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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Hakaya Misk: young people in UAE learn to tell stories at Saudi exhibition

Saudi-Emirati exhibition provides a platform for people to engage in media production

Hakaya MiSK, a three-day creative workshop, is held at at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi last week. Christopher Pike / The National
Hakaya MiSK, a three-day creative workshop, is held at at Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi last week. Christopher Pike / The National

Growing up in Saudi Arabia Naif Alkhairallah liked to draw comics. He would scribble over his books and notepads only to have them ripped up by teachers who called the drawings haram, or blasphemous.

Fourteen years would pass before Mr Alkhairallah would try his hand at comic drawing again after becoming inspired at a wedding he attended in Dubai in 2013.

“The bride threw the bouquet and of course all the single ladies rushed to catch it for the myth that they will be next, and I started thinking how some women can’t wait to get married, and after marriage they regret it for life,” he said.

At that moment, the 38-year-old banker became disillusioned with his corporate job and decided to pursue his passion for art.

“So when I started drawing again, I learned anatomy and how to form a story,” he said. He kept his job in banking but began spending his evening drawing comics.

Mr Allkhairallah’s evenings of hard work paid off and he now authors Al Quyood Al Sawsaa (The Black Ties), a mystery series written in Saudi dialect.

In its fifth year, the series has also been translated into Korean.

“Saqer is an author who wrote a story that turned out to be a huge success,” said Mr Alkhairallah, enthusiastically explaining the plot.

“So he wrote a letter to thank his followers, but then disappeared, and once the police found the letter they deemed him as a dangerous person who must be caught.”

At the end of each book there is a riddle to be solved by deciphering the clues that hint at the future of the story.

The comics were displayed at Mr Alkhairallah’s booth at three-day exhibition, Hakaya Misk, in Abu Dhabi last week.

Held at Um Al Emarat Park, the exhibition is a platform for showcasing talents and start-up projects from the GCC.

The Saudi Arabian initiative is in its eighth year and travelled outside the kingdom for the first time for a GCC-wide tour, starting in the UAE capital.

“The goal is to provide a platform for story-making whether through drawings, writing and many other forms of art,” said Mohammed Abuazzah, chief marketing officer of Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation, MiSK, – the non-profit organisation behind the initiative.

The exhibition was held in co-operation with the Emirates Youth Council, and targeted young people in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship and the arts.

Workshops were organised by social media giants Twitter and LinkedIn to teach participants how to tell a story through a Tweet. The New York Film Academy held a workshop explaining the basics of film making.

Emerging businesses told of their experiences and were able to network with fellow practitioners.

“We saw many Saudi productions and stories emerge from Hakaya Misk. We heard many stories of a participant starting his own company, or another signing a contract to produce three of his stories,” said Mr Abuazzah.

Saudi publishing house Ironix, which signed authors all ages and demographics, also attended the exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

“Instead of importing comics from abroad, we decided to start a publishing house that accommodates Arab talents,” said Sara Al Amr, an editor at Ironix.

The publishing house opened five months ago and has since published four books with ten more in the works.

“There are outstanding talents in the market and energy within the youth waiting to come out, so we started a community for artists and authors,” said Ms Al Amr.

The demand in the Saudi market is huge, she said, and they have been selling extensively online and are looking to sell in bookstores and Virgin megastores soon.

“We knew the market very well because we were part of it, we were fans ourselves so we reached the public easily because we were that public,” she said.

Ironix also took part in Hakayat Misk last week for the same reasons Mr Alkhairallah did, to gain further exposure and explore opportunities.

“You keep on knocking doors and you see who will open the door for you,” he said.