World Picks: July 2021

3 July, 2021

“Al Fid­daiy­oun” (Free­dom Fight­ers), 1969, Naim Ismail (Syr­ia, 1930–1979).

Got an event, book, film, con­fer­ence or any­thing else you’d like to rec­om­mend? Drop us a line. —Edi­tors Malu Halasa, Yara Chaalan
All list­ings are online, unless oth­er­wise noted.

Listen anytime Beetroot hummus and culinary appropriation — Instant Coffee season 2 sneak peak


Free pod­cast from the LSE Mid­dle East Centre 

Instant Cof­fee, Sea­son 2 goes beyond the plate to under­stand how the com­plex­i­ties of food, farm­ing and cui­sine in the region shape peo­ple’s writ­ing, think­ing, cook­ing and orga­niz­ing. The pod­cast speaks with inspir­ing culi­nary Mid­dle East prac­ti­tion­ers grap­pling with culi­nary appro­pri­a­tion, access to food and food sov­er­eign­ty, and recon­nect with food in the dias­po­ra, as well as archiv­ing and trans­lat­ing the region’s recipes. As Pales­tin­ian Chef Fadi Kat­tan told Instant Cof­fee, in their sneak peak: “The day you stop hear­ing about Pales­tin­ian food, Pales­tin­ian music and Pales­tin­ian art and Pales­tin­ian lit­er­a­ture is the day we would have giv­en up.” A pre­vi­ous episode fea­tures leg­endary Egypt­ian-Jew­ish food writer Clau­dia Roden and the not­ed aca­d­e­m­ic Sami Zubai­da, edi­tor of the pio­neer­ing food anthol­o­gy: A Taste of Thyme: Culi­nary Cul­tures of the Mid­dle East.  

Still Hungry? Watch this: Languages of Home and Diaspora: Nourishing Palestine in Food and Verse

With Zeina Azzam and Reem Kassis

Smith­son­ian Folk­life Fes­ti­val: Beyond the Wall: Mak­ing Mat­ters 2021

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A con­ver­sa­tion between friends and across the gen­er­a­tions, cook­book author Reem Kas­sis and the poet Zeina Azzam con­verse about their lives as Pales­tin­ian moth­ers, daugh­ters and writ­ers. Kas­sis, who wrote The Pales­tin­ian Table (2017) and The Arabesque Table (2021), shows the mak­ing of ka’ak al-Quds, the Pales­tin­ian bread ring from Jerusalem. Azzam reads poems on cul­tur­al trans­mis­sion and the art of resilience. Her chap­book Bay­na Bay­na, In-Between was pub­lished in May of this year. 

The event was spon­sored by Smith­son­ian Folk­life Fes­ti­val with the Road­work Cen­ter, a cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tion and “incu­ba­tor for cul­tur­al ini­tia­tives aimed at advanc­ing social jus­tice.” Go here for the video.

Online Panel Discussion: Re-Seeding Culture: Syrian Artists in Berlin

With Khaled Barakeh, Kinan Hmei­dan and Diana el-Jeirou­di, mod­er­at­ed by Malu Halasa

Host­ed by the Arts & Cul­ture Cen­ter, Mid­dle East Insti­tute, Wash­ing­ton D.C., in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Goethe-Insti­tut Washington 

Berlin has emerged as the new hub for Syr­i­an artists in the dias­po­ra. Artist and founder of cocul­ture Khaled Barakeh, the actor Kinan Hmei­dan per­form­ing at the Max­im Gor­ki The­atre and inde­pen­dent film­mak­er, pro­duc­er and co-founder of DOC BOX Diana El Jeirou­di give visu­al pre­sen­ta­tions. They dis­cuss the mak­ing of art, the­atre and doc­u­men­tary film, in Berlin — the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges — with Malu Halasa, coed­i­tor of Syr­ia Speaks: Art and Cul­ture from the Front­line.

10 July — Wahabiat, National Arab Music Ensemble Performs at the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek

The Nation­al Arab Music Ensem­ble was found­ed with the goal of reviv­ing the clas­si­cal Arab music her­itage. The Nation­al Cul­tur­al Cen­tre “Cairo Opera House” estab­lished the ensem­ble in 1989 and put it under the super­vi­sion of Dr. Rat­i­ba El-Hefny and the direc­tor­ship of Mae­stro Selim Sahab.

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The main objec­tive of the Nation­al Arab Music Ensem­ble is to col­lect the musi­cal her­itage from dif­fer­ent Arab nations and present it in an aca­d­e­m­ic context.

Soloists from dif­fer­ent Arab coun­tries per­formed with the ensem­ble. Among them were famous Arab singers like Wadee El Safy, Soad Mohamed, Soad Mekkawy, Somaya Kaysar and Lot­fy Bosh­nak. The ensem­ble con­sists of about 100 musi­cians and singers. Due to its excep­tion­al style, the Nation­al Arab Music Ensem­ble earned nation­al and inter­na­tion­al acclaim. In its first year, the ensem­ble was award­ed the Gold Medal and its con­duc­tor the Sil­ver Medal at the Baby­lon Music Festival.

The Ensem­ble has par­tic­i­pat­ed in many fes­ti­vals and cel­e­bra­tions such as the Carthage Fes­ti­val (Tunisia 1990), the Kuwaiti Nation­al Inde­pen­dence Day (1991), El Rabat Fes­ti­val (1993), Sour Fes­ti­val (Lebanon 1997), El Kareen Fes­ti­val (Kuwait 1997), Shop­ping Fes­ti­val (Dubai 1998), El Maha­ba Fes­ti­val (Syr­ia 1998), the Egypt­ian-Amer­i­can Friend­ship Asso­ci­a­tion Con­cert (USA 1998), the Egypt­ian-Tunisian Cul­tur­al Week (Tunisia 2001), Umm Kulthum’s Cen­ten­ni­al Cel­e­bra­tion (Paris 2001) and El Rabat Fes­ti­val ( Moroc­co 2001). More info/reservations.

July 13 — Hidden Presences: Against Disappearance—exploring examples of hidden heritage from Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.

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Jour­nal­ist and com­men­ta­tor Jo Glanville leads a pan­el to explore exam­ples of hid­den her­itage from Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.

Dis­cov­er hid­den sto­ries from city neigh­bor­hoods, nightlife and cabaret cul­tures and how we re-tell uncom­fort­able aspects of his­to­ry in archival dis­plays. This event is the third in the Against Dis­ap­pear­ance dis­cus­sions series by Shub­bak Fes­ti­val (opens in new win­dow), a UK fes­ti­val of con­tem­po­rary Arab cul­ture run­ning 20 June – 17 July.

On the pan­el, visu­al artist Hera Büyüktaşcıyan talks about her col­lages cur­rent­ly dis­played in the British Muse­um’s exhi­bi­tion Reflec­tions: con­tem­po­rary Art of the Mid­dle East and North Africa. They are based on research into eth­ni­cal­ly and reli­gious­ly diverse neigh­bour­hoods in Turkey and India.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er and direc­tor Adham Hafez will dis­cuss his re-imag­in­ing of the live­ly Cairo club scene at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry in HaRa­Ka Plat­form’s per­for­mance Cairo KitKat Club.

We’ll also learn more of the rich his­to­ry of the port city of Bas­ra in Iraq, which has often been tur­bu­lent and some­times glam­orous, but has been hid­den from the world and from its own cit­i­zens behind war and dev­as­ta­tion in recent decades. A project to renew the city’s main muse­um, locat­ed in a repur­posed palace which had been built for Sad­dam Hus­sain, aims to recov­er that his­to­ry and con­nect with pop­u­lar mem­o­ry and civic pride.

This event is pre­sent­ed by the Cul­tur­al Pro­tec­tion Fund (opens in new win­dow), Shub­bak Fes­ti­val and the British Muse­um. The Cul­tur­al Pro­tec­tion Fund is led by the British Coun­cil in part­ner­ship with the Depart­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Media and Sport.

The talk will take place in Eng­lish with BSL inter­pre­ta­tion. A sub­ti­tled record­ing will be avail­able after the event.

RSVP here.

Through July 18 — Exhibition: Bodies That Matter, Artists Hela Ammar, Marwa Arsanios, Tagreed Darghouth

Art­lab­ber­lin, at Iphone­doc­tor shop, Per­leberg­er Strasse 60, D‑10559 Berlin, Germany

Fri­day – Sun­day 4 pm – 7 pm 

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Bod­ies That Mat­ter presents the works of three artists who deal with the ques­tion of the role of the body and gen­der in the con­text of social and polit­i­cal con­flicts. In her series Body Talks (2018), Hela Ammar shows por­traits of Tunisian polit­i­cal activists. While the por­traits are anonymized through the use of bright­ly col­ored scarves, noth­ing is lost of their self-con­fi­dent bear­ing. In her video work, Who’s Afraid of Ide­ol­o­gy (2019), Mar­wa Arsan­ios pur­sues self-orga­nized projects by women who exper­i­ment with alter­na­tive forms of social orga­ni­za­tion. In her series Flo­ral Dum­mies (2020) and Venus­es and Aphrodites (2020), Tagreed Dargh­outh explores the ques­tion of ideals of beau­ty through the ages in the clas­si­cal art medi­um of paint­ing. Bod­ies That Mat­ter is the fourth and last exhi­bi­tion of Art­lab­ber­lin’s long-term project Where Have All the Jas­mines Gone.

Art­lab­ber­lin is an inde­pen­dent and exper­i­men­tal art project space. On a reg­u­lar basis it invites artists and cura­tors work­ing in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and aims to func­tion as a plat­form for col­lab­o­ra­tion and exchange.

Through July 31st — Soundtrack to Puzzled Identities, P21 Gallery, Online exhibition

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Sound­track to Puz­zled Iden­ti­ties explores entan­gled, some­times clash­ing cul­tur­al affini­ties of dias­po­ra Arabs, through a series of music-themed, pop art-derived dig­i­tal illus­tra­tions, accom­pa­nied by musi­cal mashups.  From Umm Kulthum to Mashrou’ Leila, the dig­i­tal artist Zineb Bel­rhi­ti-Alaoui jux­ta­pos­es famous Arab artists with well-known West­ern album cov­ers, merg­ing the past and present into con­cep­tu­al­ly lay­ered illus­tra­tions that tran­scend cul­tur­al bound­aries and play at the inter­sec­tion of tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty. The exhi­bi­tion aims to trig­ger nos­tal­gia among those famil­iar with Arab music, while giv­ing those who are unfa­mil­iar a sense of curios­i­ty about icon­ic fig­ures, who shaped a pop­u­lar cul­ture. Curat­ed by Mishelle Brito for P21 Gallery’s Re-Act series, Sound­track to Puz­zled Iden­ti­ties cel­e­brates the ambi­gu­i­ty and diver­si­ty of “Arab­ness” in the mod­ern world. 

Through 25 July — Splendour of the Sunset: Iran of the Qajar Era, State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, Russia

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For 136 years the Qajar dynasty ruled Per­sia as the nation strug­gled to mod­ernise and uni­fy. At the same time the rulers des­per­ate­ly fend­ed off two preda­to­ry empires, the British and Russ­ian, until in 1925 they fell to a new dynasty, the Pahlavis. Yet they left behind a remark­able trove of art that fused a redis­cov­ery of pride in Iran­ian iden­ti­ty with a desire to emu­late the best of the West.

Notable exam­ples of this cul­tur­al flow­er­ing are now on dis­play in Splen­dour of the Sun­set: Iran of the Qajar Era. The exhi­bi­tion is host­ed until 25 July by the State Muse­um of Ori­en­tal Art in Moscow, and fea­tures some 300 paint­ings, ceram­ics, weapons, car­pets, glass­ware and man­u­scripts, his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments and pho­tographs. Most have nev­er been seen in pub­lic before. Each room is devot­ed to anoth­er aspect of late 18th to ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Iran: war and hunt­ing, pol­i­tics, fine art, reli­gion, and dai­ly life. The art itself ranges from naïve pop­u­lar arte­facts to pre­cious and beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed objects imbued with mytho­log­i­cal references.

Besides its chang­ing exhi­bi­tions, the State Muse­um has per­ma­nent gal­leries for Chi­nese, Japan­ese, Kore­an, Viet­namese, Cau­casian, Indi­an, Bud­dhist and oth­er Iran­ian art. The new­ly estab­lished Sovi­et Union found­ed the muse­um in 1918 as the first Russ­ian effort to prop­er­ly acknowl­edge the for­mer empire’s Cen­tral Asian nations. So if you can prise your eyes from the pic­tures on the wall, the build­ing itself, a gra­cious 19th cen­tu­ry edi­fice, offers aes­thet­ic plea­sures of its own. 

August 12, 7 pm — Syrian Cassette Archives — Listening Session Mosaic Rooms — Free


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Artist, pro­duc­er and audio-visu­al archivist Mark Ger­gis presents musi­cal gems from Syr­i­a’s cas­sette era, from the 1980s to 2011. This Lis­ten­ing Ses­sion will high­light the musi­cal styles from dabke and shaabi folk-pop, cre­at­ed by Syr­i­a’s myr­i­ad eth­nic and reli­gious groups, to pop­u­lar song dur­ing the Cold War peri­od. Many of these ephemer­al tapes were not dig­i­tized, and have had a large­ly undoc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry before the coun­try’s 2011 uprising. 


After music from the cas­sette archives will be an hour-long set, fea­tur­ing sev­en-inch vinyls from all over Syr­ia, col­lect­ed by Yamen Mek­dad, a sound enthu­si­ast and con­trib­u­tor to radio sta­tions Root, Bal­a­mi and Radio Al Hara, among others. 

15 July — 31 August — Salalah Tourism Festival, Oman

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The Salalah Tourism Fes­ti­val occurs dur­ing the “Kha­reef” or mon­soon sea­son of Oman. It typ­i­cal­ly starts around mid-July and lasts until late August. Dur­ing the Kha­reef sea­son, the city of Salalah is trans­formed into a lush oasis, due to the rain show­ers that cool the sum­mer air. The fes­ti­val hosts beau­ti­ful artis­tic as well as cul­tur­al shows, with a mix of inter­na­tion­al pro­grams for inter­na­tion­al tourists who come to enjoy the festival. 

It is a vibrant fes­ti­val; with clothes stalls, restau­rants, music, games, the­atrics, cir­cus­es and much more. Many fam­i­lies come to have a pic­nic and enjoy the beau­ti­ful mon­soon weath­er, while oth­ers come to enjoy the shows, games and fire­works that take place. It gets big­ger and grander each year, with more roller coast­ers, music, cul­tur­al activ­i­ties, food stalls and so on. More info.

Through 26 September — Divas: D’Oum Kalthoum à Dalida at the Institut du Monde Arab, Paris

Show­cas­ing an eclec­tic selec­tion of music arranged in sequences of unfore­seen son­ic analo­gies, this col­lec­tive mix was put togeth­er by Bas­ma, who is of Nubian Sudanese descent and is based in Lon­don. She hosts the Khar­toum Arrivals show on NTS Radio where she likes to tap into mem­o­ries tied to old Sudanese love songs.

Listen to MARSM mixtapes for free on  SoundCloud .

Lis­ten to MARSM mix­tapes for free on Sound­Cloud.

For decades, her voice sang the sound­track to mil­lions of lives across the Mid­dle East. Now the Insti­tut du Monde Arabe cel­e­brates the stage and sil­ver screen her­itage of Umm Kulthum and oth­er Arab chanteuses with an exhi­bi­tion appro­pri­ate­ly called Divas: D’Oum Kalthoum à Dal­i­da.  

Open­ing on 19 May and last­ing till 26 Sep­tem­ber, Divas already fea­tures sev­er­al tempt­ing amus­es bouch­es in the form of short videos on YouTube, with such allur­ing titles (in Eng­lish trans­la­tion) as Mil­i­tant Divas and Pio­neers of Arab Fem­i­nism. The web­site also comes replete with evoca­tive film posters, going back to 1927 with Behid­ja Hafez in Laila bint al-sahara [Laila, la fille du desert]. 

These divas were no shrink­ing vio­lets or hap­less sex objects: Hafez, for instance, was Laila’s cen­tral char­ac­ter, direc­tor and co-pro­duc­er. Tahiyya Car­i­o­ca, the occa­sion­al­ly risqué artiste of 1930s films, was also, we learn, an ardent com­mu­nist, who spent three months in prison after Gamel Abdul Nass­er took pow­er. Dal­i­da, a for­mer Miss Egypt in her leop­ard-skin biki­nis, lat­er high­light­ed social inequities in her many films; while Hoda Chaaraoui found­ed a salon in 1908 that cham­pi­oned free thought and female emancipation. 

For her part, Samia Gamal cre­at­ed a new dance form blend­ed from Arab, clas­si­cal West­ern and Latin Amer­i­can styles, and appeared in a bewil­der­ing 50 films dur­ing the 1940s and 1950s. Asma­han, daugh­ter of a Druze princess, not only pos­sessed an unpar­al­leled voice but also risked her life spy­ing for the Allies in World War II. War­da began singing cabaret in Paris, but soon was mov­ing mil­lions with paeons to the Alger­ian rev­o­lu­tion and donat­ed con­cert tak­ings to the anti-colo­nial­ist FLN militia. 

Equal­ly defi­ant of con­ser­v­a­tive norms, Lay­la Mourad – born Lil­lian Zaki Mourad Mordechai to a Jew­ish fam­i­ly – debuted at 15 in the 1932 film, Al-Dahaaya (The Victims). She charmed a gen­er­a­tion of cin­e­ma-goers with her singing and comedic act­ing, and even oust­ed Umm Kulthum as “voice of the rev­o­lu­tion” in 1953… until jeal­ous rivals called her an Israeli spy.

While top Egypt­ian mil­i­tary fig­ures quashed the rumors, she nev­er reached the heights of the con­tral­to, Umm Kulthum. The “Voice of Egypt” trans­formed the sound­scape of pop­u­lar Arab music with per­for­mances that often last­ed for more than an hour per song. In 1975 her funer­al brought some four mil­lion mourn­ers onto the streets of Cairo. Unwill­ing to let her go, Egyp­tians to this day throng to con­certs where she “appears” in holo­gram form.

Divas will charm view­ers with its evo­ca­tion of a gold­en age in mod­ern Ara­bic cul­ture. But there is more to the exhi­bi­tion than nos­tal­gic indul­gence. Rather, it reminds one that even a cen­tu­ry ago, pow­er­ful Arab women offered a sense of indi­vid­u­al­ism, and a vision of hope, to a trou­bled region.

 Until September 12, 2021 — Exhibition EPIC IRAN Epic Iran at the Victoria & Albert Museum 

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The Epic Iran exhi­bi­tion explores 5,000 years of Per­sian art, design and cul­ture though sculp­ture, ceram­ics and car­pets, tex­tiles, pho­tog­ra­phy and film. The his­toric objects and art­works reflect the Iran’s vibrant his­toric cul­ture, archi­tec­tur­al splen­dors, the abun­dance of myth, poet­ry and tra­di­tion, and the evolv­ing, self-renew­ing art and cul­ture of today. From the Cyrus Cylin­der and intri­cate illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts of the Shah­nameh to ten-meter-long paint­ings of Isfa­han tile work, Shirin Neshat’s two-screen video instal­la­tion Tur­bu­lent, and Shirin Ali­abadi’s strik­ing pho­to­graph of a young woman chew­ing bub­blegum, the exhi­bi­tion presents an over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive of Iran from 3000 bc. 

It cov­ers: the Land of Iran; Emerg­ing Iran start­ing in 3200 bc when writ­ing first occurred; The Per­sian Empire and the Achaemenid peri­od; Last of the Ancient Empires and Alexan­der the Great; the Book of Kings, on the Shah­nameh; Change of Faith, after the Arab con­quest in the mid-sev­enth cen­tu­ry ad; Lit­er­ary Excel­lence on poet­ry, patron­age and art; The Old and the New of the Qajar dynasty; and, final­ly, Mod­ern and Con­tem­po­rary Iran, which charts mid-cen­tu­ry mod­ernisms to the present day, with Farhad Moshiri and Sha­di Ghadiri­an, among oth­er artists.

Epic Iran was orga­nized by the V&A with the Iran Her­itage Foun­da­tion, in asso­ci­a­tion with the Sarikhani Collection. 

RSVP here.