Tuesday, June 28, 2005

picture of Haifa Al-Mansour Posted by Picasa

Women of the East
Susannah Tarbush

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.

Saudi Gazette
June 28 2005

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