MULOSIGE: A New Approach to World Literature & Celebrating Multilingualism In London

Guest Post: Dr Itzea Goikolea-Amiano and Sneha Alexander (MULOSIGE Team Members)

Founded at SOAS University of London, the MULOSIGE (short for Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies) research project looks primarily at the experience of multilingual societies in the Horn of Africa, the Maghreb and North India. Instead of thinking about world literature as primarily written or translated into English, MULOSIGE looks at how written and oral literatures in different languages in these Global South regions interact with each other and circulate around the world.

Led by Professor Francesca Orsini and funded by the European Research Council, it began in 2017 and will run until December 2020.

A central part of the MULOSIGE project is the work done on the Maghreb region. The project emphasises the linguistic and cultural plurality of the North African region as informed by local forms and genres as well as the contacts with the Middle East, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. MULOSIGE proposes a new approach to apprehend and valorise Maghrebi cultural heterogeneity beyond Euro-centric and Mashreq-centric approaches.

As well as hosting talks by scholars and academics, MULOSIGE also works with the local communities in London around multilingual issues. Since 2017, for example, we have collaborated with the Council of Islington in a project to introduce an Arabic collection into the N4 Library. We engaged with the Arabic-speaking people in the borough, who filled in a survey about their literary taste and interests. The books then provided followed the feedback of the local community, and that’s why this is a project for the communities but also by them!

Dr Itzea Goikolea-Amiano opening the Arabic Collection at the N4 Library.

While we tend to think of research as the primary activity influencing society, the engagement with the public is a very valuable source of insight for researchers. In fact, building the Arabic collection at the N4 Library confirmed the importance of the research in the MULOSIGE Maghrebi strand! Whereas the specialised Arabic bookshops found it easy to get hold of books printed in Beirut or Cairo, they found it difficult to acquire Maghrebi books. Such difficulty partly reflected the ‘peripheral’ positionality of North African literature vis-a-vis the cultural-cum-political centre in the Arabic-speaking world constituted by the Egypt-Lebanon axis. It also showed the importance of shedding light into the richness of Maghrebi literatures, as MULOSIGE does.

Another aspect to MULOSIGE is that we co-host the Multilingual London Festival – a free one-day event showcasing London’s multilingual literary talent. This festival will take place on the 25th April 2020 in partnership with the Museum of London. Its goal is to celebrate the vibrant mix of languages London-based writers use to weave real and imagined worlds. There will be free family-friendly workshops, children’s trails, poetry performances and writer’s talks – so save the date!

With the N4 Library, MULOSIGE is also running the Scheherazade Cultural Events programme; a series of talks and workshops centred around Arabic culture and literature. With free discussions on the Tunisian Revolution, Libyan satirical cartoons and feminist literature in Libya and the diaspora, as well as the revolutionary power of love in contemporary Arabic novels, these events are not to be missed!

Ultimately our purpose is to celebrate multilingualism in its various forms and increase Londoners’ knowledge of and accessibility to literatures from the Global South, and in languages other than English. London itself is home to over 300 languages and we can hear and see this expressed through stories, poetry, songs and books. Below are all the relevant links to help you engage with the project and utilise our current resources.

If you’re an Arabic speaker based in London, you can help provide Arabic books to your library by answering a survey at: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd9h8sS2zmdZee3zHjrBy3_YncCJPf_KKNmWNMUoLPs3Ew_cQ/viewform

If you would like your local library to run a similar project, here’s a toolkit they can follow: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/activities/outreach/library-toolkit/

For more on Multilingual London Festival: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/multilingual-london-festival/

For more on the Scheherazade Cultural Events Programme: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/scheherezade-cultural-events-at-the-n4-library/

For more on the MULOSIGE project at SOAS: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/about/

‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’: Subverting colonial depictions & Orientalist fantasies of women found circulating on old postcards

Guest Post: Salma Ahmad Caller

My curiosity was piqued on a summer’s day in 2018 when I was walking around Spitalfields Thursday Antiques market in London and my eye fell upon an old faded postcard on a stall amongst the bric-a-brac. When I picked it up and looked closer, it seemed to depict an Egyptian woman dating back to the early 1900s; and, on the back, it had a stamp with a note written in English about women like her being nice to look at but smelling bad!

Born in Iraq and growing up in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia before moving to the UK in 1990, I was always one with lots of questions and looking for answers. My Egyptian father and English mother have often been the starting point for my work as an artist exploring identity. Add to that my paternal grandmother was Ottoman Turkish whilst the Egyptian family possibly originated from Tunisia, and before that Islamic Spain.

With this background, I have for years been intrigued by the inherent relationships, power structures and connections that bind my past; and, importantly, the colonial link between Egypt and Britain that had a big impact on my parents’ lives and so on my life too. The bigger narratives always have deeply personal implications.

That day I didn’t know anything about the history of what I was holding, I simply assumed that the woman shown was Egyptian. But I began researching all I could about the ‘colonial postcard’ and was soon dismayed and horrified. The featured women could potentially be from anywhere, they may even have been European models dressed up; but, mostly, they were locals often coerced or paid to be draped in strange assemblages of clothing and jewellery, the stuff of Orientalist imaginings.

Worse was the discovery of the exploitation, subjugation and violence behind the constructed images of the women on these postcards from the Middle East and North Africa. Posted in the millions, possibly billions, images taken in the 1800s were still circulating around Europe into the1950s or even 1970s. I now have my own large collection of Egyptian colonial postcards of women that has led me to further explore the histories of the Nubians, the Ghawazee, Hungarian Egyptians, Turkish, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Armenians and Nigerians.

My search led me to learn more about what constructs the identity of these women and where they may have come from. I have now looked through hundreds of postcards from all over the MENA region as well as from Southwest Asia and accumulated a library of books relating to this troubling and fascinating historical document, which is not in fact showing any kind of truth.

I founded ‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’ project in August 2018 and so began Phase I of the project. I got in touch with other women artists as well as writers, poets, academics and thinkers who were all exploring identity within the context of the complex relationship between the East and West. I was keen to meet people with backgrounds that connected them to Britain and Europe and also to those places with colonial histories. I wanted it to be passionate and personal for each member.

As a group we began to look for ways to interrogate the painful histories behind the postcard women, whilst finding ways to get beyond simply seeing them as subjugated victims of a vast colonial project based on constructing racial hierarchies and imaginary Oriental Others. We needed to avoid further misrepresentation if we were to publicly share these postcards and prevent viewers from falling into the trap of experiencing them yet again as a ‘type’ of Eastern female posing as simpering, demure, over-sexualised, ‘exotic’, ‘primitive’, trapped in a quaint time warp, or malleable and ‘giving’ herself over to her captor, the colonial photographer.

That is why we all decided not to show the postcard women directly in our work without some kind of artistic mediation or intervention. Each woman depicted on a postcard has an amazing presence that somehow reaches out beyond the attempts to portray her in a certain way and we were each responding to that in our own way.

Phase I ended with a successful exhibition at Willesden Gallery in North London in October 2019, a very multicultural place to start our journey. As curator I wanted to have the whispering and murmuring of women’s voices haunting our art works, the photographs and the display cases of research material and postcards; as well as a play of light and shadow, projections and sound overlaying the reception and experience of the installations.

This year is Phase II of the Imaginarium project and I am delighted to collaborate with the British-Libyan architect and Arts curator Najlaa El-Ageli and the well-known British-Iranian artist Afsoon, to bring forth another exhibition.

El-Ageli brings a wealth of experience as she has worked closely with many artists from Libya and the wider MENA region and hosted exhibitions with highly respected international arts institutions. Her extensive multifaceted knowledge and rigorous interrogation of what it means to live with a colonised past and its impact on the present and future will bring a rich added perspective.

Afsoon has been with me from the start, helping to mould and shape the project and has been collecting postcards for many years. She sees everything from a unique creative angle and has helped to develop ways to open up cross-cultural dialogue and understanding. Her wit and wisdom cut through bias and prejudice. London based, Afsoon has lived and travelled the world and brings a spirit of openness into her art practice and storytelling.

Phase II is very exciting as we now have quite a number of artists and thinkers from Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, possibly Sudan and Morocco, as well as some amazing people from Phase I, who are Turkish, Irish, Spanish, Iranian and Egyptian. Once we finalise the group we will be looking for suitable venues and hosts.

The key aims are the same but we are now delving more deeply into how personal cultural stories, memories and histories of women are handed down to us. It is within this space that we often find the most transgressive, contradictory and marginalised ways of being and seeing that have been left out of mainstream narratives. The lineages of women have the greatest power to disrupt both colonial and patriarchal strongholds of knowledge and meaning making.

Ultimately, we hope to open dialogue and ask difficult questions. An important part of the project is the discussion blog that I facilitate online via Facebook that ranges over topics of Orientalism, Colonialism, Empire, Race, Decolonisation and Representations of Others. This can help in understanding mechanisms of how we have been shaped and how women came to be trapped in a postcard. But those women were not theories or texts. We are not theories or texts.

Going into the future, the aim is to grow in reach and presence, with each stage having different curators exploring new directions and dimensions. I like the idea of building a web of women working to radically change the narratives, weaving living connections between the postcard women and the project women, and bringing the past into the present.

As for that original postcard, I made into an artwork and soaked the paper with my Oud perfume…

To connect with ‘Making The Postcard Women’s Imaginarium’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/476614479745226/

Salma Ahmad Caller is a British-Egyptian artist whose practice involves creating an imagery of the narratives of body that have shaped her own body and identity across profound cultural divides. It is an investigation of the painful and contradictory mythologies surrounding the female body, processes of exoticization, and the legacy of colonialism as a cross-generational transmission of ideas, traumas, bodies and misconceptions. Her work is informed by a Masters in Art History and Theory, having studied medicine, and teaching cross-cultural perspectives at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

For more: https://www.salmaahmadcaller.com/

 

Nadia Osi – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (January 2020)

Nahla Ink is super thrilled to begin the New Year 2020 by featuring the works of the Iraqi artist Nadia Osi. Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, she currently lives and works as an artist in London. From early childhood, she was fond of drawing; and, her passion for the human figure and attention to detail gradually became the basis for her future creative career.

In 1988, Osi studied Graphic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts, Baghdad University. She later moved to London and studied at the American College where she got her BA in Commercial Art in 1995. She spent the next ten years working as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator in several design companies, when her illustrations and drawings featured in ‘Al Jameela Magazine’ at the Arab Press House in London and several other magazines.

Nadia Osi

Since 2007, Nadia has participated in several art shows and exhibited in the UK, Belgium, USA, Jordan and UAE. Her distinctive painting style is highly sought after by private art galleries and art collectors. She also does commissions for clients around the Middle East, USA and Europe. She paints in oil, acrylic on canvas and sometimes in watercolour. She finds the painting experience to be “a total immersion in a sea of lush paint and colour which hopefully evolves into a pleasurable and meaningful experience for the viewer”.

Inspired by her hometown of Baghdad, Osi’s work explores Iraqi heritage, culture and traditions. One finds the old streets, the urban life, the coffee shops and the people in her paintings, in addition to her joyous use of colour and attention to detail.

Nadia Osi

She said: “The concepts behind my work come from the memory of my hometown Baghdad. Like most of my paintings, I pick subjects that are bright and beautiful and which reflect the good times of my country decades ago; where and when love, peace, beauty and colours existed. As a society or way of life this is now becoming extinct. My paintings express the nostalgia and archive the Iraqi legacy of the social life and its beautiful human values, true friendships and warm neighbourhoods.”

Nadia Osi

Although her focus has been on this journey connected with Iraq, Osi also loves to paint other subjects, as well as mastering landscape, portraits and still life. Recently her corporate and individual art collectors’ base has increased due to positive social media exposure and online coverage.

For more on Nadia Osi on Social Media:

Ahmed Lesi – Nahla Ink Artist of the Month (November 2019)

 

November month on Nahla Ink features the works of the Egyptian artist Ahmed Lesi, to coincide with his first sole exhibition at the Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art in Cairo, Egypt.

A visual artist, Lesi is interested in pop art and describing daily Egyptian life in his paintings from a satirical viewpoint. About his solo show titled ‘Please Enter My Inner Space’, Lesi has provided the following statement, published with kind permission from the gallery.

 

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“The place is not the place where I live, but it is the soul of the people I meet, as if it were a real reservoir of thoughts, emotions, and intuition, and I interacted with them to leave a mark or to make them affect me. Gaston Bachelard says: ‘The place that attracts imagination cannot be an apathetic place with its geometrical dimensions, but a place where people have lived not only objectively but with all their personal imagination, which is what attracts us to it’.

 

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“In this project I took up this concept to create a space that connects me with where I work and the events that affect me during my work.  The scenes that I produced are based upon photographs of social events, which are part of a personal archive of photos that I collected myself, and which directly affected me visually. I worked to reproduce them anew in the form of commemorative paintings, all linked to each other as they are pictures of friends, families, and quasi-familiar spaces of this kind, which occurred in Ard El Lewa. By doing this, I was able to tell my experience or impressions of the place, whose dimensions I deal with the most, in the attempt of highlighting the visual point of view of this place”.

 

 

The Mashrabia Gallery is a contemporary art space that was established in Cairo in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s and under the management of Stefania Angarano, the gallery has played a pioneering role in the diffusion of Plastic Arts through the presentation of non-Egyptian artists in Egypt and the promotion of young Egyptian talents on both the local and the foreign scene.

Breaking with the dominant artistic tradition, the preference for innovative languages free from any decorative components as well as originality and power of the art pieces have always been the criteria for the rigorous selection of the artists and their works. The continuous promotion of established artists and the search for new talents has enabled the creation of a rich and diversified permanent collection.

The gallery organises temporary exhibitions on a monthly basis, both at the gallery and in other venues in Egypt and abroad. Acting as a vibrant cultural incubator, the gallery also regularly hosts various artistic performances, lectures and discussions.

For more on Mashrabia: http://www.mashrabiagallery.com/

To follow Ahmed Lesi on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ahmed.lesi95/

Arab Cinema Shines Bright

MENA Films at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival (LFF)

Guest Post: Dr Khalid Ali

Once again London succeeded in hosting a vibrant celebration of world cinema. From around the globe, filmmakers from 75 countries presented their works at this year’s BFI London Film Festival that took place 2-13 October. Bringing new voices beside auteur talent, the festival engaged as always with pressing universal themes. Tricia Tuttle, Director of the Festival commented: ‘’Like all good art, cinema helps us make sense of the world we live in’’.

The diversity of Arab cinema this year was utterly remarkable with seven films showing in the Debate, Laugh, Dare and Create sections of the festival, in addition to two Saudi films in competition. Most of the films came lauded with praise and accolades from previous film festivals; and, it was a great opportunity for Londoners to treat themselves to one, two or more films from the best of what is coming out of the MENA region.

It was heart-warming to see that from the nine films that two were Saudi productions made by women directors at the top of their game. The first was Haifa Al Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ in the official competition, and Shahad Ameen’s debut film ‘Scales’ in the first feature competition. Both films featured strong female protagonists fighting entrenched prejudices in their society.

The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al Mansour)

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Maryam in the former is the strong-willed doctor practising in a local hospital who faces blatant gender-discrimination from an older male patient who prefers to see a male doctor. Stopped at the airport from travelling when her permit expired, starts a series of unusual events that lead to Maryam putting her name down as a candidate for the local council elections.

One fact however that Maryam tries to hide is that her deceased mother was a wedding singer; and, here, lovers of classic Egyptian cinema will spot a connection between Dr Maryam and Zuzu, the bright University student fighting off stigma and discrimination because of her mother’s profession as an entertainer in 1970s Cairo in Hassan Al Imam’s ‘Take Care of Zuzu’.

In ‘Scales’ Hayat is a 12-year old girl born in a mystical fishing village where families have to sacrifice one girl to the sea to appease the ‘sea monsters’. Shot in luminous monochrome as a magical fable, Ameen challenges established beliefs and practises treating women as second-class citizens. Winning the ‘Verona Award’ for films with innovative vision, Ameen is an emerging talent to look out for.

Scales (Shahad Ameen)

Tunisia led with no less than three films. Hinde Boujemaa’s debut feature ‘Noura’s Dream’ stars Hend Sabri as a mother standing up to her husband’s oppression. Noura is neither presented as a victim nor as an angel; she is a human being struggling with raising three children as a single mother, and a woman with a desire for love and kindness. Sabri won the best actress award for her performance at El Gouna Film Festival.

Addressing women’s status in Tunisian law and social standing, Boujemaa skilfully analyses through Noura’s dilemma the choice between life as an obedient wife or as an independent but tarnished woman. She touches upon double standards, the moral decline of those in public office and prevalent corruption with a clear vision. Bearing in mind that Tunisian law treats women and men equally when it comes to sentencing in crimes of passion.

Noura’s Dream (Hinde Boujemaa)

‘Tlamess’ by Ala Eddine Slim offers an enigmatic story that is described by the director as a tale of “a man and a woman living in symbiosis with nature”. ‘S’ is a soldier running away from the army when he meets a mysterious woman called ‘F’ in a woodland. They come to bond through unspoken language and fight off forces of nature including a baby dinosaur. Perplexing as it seems, this film is a visually rewarding extravaganza pulsating to the beat of a haunting musical score from Oiseaux Tempete.

The third Tunisian offering was ‘A Son’ by Mehdi M Barsaoui that won its lead actor Sami Bouajila the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival. It follows a family’s worst nightmare after their son is shot and left seriously ill in hospital in desperate need for an urgent liver transplant. Finding a liver donor with a matching blood group becomes a fateful event as it unravels long hidden secrets about the son’s identity.

A Son (Mehdi M Barsaoui)

The victory of the recent Sudanese revolution and overturning of the military regime is echoed in Suhaib Gasemelbari’s documentary film ‘Talking About Trees’ which won the Berlin Film Festival Best Documentary and Audience Awards. Gasemelbari follows four veteran Sudanese filmmakers (Manar Al Hiloo, Ibrahim Shaddad, El Tayeb Mahdi, and Suleiman El Nour) in their attempts to reopen a cinema and restore film-viewing culture in a hostile political environment. All four are cinephiles bound by long-term friendship and hope that one day Sudan will pack cinemas as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s.

Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari)

‘The Cave’ by Feras Fayyad was Syria’s entry this year. It is a follow up to his 2017 award winning film ‘Last Men In Aleppo’. Set in a secret hospital in Ghouta, the film champions defiant doctors led by Dr Amani and hospital staff in saving the lives of wounded civilians while surviving the most dangerous of chemical attacks and bombings. Set in a claustrophobic underground setting, the film compels the viewer to denounce the humanitarian crisis facing the country.

Elia Suleiman returns to his favourite subject of exploring Palestinian refugees’ plight in his latest film ‘It Must Be Heaven’. In this follow up to ‘The Time That Remains’ (2009), Suleiman sets the scene in Paris and New York analysing themes of displacement and alienation.

Last but not least, ‘The Unknown Saint’ by Alaa Eddine Aljem represented Moroccan cinema; a black comedy where a criminal is trying to recover a hidden loot now buried under a holy temple. The village people seek ‘cure, happiness and wish-fulfilment’ by offering money and prayers to the holy saint. While the village doctor – who is infuriated by the people’s ignorance and simplistic belief in the power of an unknown’ person – soon despairs and becomes one of the believers.

The Unknown Saint (Alaa Eddine Aljem)

Watching the diversity of Arab cinema at the LFF, I was reassured that Arab voices and stories are no longer marginalised or forgotten. From women fighting against oppression, to film veterans trying to revive a nation’s love for film, to ordinary people affected by violent extremist practices, Arabs are well and truly represented when it comes to the big silver screen in 2019.

Dr Khalid Ali is a Senior Lecturer in Geriatrics and Stroke Medicine at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, a Film and Media correspondent for Medical Humanities Journal, author of ‘The Cinema Clinic: Reflections on Film and Medicine’ and Co-Founder of Egypt Medfest, an artistic, cultural, humanitarian and medically themed educational film forum.

BFI London Film Festival 2019 – The List of MENA-Inspired Films!

Get your popcorn ready! It is that time of year again, when one happily turns to the big silver screen for the celebration of the newest and most exciting films sourced from across the globe, and presented to a London audience. It is of course the BFI London Film Festival 2019!

Taking place 2-13 October in cinema venues across the capital, this year there will be in total 345 films (including features, shorts and documentaries), with much to explore, discover and to simply enjoy. Categorised as always under Strands, I searched the comprehensive programme to identify the films relevant to the MENA region.

Of this year’s selection, BFI Curator for MENA Elhum Shakerifar said to Nahla Ink:

“I am delighted that this year sees a notable number of Arab films in the LFF programme, particularly because two thirds of these are are by first and second time filmmakers – directors whose bold, distinctive and boundary pushing cinema are set to make significant waves.

“I look forward to seeing London audiences meeting such brilliant talents, on screen and for many in person through the many Q+As that will run throughout the festival”.

Without further ado, here they are listed, with the BFI blurbs provided.

For the link to the BFI website and tickets, just tap or click on the images provided for each film.

The Cave (Syria-Denmark) 

Oscar-nominated Feras Fayyad’s (Last Men in Aleppo) essential film tells the harrowing story of an underground Syrian hospital and its extraordinary staff.

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 18:00

BFI Southbank, NFT1

Showing: Tuesday 08 October 2019 17:50

Vue West End, Screen 6

More information and tickets:

The Perfect Candidate (Saudi Arabia-Germany)

Celebrated Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, LFF 2012) returns to the Festival with an inspiring drama about a young doctor unexpectedly becoming an electoral candidate.

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 20:30

Vue West End, Screen 7

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 21:00

Vue West End, Screen 5

Showing; Tuesday 08 October 2019 12:30

Vue West End, Screen 7

Showing; Tuesday 08 October 2019 13:00

Vue West End, Screen 5

Scales (Saudi Arabia-UAE- Iraq)

The story of a fishing village in thrall to mysterious sea creatures makes for a spellbinding feature debut from Shahad Ameen.

Showing: Wednesday 09 October 2019 18:30

Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Thursday 10 October 2019 13:00

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Saturday 12 October 2019 18:45

Prince Charles Cinema, Downstairs ScreenBottom of Form

Noura’s Dream (Tunisia-Belgium-France-Qatar) 

Directed by Hinde Boujemaa: Noura and Lassad’s delicate love story turns into a nightmare when Noura’s husband Sofiane is unexpectedly released from prison, days before their divorce is finalised.

Showing: Friday 04 October 2019 20:45

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Monday 07 October 2019 18:15

Vue West End, Screen 4

A Son (Tunisia-France-Lebanon-Qatar)

Challenging your emotions at every turn, Mehdi M Barsaoui’s debut is a riveting ride in which the euphoria of a family trip quickly turns into a nightmare.

Showing; Saturday 05 October 2019 15:30

Empire Haymarket, Screen 1

Showing: Sunday 06 October 2019 18:00

Cine Lumiere

Arab Blues (France):

Directed by Manele Labidi Labbé. In this provocative culture clash comedy, Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, Paterson) plays a Parisian psychoanalyst attempting to set up a practice in a post-Arab Spring Tunis.

Showing: Sunday 06 October 2019 12:30

Vue West End, Screen 4

It Must Be Heaven (Palestine-France-Qatar-Germany-Canada-Turkey)

 

Acclaimed Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman returns with another deadpan take on life in exile, typically assured and moving.

Showing:  Wednesday 09 October 2019 18:15

Curzon Mayfair Cinema, Screen 1

Showing: Thursday 10 October 2019 18:00

Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1

The Unknown Saint (Morocco-France)

Alaa Eddine Aljem’s darkly comic feature debut is smart, refreshing, original and an astute reflection on the human need to believe in something.

Showing: Friday 04 October 2019 15:20

BFI Southbank, NFT2

Tlamess (Tunisia)

Ala Eddine Slim’s mesmerising second feature is as bold in its audio-visual wonder as it is audacious in its challenge to conventional narratives.

Showing: Wednesday 09 October 2019 20:35

BFI Southbank, NFT3

Showing: Friday 11 October 2019 15:00

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Talking About Trees (Sudan)

Directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari. A beautifully shot feature debut, winner of the Berlinale Best Documentary Award, that couldn’t be timelier for Sudan.

Showing: Tuesday 08 October 2019 20:45

ICA Cinema, Screen 1

Showing; Wednesday 09 October 2019 15:40

BFI Southbank, NFT2

White Girl (Palestine)

Directed by British-Palestinian Omar El-Khairy, this short film will be screened as part of the ‘When You Think You Know How It Ends’ segment.

Sold Out!

Mother of Fire (UAE)

Directed by Farah Al Qasimi, this short film will be screened as part of the ‘New World Order’ segment. A confessional TV documentary, it follows an ancient Jinn called ‘Mother of Fire’ and her ruminations on the history of the UAE, colonial meddling and contemporary Eurocentric museum display practice.

In Vitro (Palestine-UK-Denmark)

Another short film, directed by Larissa Sansour. Decades after an eco-disaster engulfs the biblical city of Bethlehem, two scientists from different generations discuss memory, exile and nostalgia in this symbolic speculative fiction. This will be screened as part of the ‘New World Order’ shorts programme.

Sold Out!

September Note: Arab About London Events Highlights | Laila Shawa Is Nahla Ink Artist of the Month

Dear Readers

September has arrived with the Autumnal chill already in the air.

Of course, it is also the restart to the arts and culture season with plenty on offer that one is seriously spoilt for choice.

I can refer you as always to my ‘Arab About London’ events’ listing with some of the highlights below.

For the full listing that is regularly updated, all you need is to visit the Nahla Ink home page. If you wish to be in the super know, you can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

A Magic Realist Afrabia

Looking at exhibitions, one can head over to the P21 Gallery for the latest ‘A Magic Realist Afrabia’, a solo show for the British-Sudanese artist Rayan Elnayal. Curated by Mishelle Brito, it presents a series of digital prints to explore ideas on multicultural identities, hybridity, and the third space. Looking at Sudanese author Tayeb Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North’ for inspiration, Elnayal follows main character Mustafa’s journey from Sudan to London and his struggle with his contradicting, convoluted and evolving ethnic identity in her work.

For more: http://p21.gallery/react/a-magic-realist-afrabia/

Marcel Khalifé

In terms of music, one of the bigger occasions will be the Lebanese composer, singer and Oud master Marcel Khalifé, as he makes a welcome return to the Barbican. Stripped back from his Al Mayadeen Ensemble that he usually performs with, he will be joined only by his son Rami Khalifé on piano and French jazz drummer Aymeric Westrich, reinterpreting his familiar music in a new way as a trio.

For more: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/marcel-rami-khalife

Maya Youssef & Craig Ogden

One of my favourite instrumentalist Maya Youssef will also be performing this month. After her sold-out Kings Place concert in 2018, ‘Women of the World’ bring the award-winning Syrian Qanun composer and virtuoso guitarist Craig Ogden together in a concert exploring links with European, Middle-Eastern and South Asian music on plucked strings.

For more: https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/world/maya-youssef-and-craig-ogden/

The Paradox of Creative Constraints

If you are cinematically minded, there is an all day public symposium ‘The Paradox of Creative Constraints’ to be held at the Mosaic Rooms. Reflecting on the paradox of creative constraints in contemporary cinema from the Middle East, it will host a day of film screenings and panel discussions with filmmakers, funders and programmers, features innovative rising talents as well as established experts looking at freedom of cinematic expression.

For more: https://mosaicrooms.org/event/the-paradox-of-creative-constraints/

The Stances Festival

Now in its 2nd edition, the ‘Stances’ multimedia and performance festival dedicated to contemporary artists from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria will be taking place at Rich Mix. As they take daring and critical stances towards their ever-changing social and political landscape, either amongst their respective diasporas or across North Africa, this year’s edition showcases the latest urban endeavours that young and upcoming creatives have embarked on to disentangle complexities of perception, identity, belonging and self-worth.

For more: https://richmix.org.uk/events/stances-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%81-north-african-multimedia-performance-festival

Memory of Embers

If perhaps you are more into literature or poetry, Seagull Books and Exiled Writers Ink will be presenting ‘Memory of Embers’, an evening of poetry and discussion that platforms Iraqi voices and delves into themes of memory and exile, war and dictatorship, resistance and return. Featuring Salah Al Hamdani, Adnan al-Sayegh and Reem Kais Kubba – three remarkable Iraqi poets – the themes of displacement, loss and longing, as well as the spirit of revolt stirred up by their words have an increasingly universal resonance at a time where vast numbers of people are rendered placeless and precarious, seeking and being denied asylum by a North increasingly hostile to the ‘others’ that haunt its borders.

For more: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/memory-of-embers-iraqi-poets-on-exile-war-and-resistance-tickets-69361848155

Nahla Ink Artist of the Month – Laila Shawa

The Nahla Ink Artist of the Month is the incredible Palestinian Laila Shawa, whose powerful artworks over the years have garnered great attention and worldwide appreciation. One of the most prominent and prolific artists in terms of revolutionary and contemporary Arabic art, many of her pieces have become iconic and unmistakably Shawa. She has been exhibited internationally with paintings, silkscreen printing, sculptures and installations, as well as having works displayed in many public and private collections, including the British Museum. Living in London, she has given kind permission to feature her artworks on Nahla Ink with five of her most popular series.

Hands of Fatima (Acrylic on paper 2004)
Walk In The Park (Acrylic on paper 1987)
The Impossible Dream II (1989)
The Zar (Acrylic on Canvas 1992)
Trapped (Mixed medium on canvas 2011)

For more: http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/shawa/index.shtml

Best wishes to all!

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

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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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.

SAFAR 2016: Film Festival Solely Dedicated to Contemporary Arab Cinema

If you love independent films with the power to take you on a visual tour of faraway places, then a cinematic festival that carefully selects its titles to represent the best of what is coming out of a particular region is a must see. More of a reason also when that region, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is experiencing unprecedented turbulence that has been laid out for the world to see and when the dearth of good news has meant a lack of an adequate reflection of what really is going on in the Arab world.

It has been a privilege to preview six of the nine films that will be screened as part of the SAFAR 2016 Film Festival. Now in its third edition and hosted biennially by the Arab British Centre in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Arts, SAFAR offers everyone – Arab and non-Arab alike – the chance to see some excellent contemporary MENA films recently produced despite the some logistical obstacles faced.

Curated by writer, independent film and visual arts curator Rasha Salti, she has selected a range of productions from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Kuwait and Syria. Each offers an artistic take on some real and others imagined tales, inspired by true or fictionalised events and played by actors deserving of Oscars. The themes tackled in the selection range from love to war, music, history, religion, politics, philosophy and homosexuality, with the open invite to enter both private lives as well as to learn of public concerns.

Insight From Curator Rasha Salti

I asked Salti to describe the challenges faced by directors and production teams who are working from inside the volatile region. She said: “Filmmakers working in the Arab world face very different kinds of challenges, the ‘volatile’ political context is part of them, but I would not say it is the most inhibitive or problematic. The most serious challenges pertain to the structure of the so-called industry, its near total absence in some cases (in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Algeria) or its fledgling state in other cases (in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia).

“In spite of the absence of an industry in the conventional sense, there are professionals, a notable number of which are very talented and very skilled. The films included in this programme are all low-budget and independent productions, also made in spite of the absence of a structure. They are also auteur, art-house films… The most urgent challenge for art-house cinema is exhibition or distribution locally, regionally and internationally. The more serious challenges that are a consequence of the socio-political contexts are censorship and self-censorship.”

I also wanted to know if she had employed a selection criterion in choosing the films. Salti replied: “In the past five or more years, I have observed a change in Arab cinema, not only are filmmakers more resolute in forging their own voice, but also they are fearless about challenging taboos and exploring different cinematic genres, risking a confrontation with authorities but also provoking the more conservative audiences.

“The Safar Film Festival includes two subjective non-fiction films (‘House without Doors’ and ‘This Little Father Obsession’), an absurdist comedy (‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements’), two psychological dramas (‘Borders of Heaven’ and ‘Before the Summer Crowds’), two socio-political dramas (‘As I Open My Eyes’ and ‘Let Them Come’), a raucous satire (‘Starve your Dog’) and the work of Monira Al-Qadiri, an amazing video artist, that straddles the realms of film and contemporary art and film.”

The SAFAR Parallel Programme

Alongside the screenings at the ICA, there will be an additional programme of Q+As with the directors, actors and scriptwriters featured in the films. Significantly, these events have been made possible due to the success of the ABC’s recent crowd-funding campaign that has enabled them to bring everyone together as well as the the possibly of extending SAFAR to other regional UK cities.

Nadia El-Sebai, Executive Director at the ABC, said: “As the news and the media continues to depict the region through protest politics and conflict, Salti’s selection for SAFAR enables us to look beyond the headlines and provide a more meaningful insight into the emergent trends and social issues affecting communities across the Arab world. The fact that people from around the world came together to support this vision, is testament to the festival’s significance to audiences in the UK at this time.”

Nahla Ink on SAFAR Films

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia-France, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 17 September, 2016 at 6pm

Beautifully directed by Leyla Bouzi as a first feature film, it carries a wonderful soundtrack with songs composed by the Iraqi musicologist Khyam Allami. Set sometime before the Jasmine Revolution, young and carefree Farah (played by Baya Medhaffar) is passionate and excited to be singing with her grungy band and wants to hang out with the bohemian crowd to pursue an innocent dream of becoming a rock star.

Naïve, Farah doesn’t see how her fearless and reckless attitude can put her life in danger. In a country where an oppressive government keeps tabs on everyone, events turn for the worse when her boyfriend writes the lyrics to a politically inspired tune. In peril, Farah embodies the contradictions between the needs and desires of a certain youth who are yearning to live and be free versus a culture that wants to stifle their right to self-expression.

With the popular Tunisian singer Ghalia Ben Ali performing in the strong role of the mother, she brings a sweet and tender dimension to the tale. For good reasons, this film was a winner at the Venice International Film Festival (2015) and the Dubai International Film Festival (2015). I highly recommend viewing!

Before the Summer Crowds (Egypt, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 14 September, 2016 at 8.30pm

Directed by the late Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Khan, this will be a UK premiere to be screened on the opening night of the festival as a tribute to Khan’s legacy and cinematic achievements over the years. ‘Before the Summer Crowds’ is a colourful fiction that exposes Egypt’s troublesome socio-economic dynamics and reveals the clear difference between the haves and have-nots with a seductive female lead.

Unhappy and frustrated with her life, rich and pretty Hala (played by Hana Sheha) wants to get away from her daily life and plans an intimate holiday with a secret lover. Hiring out a chalet at the Blue Beach resort not far from Alexandria before the high season, she doesn’t factor in the unwelcome interest nor the intrusive curiosity from her neighbour as well as the resort’s handy boy.

Obsessed, Dr Yehia (played by Maged El Kedwany) unashamedly snoops on her with his binoculars and flirts with her at every chance to the chagrin of his wife, whilst the resort caretaker Goma (played by Ahmed Dawood) gets a perverse pleasure from following her around and touching her intimate garments that she has put outside to dry in the sun. Her big plan for private time with her amour seriously backfires.

Khan sheds light on the injustices in an Egypt where the rich and the poor live in physical proximity but reside on two different planets. It is a world where the elite are outwardly spoilt, demanding and corrupt but always beyond reproach as their positions of power and money will get them out of any trouble or even scandal. It makes for an interesting viewing.

Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Palestine, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 15 September, 2016 at 6.15pm

Shot in dramatic black and white and directed by the Palestinian Muayad Alaya, this is an unexpected Palestinian story that is an amazing psychological thriller, drama and fairytale all rolled into one. Set in Jerusalem sometime circa the Oslo Accords, we follow Mousa (played by Sami Metwasi) who is a desperate car thief with a precarious plan to get out of the country and escape to Europe.

When he thinks he’s struck gold by stealing a valuable car – to sell its parts to fund his trip to Italy – too late he finds out that there is an Israeli soldier (played by Riyad Sliman) in the trunk who is part of a huge political exchange plot between a Palestinian militia group and the Israeli government.

When all the other characters are seriously concerned with the explosive politics and the high emotions of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Mousa’s only concern is to put the money together to be able to leave as well as to help solve the love triangle that he is also a key part in.

Describing his film, Alayan has said: “Love, Theft and Other Entanglements is a universal story of an anti-hero and his journey towards redemption. The lead character Mousa is neither the Palestinian national ideal typically found in many Palestinian films nor the pure victim of the occupation who is otherwise a perfect manifestation of good…

“Whilst the setting of the film is Palestine, the goal is to tell a universal story about human beings and how they act under circumstances that are heavy to bear. Do we act morally under pressure or is morality a luxury when so much is at stake? Are we able to connect with others or not? Do we trust or mistrust? Do we act responsibly or selfishly? And, ultimately, how do we redeem ourselves from our own mistakes and actions?”

This one for me is another must see! Produced by the PalCine collective of filmmakers based in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area, its goal is to make organic cinema by and about Palestinians as a community. This film was first screened in the Panorama section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.

This Little Father Obsession (Lebanon, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 18 September, 2016 at 4pm

This is a warm-hearted family documentary drama that utilises auto-fiction film techniques with great humour. Captured over two years, Selim Mourad presents an intimate insight into his life as a young gay Lebanese male and his relationship dynamics with his parents, with an emphasis on the ‘obsession’ with his father. When the family have to leave their old house for redevelopment and must move elsewhere temporary, Selim is worried about the future.

Without siblings, he knows he cannot provide a grandchild and is concerned with what that would mean for the Mourad surname. So son goads father on a quest to explore their family tree and en route to various appointments, they engage in many philosophic conversations that openly discuss his homosexuality and contemplate whether there is perhaps a 70-year curse on them for past karmic mistakes. When eventually Selim’s earnest search discovers missing relatives, he has to confront his father.

Improvising with unusual props and getting his parents and friends to do all sorts of crazy impromptu scenes for his big documentary, Mourad employs actors and actresses in the background who surreally run around the ‘set’ as if they are real characters in a film; or, perhaps, it was his aim to creatively blend and blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. If you wish to laugh or to philosophise about family, this is the one film to book for!

Borders of Heaven (Tunisia-UAE, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 17 September, 2016 at 4pm

Directed by Fares Naanaa, this poignant family drama will make you cry and sing. Sarah (played by Anissa Daoud) and Samy (played by Lotfi Abdel) are a young Tunisian couple in their thirties who have to endure the greatest loss possible, that of their young child. The stressful event of little Yasmine’s death comes to challenge their marriage and manifests more than just some of the already underlying cracks in their relationship.

Played powerfully by Daoud and Abdel, the pain of the couple’s predicament leads each on a different path. Whilst Sarah who is a teacher tries to find solace in work, prayer and taking part in a singing group, Samy who is an architect blames himself and is unable to turn to his wife for comfort, choosing instead to lose himself in alcohol.

With immense suspense throughout this love story, the viewer is drawn into Naanaa’s expert handling of the psychology of grief and its many complex layers of human emotion. It also beautifully portrays the possibilities for closure and when there are reasons for hope to live once again. Another must see, this film premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival (2015), where Abdel won the ‘Muhr Feature’ award for best actor.

Starve Your Dog (Morocco, 2015)

Screening at the ICA: 18 September, 2016 at 6pm

Part of a trilogy with a ‘Dog’ theme directed by the Moroccan Hicham Lasri, this film cleverly deploys an imaginary journalistic scoop that revisits the real ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco. The film reflects on the country’s current socio-political and economic scene and one is made visually aware of the frustrations of the millions who are still illiterate, poor, desperate and afraid.

Set in Casablanca, an incredible interview is just about to take place and be nationally broadcast. Pretending that the real but dead ex-Minister of Interior Driss Basri (played by Jirari Ben Aissa) is still alive circa 2012 and ready to confess for his political crimes, a desperate female journalist quickly puts together a production team to capture the historical moment. But things don’t’ work out as planned when their sound system and video equipment fail to capture Basri’s dramatic performance.

For the Moroccans, Basri was the notorious right-hand man working for King Hassan II who had complete control of the police, security and intelligence services in the time between 1979-1999. He was therefore complicit in many of the horrors that took place then, from killings to ‘disappearances’ of dissidents as well as the torture and imprisonment of many who opposed the regime.

As a Libyan observer, I was conscious of the irrational political rhetoric spewed by Basri to justify his past evil acts and Lasri’s referencing via archival political material is a very powerful reminder of the fear and paranoia associated with that time. In a frightening sense, also, the metaphor of the ‘dog’ wasn’t lost on me. Gaddafi used that term to insult the people he was planning to execute or assassinate; and, ironically, he was referred to as the ‘mad dog’ himself by others.

For the full SAFAR 2016 programme, details of the Q+As as well as a promotional code when booking: https://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/projects/safar-film-festival-series/safar-2016/full-programme-listing/

Note: This article was first published circa September 2016