Shubbak Festival lets Arab artists say what matters

Badke - © Danny Willems
Badke - © Danny Willems

London’s largest biennial festival Shubbak celebrates contemporary Arab culture and art with an ambitious and exciting program. From 11 to 25 July, the festival organises concerts, performances, screenings, debates, exhibitions, and installations. While negative news about the Arab world dominates the media, Shubbak gives a voice to over 100 international artists.

The Shubbak festival reveals the amazing breadth and depth of creative talent in the Arab region. Not only initiating an important dialogue concerning current perceptions of the Arab world, it challenges stereotypes and breaks down boundaries. “Never before has the Arab world been more reported on in the media. Now is the time to hear from Arab artists who speak powerfully about what matters to them,” emphasize artistic director Eckhard Thiemann and festival director Daniel Gorman. “Their voices may be personal and reflective, or loud and provocative, celebratory or inquisitive, but what unites them is that they make us think afresh and see the world differently.”

 The first days of the festival were diverse and fascinating. Here are some highlights of the program for the next days.


Another Day Lost – © Issam Kourbaj

Another Day Lost is a series of installations across five sites, inspired by and based on the Syrian refugee crisis, by Syrian-born Issam Kourbaj. These installations resemble ‘camps’ constructed out of waste material, such as medicine packaging and discarded books. The ‘tents’ are marked with Kourbaj’s distinctive black lines, based on Arabic calligraphy and traditional mourning ribbons, and encircled with a ‘fence’ of used matches. On the first day of the festival, there are 1,579 matches in every ‘fence’, and another match will be added for every day of the exhibition, resulting in a total of 1593 matches by the end of two weeks on display. Each match represents a day lost since the beginning of the Syrian uprising.


Family portrait with peacock (“Dancing, Smoking, Kissing” series), 2013 silk thread embroidery on embroidered silk cloth by Raed Yassin Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki

Lebanese artist Raed Yassin places his works into the unique surroundings of London’s most famous orientalist 19th century artist’s house. The exhibition includes Yassin Dynasty, a series of beautiful porcelain vases made in the Chinese porcelain capital Jingdezhen, depicting battles from the Lebanese civil war. The colourful, intimate and ornamental embroideries of the series Dancing, Smoking, Kissing stitch together memories and recollections from the artist’s childhood in the absence of photographic records. Raed Yassin’s work draws on personal narratives, setting them against a collective history or tradition through the lens of consumer culture and mass production.


The NOMAD – © Khalid Shafir

The Nomad is a contemporary architectural reinterpretation of the Arish, a traditional Gulf house made from palm trees and fronds. Using similar modular building techniques designer Khalid Shafar offers a new outdoor design which functions both as a social space and a sculptural installation.


Cities of Salt

One of the most interesting parts of the music strand at Shubbak is the world premiere of scenes from Cities Of Salt, the opera by Syrian composer Zaid Jabri based on Abdelrahman Munif’s Gulf oil-discovery novel set in the 1930s: oil has been discovered in the Gulf. The Bedouin men and women of one small oasis are caught in the whirlwind of forces embodied by the oil industry and the local oligarchy; a new epoch is being born.


Top Goon – © Masasit Mati

Masasit Mati is one of the most influential activist artists’ collectives from Syria. In 2011, as the Syrian uprising began, they created the seminal Top Goon, an online series of sarcastic and irreverent puppet theatre films. Top Goon reached more than 180,000 YouTube hits, becoming a defining internet sensation. Now dispersed across several countries, the creators reunite for the first time again to create Top Goon Reloaded: Intimate Diaries of Evil.

A homage to Michel Kheifi

The celebrated Palestinian director Michel Khleifi is 65 this year and Shubbak has invited him to mark this occasion by curating the festival’s main film programme: a themed, personal selection from his own films in dialogue with works of Arab and European cinema. Spread across three venues, the season explores representations of Palestine and the Arab in European cinema, as well as the struggle for the emancipation of women.

And there is more to discover, such as Shubbak’s literature festival and the Eid Festival on Trafalgar Square on July 25.

Check out the full schedule for Shubbak 2015 online:


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