Born out of the ashes of conflicts that tore the Middle East apart, the Shubbak Festival has held to its promise to support and celebrate the diversity of Arab artists, their creativity and innovation through its professional and engagement programmes, national touring and biennial multi-artform festival. The Shubbak Festival is in fact the UK's largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture and it brings new and unexpected voices alongside established artists to London every two years. Its ambitious programme connects London audiences and communities with the best of contemporary Arab visual arts, film, music, theatre, dance, literature and debate.
And this year, instead of shrinking due to the Covid-19 pandemic and related constrictions, the Shubbak is going across borders and through different lands to bring together DJ sets, Hip Hop, rap and trap legends, re-imagined classics, installations in iconic settings, films and audio guided tours of an imaginary city. Their Facebook page states proudly: "We are live in London, online and broadcasting from Beirut, Gaza, Marrakech, Slemani, Riyadh, Khartoum and Doha."
How did artists throughout the Arab world react to the pandemic? Beautifully, if we follow their journey through the Shubbak programme. Eckhard Thiemann, Shubbak Festival Artistic Director explained "in London we present a live programme of events in bold and imaginative formats. Outdoor audio-guided walks and performances encourage you to experience our city as real and imaginary, transporting you to different places to meet original characters. New collaborations and commissions from the freshest UK and international music and spoken word talent are shared in close-up encounters in our city’s re-opened venues." While fewer artists from the MENA are able to travel to London this year, Thiemann pointed to those performances coming from throughout the world to audiences online. You can "be transported to a theatre in Germany for a world premiere by a Syrian theatre company, tune into livestreams from locations including Riyadh, Khartoum, Gaza, Doha and Slemani."
Thiemann continues, "discover the burgeoning hip hop scene in The Gulf through our commissioned film or lose yourself in the immersive sounds of four DJ/VJ sets from Casablanca, Tunis, Cairo and Algiers. Our collective Young Shubbak commissioned 14 young SWANA artists to work on the theme ‘community’. This is our most multi-centred and dispersed Shubbak yet, taking you right into the centre of creativity in Arab and international cities."
Among MIME's favourites are a free exhibit of contemporary art from the MENA titled "Reflections" on display at the British Museum from the 17th May to 15th August, as well as "Far From You Is Near", a series of dance films curated by the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival. 'The Land's Heart is Greater than Its Map', a multi-sensory performance slash guided tour of sorts at the Barbican theater, created by Ramzi Maqdisi and Olivia Furber, then a bilingual karaoke -- yes you read that right! -- and Cairo KitKat Club, a live, experimental, digital performance by the HaRaKa Platform. This latter, "was shot on location in Cairo, NYC, and Berlin, including the forgotten site of Egypt’s Kit Kat Club, which has since been replaced with a bus station, mosque, and new subway station, the iconic Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa ETC (NYC), and the Kit Kat Club in Berlin - the first time cameras have been allowed in the notorious nightclub," the programme explains.
But there is so much more, which you'll be able to explore on the Shubbak website.
This edition of the Shubbak Festival runs from the 20th of June to the 17th of July, 2021.
Header photo: The Land's Heart is Greater than its Map | Ramzi Maqdisi & Olivia Furber | Original photo: Hadeel Sameera -- courtesy of Shubbak Festival