A Window Into Arab Culture

“Shubbak” translates from Arabic to English as “window;” accordingly, London’s largest biennial of Arabic art provides a window on the contemporary culture of the Arab world. The biennial’s third installment will present its most ambitious programme, with UK premieres and new cutting-edge visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature and architectural commissions from artists across the Arab world. The festival programme invites a huge range of artists to speak in a multitude of voices about what matters deeply to them, connecting Arab artists with London audiences and exposing the links between London and the current Arab climate.

The festival takes place across London institutions such as Barbican, Cine Lumiere, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, ICA, The Place, the British Museum, British Library, Leighton House, Southbank Centre, Delfina Foundation, Hayward Gallery, Royal Opera House, The Mosaic Rooms, the Young Vic and Rich Mix – covering North, South, East and West of the capital.

Highlights of the festival will begin with the opening concert at Barbican, featuring the twelve members of the Beirut-based Asil Ensemble and Morocco-based singer Karima Skalli who will perform the music of Umm Kulthoum, a legendary Egyptian singer who is still regarded as the greatest in Arabic history, amongst poetry and oud music. Further events at the Barbican include an audiovisual performance developed by Kuwaiti multi-media artist Zahed Sultan and Arabic film programming in Barbican Cinema.

Prestigious venues continue with Sadler’s Wells where Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza performs three works in one evening, and the Royal Opera House, in which the world-premiere of the first four scenes of Cities of Salt will be performed: a new opera developed by award-winning Syrian composer Zaid Jabri, after Peter Theroux’s translation of the famous novel by Abdel Rahman Munif. The opera draws Arab and European traditions into the classical Western symphony, for a stunning work of fusion. Meanwhile, nearby in Trafalgar Square, Shubbak will provide three hours of music to Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan.

For Shubbak the British Library hosts an entire weekend of talks, readings and children’s storytelling sessions from some of the finest writers from across the Arab World such as Elias Khoury, Mourid Barghouti, Leila Abouleila, Abdelkader Benali, Rasha Abbas, Ahmed Saadawi, Daniel Newman, Rafif Ziadeh, Asia Alfasi, Saud Alsanousi and Yasmine Khan.

The British Museum will also hold a day dedicated to the festival with Radouan Mriziga producing intricate Moroccan floor drawings through dance and 12m long floor drawings created by Egyptian artist Nazir Tanbouli, while the lecture theatre’s Disappearing Cities of the Arab World sees artists discuss the changes in urban life in the Arab world due to destruction, war and redevelopment.

Over the river at the Southbank Centre Belgian artists Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero and Hildegard De Vuyst will show Badke, a production in collaboration with ten Palestinian dancers, reinventing the traditional dabke dance with international dance and circus additions.

Finally, on the Mall at the ICA film director Michel Khleifi curates a selection of masterworks of Arab and European cinema, shown alongside a great deal of his own oeuvre.

Shubbak Festival, 11-26 July, multiple venues across London. For more information visit www.shubbak.co.uk

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1. Zaid Jabri, Cities of Salt. Courtesy of Shubbak Festival.