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5 Arab Stars Setting the World of Art, Culture, and Entertainment Alight

Lebanese Director 

The director behind Mashrou’ Leila’s much-lauded music video “Roman” won gold during the new directors’ showcase at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June. Curated by Ridley Scott, such recognition placed her within a small group of groundbreaking young directorial talent from across the world. Signed to the London-based entertainment company Caviar, Moussallem released a short film for Damian Lazarus’s Heart of Sky in September, in which both music and imagery loomed large. “I like to make things that are soulful, that feel forever,” says Moussallem, whose debut short, Danse à Deux Temps, was a striking and impactful choreography of friendship. “I have a desire to tell stories. Movies take us to other places, they can touch our hearts and change the way we see things.”

This year, however, will be when she writes her first full-length film. “Lebanon has so many stories yet to be told,” she says. “It is with this in mind that I am writing my first feature, which will take place in Lebanon. Until now, I have mostly worked on short films where music was put in the foreground. Now I feel the need to make my characters talk.”

Originally printed in the January 2019 issue of  Vogue Arabia.

Egyptian Actor

The thespian traveled to Toronto and Marrakech on the back of Ahmad Abdalla’s Night/Ext in 2018, but with Adolf El Assal’s Sawah to be released in March, the big time beckons. The story of a young Egyptian who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant as he heads to a DJ championship in Brussels was shot on location in Luxembourg, Belgium, and France over two months last year and is set to be released across Europe and Egypt. With filming for the sequel to Sons of Rizk beginning in January, and a TV series currently under negotiation, it’s going to be a busy year for Kassem. “I strive to work on things, to make myself a better actor and person,” says Kassem, who first broke into acting in the 2006 teen movie Awqat Faragh and also starred in Peter Kosminsky’s UK mini-series The State in 2017. “But mainly I strive to be a genuine, truthful, relatable, and versatile actor.”

Iraqi Novelist

Last year was transformative for Shahad Al Rawi. The Iraqi author’s debut novel, the Baghdad Clock, was translated into English, shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and won the First Book Award at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was, she says, a “beautiful year in every sense of the word.”

Al Rawi is in the midst of writing her next book and is nearing completion of a PhD in anthropology – all while balancing the demands of literary festivals, her publisher, and a growing number of readers worldwide. “I hope my second novel will be completed this year,” says Al Rawi, whose first one revealed the reality of growing up in war-torn Baghdad. “What is important is that the novel lives in my head and its characters are more pressing than all readers or agents combined; that they have the right to be given the breath of life and the assured knowledge of their future existence.” Of her modus operandi, the author – who was born in Baghdad, educated in Syria, and now lives in Dubai – concludes, “I write to express all that cannot be expressed in everyday language, all that cannot be said clearly in regular dialogue. I write to defend my memory against oblivion.”

Palestinian singer and songwriter 

Maysa Daw’s participation in the Basel-Ramallah Project as part of Kaserne Globâle led to the formation of the musical project Kallemi, with Jasmin Albash, La Nefera, and Rasha Nahas. A new album with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM is to be released in June and the Haifa native is also continuously performing and touring her solo work. It is Kallemi, however, that has people excited. A fusion project, it promises to blend “deep buttery beats with West African percussion dipped in distorted, unapologetic guitars.” The band will record singles throughout the year, with the possibility of a full album later in 2019. “I absolutely love that each project is a separate genre with different sounds,” says Daw, whose debut solo album, Between City Walls, was released in June 2017. “ The approaches are unalike; the shows are completely different. I’m constantly having new musical experiences, learning new things from each band. I’m growing musically more and more each day,” she states. The DAM album – Been Hanaa Wa Manaa (Between Hanaa and Manaa) – will see Daw rap for the first time, while her solo work is being transformed with the help of drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat.

Syrian visual artist

Sara Naim is kicking off the year with a solo show at the Third Line in Dubai. Born in London, raised between the UK and Dubai, and currently living in Paris, Naim creates work that utilizes the transmission electronic microscope and the scanning electron microscope to create “abstract quasi-photographic imagery.” They form a practice, she says, that “dissects how proportion shapes our perception and notion of boundary.”

Building Blocks, which opens at the Third Line on January 16, showcases how her Syrian roots have most directly influenced her work. “Four thousand bars of Aleppo soap will be used to build my floor sculptures,” she says. “I also photographed those soaps, along with jasmine and soil from my grandmother’s garden in Damascus.” The artist used to correct people calling her a photographer, preferring instead “visual artist,” in the hopes that it would give her more freedom. “But embracing my work as photographic allows me to enter into the very dialogue I want to be a part of.”

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