Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Palestinian Wedding Dance © Paula Cox
by Susannah Tarbush
Palestinian women are in a sense the unsung heroines of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the Palestinians find themselves. "Celebrating the Life of Palestinian Women", an exhibition of prints by British artist Paula Cox, pays tribute to their role. The show opened at the Kufa Gallery in West London last Wednesday and runs until 5 July.
Cox was awarded a grant by the Arts Council in spring 2004 to go to Palestine as an artist in residence. She has worked with Amnesty International since 1988 as a painter on human rights, and says her art project in Palestine "allowed me a sensitive insight into the rich but devastated Palestinian culture as I attempt to document the daily lives of women who are the innocent victims of a brutal conflict, whose most basic rights are being eroded by life under Israeli occupation."
As a woman artist she was "able to share a special intimacy with the women from a predominantly Muslim culture. I spent time in towns villages and refugee camps in the West Bank but because of the extremely volatile situation I was unable to visit Gaza."
Cox's pictures, with their eloquent fluid lines, reflect the texture of the women's lives. In some pictures women are engaged in everyday tasks such as harvesting olives and preparing bread, vine leaves and other foods. In others they talk with their friends, pray or dream.
In the caption to the colourful print "Palestinian Wedding Dance", Cox recalls how she and Fatimah bought orange, pink and white carnations to take to Fatimah's friend's wedding celebrations in Bethlehem. The groom's brother was not at the wedding; he is in an Israeli prison and has been adopted as a political prisoner by Amnesty International.
The picture "Percussion of falling olives", an assembly of three images, has as its caption a delightful poem by Cox on these "ancient ancestral trees" and "the sweet bitter smell of olives baking in the hot sun/Shovelled by beautiful strong hands/into hessian sacks, sewn up with a huge needle and string."
In "Stuffed Vine Leaves" women share their secrets as they prepare vine leaves for the Ramadan feast. "Mervat's aunt" depicts a woman from Tulkarem refugee camp bringing delicious date and sesame biscuits, and telling of her work as a volunteer in the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
In "Moment of Peace" a woman gazes out beyond a blue door. "Women sitting in their doorways in the villages and refugee camps often look malnourished by the poverty of their situation" Cox says. "I try to bring to life, with line and colour, the beauty and nobility of these strong, generous people who have had their land and human rights stolen from them."
The exhibition embarks on a tour of Palestine in October, starting in Bethlehem. Cox hopes the exhibition will be shown in Gaza, at A M Qattan Foundation's Centre for the Child. She also hopes that a tour of France, the US and some other Western countries can also be arranged.
June 28 2005
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
picture of Haifa Al-Mansour
Women of the East
The women's festival held earlier this month in Turkey was a remarkable assembly of Middle Eastern women intellectuals and artists, but it seems to gone largely unnoticed by the British and presumably other Western media. I heard about it only by chance from one of the participants, the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, who gave an evening concert during the event.
The "Eastern Women" festival took place in Istanbul from 11 to 17 June. Music events were sprinkled liberally through the programme. The opening concert on the first evening was given by Lebanese singer Jahida Wehbe, who is regarded as one of the great classical Arabic singers performing today.
From Iran came the singer Sima Bina. Born in Khorasan, Bina started her singing career on Iranian radio at the age of only nine under the direction of her father Ahmad Bina, a master of Iranian classical music and a poet who wrote many of Sima's early songs. Another Iranian singer, Sussan Deyhim, gave the closing concert of the festival.
Women filmmakers were present in force at the festival. Saudi filmmaker Haifa Al Mansour showed two films, the prize-winning "The Only Way Around," and "Women Without Shadows". The latter film was recently shown privately at the French consulate in Jeddah where its theme of the covering of women's faces in public elicited a variety of reactions.
The Iraqi filmmaker Maysoun Pachachi (daughter of the veteran politician Adnan Pachachi) showed her films "Journey to Iraq" and "Return to the Land of Wonders." Pachachi has lived in London for many years. In 2004 she co-founded a free-of-charge film-training centre in Baghdad.
"Return to the Land of Wonders" documents her return to Iraq with her father after the 2003 war and Adnan Pachachi's work as head of a committee drafting a new constitution. The film shows how Iraqis were trying to survive and to rid themselves of a sense of despair and defeat.
Egyptian filmmaker Hala Khalil showed "The Best of Times", which has won several prizes. The Iranian film actress and director Rakhshan Bani Etemad hosted a film showing, and Iranian actress Leila Hatami also participated in the festival.
Writers at the festival included Hoda Barakat and Iman Humaydan Younes from Lebanon, Iranian writer Shiva Arastui, Iraqi poet Amal Al-Jubouri, Egyptian novelist Miral Al-Tahawi, Syrian poet Lina Tibi and UAE poet Maysoon Al-Saqr.
The festival's opening panel was entitled "Heritage of the Women of the East." There were also panels on music, cinema, poetry and literature.
It is clear from the festival that Middle Eastern women are very active at the new frontiers of the arts. Given the misconceptions about Middle Eastern women in the West, it might be an idea to stage a similar festival, with the addition of Turkish women artists, in London and other Western cities.
June 28 2005
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Why do British Arab men go back to their home countries to find brides rather than marrying Arab girls brought up in the UK? This is one of the topics covered in the first issue of “Sharq”, a new glossy magazine of British Arab Culture.
In her article “Takeaway Bride”, Layla Maghribi argues that only an Arab girl raised in Britain can understand the bi-cultural upbringing of an Arab British man.
She asks: “What is it that our fellow compatriots have on the Arab continent that is sending the men over, away from the local and familiar women?” She blames among other things the laziness of Arab men, who take the easy option, and the snobbishness and unapproachability of many Arab women in Britain.
In their countries of origin, British Arab men are viewed as a “fine catch indeed.” And they may think women back home make “better wives”, and are more likely to be “pure.” But Maghribi says that girls back home could actually have a more “colourful history” than Arab girls in London.
The content of “Sharq” is a mixture of features, interviews, fashion shoots, beauty, travel, regular columns, reviews and listings of forthcoming events. The magazine has an agony Tante, Suhad Jarra, and a Girl About Town, Ranya Khalil.
The cover of the first issue is graced by a photograph of the musician, model and broadcaster Mona Ibellini. The caption reads: “Mona Ibellini: the New Alicia Keys?”
Sharq’s Editor in Chief and Creative Director is Reem Maghribi, who writes in her editorial: “I have had the pleasure of meeting some fabulously talented and generously spirited Arabs over the past few months.”
She mentions among others Isam, Waqas and Lenny, the members of Danish group Outlandish whose hip-hop is inspired by their Honduran, Pakistani and Moroccan origins.
The magazine includes a features by Judith Brown on “The Image of Arabs in the British Media.” The chairman of Arab Media Watch, Sharif Nashashibi, gives a first hand account of the daily ordeal of travelling around Palestine, and also contributes an interview with Dr Yahya Aridi, the director of the new Syrian media centre in London.
There is a review of the play “My name is Rachel Corrie”, based on the life of the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003. On a lighter note, in the Dating, Courting & Relationships section four women “tell all about blind dates, arranged marriages, a slapper and a mother-in-law.”
“Sharq” is sold by subscription and at hotels and newsagents in areas of London frequented by Arabs. It is to be welcomed as giving a voice to the new generation of Arabs brought up in Britain, provided it survives the tough challenges involved in establishing a new publication.
Saudi Gazette June 21 2005
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
On Thursday June 22, the Curzon Cinema in the Mayfair area of central London is to host the UK Gala Premiere of "Seeds", a full-length documentary highlighting an attempt to reconcile young people from some of the world's hottest areas of conflict.
The film was produced by the Al Madad Foundation, which was founded in 2000 as a UK-registered charity by Faiza Alireza of Saudi Arabia with the support of her daughters Basma and Yasmin.
Al Madad is dedicated to the relief of poverty in the developing world, with a particular emphasis on the welfare of children. It raises financial support for cultural, medical and educational projects.
Guest speaker at the premiere is CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, winner of numerous awards. The film's producer and director, Marj Safinia and Joseph Boyle, will introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. The £50 tickets for the premier include a buffet dinner at Al Sultan restaurant in Mayfair.
"Seeds" is an account of the work of Seeds of Peace, the organisation established in 1993 by author and journalist John Wallach.
Seeds of Peace brings teenagers from regions of conflict together for three weeks every summer at an international camp in Maine. The idea is that through getting to know and listen to each other, the young people will learn mutual respect and the skills needed to make lasting peace.
At the Maine camp teenagers meet those from the "other side" whom they would ordinarily be unable to get to know. They include Palestinians and Israelis, Americans and Afghans, Indians and Pakistanis.
"Seeds" focuses on ten of the 166 teenagers at the camp, and chronicles the often difficult and emotional process of reconciliation from the perspective of the children themselves. As one of the Seeds says: "In order to make peace with your enemy, you have to go to war with yourself."
The film has been part of the official selection at some 30 international film festivals. It was runner up in the Audience Award category at both the Palm Springs and Cleveland film festivals.
The world premiere was as the opening night film at Silverdocs, the documentary film festival of AFI/Discovery Channel.
The project to make "Seeds" first took root in February 2002 after Marj Safinia was invited to a Seeds of Peace fundraiser in New York. She and Joseph Boyle subsequently drafted a film proposal and approached John Wallach - little realising that nine other filmmakers had approached Seeds with similar proposals.
Seeds of Peace gave Safinia and Boyle permission to film, and in just over five weeks they and producer Hana Alireza succeeded in raising more than $70,000 for production. They immediately set off for the camp in Maine, and had just three weeks to tell the story with its dramas and twists of fate.
There have been some glowing tributes to the film. Chris Walny of Detroit Documentary Festival described it as "one of those films that just might change the world." Judy Woodruff of CNN said it is "a spectacular film…truly impressive."
Saudi Gazette June 14 2005