The portrayal of Arabs nowadays is always stereotypical: terrorism, ignorance, toughness. The mainstream image is the furthest from spotlighting beauty, tenderness, and art; something that the Arab Arts Focus (AAF) programme at the biggest art festival in the world—the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—aims to change.
The programme comes as a promising result of an intensive collaboration work between Cairo’s finest art production platform—Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF)—with the Tamasi Collective, Orient Productions, and Scotland’s Kenmure Productions.
The groundbreaking programme presents the tremendous beauty of Arab talents by showcasing several art theatre shows at three of the international festival venues. The festival will take place from 4-27 August.
Capturing the hearts of attendees would not be hard to achieve with Syrian refugees as storytellers, who revived their journey back to life from total destruction, either a play portraying the Muslims mainstream image in a funny, light way.
From contemporary theatre and visual arts to dance performances and spellbinding talks, the programme witnesses the participation of young talents from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Morocco.
With eight different live performances, the AAF portrays different forms of struggles in the Arab world through heartwarming performances.
The AAF aims to increase awareness on the diversity of Arab art through challenging current stereotypes and encouraging positive discussions on the work of Arabic artists in an effort to create a wider understanding of the region at a time when it is most needed.
“The Arab Arts Focus in Edinburgh will present some of the finest new theatre work from the region,” said Ahmed El-Wattar, artistic director of D-CAF, and Ahmed El Attar. The general manager of Orient Productions, Ahmed El Attar, said, “We hope that this creates room for underrepresented narratives to facilitate the possibility of future exchanges and collaborations between artists and institutions from the Arab world and those from Scotland and the UK.”
“Love, Bombs, and Apples” is one of the showcased plays. The Palestinian show presents the political dilemma in Arab countries in a cheerful way. By portraying Muslims who successfully travelled to the US, yet failed to recover from what they had endured in their hometowns in Palestine and the battlefield of Syria, actor Hassan Abdel Razik, who also wrote the play, highlights the misleading stereotype people have about Islam.
Presenting the long Arab legacy is also another thing that “The Elephant, Your Majesty!” aims to showcase.
The art of storytelling has found its way to light for the first time in the Arab region, an art that was long after abandoned, except for some artists who wouldn’t let go of it.
By telling their stories to the world, teenage Syrian refugees explore elements of identity and tragedy before a global audience at Edinburgh, in the storytelling play “The Elephant, Your Majesty!”
The issue of refugees is also spotlighted in another show. “Taha” is a live show that examines the real experiences of refugees through presenting the life of a celebrated Palestinian poet in a tale of sorrow, humour, resilience, and tender humanity.
The Syrian Civil War is a connecting line to most of the shows. “Your Love is Fire” takes the audience to the details of the brutality of daily life in a war zone. Through displaying the people’s inner conflicts, fears, and self struggles, the story depicts the life of people who only dream of surviving.
Human struggle is another connecting chain to all of the eight live shows. In the Lebanese performance “Jogging”, the audience is introduced to a Lebanese woman in her fifties pacing through various roles, characters, desires, aspirations, and disappointments while doing her daily jog. The complexity of human emotions will also be tackled in “Jihan’s Smile”, a child performance that tells the story of an ordinary child losing her smile and the arduous road to regain it.
“We hope that the AAF catalyses the participating artists’ careers and contributes to the development of the independent performing arts scene in the Arab region,” said Amany Abou Zeid, the executive director of Tamasi Collective.
“We anticipate that the show acts as a platform where local and international audiences and artists can have meaningful exchanges concerning the interplay of art, geography, identity, and society at this critical historical juncture,” she concluded.
The programme also provides the audience with the dynamics of contemporary dancing in its status quo and its future in the Middle East.
“Mayhkomsh” and “Running Away” are two dance shows to enchant audiences in a Palestinian/Egyptian double bill of modern dancing that focuses on identity, homeland, and societal pressures, all while questioning what it means to be Arab nowadays.