Arts and Culture in the Mideast
- Published on Saturday, 24 March 2012 19:00
- Category: Art
Dance, in its very essence of live movement, can never keep still. As performers on stage shift their bodies, using them to fill visual and musical spaces that most never even realized were empty, we audience members evolve along with them.
The opposite of dance is stasis, atrophy, the crippling that comes when one cannot or will not move, because it's safer to keep still rather than risk breaking free or connecting with another. But in that safety also creeps loneliness, because dialogue thrives on conversational motion.
It's with this conversational motion, in the body's various twists, turns, leaps, stretches, that Brooklyn-based choreographer Parijat Desai uses "an organic and kinetic blend of Indian classical and Western contemporary dance" to bridge the cliched gaps of two seemingly opposite old and new worlds that are really more alike than they are different.
- Published on Thursday, 08 March 2012 18:22
- Category: Film
Amidst talk of bombs and wars, a small Iranian film sweeps up the highest honors in western cinema. Its unassuming director goes up on stage, faces Hollywood aristocracy and his voice, soft and humble, flows across the airways reaching millions dedicating his golden statue to the good people of his ancient land.
The following day various sites hailed the event as an example of cultural camaraderie ignoring the threats of imminent strikes and annihilation red lines; and YouTube videos of Iranian families sitting spellbound in front of their satellite TVs, holding their breath to be ushered into the hall of fame by their archenemy, spiraled throughout the Internet. Once again it was clear — people will ignore the rantings of their politicians to come together in celebration of all that their humanity has in common while embracing diversity.
The Iranian PR machine predictably declared the whole thing to be a triumph over Israel – since the “Zionist Nation” was also competing in the same category. Well thank goodness for small nothings. That’s what I love about movies.
It can be all things to all people — and come Kodak day, those who lose can snub the whole thing as a meaningless self-congratulation exercise, while winners graciously fumble for words in front of a blank teleprompter basking in their two minutes of sun in front of Hollywood royalty. As for the peanut gallery, they can thank whomever they want.
- Published on Saturday, 25 February 2012 15:39
- Category: Art
Sometimes the best way to learn about a civilization is through its artifacts. In November of 2011, just over ten years after the 9/11 attacks, and six miles north of where two hijacked airliners took down the World Trade Center, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its new wing of Islamic art as part of a cultural diplomatic effort to better educate Americans about Islamic culture.
The wing, located on one of the upper floors of the Met and comprised of 15 galleries totaling an approximate 19,000 square feet of exhibition space, includes “nearly twelve thousand objects [that] reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions of Islam, with works from as far westward as Spain and Morocco and as far eastward as Central Asia and India.”
Considered to be one of the world’s most extensive collections of Islamic art, the exhibit “signals a revised perspective on this important collection, recognizing that the monumental influence of Islam did not create a single, monolithic artistic expression, but instead connected a vast geographic expanse through centuries of change and cultural influence,” stated Met Director Thomas P. Campbell.
- Published on Saturday, 25 February 2012 15:31
- Category: Culture
When it comes to the issue of Muslims and Dutch politics, Geert Wilders’s “Party for Freedom” (PVV), a far right fringe group that represents a voice against what it likes to call the “Islamization of the Netherlands” and of Europe, may be the first thing that comes to mind.
If you follow the political scene in the Netherlands more closely, however, you will also hear about several Muslim politicians, some of whom serve at the highest national level. They are people like Nebahat Albayrak and Tofik Dibi who have aligned with traditional Dutch parties. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as Muslims gradually become absorbed into the national cultural landscape. Headscarves are a common sight on city streets and in classrooms, mosques are becoming more prevalent and, with the steady stream of information from the media, Islam is becoming less of an abstract idea and more of a tangible reality even to those who were previously unfamiliar with it.
However, there is still something that Muslims do not have that could potentially fill a vacuum. It’s something Christians, liberals, socialists, and even animal rights activists all have: their own political party. For Muslims in the Netherlands, national representation is awkwardly absent. But is it really that necessary?
- Published on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:25
- Category: Art
Is nothing sacred in politics these days? That is, aside from Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, whose status as the Commander of the Faithful has for years made him virtually untouchable in the press. Despite the country’s July 2011 constitutional reforms which sought to increase freedoms, the 48-year-old leader remains as unassailable and above critique as he did in June.
Although the proposed political changes challenged Mohammed VI’s immunity to criticism, the recent arrest of Walid Bahomane, an 18-year-old Facebook user whose publication of an unflattering caricature of the king reignited public debate over the legality of such depictions, reveals the extent to which paradigms deeply embedded in Moroccan culture often figure more prominently in policy than the letter of the law itself.
The state is undergoing undeniable change, and in order for the government to stave off further protests, the policing of expressive culture must be relaxed.
Last winter in Morocco, I met the renegade-street-political-cartoonist Si Ahmed, a beggar-turned-artist who makes strategic use of poverty to disseminate his subtle critiques of the regime. Walid Bahomane publication was not so subtle, nor strategic, which landed him in jail on allegations of insulting the “sacred values” of Morocco.
- Published on Friday, 10 February 2012 18:18
- Category: Film
Iran is a country with around 75 million people. However, the Islamic Republic has a number of religious minorities, including Christians, Jews and Zoarastrians. One minority, numbering around 300,000, has been singled out and persecuted at great length since the 1979 revolution.
The Baha'i faith, founded in Iran in the 19th century, is an offshoot of Shia Islam, but has been targeted by the government. Islamic officials including Ayatollah Khomenei have sanctioned that persecution. Among the laws against the Baha'i is one that bars them from receiving any form of higher education.
Co-sponsored by Amnesty International, Jeff Kaufman's new documentary, Education Under Fire, explores the Baha'i plight and the efforts of activists to bypass the education ban. In the 1980s, Baha'i citizens formed the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, a loose collection of students and teachers that provided college-level classes to members of the faith.
- Published on Friday, 03 February 2012 06:43
- Category: Art
The busy streets of Morocco’s capital city are not immune to the common signs of poverty that one would expect in the urban centers of developing nations. Beggars are never far from view in Rabat, whether young children, veiled mothers with babies still too small to walk, or displaced sub-Saharans trying to migrate “elsewhere.”
High rates of unemployment, social problems (such as lack of options for divorced women), and the lack of an organized and stable welfare sector contribute to the prevalence of begging on the streets of Morocco. As a resident of Rabat, I continually recognized familiar faces on the downtown streets. And yet, in the winter of 2011, I first encountered a strange man who captured my attention: he goes by the name of “Si Ahmed.”
- Published on Thursday, 02 February 2012 06:42
- Category: Art
British-Egyptian Mohamed Negm, is a young, self taught, emerging artist. Painting for the last five years, his work has varied from portraits, buildings, places and to his latest focus: the Egyptian revolution. With a style marked by his imagination and inspired by his surroundings, Negm has produced an outstanding number of pieces that have caught the attention of the media, galleries and exhibitions worldwide.