x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Emirates artists explain their craft to find the root of creativity

We scour the arts and culture scene in the UAE, from film, writing and art, to comedy, poetry and even a touch of magic, to ask a handful of talent what creativity means to them.

Khaled Bin Hamad. Sarah Dea / The National
Khaled Bin Hamad. Sarah Dea / The National

We scour the arts and culture scene in the UAE, from film, writing and art, to comedy, poetry and even a touch of magic, to ask a handful of talent what creativity means to them.

Ashraf Helmi, video journalist

As a video journalist, Helmi has travelled around the world, covering events in Gaza and Afghanistan, as well as the civil unrest in Yemen and the Egyptian revolution. In the UAE, he has attracted clients including Pepsi, Sony Mobile, Habtoor Group, Ductac and Mubadala.

"Creativity means producing something new and compelling out of the things around me," says Helmi, an Egyptian-British national. "Taking a topic and applying my own creative concepts is something I really enjoy and I'm so thankful that being creative is a big aspect of my job."

Helmi is currently working on a project with Mubadala, providing video content for "an exciting new website that will aim to inspire young Emiratis", and is producing a series of mini-documentaries in India.

"My work as a video journalist has taught me that I can find magical, inspirational moments in the people around me. Moments that actually stay with me forever," he says. "I think it's important to keep asking questions, immersing yourself in interesting places and, sooner or later, you'll find something that stirs your emotions."

• www.vimeo.com/ashrafhelmi or email ashraf@geckomediadubai.com


Sheida Ibrahim, comedian

This Emirati first caught our attention during the One Night Standup comedy nights in Dubai. Her love of comedy, she says, is about making people laugh, boosting morale and expressing herself.

"The act of applying creativity is to stretch your brain to the max to get ideas on how to stand out and be different," she says. "My comedy is inspired by common stereotypes about Arabs and Emiratis, which I try to break, and a lot of it also by my husband as he is quite an interesting character, along with other family members."

Ibrahim is also part of the Dubai-based troupe ComedyDubai along with Feyaza Khan and Robert Hillier. They are preparing for their second season of comedy events called Getup Standup.



Ali Mansoor Al Ali, chairman and producer at Arabian Studios

With offices in London, Paris, Milan, Beirut and Dubai, Arabian Studios is currently on the lookout for the next Emirati feature film director.

"Creativity is a gift each one of us is born with, irrespective of our backgrounds and entitlement of culture," he says. "The challenge is to hold onto this gift as we go through life. To nurture it. To encourage it. Because every single day we encounter forces that would rather it went away."

The company is working on two documentary series, Great Mysteries of Africa and The Magical Oasis, as well as three feature films.

Al Ali draws inspiration from things such as breaking the routine, poetry, writing, dreams, nature, religion and interaction with friends.



Sherif Abaza, managing partner of Sphere Events and the founder of Twinge Urban Arts and Culture Festival

Launched in December of last year, the Twinge Urban Arts and Culture Festival brings together a diverse mix of UAE-based creatives, from poets and musicians to actors and comedians.

Abaza, from Egypt, is currently planning the second edition, to be held during the Dubai Shopping Festival early next year.

"To me, creativity is when ordinary people, who do not necessarily possess 'super skills', produce something extraordinary, not just in the arts but even in business," he says. "I'm very driven, so innovation, passion and thinking outside the box is what drives me and leaves me in awe."

The first Twinge led to a Twinge Sharjah, and the organisers hope that eventually, the event will be held in other markets, too.



Khaled Bin Hamad, manga artist

While studying in Japan, Khaled Bin Hamad enrolled in animation classes after developing a passion for Japanese manga. Today, his work is a blend of Emirati culture and Japanese animation. After exhibiting at Dubai's Middle East Film and Comic Con in April, Bin Hamad is now working on a book that gives a science fiction twist to Emirati life. He plans to release the first chapter online after Eid.

"Creativity does not always mean creating something new," says the Abu Dhabi native. "It's also about moulding something out of what's already available through culture, life and technology."

Bin Hamad names the Oscar-winning Japanese manga artist Hayao Miyazaki as his biggest inspiration.

"For Miyazaki, it's not about money - it's about something deeper, and the thoughts behind the animation," he says. As for his forthcoming book, he says it will be filled with "action and adventure".

"We've seen how Hollywood reacts to science fiction, so it will be interesting to see reactions here," he says.

• Twitter: @kbinhamad


Khalid Al Abdulla, filmmaker and actor

His web series, Khaldyat, has received thousands of hits on YouTube and new episodes are uploaded almost daily. The series explores Emirati issues, taking inspiration form things as simple as a joke broadcast on BlackBerry Messenger.

"I find creativity in everything," says Al Abdulla. "I chose to study media and to be in filmmaking as a way of self development. In life, I translate my surroundings into visuals. For the web series, I've worked with amateur and famous Emirati actors such as Marwan Abdullah Salih, Sogha and Talal Al Mahmoud, on a zero budget."

Having just completed Image Nation Abu Dhabi's Arab Film Studio workshop in April, Al Abdulla is writing a screenplay for a feature film. He is also filming the short What Goes Around Comes Around, about the Lebanese-American lifestyle in Dubai, which he hopes to submit to the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Film Festival.



Hassan Kiyany, director and cinematographer

In April, Hassan Kiyany created a silent film using just his iPhone, in celebration of Charlie Chaplin's birthday. Each character in it represented that era in film. Now, he is building on the silent genre with a web series, exploring subjects such as relationships. His short film Telephoni, which took third place in the Emirates Film Competition at last year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival, was also filmed using a mobile phone.

"Mobile phone photography and videography is a new type of media that is gaining massive popularity," says Kiyany. "Creativity is an idea that can really reach the audience directly, where they can touch the idea. It's a combination of a smart idea and the right move at the right time."

Kiyany also organised the first Instagramers Meetup in Dubai earlier this year. Next, he wants to launch a similar club for those interested in photography and videography.



Mister Outlaw, DJ and music producer

In just the past six months, Mister Outlaw (real name Ahmed Ben Chaibah) has performed in front of 500,000 people and in 2011 managed 23 concerts, including Creamfields and Beats on the Beach. He has taken his skills to at least 27 countries and last summer toured with Bob Sinclar.

"Creativity for me is entertaining while educating," he says. "Rhythm speaks to you, and the best thing about what I do is the energy from the crowd while I'm on stage. It's not about the lifestyle - it's about that energy."

While moving away from the club scene, Ben Chaibah plans to focus more on music production, talent management and organising big shows.

His forthcoming events include the Abu Dhabi Formula 1, the Dubai Festival on Nassimi Beach and opening for "big names in house music next year", something he is keeping hush-hush about until an official announcement is made.

"I always research music and never listen to commercial songs. I'm very persistent because when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, wonderful things can happen," says Ben Chaibah. "It's not about the pencil, but how you write your name."



Moein Al Bastaki, illusionist

He has made the world's tallest tower disappear and now, the Emirati illusionist Moein Al Bastaki plans to "fly" over Dubai. His love for magic began when he was just six years old and he has since travelled extensively, performing illusions and introducing new concepts to the Arab world. Although it is still in the planning stages, sometime this autumn, Al Bastaki plans to levitate above Sheikh Zayed Road.

"Creativity is about amazement and mesmerising people," said Al Bastaki. "I ask myself: 'How creative can I be for people to experience something they never expected?'"

The Burj Khalifa disappearing illusion took place last May, before a crowd of thousands. Al Bastaki also has various performances lined up across the region in the coming months.

"Positivity is my weapon of inspiration. I get inspired by pictures, movies - things that give me the motivation to achieve the best in my art."



Hind Shoufani, writer and filmmaker

She has directed, edited and produced feature-length dramas, documentaries and short films. Hind Shoufani also founded the multinational group The Poeticians, a spoken-word platform where amateur and professional writers perform monthly in different venues in Beirut and Dubai.

"Creativity is the act of not accepting things as they appear, but the redistribution of content into the world from a very subjective, highly elevated, sensual and sensory point of view, using tools that the artist has attempted to master to suit various contexts," says the Palestinian national.

Shoufani also compiled and edited Nowhere Near a Damn Rainbow, a collection of poetry and prose from 31 writers and poets who have performed with The Poeticians. Among her projects on the go are a "poetic art house film" and a documentary in post-production about the politician and writer Elias Shoufani.

"The most creative pieces in the world are those that bear the imprint of the artist in a way that no one else can replicate," she says.


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