August Note: Exhibition Picks | Music Picks | ‘Obliterated’ Play That Never Was | Dema One Is Nahla Ink Artist Of The Month

Dear Readers

August has arrived with Londoners taking their holidays abroad for some guaranteed sunshine.

As in town we don’t know with the weather, this still ought not to discourage or dampen the spirit to go out and enjoy some the wonderful MENA-inspired arts and culture events available.

Below are some picks of the exhibitions and music on offer as well as mention of the ‘Obliterated’ play that never was – with a message from the award-winning British-Palestinian Ahmed Masoud – and more on Dema One, the Nahla Ink Artist of the Month.

Exhibition Picks – If You Haven’t Already Been To View

Michael Rakowitz at The Whitechapel Gallery (Ends 25 August): https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/michael-rakowitz/

Seeing Through Babel (Kevork Mourad) at The Ismaili Centre (Ends 15 August): https://the.ismaili/united-kingdom/seeing-through-babel

Amma Baad (Nasser El Salem) at The Delfina Foundation (Ends 10 August): https://www.shubbak.co.uk/amma-baad/

Hicham Berrada Dreamscapes at the Hayward Gallery (Ends 18 August): https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hayward-gallery-art/hicham-berrada

Raw Queens at the Mosaic Rooms (Ends 14 September): https://mosaicrooms.org/event/raw-queens/

Resilience Exile Mutation (REM) at the P21 Gallery (Ends 24 August):

http://p21.gallery/exhibitions/resilience-exile-mutation/

Music Picks – You Can Still Book

Silk Moth (Bushra El-Turk) at The Arcola Theatre (9-11 August): https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/silk-moth/

Habibi Funk + Ladies on Records at The Jazz Cafe (9 August): https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1265163

Freedom Sounds (Presented by Humanity for Palestine) at Brixton Electric (16 August): https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/humanity-for-palestine-presents-freedom-electric-brixton-tickets/9676625

SAMA’ (DJ and Techno Instigator) at Electowerkz (16 August): https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1293597

Flamingods + The Turbans at The Jazz Cafe (23 August): https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1265155

Theatre News: ‘Obliterated’ Play That Never Was

This month saw an unusual act pulled by the award-winning British-Palestinian writer Ahmed Masoud. There was supposed to be a new theatrical drama titled ‘Obliterated’ to be performed by the actress Maxine Peake and to be held on 9 August 2019 at the Amnesty International UK venue in Hackney. It was said the play would explore the complexity of Palestinian society that has lived under siege for over a decade, and delving deep into humanity’s most urgent social and political challenges with darkly satirical humour.

However, days in advance of the scheduled event, all the people who had booked to attend the free performance (2529 in total) received an email from Masoud that read:

My dear friends,
Obliterated is Cancelled. There was never a play or a show, I didn’t write it and Maxine never rehearsed it.
I am not sure whether I will be able to write or do theatre again. They took our theatre, and with it our play.
Not even a year ago, on 09 August 2018, Gaza’s only theatre the Saeed Almishal Cultural Centre was bombed by Israeli warplanes and ripped to the ground in seconds.
A theatre turned to fire, rubble and dust. Expression lost to hate, for nothing sane.
I want to ask questions. Why is art so threatening? Who would find a theatre a danger enough for missiles? What’s going to become of the creatives, actors, writers, directors and audiences now?

I cannot write, but I still want to protest, to make my voice heard, to highlight what happens when art and theatre are stolen away. Maxine and I want to invite you, the audience, the 2529 people who booked, to be part of this experience, to be angry at this injustice.”

I was one of those who booked and wish to support Masoud by sharing his message!

For more:  https://www.ahmedmasoud.co.uk/

Dema One: Nahla Ink Artist of the Month

This month Nahla Ink features the work of the Moroccan-Belgian artist Dema One, whose incredible visual pieces are currently on show at the P21 Gallery in a solo exhibition titled ‘REM’ which stands for ‘Resilience, Exile and Mutation’. I recently met with the tireless 47 year-old Dema – who specialises in graffiti with elements of Arabic calligraphy mixed with Latin letters to create the hybrid ‘Calligraffiti’ – and he explained how he has been painting murals throughout the world for the past 30 years, alongside live painting at festivals and organising youth workshops to spread a powerful message to youngsters that promotes the positive values of the hip hop movement and philosophy.

     

Another strong and recurrent theme that comes up in his projects – be they murals on walls, paintings on canvas, paper or even work on cling film – is the dilemma of living with mixed Eastern-Western identities and utilising poetry and storytelling to depict and further explore the notions of belonging, internal and external exile, resilience and idea of mutation.

Do watch this space for the full interview-feature article to be published on Nahla Ink.

For more information on Dema One: https://demaone.org/

For more on the REM exhibition: http://p21.gallery/exhibitions/resilience-exile-mutation/

Last But Not Least: Arab About London Events

As always, I end by referring you to the full ‘Arab About London’ listing that is regularly updated with MENA-inspired arts and culture events in London.

Do check on a weekly basis for the latest; and, if you wish to be in the super know, you can also follow me on Twitter @NahlaInk or on Facebook.

Best wishes to all!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Freelance Journalist + Blogger
London, July 2019

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July Note: Shubbak Is In Full Swing | Rima Djahnine Is Nahla Ink Artist of the Month

Dear Readers

The Shubbak Festival kicked off last Friday 28th June with the launch of the ‘Belonging, Sideways’ exhibition at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, followed by a spectacular ‘Kahareb’ party that went on until the early hours. It brought together electronic and underground artists from MENA who are experimenting with techno, folktronic, global bass, house, trance and more.

Every day since Shubbak has taken over London venues as the comprehensive programme unfolds with more exhibitions, music, talks, performances, theatre, installation, films, workshops and commissioned projects that are all scheduled for up until the 14th July, when the festival ends.

All I can do is direct you to the website where you can see the great variety and depth of what has been so carefully organised by the Shubbak creative-executive team and the amazing artistic collaborations that have been forged to make this festival a success and best edition yet.

For more on Shubbak: https://www.shubbak.co.uk/

Nahla Ink Artist of the Month: Rima Djahnine

Referring back to the ‘Belonging, Sideways’ exhibition – curated by Toufik Douib and that I highly recommend you visit – it is where I met Rima Djahnine. Her artwork is on display alongside that of four other Algerian contemporary artists as they explore identity and location.

Looking at cultural diversity, migration and the challenges of coexistence, the show offers work from different corners of Algeria and deals with complex histories, geographies and biographies. Having connected with her, she kindly agreed to be Nahla Ink Artist of the Month.

A visual artist born in 1979 in Bejaia, Algeria, it was the 1990s that profoundly impacted on Djahnine and determined her artistic course. In 1995, one of her sisters was the victim of an assassination and three years later, both of her parents died suddenly. Following these losses and in the midst of the Algerian civil war, Djahnine went to Paris where she began university studies and devoted herself entirely to the arts.

She graduated in 2009 with a Degree in Graphic Arts at the Paris School of Visual Art, and gradually turned to new artistic practices such as photography and video. Her work explores the different facets of exile and the painful issues of being torn away and losing loved ones.

Significantly in 2013 Djahnine received a grant from the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC) that allowed her to produce her first major artistic project – that same year she returned to live and work in Algeria. In 2016, she took part in a research residency at the MUCEM in Marseilles, wherein a project  would tackle the Algerian post-war and 1990s traumas in collaboration with Giulia Fabiano (anthropologist).

In the resulting ‘Return to Intimate Territories, What Remains’ series, the image of returning is conceived as a territory that has been constantly rocked by earthquakes as well as migration. Homecoming then charts the act of retracing memories and physical routes, where the reminiscing
of a place merges with sensorial memories.

One part of the series is also a cartography installation and film in which the captures, photos, notes and GPS tracks were collected from groups of people in search for various homes; emigrants who left before, during and after 1962 for economic reasons and the political exiles of the 1990s.

The ‘Belonging/Sideways’ exhibition is on until 14 July at Rich Mix.

For more on the exhibition: https://www.shubbak.co.uk/belonging-sideways/

For more on Djahnine: http://www.afterthefuture.care/home-lend-rima-djahnine-hazy-line.html

For more on Djahnine: http://www.imagomundiart.com/artworks/rima-djahnine-inclusive-skylight

Arab About London: MENA-Inspired Arts + Culture Events In London

As always, there is more to view, attend and join in. For the full ‘Arab About London’ listing that is regularly updated with MENA-inspired arts and culture events in our lovely capital, you can find it on Nahla Ink: https://nahlaink.com/

If you wish to be in the super know, you can also follow me on Twitter @NahlaInk or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NahlaInk/

Best wishes to all!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Freelance Journalist + Blogger
London, July 2019

Ghassan Ismail: Nahla Ink Artist June 2019

Ghassan Ismail is an Arabic calligraphy artist. Born in 1978 in Deir ez-Zor, Syria his father was a calligrapher who introduced him to the sophisticated art form.

Ismail: “He (my father) used to occupy me with a calligraphy pen and a paper to keep me from teasing my siblings.” Growing up, he developed his skills and was influenced by known calligraphers, among them Jamil Al Bayram.

He attended the Fine and Applied Arts Institute and Adham Ismail Center for Fine Arts in Damascus and participated in several exhibitions in the Arab world, among them ‘Letter & Color’ (2014) and ‘The Pioneers of the East’ (2015) organised by The Arab Cultural Club and UNESCO respectively.

Due to the Syrian conflict in 2011, Ismail left Deir El Zor and went to Beirut, Lebanon, where he is currently based and teaches short courses in calligraphy.

Ismail: “I left Syria in 2011 at the outset of the war. Two years later I was told that my house had been looted. I lost all my archives, my paintings and photo albums. I don’t know how to express myself well in words but I do in painted letters. What has been lost is lost and what remains is the desire to live and the gratitude for loved ones being safe and sound.”

In ‘The Lost and The Unlost’ series of exploded letters – as featured on Nahla Ink – Ismail expresses the destruction of homes, culture and records due to war and the inherent dramatic loss through the calligraphic letters, yet still inspires hope through new imagery, new archives and the human capacity of renewal through art.

Ismail: “I love to embrace new styles, and the loss of my archives has transformed into a drive to develop my artwork and embrace contemporary approaches in Arabic calligraphy.”

For more on Ghassan Ismail on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ghassan_ismail_artii/

For more information on facebooK: https://www.facebook.com/GHASSANISMAIL.ART/

Note: A big thank you to Rania Mneimneh who first put me in touch with the artist and supplied me with the relevant information. Mneimneh is an Arts curator, painter and designer based in Beirut, Lebanon. Last year she curated her debut exhibition in London at the P21 Gallery under the title ‘Tints of Resilience’.

For more on this:  https://tintsofresilience.com/

June Note: In Search of Arab London + Print Isn’t Dead! + Calligraphic Rhythms + Shubbak Festival + Tribute to Rim Banna + More!

Dear Readers

June has arrived and is set to be a very busy month for the ‘Arab About London’ arts and culture calendar.

Below are some highlights to share and other Nahla Ink news.

In Search of Arab London: A Design Conversation (6 June)

Presented by the Arab British Centre (ABC) and Barakat Trust in collaboration with the London Festival of Architecture 2019, this special event will see London designers from the Arab world and those working with the Arab world share experiences of melding ideas between the Middle East and Britain; and, also, considering what it means to develop a multifaceted design identity in a quasi-global world.

The panel of designers includes: May Fawzy (Interior Architect and Director of MF Studio); Hedayat Islam (Principle Interior Designer and Founder of Jam Space); and Randa Hanna (Architect and Founding Partner of Map Projects). They will be discussing their own experience and design influences on everything from ‘parklets’ in London to fabrics, homeware and commercial interiors.

For more information: https://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/whatson/in-search-of-arab-london-a-design-conversation/

Print Isn’t Dead: Al Hudood Newspaper Launch (18 June)

The Al Hudood newspaper will be launching its very first printed edition. An independent hard-hitting Middle Eastern focused satirical publication run by creatives and journalists, Al Hudood has been online for six years already. The evening will see a presentation by founder Isam Uraiqat, in addition to featuring a stunning 45-minute musical performance by Jowan Safadi.

Safadi is a multi-genre musician, singer and songwriter who has become celebrated for his iconic strand of sarcastic protest songs which give his work a rare and revealing edge. Along with his band, they will be performing songs from the new album as well as his classics in a wide range of styles combined under the title ‘Free Arabic Rock’.

Bassem Youssef, the Godfather of modern age satire from Egypt, will also be in attendance, making a sharp 15 minute appearance to tickle funny bones. Youssef has become one of the most influential and poignant satirists and political commentators from the Middle East. Dubbed the Jon Stewart of the Arab world, his witty commentary and famous satirical news TV show El Bernameg has spread far beyond his home country of Egypt.

For more information: https://richmix.org.uk/events/print-isnt-dead-al-hudood-newspaper-launch/

Calligraphic Rhythms: Master Calligrapher Mouneer Al Shaarani (30 May-27 June)

Following fabulous success in Paris and Berlin, Stories Art Gallery is hosting in London ‘Calligraphic Rhythms’, a critically acclaimed exhibition showcasing the work of the Syrian master calligrapher and designer Mouneer Al Shaarani.

Living and working in Damascus, Al Shaarani started Arabic calligraphy at the tender age of ten, under the tutelage of the great Syrian calligrapher Badawi Al Dirany. After graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus in 1977, his work has been exhibited internationally in the Middle East, Europe and the USA.

Al Shaarani is highly regarded for his original style of modernising ancient fonts and creating completely new ones, but never losing sight of the traditional form from which this ancient art-form can trace back its historical roots. His innovation in introducing worlds of wisdom from the Quran and Hadith, alongside aphorisms and proverbs relative to our contemporary modern life style, creates both a visual and intellectual joy for lovers of Arabic calligraphy.

For more information: https://www.storiesartgallery.co.uk/

Shubbak Festival 2019 (28 June-14 July)

One of the most anticipated events of every other year is the Shubbak Festival. Now in its fifth edition, Shubbak is London’s largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture. Founded in 2011 by the Mayor of London, it is now an independent charity and continues to connect London audiences and communities with the best of what the Arab world has to offer through an ambitious programme of premieres and commissions of visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature and debate.

For more information: https://www.shubbak.co.uk/

A Tribute to Rim Banna & Concert Celebrating Her Musical Legacy at Barbican (9 July)

MARSM shares a tribute to the late Palestinian singer Rim Banna and looks forward to the concert that will commemorate her rich musical legacy.

In a collaboration between MARSM, Shubbak Festival and Barbican, the concert on 9 July will bring four of Banna’s closest musical peers who will celebrate her life and work, as well as creating a repertoire of music composed especially for the occasion. The four musicians: Faraj Suleiman (Palestine), Tania Saleh (Lebanon), Bu Kolthoum (Syria) and Sabrine Janhani (Tunis).

For the MARSM article: https://nahlaink.com/the-trace-of-the-butterfly-a-tribute-to-rim-banna-concert-to-celebrate-her-musical-legacy-at-the-barbican/

Nahla Ink Artist of the Month: Ghassan Ismail

This month Nahla Ink features with kind permission the paintings of Syrian artist Ghassan Ismail.

The pieces form a series entitled ‘The Lost & The Unlost’ in which the artist expresses with painted letters the destruction of homes, culture and records due to war. Due to the conflict in Syria, he himself lost all of his archives, paintings and photo albums when his house was looted in 2013. He has expressed: “I don’t know how to express myself well in words but I do in painted letters. What has been lost is lost and what remains is the desire to live and the gratitude for loved ones being safe and sound.”

Born in 1978 in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, Ismail was first introduced to calligraphy by his father and growing up, he further developed his skills and was influenced by known calligraphers, among them Jamil Al Bayram. Having attended the Fine and Applied Arts Institute and Adham Ismail Center for Fine Arts in Damascus, he went on to participate in several exhibitions in the Arab world, among them Letter & Color (2014) and ‘The Pioneers of the East’ (2015) organised by The Arab Cultural Club and UNESCO respectively. In 2011 at the outset of the Syrian conflict, he left his home and is currently based in Beirut where he teaches shorts courses in calligraphy.

For more information on FB: https://www.facebook.com/GHASSANISMAIL.ART/

For more information on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ghassan_ismail_artii/

‘Arab About London’ Events Listing, Nahla Ink Twitter + Facebook Page

For the full ‘Arab About London’ listing that is regularly updated with MENA-inspired events, you can find it on Nahla Ink: https://nahlaink.com/

To be in the super know, you can also follow me on Twitter @NahlaInk or on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/NahlaInk/

Best wishes to all!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Freelance Journalist + Blogger
London, June 2019

The Trace Of The Butterfly: A Tribute To Rim Banna & Concert To Celebrate Her Musical Legacy At The Barbican

Guest Post: MARSM*

A pivotal and influential figure in the contemporary Palestinian music scene, Rim Banna’s life was tragically cut short on 24 March 2018 after a ten-year struggle with breast cancer. She left behind a rich legacy of twelve albums, combining her own compositions and the careful assembling of traditional songs, children’s lullabies and works of Palestinian poets.

Brave and courageous to the end, her last work was materialised as a tapestry of voices and music over visual materials from her x-ray scans. Now a unique commemoration concert debuts at the Barbican in London by some of her closest musical peers: Tania Saleh (Lebanon) Faraj Suleiman (Palestine), Bu Kolthoum (Syria) and Sabrine Janhani (Tunis).

Born in December 1966 and raised in Nazareth, Banna studied music in Moscow and returned to Palestine to immerse herself in the events unfolding on the ground. She became a key performer in numerous local, regional and international festivals and an adamant artist within the Palestinian struggle. She was one of the first Palestinian musicians to document children’s music and lullabies, taking them from the confines of family homes to the outside world with three albums.

She also wove the poetry of giants such as Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Zayyad and Samih El-Qasem into her songs, blending pop, poetry and traditional Arabic sounds. Significantly, Banna became a voice for peace and equality, collaborating with the likes of jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, Norwegian choir Skruk and Arabic electronica collective Checkpoint 303. Her last album ‘Voices of Resistance’ was a conceptual piece of art uniting her spirit of resistance, poetry and medical scans with Checkpoint 303’s electronic beats and Bugge Wesseltoft’s edgy piano improvisations.

The collaboration between MARSM, Shubbak Festival and the Barbican will bring together the exceptional group of musicians who were Banna’s contemporaries to pay tribute to her life and work as well as creating a repertoire of music composed by Palestinian pianist Faraj Suleiman. Suleiman is one of the most promising musicians of the Arab world, whose music is strongly influenced by Arabic and Eastern melodies and rhythms as well as Tango and Jazz traditions, incorporating their unique scales and modalities in his compositions.

Accompanying him on the night will be the stellar contemporary alternative Lebanese singer, songwriter and visual artist Tania Saleh, whose lyrics mirror the reality of the Lebanese-Arab social and political turmoil. Since her early debut in 1990, she has experimented with various genres and is always challenging herself to explore new styles. Her collaborations have been eclectic: Ziad Rahbany, Toufic Farroukh, Issam Hajali, Charbel Rouhana, Ibrahim Maalouf, Rayess Bek, Khaled Mouzannar, RZA, Nile Rodgers, Charlotte Caffey, Tarek El Nasser, Natacha Atlas and more.

Additional features come from two artists from Syria and Tunis. The infamous rapper, music producer and film director who has been revolutionizing political rap in the Middle East is Bu Kolthoum. He will be making his much anticipated London appearance. Born in Damascus to a family of Sufi background, his 2017 album Bo’Bo’ was completely produced, mixed and mastered by him. His sound can easily be distinguished amongst other Middle Eastern rappers given old-school sound accompanied by prominent bass-lines.

The group is made complete with the gentle voice of former Yüma duo Sabrine Jenhani. Originally a fine artist and painter, Jenhani graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, but discovered her passion for singing and writing, moving into jazz singing at famous clubs in Tunis. She imbibed her inspiration from her work in the Tunisian capital while exploring the underground scene. She went on to become an icon of music through her first project in the group Yüma. Jenhani today composes her own music and writes her lyrics, releasing her latest project ’ZAY’ in January 2019.

The four musicians have been working, creating and arranging for months under the lead of composer Faraj Suleiman to bring this project together and to raise awareness to the life of one of Palestine’s most prominent musical figures. Banna was always a lighthouse in the turbulent seas of political uncertainties in Palestine and still inspires generations of artists and activists to resist oppression and fight for what is close to the heart. This night calls for the attendance of every soul that stands for justice, equality and the right to live.

‘The Trace of the Butterfly’ concert takes place on 9 July at the Barbican.

For more information to book tickets: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/the-trace-of-the-butterfly-a-tribute-to-rim-banna

* MARSM UK: Since its founding, Marsm has dedicated itself to producing events that promote the rich and diverse arts and culture of the Arab world across the UK. From hosting some of the biggest names in the Middle East to emboldening burgeoning underground music scenes, it strives to support the exceptional creativity and talent of artists across the region.

Hassan Massoudy – Nahla Ink Artist May 2019

Hassan Massoudy was born in 1944 in Najef, Iraq. At the age of seventeen, he began working as an apprentice for various calligraphers in Baghdad for eight years, which formed the solid foundation for his artistic influences and ultimate practice.

In June 1969, he managed to leave his home country to go to France where he attend the Fine Arts School in Paris, wherein his artistic creations began to manifest a unique style in which the past meets the present, the Eastern merges with the Western and tradition stands in relation to modernity.

Massoudy’s work both perpetuates and celebrates the tradition of calligraphic art whilst at the same time breaking its rules. He simplifies lines, tending to purer lines, adding colours and opening on to a wider unlimited world on the canvass. He has also introduced signs, letters, words and sentences throughout his creations to better express himself on the spiritual realm.

The artist’s calligraphies do tend to carry out a rhythm and a musical structure which echoes back to the remotest of times. The emotion is strong when looking at the movement of his lines, their weight, their lightness, their transparency, the balance between black and white, the fullness and the vacuum, the concreteness and the abstractness.

What is also noted in Massoudy’s art is the skilful use of colour in his compositions, with opalescent washes, flows of emerald, monochromes of beiges enriched with deep wood tones and sandalwood fragrances. Then there is finally the profound message of the text used.

An artist who has exhibited internationally in a career that spans decades, Massoudy’s work is also held at museums worldwide as part of their public collections.

The works featured on Nahla Ink:

Quote: There is a place on Earth for everyone. Schiller (1759-1805)

Quote: What have I to prolong my absence from home? Is exile the star of my birth? Ibn Hamdis (1053-1133

Quote: When you glanced at me I understood the meaning of love. Ibn Zaydoun 11th c.

Quote: If you are different from me, brother, far from harming me, you enrich me. Antoine de Saint Exupery (1900-1944)

Quote: The world that I dream, eternal, infinite! Louise Colet (1810-1876)

Quote: – The world that I dream, eternal, infinite! Louise Colet (1810-1876

For more information about the artist:

Website: http://www.massoudy.net

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hassanmassoudy

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hassan_massoudy

Instagram: http://instagram.com/hassanmassoudy

Rawan Adwan – Nahla Ink Artist April 2019

Rawan Adwan is a visual artist, ceramicist and painter from Jordan. She has a degree in Fine Arts and has worked for the Queen Alia Foundation for Social Welfare, The Jordanian Prime Ministry, The Museum of Parliamentary Life and The Jordan Archaeological Museum.

The works of the artist that featured on Nahla Ink are inspired by the Safaitic inscriptions and rock art to be found in the basalt desert of southern and northern Jordan aka the Harrah desert.

Containing animals and hunting scenes, as well as battle and Bedouin camp scenes, they provide an insight into the emotions of the people who carved them and their concerns; such as the availability of arable grazing grounds for their livestock or mourning the discovery of another inscription by a person who has since died.

Adwan’s mission with these has been to study them in great detail since 2005 – she needed official government permission to visit and see them first hand – and preserve their memory by creating her own contemporary paintings based on the mysterious and beautiful originals. Her experience as a ceramicist also helped her to create a texture on the surface of the canvass.

She said: “I made sure that my work maintained and reflected the spirit of this rich art work, and preserved their spontaneous line and character whilst redrawing them again with a new composition. The unique texture that I have introduced, as part of the new composition, creates a distinctive atmosphere. It also breathes new life into these once forgotten ancient Safaitic inscriptions and the tribal society that created them.

“Moreover, through my recomposed artworks, I hope to attract attention to these endangered artefacts and assist in their preservation. I believe they are as significant, as African tribal art and Aboriginal art, to the human civilisation. I hope that the art critic and historian will share my conviction of their importance.”

Adwan has exhibited her artwork in Jordan (four solo shows) and internationally in Italy, the United Kingdom, Austria, California and Washington DC in America and Kuwait.

For more information about the artist: http://www.rawanadwan.co.uk/

April News: Interviewing Poet Amir Darwish + Featuring Artist Rawan Adwan

Dear Readers

Just a quick note to update you with Nahla Ink’s April news.

Firstly, a big thank you to British-Syrian poet Amir Darwish whom I interviewed last week about his latest poetry collection ‘Dear Refugee’. He patiently allowed me to ask him lots of questions that delve into his refugee story and how he arrived in the UK hanging underneath a lorry on a cross-channel ferry from France in 2003.

You can read the full review and interview article here: https://nahlaink.com/dear-refugee-review-interview-with-poet-amir-darwish/

Secondly, another big thank you to my artist of the month, the British-Jordanian Rawan Adwan. Her featured work on Nahla Ink has been inspired by the Safaitic inscriptions and rock art to be found in the basalt desert of southern and norther Jordan aka Harrah desert.

For more information about Rawan Adwan’s artwork: http://www.rawanadwan.co.uk

Thirdly, for those who haven’t already seen the new design, in order to find the listing of MENA-inspired arts and culture events in London, you just need to scroll down the home page to find them all under the ‘Arab About London’ heading.

There you will be able to see the latest of exhibitions, music, art, comedy, theatre and much more beside that I update on a regular basis: https://nahlaink.com/

Lastly, if you have an event that you would like to add to my listing, please do get in touch.

Best wishes to all!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Freelance Journalist + Blogger
London, April 2019

Dear Refugee – Book Review & Interview with Poet Amir Darwish

‘Dear Refugee’ is the latest poetry collection from British-Syrian writer Amir Darwish. Addressed to both refugees and other readers, many of the 35 poems reference the exodus of the millions who have had to leave their homes in search of safety, shelter and peace elsewhere. They offer an insight into the mind of a man who had to make a dangerous journey himself and knows how it feels to have to rebuild a life in a place that is initially foreign to him.

In ‘I am an immigrant and I love life’, ‘We want to live’ and ‘Where I come from’, Darwish confronts us with the simple truth that a refugee – who endures much pain, distress, sadness, agony and loss along the way – still wants to live, love and prosper. Whatever darkness he may have witnessed or trauma he has faced, he not only hopes for survival and basic things; but, also, he wants to achieve a Jungian type individuation through work, education, art, creativity and relationships.

Powerful in the imagery of what one leaves behind and what one might find in a new home, the poems reflect on how a person feels about the dramatic transition that is humanly required of him and how he toils to recuperate and integrate into a new society and environment. The book also encourages a debate on how asylum seekers are negatively conveyed in public discourse in the West and demonised in the popular imagination.

In one of the most beautiful passages, Darwish writes:

From the earth I come 
From the heart of Africa 
From the kidneys of Asia 
From India with its spices I come 
From a deep Amazonian forest 
From a Tibetan meadow I come 
From an ivory land 
From far away

And ends it with this line:

Like a human I come to share the space.

The rest of the poems are directly about love and its many guises. With a focus on romantic love, however, one gets the impression from the author that such a love doesn’t discriminate and is not thus relative to one’s immigration or passport status. Love touches everyone and no matter past hurts, it is what always comes to save the day.

The Poet’s Journey

Darwish’s personal refugee story began in 1997 when he had to escape from Syria as an 18-year-old because the police got hold of information that he had written a poem about Kurdistan that was considered to be a political threat to the regime. Darwish, who is of Kurdish descent, had been betrayed by his brother’s friend who had relayed the contents of the poem to the authorities. He knew that detention and punishment would be his fate if he were to stay in Aleppo.

Quickly before the security services had a chance to take him, his mother sold pieces of her gold to get him a passport and obtain a visa to go to the United Arab Emirate. It was all done in a matter of a week and he had to also pay a bribe at the airport in Syria so that his name would be removed from the system for a few hours until he flew out of the country.

At first the young aspiring poet thought he could read and write freely in Dubai without the pressures of back home. However by 2003, it had dawned on him that the UAE is a controlled society itself, without full freedom of expression and therefore not safe enough for him to stay. So the plan was to make another run for it, this time to Europe and the UK. (In terms of his fears about Dubai, only recently in 2018, British academic Matthew Hedges was convicted of being a spy and sentenced to life imprisonment, to later be pardoned).

Darwish finally arrived in the UK hanging underneath a lorry on a ferry from France to Tees Port in the North East of England. He claimed asylum on the spot and told the Home Office the story about the poem and harassment by the Syrian police. They collected him from the ship and placed him in a refuge in Teessdie, Middlesbrough where he lived from 2003 to 2015, by which time he had gained citizenship in 2009.

Since then, Darwish has immersed himself in higher education, writing and joining in the London spoken-word and poetry circles. He is an active member of Exiled Writers Ink (EWI) which is a charity that brings together writers from repressive regimes and war-torn situations, providing a space for them to be heard. In particular, EWI gives voice to refugees, migrants and exiles and advocates human rights through literature.

Darwish is also the author of an earlier poetry collection titled ‘Don’t’ Forget the Couscous’ and the first part of an autobiography called ‘From Aleppo Without Love’. The latter is a raw and honest account of a very difficult and painful childhood in Syria that offers more insight into his story and how he came to be the sensitive poet that he truly is.

The Interview

Nahla: As this book is about the refugee experience, how did it feel for you to go through the process of claiming asylum and eventually getting UK citizenship?

Darwish: The feeling was inexplicable. I thought I was born anew, with a new identity, new persona, new me. I value that gesture from the British government and I am grateful to them. If I am to show them gratitude it would be through my education as I continue to thrive forward.

Nahla: How did you first adjust to life in the UK?

Darwish: My settlement was paved with difficulties. I overcame these with determination and hard work on my language skills, relationships and education. I worked at the beginning in a car wash where I had to wear two or three gloves in winter to keep my hands warm and got paid only £10 a day where it was not even enough for a good filling meal. Slowly I started to make friends and discovered Middlesbrough College where I went to improve my English.

As my language skills got better, I started working as an interpreter; and, by 2011, when I felt my English was just good enough to study my dream degree, I enrolled at Teesside University and graduated in 2014 with BA degree in History. Since then I also completed an MA in International Relations (Middle East) from Durham University.

Nahla: Would you say there is negativity in the mainstream towards refugees?

Darwish: Unfortunately, yes, there is negativity towards refugees and immigrants in general regardless of their background. That negativity has always been there in Europe, yesterday it was the Jews, today it is the immigrants, before that the Irish and so on and so forth. Having said that, I think the refugee and immigrant communities do have a responsibility to make an effort to integrate, not assimilate but integrate as in making friends with the locals, eating different food and engaging in the political process of the country. Integration is a two way process and not one way only.

Nahla: From your autobiography I know you come from a big family of 12 siblings. What has happened to your brothers, sisters and mother since the conflict began?

Darwish: All of my siblings have left Syria. They are in Turkey, Germany, UAE, Canada, Belgium, America and me in England. They all sought refuge in these countries and slowly they are settling. I am in touch with some of them, mainly my sisters who are mentioned in the autobiography.

My mother however passed away a few months ago in Turkey. Although she always wanted to die in her homeland, that was not possible due to the war. The latter has dispersed all the siblings and the impact of it was huge in terms of uprooting their life completely and having to rebuild elsewhere.

Nahla: When did you realise you wanted to be e a poet and what inspires you?

Darwish: I first came across Arabic poetry when I was fifteen. I read a book of Mahmoud Darwish and never stopped reading ever since. The other poet I discovered was Nizar Qabbani.

My first attempt to write was when I was sixteen when I penned the poem about Kurdistan. Eager as a young man to share it, I read it to my brother’s friend who then told on me. That was my only attempt to write poetry in Arabic and it ended up in me leaving Syria. It was however my first inspiration as I started questioning why the Kurds do not have a land.

Today is a different story as I write in English and get my inspiration from humanity and the messages that can touch everyone. Love, peace and humanity inspire me most these days.

Nahla: What do you wish for readers to take with them after reading this book?

Darwish: My hope is to open the reader’s eyes to the fact that refugees and immigrants are capable of having a universal message to deliver to the world; and, also, to show a different image to the one often painted in the media. With me being Syrian, it is important that the reader knows that my country can produce literature that touches on love and affection as opposed to the violence often seen on the TV screens.

Refugees are humans first and refugees second. They have multiple identities and not one single one under the term ‘refugee’. They are husbands, wives, workers, professionals, of different ethnicities and religions.

Nahla: Finally the future. What are your current ambitions?

Darwish: I am currently working on the second part of my autobiography, ‘The Days of Aleppo’ and hoping to publish it in 2020. Thereafter I am preparing a poetry collection with the main theme being Love.

Nahla Ink Celebrates 10 Years With A New Logo + Website Design

Dear Readers

Nahla Ink celebrates ten years of being online; and, to mark the special milestone, I have treated myself to a new Nahla Ink logo and website design. It took time to find the right person to do the job but in the end I am happy with the results.

As before, my articles are listed under the categories of interviews, reviews, features and journal entries, where you will still find my latest write ups. Always inspired by the local MENA-inspired arts and culture scene in London or at times reaching out to the region, I am always spoilt for choice what to cover for my readers.

I am also keeping the Nahla Ink ‘Artist of the Month’ visual feature, where I share the work of an individual Arab artist every month to highlight the amazing and incredible talent out there and how to find out more. This month you will see the Egyptian artist Rasha Amin’s work. For more about her, I guide you to visit: https://www.rashaamin.com/

One big exciting change however is a switch from the old ‘My Curious Inbox’ events listing to the new section called ‘Arab About London’, where you will still be able to find what is happening across the capital that is connected to the world of the Arab diaspora. From the exhibitions to the music, theatre, talks, comedy, book clubs and much more beside, there is always something suited to everyone’s taste.

Lastly, if you wish to get in touch, please send me an email via my contact page. I am also currently open to publishing guest posts, so if you would like to see your article on my website, do send me a pitch or draft and I will get back to you.

I leave you now to explore the new Nahla Ink!

Best wishes to all!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Freelance Journalist + Blogger

London, March 2019