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Qatari artist Yasser Al Mulla: Drawing a Sufi controversy | News





Doha, Qatar – Yasser Al Mulla’s colourless, intricately lined drawings chromatically compliment his crisp white ankle-length thobe and ringed black egal.

As a Qatari agricultural engineer, Al Mulla spends his days developing the greenery around Doha and perfecting grass pitches in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. But in his evenings, he delineates themes of Sufism and various cultures with discursive black lines on a vast white canvas.

Though his artwork has been praised for its mystifying attention to detail, some have questioned why Al Mulla, a 38-year-old Sunni Muslim, depicts the philosophies of the Sufi tradition for leisure.

“I get a lot of comments from people asking ‘why Sufism? Are you Sufi?’ which they don’t like,” Al Mulla told Al Jazeera in his studio recently. “They don’t understand that it is a way of life more than a religion, but I don’t mind. It opens the door for them to do more research.”

Since high school, Al Mulla has been fascinated by the poems and teachings Mansur Al Hallaj, a Sufi preacher who is best known for his saying: “I am the truth.” Many have interpreted it as a claim to divinity, while others believe it to be a mystical defeat of the ego that allows God to speak through an individual.

“I’ve been in love with Al Hallaj for a very long time, ever since I had questions of creation and read for the truth,” said Al Mulla. “The amount of peace and philosophy in his writings have inspired me.”

Al Mulla seen here in his studio in Doha [Ayilah Chaudhary/Al Jazeera]

From a distance, Al Mulla’s drawings resemble inky scribbles. A few steps closer reveal a religious or cultural motif, such as Whirling Dervishes or The Khalifat Visitors of the Abbasid Caliphate, with meandering lines and geometric shapes rippling around them. The figures are doodle-like illustrations, while the lines are contrastingly opaque, undulating and parallel, similar to a moire pattern.

In all of his drawings, Al Mulla attempts to “raise questions” in his art and depict his thoughts through the use of discursive, achromatic lines. “With colours, an artist can say a lot of things,” said Al Mulla, who has a colour-mixed optic condition. “But the line technique is limitless, you can attract people to the ideas inside your brain through endless lines.”

Al Mulla began creating Sufism-inspired line drawings as a 2017-18 resident of the Doha Fire Station, a former emergency services headquarters-turned art hub in the Qatar capital.

His studio furnishings do not deviate from his monochrome theme – the couch is black, the white walls are used as canvases and the floor is sprinkled with ebony black pens that Al Mulla decides not to be used twice. As he commits hours to a drawing after compelling inspiration presses his mind, Beethoven’s piano compositions gently play in the background.

“This is not work for me; it relieves me from the stresses of work,” said Al Mulla.

He studied engineering at Qatar University and law at Cairo University, but did not begin drawing until 2015, at age 35. One night, he had a vivid dream about a tsunami and chose to sketch it with a coal-black pen, and consequently discovered his artistic ability. “After that, I never looked back. I am more balanced after I started art. I am happier than I was years ago because I have my answers now, which I try to put in my paintings.”

He finds his reputation shift to an artist difficult to reconcile with since he was previously known as “the engineer guy”, working on landscape projects from Doha’s Aspire Park to those commissioned by Qatar’s emir himself.

Al Mulla has gained significant popularity for his landscape art, which is an external representation of his artistic ability. His agricultural work for the World Cup beautifies otherwise barren areas of Qatar and was recently profiled by The New York Times. Regardless of his success, Al Mulla does not want his career to be his “only thing”.

The term Sufi stems from “Suf”, the Arabic word for wool, and refers to a garment in which Sufi mystics are often depicted [Ayilah Chaudhary/Al Jazeera]

He dedicates certain days of the week entirely to his wife and three children, a certain day to his parents as the eldest son and certain nights to his drawings.

“I don’t follow an exact schedule, but I know I don’t want to be consumed by work.” Similarly, Al Mulla doesn’t have an exact plan in mind before he draws, but rather a preliminary abstraction of what to include. “I have an idea, then it will just come to me on the canvas.”

According to Al Mulla, he paints “under the influence of [his] whole life”. He said that all people are “accumulation of knowledge, experiences and culture” and he attempts to present his own through ambiguous thin and thick black lines against a once-vacant white space.

When asked whether he believes in Sufism, Al Mulla said, “People need to have the spirit of the Quran and the Hadith. In Qatar, nobody will ask you why you are Muslim, but we need to be more open to the good things in other thoughts and ideas.”

In addition to the personal motivations behind his art, Al Mulla said the controversy of the Sufi influence in his drawings helps with creating open-mindedness in Qatar.

The colourless nature of Al Mulla’s drawings makes them appear two-dimensional at a first glance. However, Al Mulla claims to hide philosophical messages in his long, contoured lines to prompt viewers to learn.

“People don’t need to change, but they need to read more and know more, and then judge,” he said. “I am opening the door for them to do that.”


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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