Portrait paintings of poets, cultural media questions, featured at ADBF - GulfToday

Portrait paintings of poets, cultural media questions, featured at ADBF

Malak Mohammed with her canvas.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Every night, at the Al Dhafra Book Festival (ADBF) 2023 organised by Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC) till December 10 in the Public Park in Zayed City in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi, artist Malak Mohammed masterfully crafted a new painting for each participating poet at the ‘Poetry Nights: Voices People Loved’ sessions.

As the evenings drew to a close, she presented the poets with a gift as an appreciation of their contributions. The artist wove colour paintings on her canvas, drawing a poet’s portrait, along with scenes from the evening. The live drawing segment was an innovative idea unveiled by the ALC, first put forward at Al Ain Book Festival 2023 and then implemented at ADBF.

Mohammed, an architect working with the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), specialises in the preservation of cultural buildings in Al Ain. “I would like to thank the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre for sparing no effort to empower and encourage young talents,” she said.

“Thanks to the opportunity the Centre gave me, I have been able to showcase my talent to the audience at the live drawing segment under the Poetry Nights programme.” She said she was keen on sketching the ambiance of the evenings, depicting panoramic scenes and portraying the poet, audience and the surrounding environment.

 Visitors browsing books at ADBF.

Mohammed crafted three-dimensional ground paintings that appeared as optical illusions. She planned to draw four pieces distributed across different areas in the park. She has been passionate about drawing since childhood. However, she only honed her skills when she settled in Al Ain city and took drawing courses at Al Qattara Arts Centre.

This helped her develop her talent and encouraged her to create murals for exhibitions held by the ALC, in addition to participating in live drawing events. The ALC also organised a seminar titled ‘Cultural Journalism and Building Awareness with Culture’, featuring veteran journalists Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, and renowned writer and media personality Ali Obeid Al Hamli, who has held various positions across multiple media organisations.

The seminar saw the two journalists discuss the current state of cultural journalism, in light of the decline of print journalism and the widespread use of social media. The open dialogue with the audience was moderated by Dr. Berlant Qabeel, Head of Programmes, ALC.

The seminar was held at Public Park in Zayed City; it provided information about the history of cultural journalism and its prominent practitioners in the Arab world. Ahmad highlighted the historical role of editors-in-chief, who were once literary figures, shaping news content. He cited examples from renowned Arab newspapers that had literary figures serving as editors-in-chief, with culture at the core of their thought and personalities.

 Malak Mohammed at work.

“With that in mind, it became essential to establish cultural pages, supplements and magazines, in order to give cultural news its important place,” he said. “The second generation of editors-in-chief inherited this focus on culture, even if they were not from the cultural community themselves. It has all changed now.”

Commenting on the decline of cultural standards on social media, the Gulf News editor-in-chief pointed to the diminished output of major literary figures, who prefer traditional publishing. He urged authors and cultural institutions to have a strong presence on these platforms. He highlighted book exhibitions, which have proven to be a great success in the West, both among adults and children.

Al Hamli spoke about the impact of cultural journalism on his professional life. He said: “We writers began our journey with cultural journalism. The biggest motivator for our generation was for our names to appear in newspapers and although these papers were not specialised in culture, they covered it as much as they did politics and economics.

We have seen renowned figures establish cultural magazines; for them, culture was more of a calling than a job.” “Does cultural journalism still hold the same value for the new generation?” he asked. “Every young author today has a personal platform where they present whatever they want. And this creates a problem, because there are no longer any role models for newcomers and no more standards for writing.

We have seen many writers who do not have the talent for writing or the mastery of linguistic techniques or language.” Al Hamli went on to say that cultural journalism is currently facing a major problem, where, despite the widespread availability of means of communication, it has not created a generation of writers capable of contributing to the literary landscape.

“Perhaps we need to set standards for writing,” he said. “We cannot control social media; but we can set standards and promote literary criticism through these platforms, so that we can evaluate literature and drive it forward.” In conclusion, he explained that there are many writers who have their own means of print publishing — and they are the ones who enrich the scene.

“Publishing through social media harms culture more than it serves it,” he said, pointing to the need for the old cultural supplements, even if published online. “The only way to do that is for cultural centres and institutions, such as the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, to play an active role on social media platforms, in order to create a balance between social media content and our vision of what culture should be in our present era.” 


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