addition, the artistic compositions and forms are diversified and go beyond limitations. These works are not only spiritual sustenance and implied with spiritual connotations but also revelations of the state of mind.

Photo by Jian Zhou

My calligraphy works are mostly “freehand”, as in Chinese characters are used as the models of creation for integral and harmonious beauty. My creations are not limited to the traditional calligraphy expressions. Instead, painting and other classes of arts are often borrowed to express my aesthetic tastes to the maximum extent.


2. Chinese painting works

I have been looking for the appropriate status and development space of Chinese painting in contemporary cultural context throughout my artistic career, and never have I stopped my attempts of trying new patterns of expression so that Chinese painting can adapt itself to the development of times and be accepted and acknowledged by more and more youths.

Autograph is not used as one of the fixed elements in my Chinese painting works, in which way not only the works are more pictorially tense, but they also happen to coincide with western paintings so that the paintings are illustrated in a purer way. I don’t have the habit of preparing drafts before painting. I am more inclined to improvisation as in the painting is created spontaneously along with my sensations.

My Chinese painting works are mostly depictions of plum blossoms, lotuses and landscape.

Traditionally speaking, plum blossoms and lotuses are categorized as the bird-and-flower genre in Chinese painting. They are independently categorized in my works. Chinese literati are historically inherited with the habitude of making use of objects and landscapes to express their ideas and emotions. 

Plum blossoms and lotuses are respectively featured with their own characteristics and endowed with unique spirits. When everything withers in the winter, plum blossoms bloom against the world, and they tend to be more vigorous when the weather becomes colder and fiercer.

A lotus remains its pureness despite its origin in sludge, and it never becomes coquettish after being cleaned in clear water. Lotuses have long been favored and respected by people from of old since they stay elegant while being low key. Lotuses are indeed the role model of high moral character among flowers. They not only make a place more beautiful but also purify human heart.

Lotuses have to be depicted with soft brushwork. I usually use goat hair brush which tends to be more moist so that lotuses can be painted with more textures but their character also stands vividly revealed on paper.


3. My freehand landscape paintings

Imitation of the reality world or subjective expression are the fundamental factors that determine the level of artistic tastes. I personally prefer the latter, as in turning objective images into subjective ideas so that the imagery expressions and brushwork may present abstract formal significance and vast aesthetic perception in an implicit and indistinct manner.

The ranges and peaks, and floating clouds painted in these works are all filtered and screened subjectively by souls without exception in order to manifest my unique spiritual sustenance. Naturalness, magnificence, grandeur, “luxuriantly green” in close distance and “boundless” in further distance, all of which are the significant features of my landscape paintings.

I learned from the nature predecessors to form my own style of landscape painting in combination of my own aesthetic orientations. My use of brush is succinct in creation and I use ink boldly. The lines in the paintings are interlaced and finished smoothly, demonstrating the charm of landscapes to the fullest.


4. My experimental works of abstract ink & wash painting



There are images and objects in absent-mindedness. - Laos

Laozi’s discussion of “objective images” serves as the inspiration of my abstract landscape paintings. Intentional or unintentional scribblings totally follow the lead of my feelings during the creation of this series of works, and I was completely immersed in an atmosphere where I lost the senses of objectivism and subjectivism.

I was allowed to create freely in my inner world, and the traditional context of Chinese painting has been completely overthrown. Emotions, colors, inks, points, lines, sides and spaces are intertwined in these works, making up exciting visual patterns one after another, which are indeed “lingering”.

Good works not only catch the eyes of the audience, but are also visually pleasing. These works are not given names, leaving unlimited space and aftertaste for the viewers. This series of works breach the restraints of traditional Chinese paintings, and reflect the concerns and tolerance for different regions, ethnicities and cultural contexts.

Due to the limited space of the exhibition hall, there are only 45 works being exhibited, including: Chinese calligraphy works – semi-cursive writing. Chinese painting works – freehand bird-and-flower paintings, freehand landscape paintings; freehand plum blossoms collection, freehand lotuses collection, freehand landscape collection. Abstract ink and wash collection. All these works were created in recent years and represent my creations in this period, demonstrating my areas and academic concepts in calligraphy, painting art, research, creation and practices.