London Arabia Art and Fashion Week served as a bridge between cultures by showcasing artwork and designs from the United Kingdom and the Arab world, sending a message of cultural understanding following the recent terror attacks in the British capital.
Festival organiser Omar Bdour said at the opening ceremony that he was proud to showcase Arab culture and heritage alongside British talents and to convey a message of love, unity and hope.
“Such intercultural dialogue through proactive engagement is imperative to break down the barriers,” said Bdour. “We will celebrate everything the terrorists hate. They will never stop our collaboration,” he added in reference to the London Bridge and Finsbury Park mosque terror attacks.
Lord Jeremy Purvis, a member of the House of Lords, told the guests:
“I know how the creativity and culture of textiles and design can cross borders. I have made 20 visits to the MENA region this year, including areas afflicted by great tension and conflict; I have seen the best and worst of humanity. Tonight we are celebrating the best of humanity through art, design and literature.”
Ten artists and designers from the Arab world took part in the festival, which included a book fair as part of the four-day programme. North African fashion designers shone at the well-attended opening ceremony.
The fashion event showcased traditional garb with a Western touch designed by Albert Oiknine and Safae Ibrahimi from Morocco and Hanan Heidari Ben Chamekh from Tunisia, as well as British designer Corrie Nielsen’s latest collection.
Jack Pudney, festival events and marketing officer, said the inclusion of Nielsen and British artist Mark Coreth was meant “to bridge cultures and promote cultural understanding.” Ben Chamekh wowed the guests with beautifully handmade outfits inspired by her Tunisian heritage.
“My goal is to show the whole world my latest designs of our Tunisian garb,” said Ben Chamekh, whose eight garments featured a royal theme. “This is my second participation in a fashion show in London. I love the city and its multicultural aspect,” she said.
Ibrahimi said she sought to target a different category of clients and show a Middle Eastern style that is close to the evening gown. “My style is a mix of the traditional caftan and the evening gown. My motto is exclusivity. Every woman who wears my dress is unique,” said Ibrahimi.
Saudi Arabia’s Faris al-Shehri, the creator of the fashion show, said the London show was a rare union of Arab and Western fashion styles.
“Fashion designers showed us how creative this industry is from both sides of the world besides the language they want to express through their designs,” said Shehri, who is also the founder of the Saudi Fashion Council.
The art exhibition featured the work of Kuwaiti May al-Saad, Saudi Princess Lamia Mohammad al-Sabhan, Qatari artists Amal al- Aathem, Ali Hassan and Ahmad al-Musaifri, Oman’s Alia al-Farsi, Bahrain’s Tariq Saeed and Jordan’s Jehad al-Ameri.
Saad’s paintings depict Kuwaiti folklore as a sign of her attachment to the country’s Bedouin culture, while Musaifri’s artwork touched on sensitive subjects, such as the hardship of women and war-time suffering in a stressful world.
The festival’s book fair included best-selling Algerian author Ahlam Mosteghanemi, who had a book-signing session. Lebanese author, journalist and human rights activist Joumana Haddad, Palestinian novelist Huzama Habayeb and Syrian novelist Ghalia Qabbani also took part in the fair.
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.