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

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

Libya On The Couch

She was once young, beautiful and talk of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern promise. But after four decades of enduring abuse, Libya has become ugly, unhappy and miserable old woman. She can’t even recognise herself in the mirror and is unable, try as she might, to recall any happy memories. 

Under her dangerous captor, he broke her down and now she cannot deal with the simple day-to-day tasks. When she compares herself to others, she is deeply jealous and resentful, as they have built proud kingdoms and taken care of their children and lands. With fear, trepidation and her heart pounding in her chest, she’s decided to speak her peace before looming death and confide her regrets.

In therapy, honesty and disclosure are musts and one need not hold back. She is ready to revisit the terrible memories and go far back. As she sits on the client couch uncomfortable and nervous, the figure behind the desk has his pen ready to write it all down. He starts: “What brings you here today Libya?”

Not sure where to begin, Libya sighs and puts a hand over her face and mouth. She says: “It is a horrible story and I am ashamed. I’ve been feeling down and struggling for years. I always cry without reason and I shout in my head. It is my children that I’m most concerned about.

“Even with the will, energy and drive to live honestly, but they have been brainwashed and led to corruption, deception and lies to get ahead. I am, as you know, ill with terminal cancer; and, I’ve had to sell my jeweller and all my possessions to pay for treatment abroad in a last ditch attem;pt to repair the damage of the past. Who would have thought I would have no choice but to beg for strangers’ help?

“It is the small things also that embarrass me and I’ve yet to admit it, I’ve been complicit by my silence as the default mode. I have neglected myself and abandoned my health. My beautiful terrain should not have taken the brunt of the assaults. My beaches, my mountains and my oasis surrounded by desert land! Of course, those informed and wise know and intuit the truth of my story and feel sad for me. I find this tough to accept.

“As a mother, I am well aware of all the bad stuff that has been going on. Some of it is my fault, but most of it is not. I admit to a number of my own flesh and blood have been seduced by evil and identified with the jailor from the start.

“He gives them money, cars and houses so they do his bidding, no matter the cruelty of his requests. How they came to be mine and groomed to worship and idolise him I don’t know. I must take into account if I’m to ever to get closure and make sense.

“I don’t like to say it, but yes, I have been the victim of both mental and physical abuse, and that it became normal so I kept quiet. I found ways to deny and pretend nothing was wrong; and, forced as I was, I did things. I was forced to see events nobody should ever have to see or to witness.”

Analyst: “Okay, Libya, if it helps, how far back can you recall?”

“I guess the mistreatment began in 1976. He hung and executed anyone who dared to protest and voice dissent. The same would happen on the anniversary for years to remind us the certain fate if we didn’t accept his power and ability to kill us too.

“Fear! We were so scared and captive in our own land and homes. We could not even pray at the mosques as the dawn raids were the worst for many of us. At school, also, the young were beaten and their curious minds shut. What followed, in the 1980s, well. Am sure you’ve heard of the ‘stray dogs’ assassination campaign? Even abroad, his tentacles reached very far.

“Paranoia! God, I suspected everyone an informant, even my relatives and neighbours. I checked my every word and filtered everything I said, so as not to make complaint and or forbid I say something about the ideological stance of the government. I couldn’t swear, except in my frustrated nightmares, as I would wake up in a cold sweat.

“Not to mention the economic strife and the stupid dinars. When products arrived, we couldn’t afford but the necessities. Everyone drove miles for years for clean water, promised as we were with an artificial river! With travel, visas were impossible to get to get out. We became isolated from the rest of the world.

“How ironic that the world saw my captor as a strong and eccentric rebel who dared to challenge the international status quo. He claimed that greed and power were the enemy. Hmm, he is still telling these lies, when he has been hoarding the oil riches in private investment accounts. For what? Sick, perverse and terror ends. He thought there was a price tag on everybody’s head.”

But then, with a gulp, she says: “But maybe this time is different. Maybe today, for those of us who truly love our country and have our roots on its soil, something might shift. We can no longer refuse to forget or let things go.

“We have nowhere else to stay and we don’t want anywhere else. The death of many loved ones has been the heavy price to pay, but what has gone on for too long must end. He’s turned us against each other and shooting to kill the armed and the unarmed. For no other goal but to keep onto a power seat made useless and ineffective by himself.

“What has he ever done for the Libyans? Nothing! Go and see for yourself. Go and visit the hospitals, the schools, the infrastructure that are not fit for any purpose. Go and see the filth and the garage that never gets collected. Go see the polluted sea and the dirty beaches. All that potential gone to waste.

“With this revolution, at least I can scream and shout and open up to talk to tell my tale. But most importantly, I need to heal my broken heart. The world is close enough to hear my cries and I must run with this chance to turn the tables and claim my captor’s monstrous head!”

Analyst: “Libya, am afraid your minutes are up. Should we pencil in next week same time?”

Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2015: Let’s Celebrate British-Arab Women Style!

I know this much is true, that to be an Arab woman in today’s world has its challenges no matter what you do, where you live, country of birth, how young or old, married or single. But there is no need to list our grievances or dwell on the negatives, when this month brings the opportunity of International Women’s Day; an annual occasion to create, attend or otherwise engage in the thousands of events organically taking place all around the world.

With its positive spirit and energy, International Women’s Day always brings women together in different groups or formations to celebrate being a woman and engage with the issues dear to our gender. On the global level, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets annually at the UN Headquarters in New York and brings activists to address relevant issues. Whilst in the United Kingdom, there are at least 312 separate events registered online to take place.

For the very first time in London, it is surprisingly one man who has been working hard to organise an event that caters uniquely to the British-Arab woman. Aser El Saqqa, who clearly supports the female cause!, is the mastermind  behind the ‘Arab Women Artists Now’ (AWAN) Festival that will be an extravaganza day to highlight the achievements of Arab women in the UK, with a focus on those working in the arts and creative field. It is scheduled to take place on 7 March, 2015 at the Rich Mi venue in Shoreditch.

AWAN will be showcasing a British-Arab pedigree of spoken word, storytelling, dance and visual presentations, a panel discussion as well as the launch of an art exhibition and a musical performance. It will be a rare opportunity for attendees to mix and mingle, share and appreciate the range of British-Arab female talent that exists already but has not been tapped into until now.

AWAN’s Mastermind: Aser El Saqqa of Arts Canteen

Behind AWAN is the Palestinian Aser El Saqqa, who is Director of Arts Canteen. Arts Canteen is a company that curates arts and music projects with the aim of stirring the arts scene; and, to bring the work of emerging artists from the MENA region and the Arab diaspora to a London audience, El Saqqa has been instrumental in managing and representing many artists who might otherwise have no support whatsoever and no opportunity to do what they do best.

Since the birth of Arts Canteen four years ago, the endeavour has brought to life many Arab musical acts, art exhibitions, involvement with other London arts festivals, and even holding an Arab-inspired comedy evening. I asked him what has inspired him to create the AWAN festival.

El Saqqa: “It is to reflect on the issues we have encountered and which face both the artists and audiences from the Arab diaspora. Some of the issues are: engagement with the UK arts infrastructure, lack of funding, cultural and religious taboos, working under censorship, responding to political conflict, challenges of integration, lack of profile amongst non-Arab audiences, lack of recognition of their contribution to the UK arts scene as Arab women and the artists’ right to a livelihood.”

Being a pilot-festival, AWAN will also have a research and development element to decide whether it can be done annually and how to improve the experience. During the festival day, there will be a consultation exercise with artists and interested partners to assess how the professional needs of the artists might be supported through future work under the AWAN umbrella.

El Saqqa said: “We are anticipating Arab and non-Arab female artists who will be attending as members of the audience. Their support and engagement at this pilot stage will help to build sustainability for the event in the coming years. My hope is to build on and consolidate Arts Canteen’s curating and programming experience with new, emerging and profile women artists from the Arab diasporas and to recognise their contributions in the UK and beyond.”

AWAN Festival Highlights

The festival highlights for the day include: two spoken word performances by poets Fajr Tamimi and Hala Ali, a storytelling segment by the actress Alia Alzougbi, a presentation by visual artist Maiada Salfiti, a presentation by theatre-maker Nesreen Nabil Hussein, a contemporary dance act by Tania Salmen and a panel discussion on the experiences and challenges of Arab women artists, curators and producers in the UK.

This latter will be chaired by Roya Arab, who is an archaeologist, musician and poet rolled into one! And will feature the editor of Kalimat Magazine Danah Abdulla, the playwright Hannah Khalil, the film curator Yasmin El Derby and the dancer and event producer Tania Diggory.

AWAN Exhibition + A Musical Journey

The AWAN festival also includes the launch of an art exhibition entitled ‘It’s About Time’ that will explore the issues of the female identity, ethnic origin and politics; aiming to provoke thought, discussion and to generate a renewed perspective on the role of contemporary art in today’s society.

Curated by Zina Papageorgiou this collective show will bring the artworks of several women that span across a wide range of practices. Those taking part are: Dia Batal, Inas Halabi, Saadeh George, Shirine Osseiran and Malika Sqalli.

Last but not least, the festival day ends with a musical journey with a line-up of prominent Arab women musicians including: Reem Kelani, Reham and Christelle Madani.

For more information on AWAN: https://www.awan.org.uk/

For more information on Arts Canteen: https://artscanteen.com/

Note; This article was first published circa March 2015

Libyan Street Theatre Project: At London’s GDIF Festival

Without a script but eager to be performing and entertaining for the very first time outside their home country, a group of six Libyan actors and a musician arrived in London last week to prepare and take part in the Greenwich-Docklands International Festival (GDIF). The biggest and longest established of its kind, the GDIF celebrates outdoor theatre and the performing arts and takes place at various venues across the Greenwich-Docklands area.

The unprecedented Libyan participation comes after the group was recently formed as a ‘Libyan Street Theatre Project’ through the great efforts of Muftah Ibrahim Elfagi and with the support and sponsorship by the British Council and the European Union. Elfagi is an actor and the Director of the National Theatre Tripoli since 2011 and has been awarded an MBE in 2009 for services to British-Libyan family reunification.

“Muftah is very much a fine performer, a wonderful character with a wicked sense of humour. He has already been entertaining and joking with people passing by in the Olympic park where we have been rehearsing. The others are also a great mix of personalities that creates an interesting chemistry and lively debate on which stories to use. Muftah has also invited us to Libya and we would love to go and continue our work there.” Damian Wright, Periplum

As a group they have performed only once before in Tripoli in a public park during March 2014 to a happily surprised crowd of up to 1,700 people in an act titled ‘Family Picnic’. This had been created with the British theatre director Nathan Curry, who later invited them to take part in the GDIF.

I met up with the positively energetic group at Cutty Sark, Greenwich and they all introduced themselves to me: Muftah Elfagi (age 60), Zahra Arafa (age 42), Hanan Espaga (age 20), Adel Abulefa (age 23) and Fuad R Gritli (age 28) Ahmed Elmusrati (age 17) and Saif Alwaine (age 17).

Elfagi said: “Acting is a spiritual medicine. Angels take me away and I lose my hurt, pains and sorrows and especially with my love feelings. Under the old regime, there was some censorship working at the National Theatre so we did social or historical plays and took part in Arab festivals in Cairo, Carthage and Damascus. But I am so glad to be here. As actors, we have to tell the truth and this is better after the revolution.”

For the GDIF Global Streets performance, the team have partnered with the innovative London-based performing arts production company Periplum, to work with Artistic Directors Damian Wright and Claire Raftery. The brief was to devise an original show for the Libyans within only a few days of planning and rehearsals that has to also be site-specific for the location at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

I asked Wright how the Libyan team were responding to the challenge: He said: “So far the process has been intense and exciting and we have grown close to the Libyan group in the past few days. We have been showing them different techniques to make innovative street theatre performance and they have found it hard work, but hopefully this will inspire them when they go back to Libya to take on more ambitious projects.”

The anticipated trilingual show is scheduled to take place this week on the evenings of 25-26 June, 2014. I’ve been told it will not be a continual narrative but more of a composition of the spontaneous and challenging images and sounds inspired by the Libyans’ personal stories and feelings, and, also, being suggestive of the subjects that came up in their exchange with the Periplum team.

Wright: “Together we’ve created original text and original music to be played by the guitarist and drummer Fuad Gritli. He will be drumming on a piece of street furniture. There will also be a metaphorical line that begs the question of how do you make music from a broken instrument? And we do touch upon the subject of conflict, though there is optimism from the group as to Libya’s future despite the difficulties. It was also their preference to keep the work as universal as possible.”

Representing British Council Libya, Awatef Shawish, said: “Through the Libyan Street Theatre Project, a new form of artistic expression enters the Libyan art scene. It aims to raise the profile of street theatre in Libya by forging links with international experts to increase public access to the arts in Libya and provide the opportunity for young Libyan theatre students to work with well-established British outdoor theatre directors.”

As part of training during this short experience in London, the Libyan team have also attended up to thirty of the many incredible and amazing acts taking part at the GDIF. They were particularly impressed by the French company Rara Woulib’s ‘Deblozay: Dance with the Dead‘ and the Belarus Free Theatre’s ‘Red Forest’ at the Young Vic Theatre.

What they have discovered is the power of street theatre and how it can break the boundaries between actors and audience, as well as the use of humour that can be utilised in dramatic ways. Now they wish to take these insights back to Libya in order to further develop and invest in a new type of creative performance industry.

For more on the GDIF: https://festival.org/gdif/

Photos: Muftah Elfagi Image, GDIF Logo, Members Warming Up, Team Photo Before Last Rehearsal

Note: This article was fist published circa June 2014