|There is perhaps no region so much the focus of world attention today as the Middle East. Public perception is dominated by a combination of issues from the widest range of interests: Arab nationalism, religious fundamentalism, socialist party politics, the interests of minorities. This often obscures the fact that the early Arab metropolises are the birthplaces of cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity in practice, and that in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq a new and lively contemporary arts scene has developed. Over a period of eight weeks, DisORIENTation will be giving the first comprehensive presentation of this current Arab artistic output in Germany, with exhibitions, theatre, concerts, cinema, readings and panel discussions.
The new generation of artists represents a change of paradigm in the artistic development of the Middle East. It deals just as critically with the West's view of the Orient as it does with the social, moral and political conditions in its own region. This also manifests itself in the problem of censorship, increasingly dealt with by artists themselves and provoked by the confrontation of tabooed subjects such as homosexuality, female sexuality or the conflict between western and eastern forms of living. This new art is political art, but not as political statement and not as political commitment. Rather it is art which reflects and breaks down moral categories, political and religious forms of power.
The Orient is a construct of the Western world. This projected image also shaped cultural self-perception in the Middle East over a century of colonisation and liberation. While the current arts, cultural and academic scene in the Arab world is working hard to break down these attributions, the oriental stereotypes of the 19th century live on in the Western world. This defines a fundamental aspect of the programme, which deals comprehensively with the process of enlightenment. This happens not only on a theoretical level, rather the arts projects themselves portray this altered perspective in a way that appeals very much to the senses. DisORIENTation also attempts to establish a relationship between Berlin/Central Europe and the Arab world and to show the context of artistic output there with all its social and political implications. Of crucial importance here is the setting up of an interdisciplinary laboratory with selected artists from the region, who will be producing work in Berlin for the project and entering into an exchange with artists and partners from Berlin and the rest of Germany.
DisORIENTation is the result of direct cooperation between experts and cultural institutions in Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and the House of World Cultures in Berlin. The film programme is curated by the documentary film maker Omar Amiralay, (Paris/Damascus/Beirut). The director of the Young Arab Theatre Fund (Cairo/Brussels), Tarek Abou El Fetouh, is responsible for the Performing Arts section, and Jack Persekian, founder and head of the Anadiel Gallery and director of the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem, for the art exhibition.
In the DisORIENTation youth programme "Exposed World", photographic material, together with videos and films, is used as a basis to develop joint projects with Arab artists on the theme of remembrance and history, and to explore Arab community locations in Berlin.
DisORIENTation ? the Exhibition
>>> 20 March - 11 May 2003
Is there such a thing as contemporary Arab art? What does the term Arab mean to us today? How severely have the attacks of 11 September shaken our perception of the Arab world? The DisORIENTation exhibition examines old and current views of the Orient, which have become topical again since 11 September. In the exhibition thirteen Arab artists give individual answers to attempts at collective generalisation. They want neither to be representatives of a national art - which continues to be cultivated in their countries - nor to allow themselves to be marginalised into the ethnic ghetto of exoticism and differentness. What unites their works in their singularity is the attitude "to resist and fight stereotyping and consequent death of genuinely living things", writes the curator of the exhibition Jack Persekian, who lives in East Jerusalem.
All the artists will be represented in two sections at the House of World Cultures, new output and work that has already been shown in the region. The work created in Berlin will relate to the local situation and take into account the criteria of communication and perception for pictures from the so-called Arab world. Some of the artists will further develop their work in laboratories with Berlin artists, art students and other participants. Through discussion forums, workshops and artistic collaborations, these labs are designed to reach a specialist public even before the exhibition opens and bring out the project's character of process.
With work by Ahlam Shibli (Haifa), Susan Hefuna (Germany/Egypt), Ali Jabri (Amman), Khalil Rabah (Ramallah), Jumana Emil Abboud (Jerusalem), Lara Baladi (Cairo), Moataz Nasr (Cairo), Walid Raad (Beirut/New York), Akram Zaatari (Beirut), Lamia Joreige (Beirut), Roza El-Hassan (Budapest), Jananne Al Ani (London), Salah Saouli (Berlin, Beirut)
DisORIENTation ? Word Programme
Readings, lectures and discussions will take up central topics of the Middle East which are of particular importance to the region's artists in an aesthetic, social or intellectual sense. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict presents a basic constant in the framework for the artistic output of the whole Middle Eastern region. In a reading on 21 March 2003 the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury will present his prize-winning Palestinian novel "Gate of the City" and academics from various disciplines will discuss both the historical perceptions of the conflict and the question of the extent to which it influences, shapes or impairs artistic output in the Middle East.
The second key event on 5 April 2003 deals with the question of the relationship between aesthetics and politics. Arab artists from the Middle East are perceived, internationally, very much against the background of political reality. Since the area in which the artists work is extremely politicised, they can hardly avoid their work also being seen from a political standpoint. If art is always, even if inevitably, an expression or reflection of political reality ? one of the initial theses of Documenta 11 in 2002 ? the question arises, particularly in the Middle East, as to the relationship between "creativity, crisis and criticism". The subject will be discussed at the House of World Cultures by cultural theorists, artists and gallery-owners.
As part of an exhibition in the AEDES gallery on the work of the Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, a symposium at the end of April 2003 will focus on the themes of "The Divided City? (Beirut, Jerusalem, Berlin) and "Remembrance and Forgetting?. Further events will deal with the city of Baghdad in Iraq and the women's movement in the Arab world.
DisORIENTation Music Programme
In the area of music too, people in the Middle East are experimenting and developing new things. Musicians like Mohamed Mounir, one of the most popular singers in the Arab world, represent the new audio experiences based on the background of rich traditions. The singer from the well-known Palestinian group Sabreen, Kamilya Jubran, opens Arabic song to new perspectives just as well as Ilham Al-Madfai from Iraq does. His outstanding success, with which he made classical and poetic compositions again popular among different generations, encouraged a whole generation of singers to devote attention to the highly complex forms of song. The young generation of musicians mixes musical influences from east and west in their pieces. The group Soap Kills, commuting between Beirut and Paris, combines electronic sounds with Arabic heritage; Their list of influences includes Aphex Twin and Fairuz. The Lebanese band Aks'ser brings rap to the Beirut music scene.
With: Mohamed Mounir (Egypt), Soap Kills (Beirut/Paris), Aks'ser (Beirut), Kamilya Jubran (Palestine), Ilham Al-Madfai (Iraq)
DisORIENTation Theatre Programme
While in Tunisia and to a certain extent also Morocco a new theatre has developed, with Fahdel Jaibi as an outstanding director, in large format and in direct dialogue with western theatre, in the Near East an interdisciplinary approach to the performing arts is emerging, with an experimental and political agenda. There is a small group of very young artists, especially in the Lebanon and in Egypt, which is making a radical break from the generation of Arab modernism. These performance artists and theatre-makers deal with urban space, with questions of identity between pan-Arabism, fundamentalism and current globalisation. The texts are written by the artists and in conscious contrast to traditional high Arabic theatre texts, they set store by everyday language. Characteristic of many performances is the use of new media and work with video images.
For example the Theatre works by Ahmed El-Attar from Cairo. El-Attar's grotesque-sarcastic domestic piece "Life is beautiful or Waiting for my uncle from America" provides insights into the everyday life of an Egyptian middle-class family. But the centrepiece of the programme is provided by new work which will only be completed as part of DisORIENTation. One piece is a video performance by the Beirut director Abla Khoury, which shows the 'American dreams' of three young Lebanese living in New York. The House of World Cultures has commissioned a piece from the Cairo crossover artist Sherif El Azma. His performance/video project with live DJ centres around Egyptian air hostesses.
Another key point in the programme is devoted to experimental works at the interface between performance, dance, music and the plastic arts. The House of World Cultures is working closely with the Young Arab Theatre Fund (YATF) in this. In February 2003 the YATF is opening a new theatre centre in El-Minya in middle Egypt. A new edition of the successful HWC series BACKROOM will be created there.
The artists: Ahmed el Attar, Abla Khoury, Sherif El Azma, Karima Mansour, Nermine Hamam, Khaled Hafez, Bassem Wadia, Lila Sami, Saleeb Fawzy, Jean-Paul Bourelly B.B. Hammond, Félix Sabalecco among others.
DisORIENTation Film Programm
For the film programme its curator Omar Amiralay, himself a well-known director from Syria, has chosen films which stand for the independent and innovative contemporary cinema of the Middle East. The series comprises two parallel and complementary strands. One will show works by established directors, dramatists and documentary film makers. Their artistic biographies are largely characterised by the development of a unique style and the courage to challenge the realities of life and concentrate on the core problems of society. The other will present selected works by young talents who are giving Arab cinema new and creative impetus.
In the course of the series the audience will be given the opportunity to talk to the directors about their work and film production in their home countries.
With films by Mai Masri, Oussama Mohammad, Yousry Nasrallah, Ghassan Salhab, Elia Suleiman, Akram Zaatari, Omar Amiralay and others.