The couture line that Balenciaga launched this summer is another thing that has permanent residency in my brain. I think that what Demna [Gvasalia, creative director] is doing with sculpture and architecture through fashion is some of the most interesting theatre of our time. It’s like a marriage of Romantic and gothic style – it’s a bit ecclesiastical, almost monastic, and I want it all. There’s this really wonderful circular headpiece that feels like: “I’m going to service, but in the year 3021.”
Ajlan Gharems installation Paradise Has Many Gates (2015-present)
As diplomatic tensions mount between Canada and Saudi Arabia—with the Canadian ambassador expelled from Riyadh this week over comments made by the Foreign Affairs Minister criticising the Middle Eastern kingdoms human-rights record—a more successful example of cultural exchange between the two countries stands in Vancouver's Vanier Park. The Saudi artist Ajlan Gharems installation Paradise Has Many Gates, a replica of a mosque made of chain link and steel pipe, opened the fourth edition of the Vancouver Biennale, with the aim of serving as a meeting ground for different communities.
The mosque is due to remain in Vancouver long-term, however the first iteration of the work, installed in the Arabian Desert in 2015, was only up for 24 hours before it was dismantled for fear of reprisal from Saudia Arabias powerful clerics. That was long enough for the 33-year-old Riyadh-based artist (and younger brother of Abdulnasser Gharem), to create a video with locals and foreign workers that alludes to tensions between the sacred and the secular, the rural and the urban.
While the 2015 video of the mosque referred explicitly to Guantanamo Bay, with men wearing orange jumpsuits, Gharem had “children in cages” in mind when installing the piece in Vancouver, he said during an interview in July, before the recent diplomatic issues broke out. And as well as responding to both Islamophobia and extremism with his work, Gharem added that he hoped it would be a gathering place for different communities. On the afternoon we interviewed the artist, the installation attracted a wide range of visitors, ranging from a Jewish woman who chatted amiably with Gharem while photographing the mosque's steel mesh minaret, to young children playing, and a locally based Yemeni photographer.
Ajlan Gharem outside of his work in Vancouver
“A few years ago, it would have been too dangerous for me to do this kind of work, but things have changed,” Gharem said, citing the sheer demographic power of Saudi Arabias youth—50% of the population is under the age of 30, according to a recent government survey—and the explosion of social media. “At first Sheikh Muhammad Munajid condemned my work online,” he explained, referring to the hard line cleric who called for a fatwa against Mickey Mouse in 2008. When Saudi tweeters explained the conceptual aspects, the cleric withdrew his comments, Gharem said. He also attributed the changes to the recently installed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has instituted a number of reforms in Saudi Arabia. But as the deputy prime minister and minister of defence, the Crown Prince is also behind the country's aggressive foreign policy.
Gharem would not comment on the current situation, but the biennial's founder and president Barrie Mowatt says that "the current tensions naturally will/have/can become a part of the work's story". Mowatt adds that Gharem's installation "is representative of how a work's intention and meaning can change with its location and the politics of the time", and is in keeping with the exhibition's mandate of "art as a catalyst for dialogue" and "community engagement and learning". Other works in the biennale, include the Chilean artist Alfredo Jaars digital billboard A Logo For America (1987/2018), and a takeover of the historic Patricia Hotel by the Melbourne-based artist Patricia Piccininis surreal sculptures.
Around the edges of Gharem's work are mandalas made of native rocks and plants by the Indo-Canadian artist Sheniz Janmohamed. Soon, where bright red Saudi carpets are now spread on the grass, some of the First Nations artists who chanted welcome songs at the installations opening in June—each one taking a turn standing at the mihrab, the prayer niche closest to Mecca—will display their weaving. During the day, the installations offers framed views of the surrounding Pacific vista; at night, it becomes a jewel-like steel lantern.
The view from inside Ajlan Gharems installation Paradise Has Many Gates (2015-present)
Leeds Festival: Bad Boy Chiller Crew get Yorkshire bouncing
Bad Boy Chiller crew may have started out as a bit of a joke online but on Friday they provided some serious party vibes as Leeds Festival got under way.
Bradford’s notorious bassline collective got a sea of bucket hats bouncing with their infectious energy and hilarious stage presence.
The rap-dance collective brought their dads/friends onstage for a rave, while downing booze in between spitting bars.
But they were enjoying themselves for so long organisers pulled the plug.
Having overrun, the fun-loving outfit had their microphones, decks and music silenced, drawing boos from revellers as they stormed off to make room for a “No Leeds on a Dead Planet” public service video about environmental concerns around the event.
West Yorkshire Police later said they arrested two people following an incident on stage at Leeds Festival shortly after 16:00 BST on Friday.
The pair were subsequently bailed, pending further enquiries.
In recent years, the rap trio, comprised of Gareth “GK” Kelly, Kane Welsh and Sam “Clive” Robinson have have been not so quietly working their way up the bill at their home county festival, rapping over old school dance beats.
They’ve gone from starting in the BBC Music Introducing tent to one of the main stages, where they looked very at home, leading the crowd in a chorus of “oggy oggy oggy”s.
Dressed in their crispest white shirts and big red ties, the local rappers – who recently starred in their own ITV2 docu-series – raced through verses from their recent mixtape and debut album, including 450 and BMW, as well new track When It Rains, It Pours (thankfully it didn’t, as the clouds covered the Yorkshire sun for the first time on Friday).
They raced through beer, cider and vodka at an (alarmingly) equally rapid rate, as a family friend known affectionately as Kitchen Steve twirled a cane in a head-masterly fashion and Kelly’s dad Hopper, wearing a Burberry outfit, threw out some serious shapes and hip shakes.
One Twitter user commented: “Omg! Bad Boy Chiller Crew. What is this?! It’s like [Welsh act] Goldie Lookin Chain on speed. There is even a ‘Bez'”.
Robinson even appeared to have had an influence on, or at least reflect, some of the festival-goers’ fashion senses, with mullets adorning the heads of young men at Branham Park, for possibly the first time in decades.
Rap music from around the UK regions, not just the capital, has become more prominent on the bill here in recent years. “It’s tongue-in-cheek funny and unashamedly Yorkshire,” wrote the BBC’s Will Chalk about Bad Boy Chiller Crew – who recently launched a fans for foodbanks initiative – in an interview two years ago, when they were just starting their journey to where they are now.
Earlier on Friday, emo rocker Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith brought the first big singalong of the day as the crowds began to arrive in the searing heat, with one of the songs of last year, her viral hit Meet Me at the Spot.
She followed it up with a new one of her own, Hover Like a Goddess. “Every woman is a goddess,” she beamed, drawing loud cheers.
Bastille did an early set on Friday evening, having just released an extended version of their latest album Give Me the Future.
They told the BBC that performing at the double header Reading and Leeds Festivals 10 years ago in a smaller tent – and hearing one of their softer songs sung back to them with gusto – was the first time they thought they were really on to something as a band.
“We had to stop because I was it was so blown away, it just was just so overwhelming,” said singer and songwriter Dan Smith.
“That was kind of amazing moment, as particularly as back 10 years ago, Reading and Leeds was much more like rock and heavy music. So as a as a weird little cinematic indie band, and being the massive cynic that I am, I was like, ‘what’s the crowd gonna make of us?’
“So to have that first experience all those years ago was pretty surreal.”
The Leeds leg of the Bank Holiday weekender was officially opened on Thursday evening by up-and-coming Sunderland indie rocker Tom A Smith, who recently supported Sir Elton John. Afterwards he told the BBC it was “without doubt the best [gig] I’ve ever done”.
“We had mosh pits and people singing my songs back,” said Smith. “It was absolutely insane, what an experience.”
Reading and Leeds Festivals take place across two sites and will feature headline performances at each from artists including The 1975, Dave, Arctic Monkeys and Megan Thee Stallion.
On my radar: Moses Sumney’s cultural highlights
theguardian– Singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, 29, grew up between Ghana and California and studied creative writing and poetry at UCLA. His piercing falsetto and genre-defying music have brought him critical acclaim, starting with his self-recorded 2014 EP Mid-City Island, followed in 2017 by his debut album, Aromanticism, and the 2020 double album Græ. Sumney has collaborated with musicians including Bon Iver and James Blake and toured with Solange and Sufjan Stevens. His latest project is Blackalachia, a self-directed concert film created in association with WePresent, shot over two days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, where he lives.
Selling Sunset (Netflix)
I pity anyone who hasn’t seen this show. It’s a reality show about a real estate agency in west Hollywood, and it follows the lives and deals of the people who work there, predominantly the female staff who are all ridiculously Barbie-ish – essentially “career Barbie on crack”. It’s incredible. I love reality TV – it tells us a lot about humanity. Reality shows are always inherently dated, so they’re a great capsule of the modern era.
Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty by Yeule
I don’t know what it is about this song, but I’m addicted to it. Yeule is a Singaporean artist based in London who’s kind of new on the scene, and this song is just so hypnotising – it hints and winks at hyperpop while being an absolutely heart-shattering folk tune. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of a lot of different genres, and it’s stunning. I have a lot of playlists – for driving, for chilling at night, a morning playlist, a folk playlist – and this is in all of them.
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
I’m currently reading this – I put off reading it because it looks like a self-help book – but it’s really fascinating. The author is an artist who works largely in digital art and the book is about how to free yourself from the capitalist trappings of the workforce – not necessarily saying “quit your job”, but suggesting a new path for work. It asks the question: how can we construct our identities apart from defining ourselves by what we do and by our income? It’s a very radical book, and it’s often a hard read. But it has been mind-shifting.
Western North Carolina
I’ve been travelling a lot for work, so I’ve been thinking about how much I would prefer to spend my time in western North Carolina, particularly in the mountains, where I live. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world. I first arrived in Asheville when I was on tour and knew immediately I wanted to live here. You turn around, 360 degrees in any direction, and you’re surrounded by trees, by the sound of animals, and that’s really a rare feeling for anyone who’s spent most of their life, as I have, living in the city.
Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)
This stars a young Jurnee Smollett, who recently had a resurgence with Lovecraft Country. She’s 10 years old in the film, which is set in a fictional small town in Louisiana. Samuel L Jackson stars as the patriarch of the family, who is maybe cheating on his wife, his daughter sets out to kill him and punish him, perhaps through witchcraft. It was incredibly critically acclaimed and subsequently snubbed by every major award ceremony. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking film. I first saw it last year and I think about it every day.
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