Beauty and resonance in fabric

Tarek al Ghoussein’s latest works ?nd beauty and resonance in a piece of fabric. Kaelen Wilson-Goldie sees the Sharjah-based photographer moving beyond identity politics into a meditation on our transient age.

DUBAI // The inspiration for Tarek al Ghoussein's latest body of work came from a construction site, which is somehow fitting for an artist who has been based in the United Arab Emirates for 10 years now.

The image that stuck in Ghoussein's mind, however, wasn't of colour-coded, jump-suited day labourers or the ubiquitous construction cranes that are punching out new skylines in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Those visual tropes have already generated a number of hypercritical, conceptual artworks, such as the collective e-Xplo's 2007 sound installation I Love To You, based on field recordings of migrant workers' songs, which was produced with the Palestinian artist Ayreen Anastas for the Sharjah Biennial's eighth edition. For Ghoussein, rather, it was the less politically loaded and more symbolically nuanced image of a single blue tarp.

"This blue tarp, it just jumps at you when you see all these construction sites," says Ghoussein, who is 46. "When I first saw it, I took a couple of pictures and the image really triggered in my mind. So I went to a site and asked a guy there if I could have it, and he said, 'What are you nuts?' and I said, 'Yeah, yeah,' and he said, 'Here, I'll give you a new one.' So it's mine now. I took it and just started using it all the time."

Indeed, Ghoussein's blue tarp threads through all of the photographs in the "Untitled (C Series)," which he began in 2007. In one image, it covers a mundane mound of dirt. In another, it billows majestically like an haute couture gown in an open-air fashion shoot. In yet another, it appears tattered and torn on the jagged edges of a wire fence. In another still, all but a few vivid streaks of colour fade under desert sands.

Ghoussein's most narrative work to date, the "Untitled (C Series)" consists of more than 12 images so far, and one can reshuffle them into several different stories. The blue tarp may function as a metaphor for the self or the soul. It may signify emotional baggage or a life cycle. Ghoussein leaves the interpretive possibilities open.

"It's all about development," he says. "It's about what's going on here but also anywhere where there's change. I associate it with transience but it could be anything."

Compared to his earlier photographs – which explore such themes as land and longing, barriers and belonging – the blue tarp gives Ghoussein the means to move beyond identity politics, away from attributes that are constructed by place, and toward experiences that are structured by time. Among contemporary artworks grappling with creativity in the Gulf, Ghoussein's series offers a moving meditation on a cosmopolis that thrives, perhaps, without citizenship. It elucidates the precarious and ephemeral (yet liberating) nature of existence no longer tethered to national, cultural or social affiliations.

Though he began his career as a photojournalist, laboured for years to catch what Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment" and still considers the street photographers Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander his heroes, Ghoussein gave up on the idea of the one, perfect picture long ago. He has been working in a mode he terms performance photography since 2002.

Like the American photographer Cindy Sherman and her "Untitled Film Stills," or the Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat and her "Women of Allah" photographs, Ghoussein stages self-portraits in series. He frames a composition, arranges his equipment and then leaves the camera on a tripod to insert himself into the image. He takes each shot with the aid of self-timers, assistants or friends.

But unlike Sherman or Neshat, Ghoussein rarely turns toward his own lens. His images depict a lone figure in the distance rather than a face at close range. Dressed in black with his back to the viewer, he appears always almost overwhelmed by the landscape. His posture, drooped and defeated, infuses the photographs with a mood of inconsolable sadness and melancholy. Jack Persekian, the Sharjah Biennials' artistic director, once characterised Ghoussein's work as "anguish … beautifully portrayed."

The "Untitled (C Series)" isn't the first set of Ghoussein's photographs to pull meaning from a piece of fabric. His "Untitled (Self-Portraits)" use the Palestinian keffiyeh in much the same way. Those images, featuring the artist with his head wrapped in the traditional black-and-white scarf, are his best known, and his most controversial.

In 2003, he staged one of the self-portraits on the edge of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Soon after he was picked up by the local police and interrogated for 22 hours. Then, in 2004, he exhibited the series, with each self-portrait mounted on a light box, for a gallery show in Berlin. A visitor, failing to appreciate the work's form but apparently angered by its content, chucked a rock at one of the boxes and shattered the glass. Three years later, during a sale of Arab and Iranian art at the auction house Sotheby's in London, the photograph of Ghoussein at the Dead Sea, subtitled Looking at Palestine, sold for £7,750 (Dhs58,312), nearly twice the high estimate. The text in the sales catalogue retreads the interrogation tale, then compares Ghoussein's photograph to a canvas by the 19th-century romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Ghoussein has shown his work in more than 40 exhibitions in 14 years, including high-profile venues such as New York's Aperture Gallery and Paris' Institut du Monde Arabe. He has hit five countries in the Middle East and nine in Europe, in addition to the United States, New Zealand and Bangladesh. But he hasn't, until now, had proper gallery representation.

In March, Ghoussein joined The Third Line in Dubai. In September, the gallery will open a group show, curated by Haig Aivazian and titled "Roads Were Open/Roads Were Closed: On How We Perceive Conflict," featuring selections from the "Untitled (B Series)" alongside works by Fouad Elkoury, Laila Shawa, Joana Hajdithomas and Khalil Joreige. Given The Third Line's rising international profile and expanding regional presence (the gallery is opening a second branch in Doha on May 8), the move could lend Ghoussein's career more direction, and bring his work – as opposed to the stories about his work – into sharper focus.

Before he signed on with The Third Line, Claudia Cellini, who founded the gallery in 2005 with Sunny Rahbar and Omar Ghobash, had only known one of Ghoussein's images. "I initially gave it a simplistic reading," says Cellini. "The sea, the keffiyeh and a man with his back turned. I wanted more." It wasn't until she saw the work together with the series – and the self-portrait series together with the ones that came after – that she grasped "the relationship to a larger context and to people everywhere."

Aivazian links Ghoussein's imagery to the late cartoonist Naji al Ali's Handala character. But he also teases out a sophisticated treatment of spectatorship in Ghoussein's photographs of walls and barriers. "The artist implicates the viewer in a detachment that is multi-fold," says Aivazian. "Ghoussein's set-ups attempt to disengage from the position of spectatorship in order to engage affectively in a distanced reality."

Ghoussein, who is Palestinian, was born in Kuwait and grew up in Morocco, Japan and the US. He studied photography at New York University and the University of New Mexico. He spent much of the 1980s in Alphabet City (he even worked as a bartender at Life Café, which, for better or worse, spawned the misfit musical Rent). Habitually dressed in a black long-sleeved T-shirt, black trousers and black shoes, with five silver rings evenly distributed across both hands, he still looks the part of a downtown denizen.

A professor of photography at the American University of Sharjah since 1998, Ghoussein is helping to forge a new generation of local talent. One of his former students, Lamya Gargash, beat him to The Third Line by three years. But Ghoussein definitely makes them fight for their work.

"As a teacher I never let my students talk about concept before dealing with form," he says. "They're hungry. I'm proud of them. But in the beginning it's tough. I tell them no sunsets, no Bedouin, no deserts, no mom and dad."

If a student turns in a lacklustre picture, Ghoussein asks: "What is this, a postcard?" and then tears up the print. "I tear up a lot of pictures in the first couple of weeks," he says. "Then the students say, 'Well, what do we photograph?' And that's where it starts. I like to give them a hard time."

Ghoussein is by no means the first artist to find identity politics something of a dead end. But the shift from his "Untitled (Self-Portraits)" to the "Untitled (C Series)" offers an unusual and purposefully enigmatic way out. The former photographs "are so tied to the scarf," he says. In the latter, "I like to open it up a bit. I have definite feelings about what's going on in the Middle East and especially in Palestine. But I don't want [my work] to be [seen as] just ironic. That would kill me. It's much more about my own travels, about the landscape, about movement and about searching."

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie reports from Beirut for The National.

All The Light We Cannot See

Creator: Steven Knight

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Aria Mia Loberti

Rating: 1/5 

Where to donate in the UAE

The Emirates Charity Portal

You can donate to several registered charities through a “donation catalogue”. The use of the donation is quite specific, such as buying a fan for a poor family in Niger for Dh130.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments

The site has an e-donation service accepting debit card, credit card or e-Dirham, an electronic payment tool developed by the Ministry of Finance and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Al Noor Special Needs Centre

You can donate online or order Smiles n’ Stuff products handcrafted by Al Noor students. The centre publishes a wish list of extras needed, starting at Dh500.

Beit Al Khair Society

Beit Al Khair Society has the motto “From – and to – the UAE,” with donations going towards the neediest in the country. Its website has a list of physical donation sites, but people can also contribute money by SMS, bank transfer and through the hotline 800-22554.

Dar Al Ber Society

Dar Al Ber Society, which has charity projects in 39 countries, accept cash payments, money transfers or SMS donations. Its donation hotline is 800-79.

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares provides several options for individuals and companies to donate, including online, through banks, at retail outlets, via phone and by purchasing Dubai Cares branded merchandise. It is currently running a campaign called Bookings 2030, which allows people to help change the future of six underprivileged children and young people.

Emirates Airline Foundation

Those who travel on Emirates have undoubtedly seen the little donation envelopes in the seat pockets. But the foundation also accepts donations online and in the form of Skywards Miles. Donated miles are used to sponsor travel for doctors, surgeons, engineers and other professionals volunteering on humanitarian missions around the world.

Emirates Red Crescent

On the Emirates Red Crescent website you can choose between 35 different purposes for your donation, such as providing food for fasters, supporting debtors and contributing to a refugee women fund. It also has a list of bank accounts for each donation type.

Gulf for Good

Gulf for Good raises funds for partner charity projects through challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro and cycling through Thailand. This year’s projects are in partnership with Street Child Nepal, Larchfield Kids, the Foundation for African Empowerment and SOS Children's Villages. Since 2001, the organisation has raised more than $3.5 million (Dh12.8m) in support of over 50 children’s charities.

Noor Dubai Foundation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Noor Dubai Foundation a decade ago with the aim of eliminating all forms of preventable blindness globally. You can donate Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting the word “Noor” to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).


Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

The specs: 2018 Maserati GranTurismo/GranCabrio

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Fuel economy, combined 14.3L (GranTurismo) and 14.5L (GranCabrio) / 100km

Sour Grapes

Author: Zakaria Tamer
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Pages: 176


Director: Carla Gutierrez

Starring: Frida Kahlo

Rating: 4/5

Champion v Champion (PFL v Bellator)

Heavyweight: Renan Ferreira v Ryan Bader
Middleweight: Impa Kasanganay v Johnny Eblen
Featherweight: Jesus Pinedo v Patricio Pitbull
Catchweight: Ray Cooper III v Jason Jackson

Showcase Bouts
Heavyweight: Bruno Cappelozza (former PFL World champ) v Vadim Nemkov (former Bellator champ)
Light Heavyweight: Thiago Santos (PFL title contender) v Yoel Romero (Bellator title contender)
Lightweight: Clay Collard (PFL title contender) v AJ McKee (former Bellator champ)
Featherweight: Gabriel Braga (PFL title contender) v Aaron Pico (Bellator title contender)
Lightweight: Biaggio Ali Walsh (pro debut) v Emmanuel Palacios (pro debut)
Women’s Lightweight: Claressa Shields v Kelsey DeSantis
Featherweight: Abdullah Al Qahtani v Edukondal Rao
Amateur Flyweight: Malik Basahel v Vinicius Pereira

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through and


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Power: 210hp
Torque: 320Nm
Price: Starting from Dh89,900
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Super 30

Produced: Sajid Nadiadwala and Phantom Productions
Directed: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Srivastav, Mrinal Thakur
Rating: 3.5 /5

Bareilly Ki Barfi
Directed by: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Starring: Kriti Sanon, Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao
Three and a half stars


Hong Kong 52-5 UAE
South Korea 55-5 Malaysia
Malaysia 6-70 Hong Kong
UAE 36-32 South Korea

Friday, June 21, 7.30pm kick-off: UAE v Malaysia
At The Sevens, Dubai (admission is free).
Saturday: Hong Kong v South Korea

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

The five pillars of Islam

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat

57 Seconds

Director: Rusty Cundieff
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Morgan Freeman, Greg Germann, Lovie Simone
Rating: 2/5

UAE Warriors 45 Results

Main Event : Lightweight Title
Amru Magomedov def Jakhongir Jumaev - Round 1 (submission)
Co-Main Event : Bantamweight
Rany Saadeh def Genil Franciso - Round 2 (submission)
Catchweight 150 lbs
Walter Cogliandro def Ali Al Qaisi - Round 1 (TKO)
Renat Khavalov def Hikaru Yoshino - Round 2 (TKO)
Victor Nunes def Nawras Abzakh - Round 1 (TKO)
Yamato Fujita def Sanzhar Adilov - Round 1 (submission)
Abdullo Khodzhaev def Petru Buzdugen - Round 1 (TKO)
Catchweight 139 lbs
Razhabali Shaydullaev def Magomed Al-Abdullah - Round 2 (submission)
Cong Wang def Amena Hadaya - Points (unanimous decision)
Khabib Nabiev def Adis Taalaybek Uulu - Round 2 (submission)
Light Heavyweight
Bartosz Szewczyk def Artem Zemlyakov - Round 2 (TKO)


Visit for more information


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On sale: September

Sustainable Development Goals

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its effects

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


Director: Khalid Fahad

Starring: Shaima Al Tayeb, Wafa Muhamad, Hamss Bandar

Rating: 3/5


Name: Ejari
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Founders: Yazeed Al Shamsi, Fahad Albedah, Mohammed Alkhelewy and Khalid Almunif
Sector: PropTech
Total funding: $1 million
Investors: Sanabil 500 Mena, Hambro Perks' Oryx Fund and angel investors
Number of employees: 8

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