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Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


My Top 50 Films of 2016

It's time to share my top 50 films of 2016. It includes various genres and languages, films seen at film festivals and regular screenings in Dubai and abroad.

Critically acclaimed films I didn't get to see this year which could  have made the list:
Death of Louis XIVThe Love WitchNerrudaSilence

Critically acclaimed films I didn't like this:
American HoneyCaptain FantasticEverybody Wants Some!!La La Land, Neon Demon, Nocturnal Animals (except for the story line featuring Michael Shannon, if that was a film on its own, it would have been included in the list below), Paterson 

It's hard to pin down one underlying theme connecting all 50 films listed below, but there are lots of films that feel melancholic and are about time and memories. 

Here it is, my top 50 films of the year:


50. Withered Green (Mohammed Hammad)

Impressive debut by Mohammed Hammad - subtle and probing film about Iman who has to ask her uncles to meet the groom who wants to propose to her younger sister, since Arab traditions requires a male presence from the bride's side. During her meetings with several male relatives to find one of them to agree to turn up, and her daily and mundane routines at work and home, hidden truths start revealing themselves about Iman and her personal and inner conflicts. 

49. Very Big Shot (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya) 

Another impressive debut film by a young Arab director. Wrote about it here

48. How to be Single (Christian Ditter)    

I thought this was quite a progressive Hollywood rom com, it wasn't just about girl meets boy or girl trying to find boy. It was also about sisters and friendship and independence. Taught me a new phrase roo, "don't fall into a dicksand" (dicksand = male oriented quicksand, when a girl loses her identity around men).  

47. Green Room ( Jeremy Saulnier) 

A commentary about America and violence. It was tense, claustraphobic and the end of film left me wanting a spin off film about Amber.  Also, this track:

46. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg) 

Two words: John Goodman

45. The Untamed (Amat Escalante)

Hard to talk about this without giving too much away. But I'll just say this, forest, sexual desires and tentacles. 

44. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)

Loveless marriage, stifling household, a passionate love affair, violence leading more violence, we follow Lady Katherine changing her constrained life to one that she takes control of, but with disturbing conequences. A descent into mental and emotional darkness. 

43. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)  

A protest film that resonates outside the UK too. Fighting economic hardship and bureaucracy with dignity, despite reaching your lowest point. Incredibly moving. 

42. Hail, Caesar! (Dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)  

This was so much fun to watch. "It's all in the hips, the lips, and the eyes and the teeth."


 41. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)

A melancholic film about mothers, daughters, loss, grief, guilt, past haunting the present.      

40. Kékszakállú (Gastón Solnicki, 2016)   


The mundane lives of young girls coming of age, that's subtle, ambiguous and visually striking. A film I hope more people will discover and see in 2017. 

39. The Wedding Ring (Rahmatou Keïta)

This film from Niger is a hidden gem in the film festival circuit. It's about Tiyaa, a young woman from an aristocrtic family who returns to her home, the sultanate of Damagaram after studying in Paris. A look at relationships between women and men in Sahelian society - love, marriage, divorce and desertion. A story told with grace and dignity, this is another 
film I hope more people will discover and see in 2017. 


38. Raw (Julia Ducournau) 

A horror tale about sibling rivalry, peer pressure, vegetarianism and cannibalism. Yes, vegetarianism and cannibalism.   

37. The Wailing (Na Hong-jin)  

Gripping 150min supernatural horror from South Korea with so many revelations and twists, comical and jump scare moments, you just have to embrace it and follow the ride till the very end.  

36. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)  

The suspicious weird neighbour, the missing bodies, the unsolved crimes - everything is exactly what it seems in this Japanese thriller-horror. The strained marriage and lack of communication between the husband (who is also investigating the unsolved criminal cases) and wife that eventually endangers their lives is what stood out for me.


35. Elle (Paul Verhoeven) 

A film about trauma and the refusal to be victimised, I found myself thinking a lot about and trying to understand Michèle Leblanc's character. I struggle to articulate my feelings about this film, but it is one that has stayed with me which is why it is on this list. Also, Isabelle Huppert is brilliiant in this.    


34. Zoology (Ivan I. Tverdovsky)     

A Russian tale about a woman with a tail, an allegory about contemporary Russia. About conformity, individuality and defiance. An ambigious ending that perhaps shied away from being more upfront about its message.        

33. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) 

This film made me think a lot about communication and how language shapes our thoughts. It is also a film about being vulnerable and about trust. I really enjoyed watching Amy Adams in this film. 


32. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols)  

I found this film very emotional and melancholic. Made me think of Interstellar which was in my top 20 last year. I'd like to revisit both films in a double bill.

Also, another film with a memorable soundtrack. Here's the main theme. 


31. Ascent, Dir. Fiona Tan 

A captivating film made entrirely of photos and narrated by Fiona Tan and Hiroki Hasegawa, Ascent is a reflection on the significance of Mt Fuji and its symbolism throughout Japan's history. One line towards the end of the film stayed with me, "If you can't sleep at night, it is because you are awake in someone else's dream".  


30.Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)  

My favourite film from/about the Arab region this year. Mostly marketed as Saudi rom com (which in itself is a suprising and an easy selling point), it is much, much more than that. It is a scathing commentary on the control of public spaces and women's bodies. It's sharp, funny with a great two leads, Fatima Albanawi and Hisham Faqeeh.


29. Divines (Houda Benyamina) 

A fantastic debut by Houda Benyamina starring her sister Oulaya Amamra as the very fierce, ambitious and unapologetic Douniya. Opportunities for success for this muslim teenager living in the outskirts of Paris looks limited. But she is determined to enjoy the good life and will do what it takes to have that life. It's thrilling and defiant. The film is on Netflix and I strongly urge you to watch it. It would also make a good double bill with Girlhood (Celine Sciamma) which was in my top 20 last year.   


28. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader) 

One of the most underrated films this year. It deserves more love. It is good. Also very funny. 

27. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)

An exquisite looking film, with some great twists and turns. 

26. United States of Love (Tomasz Wasilewski)

Set in 1990 Poland, soon after the end of the Cold War, I loved the cinematography in this. A despondent and melancholic film about loneliness and alienation.     


25. Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho)

Government mistrust and vulnerabilty in one of the best zombie films I've seen for a while.  

24. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari)

Another political film, this one is a horror film et in an apartment in Iran in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war. Lots of extremely scary moments in this. 


23. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

Dorothea, a single mother in her 50s and raising her teenage son in 1979, a time of cultural change and upheaval, punk music, women's lib,  . is trying to Four women in three stories set in Livingstone, Montana. All somewhat connected and each story about various degrees of unsatisfied lives. I was moved by the yearning and solitary existence in the third story. 


22. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Dorothea Fields, a single free spirited mother in her mid-50s raising her teenage sone in 1979, in Santa Barbara California. A film that captures that year with great detail and authencity. The film is also very authentic emotionally - a mother trying to understand the new counterculture of the time, trying to raise a man without a male role model. But it also becomes about a son trying to understand his mother and the woman she was, is and will be. 

A great ensemble cast that is an ode to the director's mother. Annette Benning is superb in this.     


21. Voyage of Time: Life's Journey (Terrence Malick)

Wonderous. That's all I have to say about this film. 

20. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)

An intimate portrait of Akerman's mother in the last years of her life. In its mundaneness, there's a mother-daughter relationship that reveals history and memories. Both personal and universal. 


19. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) 

An awkward and estranged father/daughter relationship, a lonely father trying to get back into his daughter's life and trying to tell her there is more to life than just work. A daughter trying to prove herself on the job and dealing with with corporate sexism who doesn't seem to have time for anything else. There's a lot of humour masking extreme sadness in this film.    

18. The Eyes of My Mother (Nicolas Pesce)

A gruesome and melancholic horror film about lonliness. One of the most disturbing, but also must see films of the year. 

17. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)

A bittersweet and funny, very funny film written and directed by Taika Waititi. So well paced and executed, this was a real suprise for me. 


16. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)

A family drama mostly set inside an apartment, a superbly crafted film with great dialogue, acting, direction. 

15. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello) 

Young Parisians revolting against the establishment. We are never told exactly why, but this is a film that somehow anticipated the troubles in Europe today. Masterful and provocative. With a great soundtrack too.

14. Further Beyond (Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor) 

A tracing of a journey from Ireland to Chile by Ambrosio O’Higgins, First Marquis of Osorno, who left Ireland to become a Spanish colonial administrator and then served the Spanish Empire. But this isn't your traditional biopic. It's a deconstructed film essay that's really about migration and identity.  A unique film. 


13. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve) 

Another film starring Isabel Huppert. Nathalie, philosophy teacher dealing with a new transition in her life, a husband that leaves her after 25 years, a mother that passes away. There is no melodrama in this film, instead, it's dealing with life through everyday circumstances. Brilliantly directed by Mia Hansen-Løve who is becoming one of my favourite filmmakers.    


12. Your Name (Makoto Shinkai)

An incredibly layered film with themes of parallel lives, missed connections, body swap, dreams and memories. My favourite animated film this year.  

11. The Bacchus Lady (E J-yong)

A devastating film about old age and lonliness. What starts off as comedic soon turns into heartbreak. 

10. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) 

A contemporary western, with great dialogue and Jeff Bridges is fantastic in this. Also has the best diner scene in film this year.


9. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016) 

A documentary that combines two histories, the fise and fall of a city and the history of silent film, all told through remarkable found footage and photos with a mesmerising soundtrack.


8. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho) 

A defiant film about standing up to real estate bullies and the preservation of histories and legacies. Clara, the main protaginist in the film is a hero and we all need someone like her in our lives.


7. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

Sharp, intelligent and absolutely hilarious. 


6. Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Koreeda) 

One of the most loving family dramas I've seen. Featuring ordinary people with ordinary lives, a film with so much empathy, loving and optimism that doesn't feel saccharine. Hirokazu Koreeda creates a world in his films that I want to live in.   

5. Little Men (Ira Sachs)  

Ira Sachs' Love is Strange was in my list of favourite films in 2014. Little Men is also set in New York and also touches upon the real estate issues in New York, but this time told through the lives of two young boys, the sensitive and empathetic Jake and the bold and confident Tony. About coming of age, friendship, following dreams. It's affectionate, moving and humane.    


4. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan) 

I felt so much cinematic pleasure whilst watching this film. References to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Wong Kar Wai, but a film that is unique to its first time director Bi Gan. Halfway into the film, there's a wonderful and impressive 40min long take 40 that crosses bridges, rivers and alleyways.  A dreamlike state where the past, present and future floats together. The ending of the film left me 

A world where the past, present and future flVisually and narratively A visual Watching this felt like I was in a dream, floating through the past, present and future. The ending wowed me. 


3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

What more can be said about Moonlight that hasn't been said already? An incredibly moving and melancholic film, I am so glad to see this 'small film' it getting so much love and recognition. If you missed it this year, seek it out in 2017.


2. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) 

A portrait of Emily Dickinson's life, emotional struggles and poetry. An independent woman who followed her passion for writing, even if it was only for a few hours before dawn when she could enjoy writing freely. She challenged social and religious norms, but was also reclusive and lived within the confines of her home with her family.

With excellent direction, writing and acting, Cynthia Nixon is exceptional in this, the film its intelligent, funny and tragic, especially towards in the second half of the film. We see Dickinson dealing with the death of her parents, see isolates herself further from her family. You try to understand her inner thoughts and conflicts, about someone who wrote so well about life but who didn't really live it to the fullest. 

It's a masterpiece and was going to be my number one film this year if it weren't for...  

1. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson) 

This film came my way only a couple of weeks ago after I was worried I wouldn't get to see it this year. I've been hearing very good things about it from January after its premiere at Sundance. 

A film made up entirely of unused footage captured over 25 years by documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. It starts with this quote:

For the past 25 years, I've worked as a documentary cinematographer. I originally shot the following footage for other films, but here I ask you to see it as my memoir. These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.  

It is masterfully edited, revealing the relationship between the person behind the camera and the person in front of it. It raises questions about objectivity, constructed narratives in documentary making, emotional and ethical complexities of filming other people's lives. But it is also a film about life and the world we live in. A remarkable film.



Favourite film discoveries of 2016

Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927)

Here's my list of favourite old film discoveries of the year. I feel lucky and thankful that I travel regularly, so I make sure I attend as many film screenings as I can during my travels, especially repertory screenings on 35mm/70mm. 

Here are my top 50 film discoveries and where I saw them (including which format). It includes repertory, remastered/restored, revived screenings mostly at cinemas, plus a few titles I watched on DVD/VOD. 

If I had to share one stand out, it would be Abel Gance's Napoleon. An incredible looking black and white and colour tinted film with a spectacular triptych finale. Politically relevant and deeply engrossing, and with a running time of 404min (including three breaks), it is one screening I will never forget at the BFI in London. Here's the film's timeline and journey from its initial idea to the cinema. Incredible.  


Cinemas/Film Festivals:  

Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)

  1. Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927, DCP, BFI, London)
  2. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928, DCP, Shakespeare’s Globe, London)
  3. Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959, 35mm, BFI, London)
  4. One Eyed Jack (Marlon Brando, 1961, DCP, BFI London Film Festival)
  5. Two Weeks in Another Town (Vincente Minnelli, 1962, 35mm, BFI, London) 
  6. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968, 35mm, BFI London Film Festival)
  7. Hospital (Frederick Wiseman, 1969, 35mm, BFI London Film Festival)
  8. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971, 35mm, Museum of the Moving Image, New York)
  9. Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973, DCP, Cable Car Cinema, Providence)  
  10. Gloria (John Cassavetes, 1980, 35mm, The Prince Charles Cinema - Suprise Film, London)  
  11. El Sur (Víctor Erice, 1983, DCP, BFI, London) 
  12. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986, DCP, BFI - 30th Anniversary Special, London)
  13. Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991, DCP, BFI London Film Festival)
  14. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001, 35mm, The Prince Charles Cinema, London)
  15. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003, DCP,  Anthology Film Archives, New York) 


Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien films at the National Museum of Singapore Cinémathèque, February 2016 

  1. Tong nien wang shi (A Time to Live, A Time to Die, 1985, 35mm)
  2. Lian lian feng chen (Dust in the Wind, 1986, 35mm) 
  3. Xi meng ren sheng (The Puppetmaster, 1993, 35mm) 
  4. Nan guo zai jan, nan guy (Goodbye South, Goodbye, 1996, 35mm)
  5. Qianxi Manbo (Millennium Mambo, 2001, 35mm) 
  6. Kohi Jikou (Café Lumière, 2003, 35mm)
  7. Zuihao de Shiguang (Three Times, 2005, 35mm)

This is my second year of watching this retrospective. I started last year in London and managed to catch a few more of his films earlier this year in Singapore


Tales of Cinema: The Films of Hong Sang-soo at the Museum of the Moving Image, New York, June 2016 

  1. Daijiga umule pajinnal (The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, 1996, 35mm)
  2. Kangwon-do ui him (The Power of Kangwon Province, 1998, 35mm)
  3. Oh! Sio-Jung (Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, 2000, 35mm)
  4. Saenghwalui balgyeon (On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate, 2002, DCP)
  5. Geuk jang jean (Tale of Cinema, 2005, 35mm)
  6. Cheopcheopsanjung (Lost in the Mountains, 2009) 
  7. Jal al-ji-do mot-ha-myeon-seo (Like You Know it All, 2009, 35mm)

Brian De Palma Series at Metrograph, New York, June 2016

Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma, 1980

  1. Hi Mom! (1970, 35mm) 
  2. Dressed to Kill (1980, 35mm) 
  3. Blow Out (1981, 35mm) 
  4. Scarface (1983, 35mm)

Black Star at the BFI, London, November 2016 

Deep Cover (Bill Duke, 1992)

  1. Borderline (Kenneth Macpherson, 1930, Video)
  2. In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967, DCP)
  3. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990, 35mm)
  4. A Raisin in the Sun (Daniel Petrie, 1967, 35mm) 
  5. Deep Cover (Bill Duke, 1992, 35mm) 
  6. BodyGuard (Mick Jackson, 1992, 35mm)
  7. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995, 35mm)  

Ride Lonesome: The Psychological Western series at the BFI, London, May 2016

Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang, 1952)

  1. Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang, 1952, 35mm)
  2. The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann, 1953, 35mm) 
  3. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954, DCP)


  1. The Red Shoes (Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
  2. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) 
  3. Badlands (Dir. Terrence Malick, 1973)  
  4. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Dir. John Cassavetes, 1976) 
  5. Two Drifters (João Pedro Rodrigues, 2005)
  6. To Die Like a Man (João Pedro Rodrigues, 2009)
  7. It's Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeld, 2012) 


Other Best of Lists:
My Top 10 Exhibitions of 2016
My Top 15 Artworks of 2016 
My Top 10 Cultural Highlights of 2016   


RIP Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Ron Galella/WireImage

I was planning on posting a page dedicated to Carrie Fisher today, but the sadness was doubled by finding out her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away a day later. 

It's just too much.

Carrie Fisher, October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016 
Debbie Reynolds, April 1, 1932 – December 28, 2016 


[image via]


My Top 10 Exhibitions of 2016

Tacita Dean, FILM, 2011. Installation view, Tate Modern, London Photo’s by Marcus Leith & Andrew Dunkley Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris and Frith Street Gallery, London

Here's my list of top 10 exhibitions this year (there's a tie at no. 10).
As I was compiling this list, I noticed the themes in most of these exhibitions are memories and time. It includes exhibitions in Dubai, Sharjah, London, Amsterdam and Singapore.

My next two posts will focus on films, old film discoveries of the year and top films of 2016. 
12 March - 12 May 2016 

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige - 180 Seconds of Lasting Images (2006) | © Hind Mezaina
The themes of memory, personal, social and political histories, interwoven with fact and fiction is what made this my favourte exhibition this year. I was engaged with every single piece from this exhibition which included photography,film and installations (I listed the works here).   

Curated by Curated by Marta Gili (Jeu de Paume)Hoor Al-Qasimi (Sharjah Art Foundation)Anna Schneider (Haus der Kunst Munich) and Jose Miguel G. Cortes (Institut Valenica d'Art Modern), the exhibition moved to Jeu de Paume in Paris after Sharjah. I found this video which features the artists talking about their work.  

Manal Al Dowayan - Poolside II | Canvas, copper, string| 100 x 71 cm | 2015

I have a fear of forgetting; I have a fear of being forgotten. The faces, the places, and the emotions that belong to them.

I save images, and preserve objects, I fill pages with notes and detailed descriptions. To obscure, to delete, to censor, to erase, and to forget a war is waged on memory. What remains when this war is lost? Images with no stories, dusty objects, misunderstood thoughts. The images will eventually fade, the objects will be lost, and the pages never understood. I have a fear of forgetting. I have a fear of being forgotten. And I, will I forget? - Manal Al Dowayan

An exhibition based on Kodachrome slides shot between 1962-1973 in Sauid Arabia and USA inherited by the artist from her father. Another exhibition about memory that I was drawn to, raising questions the past and also about imagined memories. 


17 September 2016 - 8 January 2017   

João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva, Glossolalia (‘Good Morning’), 2014 16mm film, colour, no sound, about 7’10’’ Produced by Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan
An exhibition that looks at celluloid as a medium, in film, scultpure, installations featuring works by Tacita Dean, João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, Rosa Barba, Sandra Gibson & Luis Recoder. This one is for all the analogue heads out there. I was happy to see an exhibition featuring artists that still work and believe in film and championing it.

Being in a dark space for a couple of hours with the films that varied in size, duration and speed, I felt like I was in a parallel world were time moved slower and everything felt calm.   

Here's a video where you can see some of the works, it also includes Jaap Guldemond, Director of Exhibitions EYE, artists Tacita Dean, Sandra Gibson & Luis Recoder discussing the works.   


19 February - 27 April 2016 


© Hind Mezaina

I love discovering cinema history from other parts of the world, so was happy to know this exhibition was on when I was in Singapore in March. The exhibition included a selection of 20th century lost films from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand through the region's web of upheavals starting from the 1920s. I posted images and wrote about it here


I always felt I never knew enough about László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) and this retrospective was a good starting point for me to dive into his work, ideas and process.  
The exhibition offers an unparalleled opportunity to examine the career of this pioneering painter, photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker, who was also active in graphic, exhibition, and stage design. An influential teacher at the Bauhaus school of art and design in Germany and a prolific writer, Moholy-Nagy believed art could work hand-in-hand with technology for the betterment of humanity.   

12 November 2016 - 12 January 2017  

© Hind Mezaina
An extensive exhibition looking at art in Sudan from 1945 to the present. Featuring a long list of artists, it includes paintings, drawings, with pottery, ceramics, sculpture, photography, film, video and performances,  plus never-before-shown archival material. A showcase of the diverse styles, genres, sub-movements and groups of artists in Sudan. Read more about (and listen to the podcast) here


© Hind MezainaAn exhibition that addresses the tensions in our everyday relationships with technology, surveillance, isolation vs. connectedness, privacy vs. social media. It features works by Ai Weiwei, Jamie Allen, Aram Bartholl, Taysir Batniji, Wafaa Bilal, Liu Bolin, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Michael Joaquin Grey, Monira Al Qadiri, Evan Roth, Phillip Stearns, Siebren Versteeg, Addie Wagenknecht, Kenny Wong.§

Here's an interview recorded for the Tea with Culture podcast with Bana Kattan, one of the curators of the exhibtion. We talk about the exhibition, and discuss some of the works. 

9. Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern, London
1 December 2016 - 2 April 2017 
Robert Rauschenberg - Triathlon (Scenario), 2005 | The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (New York)

This landmark exhibition celebrates his extraordinary six-decade career, taking you on a dazzling adventure through modern art in the company of a truly remarkable artist.

From paintings including flashing lights to a stuffed angora goat, Rauschenberg’s appetite for incorporating things he found in the streets of New York knew no limits. Pop art silkscreen paintings of Kennedy sit alongside 1000 gallons of bentonite mud bubbling to its own rhythm. Rauschenberg even made a drawing which was sent to the moon.

Each room captures a different moment of this rich journey, from Rauschenberg’s early response to abstract expressionism to his final works saturated in images and colour. Seen together they show how Rauschenberg rethought the possibilities for art in our time.


9. When Time Does Not Exist at Gulf Photo Plus
September 14 – October 27 2016

Randa MirzaStephane Lagoutte
“When Time Does Not Exist” unites two seemingly disparate photographic series about Beirut by two distinct photographers: Stephane Lagoutte (based between Beirut and Paris) and Randa Mirza (based between Beirut and Marseille).

Both photographers take the present-day city as a departure point for a symbolic travel in time - backward and forward - creating images in search of the city that has been forgotten and the city that has yet to be created.  
It was the first time I see work by Randa Mirza and Stephane Lagoutte and was drawn to the themes of change, collective amnesia, dreams of a bright future and successful future. 

This one is a tie, two back to back exhibitions by duos exhibiting at the the same gallery, East Wing. I found parallels between the two which is why I decided this one would be a tie.

Both duos heavily construct their images relying on props, Cortis & Sonderegger look at the past or recent history and Christto & Andrew look at the present and future. Both duos create their work in studios, constructing narratives that viewers will recognise and invited to look beyond what they see. 
ICONS by Cortis & Sonderegger   
14 April - 22 May 2016     
© Cortis & Sonderegger, Making of „The Wright Brothers“ (by John Thomas Daniels, 1903), 2013© Cortis & Sonderegger, Making of „Concorde“ (by Toshihiko Sato, 2000), 2013
ICONS by Cortis & Sonderegger is a series that recreate in their studios some of the world’s most iconic photos and images of historic moments, e.g. 9/11, Concorde crash, the rasing of the American flag on Iwo Jima. Their recreations are mini stage sets, there is no digital manipulation, everything you see in the image is real, objects made, found or bought. You also see beyond the image they photograph, their studio space, equipment and debris of the materials they used. 
"Their aim is not to mislead the viewer – instead, they want to fully expose the staging process in order to raise questions in the mind of their audience about the temporal nature of experience and memory." (via East Wing)

© Christto & Andrew, Untitled
© Christto & Andrew, Untitled
Christto & Andrew's work features heavily constructed portraits of objects and people that refer to symbolisms associated with the Arabian Gulf region. The artists live in Doha, so a lot of what they do is inspired by their surroundings. I've had discussions with people who think their work is culturally inappropriate. Personally, I think their work is intentionally provocative, to challenge stereotypes of this region and the people living in it. I also think their work raises questions about the social and economic gaps that are rife in this region, and also addresses aspirations. Regardless if you like of don't like the work, I support it for the discussions it creates. 
“Parataxic Distortion is a fantasy of what something should be, an expectation growing out of the emotional stress of living, resulting in the generating of stereotypes; a pigeonholing of individuals to gain quick and, often inaccurate, assessments causing distortions of reality” Christto & Andrew via BJP  

My Top 15 Artworks 2016

Cyprien Gaillard Nightlife, 2015 © Cyprien Gaillard Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers

A selection of top 15 works I saw at exhibitions this year that stood out for me, and stayed with me long after I saw them. They are listed in alphabetical order (artist's first name) and I included the name of the exhibition and city where I saw them.

In the next post I will share my top exhibitions of the year. 

© Hind Mezaina
The 32min film is a semi-fictional story of studio photography in the Middle East during the 1940s and 50s, through the eyes of the legendary Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van Leo. Through it we learn about the history of his photography and his relationship to Cairo and the people he photographed. Far from being a nostalgic film looking back, it also weaves in the social and political changes in Egypt.  
© Hind Mezaina
Babel 2001 is a large-scale sculptural installation that takes the form of a circular tower made from hundreds of second-hand analogue radios that the artist has stacked in layers. The radios are tuned to a multitude of different stations and are adjusted to the minimum volume at which they are audible. Nevertheless, they compete with each other and create a cacophony of low, continuous sound, resulting in inaccessible information, voices or music. 
Meireles describes it as a "tower of incomprehension". It has to be experienced in person. Read more about it here


© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

Cyprien Gaillard’s 3D film and audio installation Nightlife was shot at night over a period of two years in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Berlin. Like much of Gaillard’s work, the film is a meditation on the ways in which traumatic events of recent history can be read in – or have been memorialised by – urban or ‘natural’ landscapes, architecture and public space.

Accompanied by a dub soundtrack featuring a looped sample of Alton Ellis’s 1970 classic ‘Black Man’s World’ and the 1971 remake ‘Black Man’s Pride’, the film takes in a bomb-damaged sculpture in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art; the riotous swaying of windblown trees in dark LA streets; and a fireworks display above Berlin’s Olympiastadion.

The final scenes return to Cleveland, where the German oak tree gifted to African-American gold-medallist Jesse Owens by Nazi organisers of the 1936 Olympic Games stands in the courtyard of the athlete’s former high school. Despite being comprised of two time-based mediums – film and music – Nightlife has distinct sculptural qualities. The vacillating volume and reverb of the film’s dub soundtrack conjures a shifting sonic space that mirrors the ghostly materiality of the film’s 3D visuals.

I was in awe of this film. I watched it twice when I was there. Incredibly layered and its meanings starts revealing itself with multiple viewings.  

A dramatic and theatrical 35min installation that inclludes sound, film and more. Must confess, there were a few jump scares for me. The video here isn't from Sharjah, but from a previous exhibition in Singapore, but it was set up the same was as you see in the video. You can also listen to the artist in the video talk about the work.  


John Akomfrah & Trevor Mathison, All That Is Solid, 2015 © Smoking Dog Films. Installation view: British Art Show 8, 2015-17, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Photo © John McKenzieJohn Akomfrah & Trevor Mathison, All That Is Solid, 2015 © Smoking Dog Films. Installation view: British Art Show 8, 2015-17, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Photo © John McKenzie
Akomfrah and Mathison’s new film All That Is Solid (2015) is a meditation on memory, transience and the limitations of conventional historical documentation. Constructed from a combination of new and archival footage, it explores the fact that sound and the voice – as insubstantial as fog or smoke – often leave no trace.
In their work together Akomfrah and Mathison reconfigure the relationship between sound and image: rather than one being secondary, they are conceived as a single entity.   

Image via The Mosaic Rooms
In The Algerian Novel, the street is the stage for a different kind of storytelling. Seen by Kameli as ‘an immersion into Algeria’s history’ this documentary film looks at a street stall in Algiers, where a father and son sell postcards and reproductions of archival photographs. 
We watch customers peruse the collections and hear inhabitants of Algiers, students, historians and writers, reflect on the significance of the images to the history of their country.   

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina
I fell in love with these collages by Katrien De Blauwer when I saw them at the Unseen Photo Fair a few months ago. They looked cinematic, mysterious, personal, effortless yet deeply thoughtful. It was the first time I see her work and hope to see more. I looked her up after the fair and found this interview with De Blauwer on Conscientous Photo Magazine
My collages speak about myself, about what’s keeping me busy. They’re my stories, how I deal with the past. My grip on reality, my ritual and routine.  

© Hind Mezaina

Leslie Hewitt in collaboration with Bradford Young created an incredibly powerful and moving piece. This was part of a studio visit I attended, so I felt very lucky to hear from Hewitt herself talk about this work, the process and its meaning.    

Untitled (Structures) (2012) is a two-channel film installation inspired by an archive of civil rights-era photographs housed at the Menil Collection in Houston. It presents series of silent vignettes shot at locations in Chicago, Memphis, and the Arkansas Delta; places that were profoundly impacted by the Great Migration and by the civil rights movement.
The installation poses critical questions of the historicity of the archive and photojournalistic modes. Hewitt and Young's close examination of such matters through the exploration of architecture, still photography, and body memory, move away from nostalgia and re-enactment as conventions.
Through the assertion of the work's contemporaneity, Hewitt and Young's project explores temporality, exposing the tension between still photography and the cinematic experiences of moving images, between the past and the present, between the physical and the psychological. 
© Hind Mezaina

A film essay made of appropriated footage from Egyptian satellite television featuring the Pyramids in Cairo from different Egyptian films, to evoke how the Pyramids have historically been used as an emblem of "progress" in popular culture.  


© Hind Mezaina

A video sculpture that is both mesmerising and troubling.

Widely recognised as the ‘Father of Video Art’ Nam June Paik’s large body of work includes video sculptures, installations, performances, videotapes and television productions. He is attributed with coining the term ‘Electronic Superhighway’, an allegory for the networked highways of the Internet.

An ambitious work constructed from multiple TV screens, Paik’s Internet Dream (1994), displays a constant stream of rapidly changing scenes to hypnotic effect. It illustrates his early awareness of society’s move towards information saturation, celebrating the constant expansion associated with shifts forward in technology.

A scene from Nina Katchadourian’s film “The Recarcassing Ceremony” at Mass MoCA | Image via The Boston Globe

I saw this piece in Katchadourian's studio during a studio visit. She talked about her work and what inspires it, and then gave us a sneak peak of this video which was due to be revealed at the MASS MoCA a few days after our visit.
The 25min film is features Playmobil figures that Katchadourian and her brother played with as kids. The film shows us the reenactment ceremony she and her brother did as children to replace two figures which had drowned with two new ones. Turning into more than kids playing with their toys, it becomes about the artist's relationship with her family. 


© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina
Made of 16mm film strips stitched together, Sabrina Gschwandther links together folk quilt traditions with contemporary conceptual content. The patterns appear as popular quilt configurations, but a closer look reveals frames from the film "What is a dress?" featuring women quiltmakers (from the pioneering work Quilts in Women's Lives) and frames from "The Enchanged Loom" an experimental science film looking and new and old ways that patterns emerge from unexpected relationships. 

© Hind Mezaina

Ugo Rondinone’s immersive video installation features legendary beat poet John Giorno performing 'THANX 4 NOTHING'. In this poem written on his 70th birthday, Giorno looks back at his life – and the people and events that shaped it – with humour and compassion.

Performing in a tuxedo and bare feet on an empty stage in the Palais des Glaces theatre in Paris, as well as in a brightly-lit TV studio, Giorno gives thanks to ‘everyone for everything', before speaking frankly on the death of friends and lovers, sex, betrayal and his frequent periods of depression.

Rondinone’s carefully choreographed multi-screen installation – which features long shots, intimate close ups and passages of high-speed editing – keeps pace with Giorno’s theatrical delivery and draws attention to the poem’s many rhetorical twists and turns.


William Kentridge - The Refusal of Time from William Kentridge: Thick Time at Whitechapel Gallery, London

The Refusal of Time with collaboration of Philip Miller, Catherine Meyburgh and Peter Galison, Film Still. 2012. Courtesy William Kentridge, Marian Goodman Gallery, Goodman Gallery and Lia Rumma Gallery

The Refusal of Time (2012) is an all-enveloping, multi-sensory installation that explores the transformation of time into material objects, sound, images and mechanics. Inspired by a series of conversations between Kentridge and American scientist Peter Galison around theories of time, the work is an extraordinary synthesis of moving images, sound and performance.

A breathing sculpture or ‘elephant’ at its heart is based on 19th century attempts to measure and control time during the industrial revolution and high point of European colonial expansion.

First shown at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany, The Refusal of Time is a collaboration between the artist with composer Philip Miller, projection designer and editor Catherine Meyburgh, and Peter Galison, a scientist from the United States.  


© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Mussalmaan Musclemen series lifts images from an Urdu translation of an exercise manual written by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the early 1980s. The book is neither fully grounded in the East or the West but in a space of its own creation. American models perform for a Western male gaze but the Urdu script appeals to a South Asian audience. There is a naïve homo-sociality to the book and it swiftly descends into homoeroticism.  

My Top 10 Cultural Highlights of 2016 

Courtesy of Metrograph LLC/Takako Ida

It's time for best of the year lists. Between now and the end of this month/year, I will share a few lists with you.

I will start by with my cultural highlights, specifically, places I discovered, talks and performances I attended. They are listed below in alphabetical order (per category). 

In my next post I will share with you favourite artworks of the year, and expect my top exhibitions, top film discoveries and top films of the year soon after. 


1. Atlas Bookstore (Sheraton Hotel in Doha, Qatar)

Image via

An architecture and urbanism book shop, with a focus on the Greater Middle East. It includes old and new books and are always looking for book donations. It's an absuloute gem of a bookshop, so uf you are ever in Doha, do pay a visit. The only online presence is an Instagram account,

2. Msheireb Arts Centre
(Msheireb, Heart of Doha, Qatar)

Image via
Located in what was the first school for girls in Doha in the 1950s, in Msheireb, Qatar's earliest suburb. The centre houses the 'Sadaa Al Thikrayat (Echo Memory Project), an artist-led initiative to record and collect a wide range of artefacts, stories and memories from Msheireb which is undergoing extensive regeneration and construction and branded as the 'Heart of Doha'. 

The art centre's website hasn't been updated for a while, but here's an article about Msheireb Arts Centre and its surroundings.    

3. Nature Lab RISD (Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, USA)

Nature Lab | Image via

In the early 20th century, RISD faculty member Edna Lawrence founded the Nature Lab to “open students’ eyes to the marvels of beauty in nature of forms, space, color, texture, design and structure.” Today the Lab still offers unmediated access to authentic natural history specimens, while also fostering creative inquiry into biomimetics, biophilic design, ecology and climate change.

It's a marbellous space and felt very lucky to have had access to the space this summer. Tiny Town was mindblowing, a collection of small-scale specimens displayed in 2 x 2’’ clear acrylic boxes. Stereo microscopes are offered to view the specimens which includes insects, corals and other natural wonders which can be magnified between 9x and 185x their actual size.  

Tiny Town | Image via


4. Metrograph  (7 Ludlow Street, New York City)


My favourite discovery during my visit to New York this summer is The Metrograph. I spent many afternoons and nights at this cinema. Founded and designed by Alexander Olch, it is evident the decision makers and the team working there have good taste. It's an elegant space, and there's great attention to the details, from the font type, the monthly printed guide, the staff uniforms (who by the way are cinephiles, just like most of their visitors), the curated book shop and even the food menu. 

Metrograph has two screens, a restaurant, a bookstore, a lounge and a candy bar that is far superior compared to what you find at most multiplexes. The prgramming includes classics, retrospectives and some new releases. It's about the love of cinema regardless of genres. Screenings include both 35mm and digital. All the screenings I saw there on 35mm were impecceble. 

Watch the video to see what I mean. I miss the Metrograph more than I miss New York. 

5. The Projector (6001 Beach Road, Golden Mile Tower, Singapore) 

Image via The Projector
The Projector is an independent cinema on the 5th floor of the Golden Mile Tower in Singapore. Describing itself as "not your average cinema". I really liked the design of the space, their programming and the team working there are really friendly. I wrote about it here and included lots of pictures too


What is black beauty? A shirtless Paul Robeson escaping a chain gang in The Emperor Jones; Pam Grier in Foxy Brown; Grace Jones as Boomerang’s infamous Strangé; Lupita Nyong’o on the red carpet or Viola Davis revealing her natural hair in How to Get Away with Murder?
Join the BFI’s Tega OkitiBen Arogundade, author of Black Beauty, writer and programmer Jay Bernard and Jan Asante, BCA Film Fest, as they mine the history of black stars with a selection of clips and insightful discussion celebrating sexuality, style and the politics of hair and colourism. 
This talk took place on 1st December at the BFI in London. It was a talk to celebrate black sexuality and style in cinema. The evening included film clips and discussions that were personal and thoughtful. 


7. The Extraordinary Everyday: Film and Photograph (ICA, London)

Alison Tanner, Albury Morris Buckinghamshire, 2013

Bringing together a curated programme of moving and still image work, this event presents work by Middlesex University staff and students alongside invited artists. The event will focus on the notion of the 'extraordinary' found in social and cultural practices, youth cultures, fashion and music. The two hour programme includes the presentation of film extracts and show reels of photography series followed by a panel discussion.

Amongst those presenting work are Alison TannerJason Summerfield, documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay and artist Rory Pilgrim.   

This talk took place on 24th November at ICA in London. Four very different artists in terms of the projects their pursue and their process. Really enjoyed listening to all of them. One question posed by Rory Pilgrim has been stuck with me ever since the talk, "What do we hope to become?".   


8. Marketing Presentation for Boxed Branded Plush Toys as Art by Kevin Jones (Alserkal Avenue, Dubai)

Warehouse Project - Vikram Divecha | © Hind Mezaina

Kevin Jones - Marketing Presentation for Boxed Branded Plush Toys as Art | © Hind Mezaina

This talk took place on 12th April at Warehouse 82 in Alserkal Avenue. It was part of an exhibition and a project by Vikram Divecha titled Warehouse Project

In support of the Warehouse Project by Vikram Divecha, the objective of this talk is to exhibit how our enterprise is best suited to:

- Highlight the warehouse as a non-neutral display space
- Examine how brands play with commerce and art
- Critique the critique

Kevin Jones is an independent arts writer based in Dubai and for this talk, he formatted it to appear as a corporate presentation. It was provocative, critical and funny. Particularly the points about Alserkal Avenue's role as "landlord" (which it prefers not to be known as)  vs. an "organisation".  You can listen to the presentation here


9. The Past and Future of the Avant Garde: New York, Warhol, and the World — Readings and Conversation with Kenneth Goldsmith and Gilda Williams (NYU Abu Dhabi)

© Hind Mezaina

This event took place on 28th April at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Kenneth Goldsmith, a conceptual poet on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, was the first poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art. His recent book, Capital, rewrites Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project with New York rather than Paris as the subject. He is the founder and curator of

Gilda Williams, an art critic on the faculty of Goldsmiths College, University of London, is the compiler of the new anthology ON&BY Andy Warhol, published this spring by Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press. Her other books include How to Write About Contemporary Art. 

I really enjoyed this evening, the readings by Goldsmith and Williams and the discussion that followed felt intimate and personal.  

© Hind Mezaina
I didn't attend many musical performaces this year, so out of the few I did attend, this 27 hour performance was the stand out. I think I attended 10 hours in total. The music flowed and our state of mind flowed with it. Most of us there slept and woke up many times during the concert. It felt like a slumber party surrounded by music.  
Pianist/composer Nik Bärtsch leads his acoustic quartet MOBILE in a 27-hour “Ritual Groove Music” performance installation, organically weaving textures from jazz, funk, new music, and minimalism with ritual and sacred music.
This site-specific, multi-venue, non-stop multi-media performance will feature a series of formal concerts and extended musical bridges throughout the night and day, with a visual installation designed by Daniel Eaton.     

The Best of Cinema 2016 by The Moviejerk


Looks like it's turning into a tradition where I share with you The Moviejerk's annual Best of Cinema video. This is the third time (click here for 2014 and 2015 ).  

It's the final week of the year and the time of the year where favourite lists and highlights will be shared. I will be sharing my arts, culture and film lists soon. 

For now, enjoy this supercut and in the words of The Moviejerk, "let’s celebrate the cinematic moments of 2016 that remind us what it means to be human". 

Thank goodness for films.

I don’t know about you but cinema got me through the worst of times, and this year proved no exception. When everything felt dim and barren, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann single-handedly lifted me out of a hellhole and reminded me the very importance of humour in our lives.It made me want to fight the robotic mode of capitalism with laughter and silliness and levity.

Then there’s Paul Verhoeven’s bolshy Elle, which is a bold reminder that we can all find empowerment in nonconformism. Additionally, there’s also Almodovar’s majestic Julieta, a film that believes healing and repair through facing our memories and embracing our past, and also Hansen-Løve’s wise Things To Come, which teaches us how to find happiness in the little things, even if life around slowly crumbles apart.   (via The Moviejerk)


RIP George Michael

Before going to bed last night, the world found out the devastating news that George Michael passed away. He was 53. I was expecting we will be reading news about a few more celebrity deaths before the year ends, but I wasn't expecting to George Michael would be one of them. 

I have been listening to George Michael since 1983 when he started with Wham!. Many school days were spent with my friend Andrea who is the BIGGEST Wham!/George Michael fan I know. We ogled over Wham! in teen magazines, watched them on bootleg recordings of Top of the Pops, exchanged Wham! goodies and ALWAYS enjoying their music.

His music and videos after Wham! evovled reflecting the man who followed his music path and wasn't apologetic about it. Been listening to his music all day today and I've made this playlist to share it here with you. It includes old and new, young and old, long and short hair, straight, bi and gay George Michael. Join me and sing your heart out to the ballads and dance like nobody is watching to his dancier songs. 



RIP George Michael 25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016.  Gone too soon.


Links since his death, will keep adding if I find more: 


Exhibitions - Sharjah Art Foundation - Winter 2016/2017

Sun Lady, circa 1975. Studio Mwahib, El Obeid. © Fouad Hamza Tibin / Elnour

Last week I paid a visit to Sharjah to catch up on a series of exhibitions organised by Sharjah Art Foundation that opened in October/November. It's an impressive season of exhibitions and if you've not been, I urge you to dedicate an afternoon/evening to see some very good, thoughtful and even rare works. 

I recorded an episode for the Tea with Culture podcast where Wael Hattar and I discuss the exhibitions we visited. You can listen to it by pressing play below (you can also download the episode and listen to it later). I've listed the exhibitions we discuss below, including location and dates, and added some additional thoughts for March Projects, Khartoum School and Yayoui Kusama.  




Robert Breer: Time Flies 
Venue: Flying Saucer 
Date: Until 9th January 2017  

Robert Breer, 1970, Four motorized sculptures, plastic, metal, paint and motors dimensions variable. 

Robert Breer, 1970, Motorised sculptures Resin, wood and motor 183 x180 cm

Best known for his films and experimental animations, Robert Breer began his career as a painter and was one of the early members of the postwar Parisian school of abstraction, using Piet Mondrian’s vision of an ideal pure form of abstract art with strict rules of composition as well as Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism, an austere and geometric concrete art.

In the early 1950s Breer shifted this interest in geometric abstraction into film and created his first group of films Form Phases (1954-1956), which explore movement, composition and space, almost animating his paintings and creating complex forms. These experimental films used a range of techniques from animating geometric shapes and drawings, to using collage and film clippings.  

This exhibition reveals Breer’s playfulness through a wide range of media, humour also translates into his kinetic sculptures and studies, for example a sketch for a moving conference building or a town where everything moves around you. The various objects move very slowly and subtly so that when you look back nothing is where it started. Using satire and metamechanics as did Jean Tinguley with his Dada kinetic sculptures, Breer created different amusing objects that move around you, like a wall, a 'porcupine' or a 'rug'. 



March Project 2016
Venue: Various SAF spaces
Date: Until 
19th January 2017 

Ammar Al Attar - Khorfakan Cinema | © Hind Mezaina Reem Falaknaz | © Hind Mezaina

Bassem Yousri | © Hind Mezaina

March Project 2016 exhibition features site specific works developed by five artists during this annual education residency programme. The works realised draw upon the history and social fabric of Sharjah, as well as the daily lives of its residents and their relationship to art, institutions, space and architecture. Participants in this programme include Noor AbedAmmar Al AttarVikram DivechaReem Falaknaz and Bassem Yousri who were selected from various countries including Egypt, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates.  

This is the third edition of March Projects and it includes video works, photography, sculpture and installations. The works are exhibited in various spaces, which for me were hard to find as there was no printed guide/map about March Projects when I visited. Eventually I found out the works are spread across SAF Art Spaces, Dar Al Nadwa and Ceramics House in Calligraphy Square, and the Arts Area.

I was only able to see works by Bassem Yousri, Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz. Both Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz are artists I've known for a few years and have been following their development for a while. Al Attar's exhibition space included objects he found from the now defunct Khorfakkan Cinema. Unfotunately, it didn't go beyond showcasing what he collected, of which most looked like they were dumped in boxes. I was hoping to see a deeper engagement with what was found, of the cinema space and the community that was engaged with this cinema. I recalled the exhibition Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada at Walker Art Center which I unfortunately never visited, but have read about. An exhibition that also included objects from the cinema, but also addressed social and political elements that impacted the community and city. 

Reem Falaknaz's work, a video installation of interviews with Syrians living in Sharjah who work/run their own businesses, contemplating on being away from Syria and creating a new life in Sharjah. I was curious to know what makes this an art piece versus short documentaries in the artists's mind. Something I hope I get a chance to discuss with Reem soon.


A Retrospective (1965–Present): Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Venue: Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area, Al Shuweiheen   
Until: 12th January 2017   

Amir Nour - Grazing at Shendi, 1969 - Steel (202pieces) 305 x 406 cmAmir Nour - Balance, 2016 - Fibre glass and wood 436 x 244 x 231 cm

This retrospective exhibition, which covers the fifty-year career span of the American-based Sudanese artist Amir Nour, presents drawings, photographs, sculptures and new commissions drawn from images of the domes, arches, calabashes and sand hills of his native Sudan.

Nour’s works combine traditional African imagery with the visual vocabulary and materials of Western minimalism.  



Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes
Venue: Building J, SAF Art Spaces   
Date: Until 12th January 2017  

Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq - Installation view

This solo exhibition presents works by Sudanese artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq. Kamala is one of the leading influential artists and pioneering modernist painters in Sudan. Her work challenges the traditional male perspective of art in Sudan, depicting scenes of women’s lives in colours of sun, sand and sky. The exhibition includes variety of paintings including early works and new works commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation.   


The Khartoum School: The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945 – present)  
Venue: Building G, H and P, SAF Art Spaces   
Date: Until 12th January 2017 


Coined in the early 1960s, the ‘Khartoum School’ is a much contested term; many founders disavowed it, and others rebelled against it, even though they were stylistically and aesthetically connected with it as a movement. This exhibition uses the all- encompassing term to signify the dynamic, multi-faceted and fluid movement that influenced the development of modernism, not just in Sudan, but also more broadly in Africa and the entire Arab world.


This fascinating exhibition covers an important artist and historical movement in Sudan. Sadly there is no catalogue for this exhibition, but I found the list of artists from the press release (included below) . If you are in the UAE, I strongly suggest you don't miss this. One of the strongest and important exhibitions this year.  The exhibition features works by a long list of artists, includes paintings, drawings, with pottery, ceramics, sculpture, photography, film, video and performances,  plus never-before-shown archival material. It highlights the breadth of modernism in Sudan, the diverse styles, genres, sub-movements and groups. 

It traces the early generation of artists of the modernist movement in Sudan, such as Osman Waqialla, Ibrahim El Salahi, Bastawi Baghdadi, Ahmed Shibrain, Abdelrazig Abdelghaffar, Mohammad Omer Khalil, Taglesir Ahmed, Shaigi Rahim, Siddig El Nigoumi, Magdoub Rabbah, Hussein Shariffe, Ahmed Hamid Al Arabi and Griselda Eltayeb. The works of these pioneers merged Western modernist conventions of form and style with their own visual vocabulary, subject matter and Sudanese aesthetics. Works by relatively younger artists whose careers overlapped with the early pioneers, such as Salih Mashamoun, are also presented. These revolutionaries fashioned an aesthetic and identity that was distinctly ‘Sudanese’, but also transcended its national boundaries to include continental African and Islamic motifs and elements.

This exhibition also presents the work of the Crystalist Group, Madrasat Al Wahid [School of the One] and artist-critics such as Hassan Musa and Abdalla Bola, who have enriched the art scene through their art practice as well as their critical interventions and writings since the early 1970s. These three major artist groups sought to distance themselves from the ideology and visual vocabulary of the earlier generation of the Khartoum School. In highlighting these groups and artists, the exhibition demonstrates that the intellectual and conceptual practices of Sudanese artists are inseparable from global conceptualism as a movement.

The solidification of British colonial rule in Sudan was supported by amateur photographs taken by British soldiers, merchants and travellers as early as 1899. This exhibition demonstrates how film, the press and other mass media have all been crucial to modernity since the advent of British colonial rule and through the postcolonial era. The exhibition highlights the work of two pioneer master-photographers, Rashid Mahdi and Gadalla Gubara, as well as other studio photographers, for example, Abbas Habib Alla, Mohamed Yahya Issa, Fouad Hamza Tibin, Osman Hamid Khalifa, Omar Addow, Richard Lokiden Wani and Joua, in the context of the historical linkages between photography, decolonisation and self-representation.

The exhibition features political cartoons by not only seasoned pioneers such as the late Izz El Din Osman and Hashim Carori but also the work of contemporary cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who has become well known for his biting humour and sharp commentary on issues ranging from human rights to migration and regional conflicts.

The exhibition also includes a selected number of works by individual Sudanese and Sudanese diaspora artists, such as the Sudan Film Factory, Sudanese Film Club and Black and White Group, who are all active in the contemporary art scene locally and internationally. 


Yayoi Kusama: Dot Obsessions 
Venue: Building I, SAF Art Spaces  
Date: Until 9th January 2017

Yayoi Kusama Dots Obsession, 2013/2016 Mixed media, dimensions variable




Since the age of ten, Yayoi Kusama obsessively experimented with dots and the repetition of forms—covering photographs and drawings to ‘obliterate’ the image. Referred to as Self-Obliterations, Kusama would continue to develop this body of work that now extends from her early drawings and collages to include performance and film.   

This exhibition includes small and large scale works. There's a selection of works on paper dating from 1950s and collage works from 1970s-80s that I was very drawn to.

Her collages were inspired by her close relationship with the artist Joseph Cornell who gave her a selection of collage materials before his death in 1972. "Cornell’s fascination with birds led to a series of aviary boxes that Kusama later references in her own works. Bird and other creatures are confined here in complexly patterned circles that appear almost like nuclei surrounded by auras and biomorphic fringes."   

There are also 12 paintings from an ongoing series titled My Eternal Soul that combine Kusama's obsessive patterns with bright colours. 

The Dots Obsession, a series of oversized inflatable polka-dotted balls surrounding a domed infinity room which you can walk into. By looking into one of the other oversized balls you are surrounded by an illusion of an infinity like mirror space with endless lines of dots, making you "a participant and ultimately a performer of Kusama's 'Dot Obsession'".  


Review - Dubai International Film Festival 2016 

© Hind Mezaina 

The 13th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival wrapped up on 14th December. The festival screened 156 films from 55 countries, of which I watched 20 features and 11 shorts (listed below). I shared daily reports which were mostly in the form of quick reviews recorded for the Tea with Culture podcast (all the episodes are added below), but here's an overall impression of this year's edition.   


Prepare Yourself
The theme this year was "Prepare Yourself" which just begged the question, prepare yourself for what? To watch films? I kept thinking of the early years of the festival which used "Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds." as its tagline and made me miss it. 

Opening and closing films
DIFF takes pride in supporting Arab films, but I noticed this year's edition was heavy with "Oscar contenders" (including La La Land, Loving, Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, plus opening and closing films, Miss Sloane and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) which appeared to get more promoted and attention (on social media, English language radio and press) compared to the lesser known titles, including Arab films. 

The festival hasn't opened with an Arab film since 2013 (Omar, Dir.  Hany Abu- Assad), and was hoping this would be the year. The decision to open with Miss Sloane left me wondering why. I found the answer in an interview in Variety with DIFF's Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali

Why did you pick “Miss Sloane” as the opening movie? 
It’s topical, it’s recent. It talks about what’s happening in the U.S. and how this can affect the world. Also the female character is very strong. All of these elements played into it. We have lots of female directors in the Arab world, maybe more than in the West. This year for the first time we have three films from Qatar by female filmmakers. We also have three from Saudi Arabia. I just came from a press conference [for Lebanese film “Solitaire”] where the only male on the panel was the moderator. So “Miss Sloane” connects with everything we are doing.

An opening film normally serves as a statement for the festival. Personally, I am not sure how a film about political lobbying about US gun laws is topical in our region. I would have thought the Egyptian film Mawlana / Preacher (Dir. Magdy Ahmed Ali) about religion, fundamentalist views, politics and hypocrisy would have been more topical for a film festival in the Arab region. Or Tramontane (Dir. Vatche Boulghourjian), a Lebanese film about war amnesia would have been more relevent to this region compared to Miss Sloane. Or Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim (Dir. Sherif El Bendary), an Egyptian a film about two male protaginists that feel like outsiders within their community, alienated, lost and vulnerable. And if DIFF wants to champion female directors, then why not open with a film directed by a female director? Some of the films directed by Arab and non-Arab female directors at DIFF included Solitaire (Sophie Boutros), Foreign Body (Raja Amari), Those Who Remain (Elaine Raheb), Honey, Dust and Rain (Nujoom Alghanim), Zaineb Hates the Snow (Kauther Ben Hania), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt), Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell). 

As for the closing film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it was released in UAE cinemas a few hours afer the screening at DIFF which made me wonder, what was the point. To claim the Middle East premiere? 


UAE films
There were six full features and seven short films from the United Arab Emirates this year. The ones that stood out for me were Honey, Rain and Dust (Nujoom Alghanem) a documentary about beekepers in the Northern Emirates and Only Men go to the Grave (Abdulla Al Kaabi) which I talked about here and want to write about in the near future. The short film Shrimp (Yaser Alneyadi, Ali Bin Matar) was a film that felt absurd and surreal, a move away from the typical genres we see in UAE short films. 

I skipped The Worthy (Ali Mostafa) because it will be released in UAE cinemas in February, but the film was the only UAE film that was promoted heavily during the festival. It was even the cover story for December's issue of Empire Arabia (guest edited by the director himself). 


I attended a talk by Jeff Clarke, CEO of Kodak about the importance of film and how directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino are championing this medium. He also talked about Kodak's role in film education and supporting filmmakers. I asked how is Kodak working with cinemas to bring back film projections. In addition to supporting indie cinemas in NYC & London, Clarke said he would ike to see multiplexes to have at least one screen projecting on film - even in the UAE. Here's hoping this happens in the near future.   

I also attended the Arab Cinema Lab, a symposium that invited filmmakers, creative producers, funders, distributors and broadcasters, to showcase and discuss the production of Arab films, film funding, the role of film distributors and cinemas. It was an information gathering session for me, but sadly there were no Q&As which I felt was a missed opportunity to ask why Arab films released in the UAE hardly get promoted, something that I think distibutors, cinemas, media are all guilty of, and an issue I've noticed happening a lot tihs year. 

Phones in cinemas
I want to commend DIFF for having a warning appear on the screen before each film against photographing and filming during the screenings and to switch off your phone till the end of the movie. One of my issues from last year's edition was the amount of people who would just turn on their phones to read, type messages with a complete disregard to anyone sitting near of behind them. Even if the phone is silent, the damn light from the phone is the problem. There were of course people who still turned on their phones and I do wish the cinema has staff to police this a bit more. This year I decided to sit in the first row at many of the screenings I attended which helped filter out this issue. 


Films I watched 
I had already watched 14 of the films included in this year's DIFF line up other festivals/screenings (Certain WomenA Day for WomenThe Eagle HuntressHediHissein Habre-A Chadian TragedyHotel SalvationI, Daniel BlakeLayla M.Nocturnal AnimalsOne More Time with FeelingThe Red TurtleTramontaneVoyage of Tim,  Withered GreenYour Name).

The Cinema of the World section had the most films and was the most popular section at the festival. I do wish DIFF would consider in future editions a section dedicated to a film director, or a focus on films from a specific country. Maybe even screen them a few day leading up to the festival, something to feed the hunger of cinephiles in this city that don't get a chance to watch old films on the big screen. 

★★★★★ (Loved)
Sieranevada, Dir. Cristi Puiu) 
20th Century Women,  Dir. Mike Mills
Lady Macbeth, Dir. William Oldroyd 

★★★★ (Really Liked)
76 Minutes and 15 seconds with Abbas Kiarostami, Dir. Seifollah Samadian
The Challenge, Dir. Yuri Ancarani 
Off Frame aka Revolution Until Victory, Dir. Mohanad Yaqubi 

★★★ (Liked)
Ali, The Goat, And Ibrahim, Dir. Sherif El Bendary
After the Storm, Dir. Hirokazu Kore-Eda 
Afterimage, Dir. Andrzej Wajda 
The Cinema Travellers, Dir.  Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya 
Gaza Surf Club, Dir. Philip Gnadt, Mickey Yamine 
Honey, Rain and Dust, Dir. Nujoom Alghanem 
The Man Who Saw Too Much, Dir. Trisha Ziff 
Manchester by the Sea, Dir. Kenneth Lonergan 
Only Men Go to the Grave, Dir. Abdulla Al Kaabi 
The Preacher, Dir. Magdy Ahmed Ali  
Zaineb Hates the Snow, Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania

★★ (Didn't Like)
La La Land, Dir. Damien Chazelle 
Like Crazy, Dir.  Paolo Virzì
I am Not Madame Bovary, Dir. Feng Xiaogang

Short Films
Animal, Dir. Nayla Al Khaja 
Arabian Swan, Dir. Fahad Aljoudi  
Areata, Dir. Ahmad Al Terkait 
The Choice, Dir. Eman Alsayed
Kashta, Dir. A.J. Al Thani
A Night in a Taxi, Dir. Aisha Alzaabi
The Republic of T.M., Dir. Masar Sohail 
Shrimp, Dir. Yaser Alneyadi
Waiting Room, Dir. Hend Fakhroo
Wake Me Up, Dir. Reem Al-Bayyat
Take Me Home, Dir. Abbas Kiarostami  

Here are all the podcast episodes recorded during DIFF: 


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