Arts and Culture in the Mideast
- Published on Sunday, 08 January 2012 00:00
- Category: Literature
The Baghdad Country Club, by Joshua Bearman, is the story of the one watering hole in the Green Zone during the height of the war's worst years. After several years in country, one soldier of fortune realized there was nowhere to sit down and have a drink, and when he happened into a local connection to booze by the container, he soon found himself in the wartime hospitality business.
While it lasted, the Baghdad Country Club was something like the Rick's Cafe Americain of Baghdad: the only place anyone could go, get dinner, a glass of wine, and commiserate with others about what was going out there, beyond the fortified walls of the Green Zone.
The following is an excerpt from Bearman’s piece.
Iraqis have a word, barra, which means "out there," and for those lucky enough to be inside the Green Zone came to mean the rest of Baghdad, the bedlam beyond the T-walls. As the insurgency reached fever pitch in 2006, Iraqis and Americans alike were terrified that barra would not stay out there but come in here, that the war would breach the perimeter, that the place would collapse and there would be a mad scramble to evacuate, like Saigon in '75.
- Published on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 00:00
- Category: Film
In the ever-growing canon of Iranian filmmaking, one name unmistakably stands out: Abbas Kiarostami. Since staking out his reputation as an internationally acclaimed director and screenwriter, his films, though deceptively simple in structure, have become famous for taking on complex issues: the legitimacy of suicide in Taste of Cherry; gender equality in The Wind Will Carry Us; Iran’s socio-political landscape as seen through the eyes of one woman in Ten; and most recently, relationship drama Certified Copy, his second film shot and produced outside of Iran.
Among Kiarostami’s entourage of critics and supporters, only a minority have garnered more acclaim than Geoff Andrew, who takes his expertise on the filmmaker a step further. While other film scholars just simply respect Kiarostami’s work from an academic distance, Andrew is one of the few people who brought his admiration for the filmmaker under a more analytical and speculative lens, which has played a significant role in introducing Kiarostami to the western audience. Andrew’s 2005 book, 10, looks at Kiarostami’s challenging 2002 film of the same name, carefully weaving his commentary on the film’s political and aesthetic relevance with the broader contexts of Kiarostami’s career and Iran’s international film culture.
Film scholar and Aslan Media Contributor Ehsan Khoshbakht sat down with Andrew in London’s National Film Theatre to talk about Kiarostami’s use of craft and narrative, as well as the future challenges he faces making films abroad as a result of censorship in Iran.
- Published on Tuesday, 03 January 2012 00:00
- Category: Art
As a medium, comic books offer a range and breadth of possibilities. They can tell the stories of viking feuds, interpersonal relationships, or superhero epics. Whatever the creative team can come up with can be put to the page. And although it might sound unlikely, that’s what makes it the perfect medium to explore historical turning points.
Operation Ajax, the new motion comic app from Cognito Comics and writer Mike de Seve, uses that canvas to offer a visual narrative on one of the biggest moments in modern Iranian history: the 1953 CIA coup d’etat that overturned the country’s fledgling democracy and reinstalled Muhammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. Taking its cue from Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men, the mobile comic covers the lead up to, and the events around the coup. It even goes into the politcial context of the coup both in Iran and in Europe and the United States. De Seve takes the story through the early parts of the 20th Century, introducing Mohammad Mosaddegh, the charismatic prime minister of the country who would launch a democratic revolution against the Shah before being ousted by the CIA.
- Published on Wednesday, 28 December 2011 00:00
- Category: Art
The story sounds like a dinner party gone wrong.
Initially invited to the table of the 2011 Lacoste-Elysee Prize for up-and-coming photographers, Palestinian-born Larissa Sansour suddenly found herself removed from the shortlist, barred from the prestigious 25,000 Euro award, and, most importantly, silenced. Organizers added insult to injury by asking her to sign a statement of “voluntary” withdrawal. She refused.
Lacoste’s photography prize (now cancelled) invited artists to submit a series of three images, based on the theme “joie de vivre,” or “happiness.” Sansour’s submissions initially proved acceptable to the jury, who awarded her 4,000 Euro for working expenses.
- Published on Thursday, 01 December 2011 05:36
- Category: Film
With Norway still recovering from the devastating terrorist attack by Christian fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik last July, a new Norwegian television series called Taxi claims to challenge the established prejudices surrounding how ethnic minorities and “native” Norwegians interact.
Unfortunately, anyone who expected that to actually be the premise of the show would have found it disappointing at best and, at worst, detrimental to any further dialogue and understanding.
- Published on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 00:00
- Category: Art
What does liberation really mean? Words spoken without fear of death by torture? Or images spray-painted on the side of a building where a sniper once perched?
Graffiti as art serves as a powerful depiction of a nation’s history, leaving a timeless act of defiance in public settings. In Tunisia and Egypt, graffiti featured satirical images of respective dictators, but just the sheer volume of the Libyan graffiti alone sets it apart as a remarkable phenomenon. While a few bold lines called for freedom on buildings in Tunisia, and Egyptian walls featured demands for the ousting of Mubarak-as-last-Pharaoh, in Libya, multiple layers of images and multi-lingual text flood the eye—no space is left untouched in a frenzy of free expression. Forty two years of pent up defiance explodes on every possible surface. This is the symbolic legacy of Muammar Gaddafi.
More than just the cliched “writing on the wall,” these images narrate the stakes of the revolution and the gravity of ordinary Libyans rising up against their dictator.
- Published on Sunday, 13 November 2011 00:00
- Category: Culture
TLC’s show, All-American Muslim, premiering tonight, Sunday, November 13th, will be mainstream America’s first glimpse into the lives of a largely feared, little-known about group of compatriots: Muslim Americans.
A year ago, a “Muslim Cosby Show” was an idea Katie Couric suggested, and a concept that Muslim-Americans embraced; mainstream media outlets dismissed the notion as simplistic and bird-brained. “Earth to Katie,” wrote New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, “African-Americans, Eskimos, or imbecilic white ladies didn’t fly planes into the World Trade Center. Try again, genius.” But then, neither did the 1.8 million Muslims who also call the United States home, living very ordinary non-24-esque lives and managing to maintain the average American balance of nationality and faith. Yet like predecessors The Cosby Show and The George Lopez Show, “ordinary” for an American minority can be very abnormal to those on the outside. But, reality has a way of deflating stereotypes.
- Published on Thursday, 03 November 2011 01:00
- Category: Literature
The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa have toppled one dictator at a time from Ben Ali, Mubarak and just recently, Gaddafi in a remarkably tenacious struggle for democracy and freedom. This grassroots movement has captured the attention of the world with today’s rapid-fire news feed and communication networks. How were ordinary citizens in these countries able to unravel the seams of the authoritarian regimes in such a short time?
Who is responsible for instigating the chain of events? ‘Sandstorm: a leaderless revolution in the digital age’ by Adeel A. Shah and Sheheryar T. Sardar, attempts to deconstruct the story of this unique youth-powered uprising with the help of modern technology.