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Arts Activism Projects: Middle East

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As both my readers know, I believe the arts are how we connect to, discover, challenge, deeply converse with, and transform ourselves, our communities, our world.  In previous blogs, I have looked at Performance as Protest, and highlighted a number of practices and projects in North America and abroad;  below I am sharing two incredible arts movements in the Middle East that foster a growing sense of freedom, empowerment, and "voice".

Free Running GazaThe first, from an article by George Azar and Mariam Shahin (link below) is about a performance form called "free running", which is like parkours and movement improv mushed together. Youth in an isolated and forgotten section of Gaza finsd freedom and a way to speak to the world in a way where the limits become the liftoffs.

"Named for the trading clan that once dominated it, Akkad is one of those places where even aid workers, who now visit the Gaza Strip in increasing numbers, never seem to come. It is hardly on the map.

For thousands of years, small cities like Khan Yunis were central to the trade routes that connected Egypt and Africa to Arabia. It was to Gaza City that the Makkan merchant Hashim ibn ‘Abd Manaf, great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, came to trade; he died there in 497 ce while heading a caravan. To Palestinians who relish their Islamic history, the capital of the Gaza Strip is still known as Ghazzat Hashim, “Hashim’s Gaza.”Free Running Gaza fb

To the young people who make up more than half of the Strip’s population of 1.7 million, Gaza’s historic role connecting cultures and continents makes up part of an identity intimately tied to the freedom of movement and travel enjoyed by most of the world’s population but routinely, almost universally, denied them today.

It is here in Khan Yunis, in Akkad, that in 2008 Mohammed Al-Jakhbeer and Abdullah Enshasi began practicing “free running.” Jumping from rooftop to windowsill to the ground, running along Akkad’s unpaved, sandy alleys, they found a way to both express themselves and reclaim a sense of freedom in movement."

- See more at: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201206/free.running.gaza.htm#sthash.aUCobMS9.dpufLeila Essaydi, “Les Femmes du Moroc #7,” 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Waterhouse & Dodd.

This second article, by Juliet Highet, is about a movement in visual arts, using silence as a voice. I don't know how else to describe it. I hope these two projects inspire you and your work as much as they have me and mine.""Middle Eastern artists, whether they live in that culturally kaleidoscopic (and ill-defined) region or outside it, are at the center of one of the world’s most dynamic movements in contemporary art.

Leila Essaydi, “Les Femmes du Moroc #7,” 2005. Courtesy of the artist and Waterhouse & Dodd.
Shadi Ghadirian, from “The Qajar Series,” 1998-1999. Courtesy of the artist.
Shadi Ghadirian, from “The Qajar Series,” 1998-1999. Courtesy of the artist

Their work is suffused by themes of identity, memory, grief, rage and a sense of belonging to ( or alienation from) the place or culture in which they live. The traumatic ruptures of wars, exile and migration that have affected them all are partly responsible—but a different consciousness has emerged in the last few years. What’s new is a cultural confidence and optimism, stemming from the fact of survival and the rising expectations that go with global recognition of the quality of their art."

Read more at http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201103/mideast.cool.htm

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