Shubbak (meaning “window” in Arabic) is about to open in London – July 11 – 25, 2015. The city’s largest biennial festival of Arab culture was founded in 2011 by the Mayor of London. The 2013 event presented more than 55 events across 42 venues, attracting an audience of more than 50,000 people.
Egypt will be well represented in this year’s festival. Andeel, co-founder of Egypt’s comic magazine Tok-Tok and political cartoonist Tarek Shahin will join a panel on graphic novels. There are performances by Egyptian jazz-rock fusion band Massar Egbari and a performance of The Tree Climber by Tawfik Al Hakeem, just to name a few. An Eid festival on Trafalgar Square will celebrate the end of Ramadan on July 25.
Right in the midst of all the attention to Arab culture will be a small, dynamic and thought-provoking exhibit at the P21 Gallery: The Map is Not the Territory. Thirty-nine artists, mostly Palestinian, Native American and Irish, look at the relationships and common themes in the Palestinian, Native American, and Irish experiences of invasion, occupation and colonization. “It is a smart show that illustrates how we cannot achieve change unless we understand history,” says curator Jennifer Heath, who writes widely on the Middle East and Afghanistan and conceived the novel premise behind this exhibit. Co-curator Dagmar Painter previously hosted the exhibit at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al Quds in Washington.
In the words of the curators, the artists’ “images in the exhibit are details of a larger picture that stands for all who have suffered everywhere – and will one day triumph.” The exhibit is deeply creative and provocative. Although it can also be troubling and confounding, there is strength and perhaps even hope in realizing a shared experience across disparate cultures and times.
The exhibit is grouped around themes:
- Conflict/resistance – “slaughter is often met with slaughter”
- Land/food – “Palestinians, Native Americans and Irish share a deep reverence for the land”
- Overlay/identity – “American Indians are the Palestinians of the United States, and the Palestinians are the American Indians of the Middle East,” (Russell Means, 2009)
- Words/persistence – “Our stories are anchors that teach us to remember, to endure, to act courageously, to look adversity in the eye and maintain our faith that justice must and can prevail.”
- Home/diaspora – “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
Washington Post reviewer Mark Jenkins called “Beit/Salaam” by Helen Zughaib “a gentle mantra for a show that’s more often bristling.” Tiny Arabic calligraphy repeats the words "Beit/Salaam" - "Peace/Home" in seemingly endless circles. "Circling round and round, as if in meditation, calling Peace/Home, Home/Peace," writes the artist. A Palestinian viewer told the artists, “Your artwork brings us closer to God.”
Mary Tuma was born to a mother of Irish descent and a Palestinian father. She studied art in Kerdassa, Egypt, and says of her "Lingering Presence" image above: "We are part of the fabric of the place, sewn in layers, patched, and rewoven...We will always be home, even as we long for home."
Curator Dagmar Painter quoted Palestinian intellectual Edward Said who said, “Let the power of culture triumph over the culture of power.” Painter added that the artists in this exhibit “tapped into their deepest feelings about loss of identity, of home, sometimes even of life, and created powerful art that will triumph over the culture of power…”
You can see many of the images online here and share your reflections below. The Map is Not the Territory will be on display in London until July 25. Beginning September 5, it will be at the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. On January 22, 2016, it will open at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. A full catalogue of essays, art and poetry is now available as well. I encourage you to follow the exhibit on Facebook.