“Born in Baghdad in 1973, Adel Abidin currently lives and works between Helsinki and Amman. He explores the complex relationship between art, politics and identity, using a sharp palette of irony and humour to address themes of alienation and marginalization. He has presented his works in video, installation, sculpture and photography extensively throughout the world, notably at the Venice Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial (Guangzhou, China), the Sharjah Biennial (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates), the Biennale of Sydney (Sydney, Australia), the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki), the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto), the Gwangju Museum of Art (Gwangju, South Korea), the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk, Denmark), the MACRO (Rome), the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) and the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha, Qatar).”
One World Film Festival opens at the Library & Archives this weekend in Ottawa.
This weekend whether you are in the Capital of Ontario or the Capital of Canada, both cities are hosting independent film festivals with programming that offers critique to current issues, like Oil and Occupation as well as Occupation because of Oil.
In Ottawa the One World Film Festival is in it’s 25th year. It runs from Thursday September 25th to Saturday, September 27th.
THURSDAY: Above All Else @ 6:30 pm
(Includes Panel Discussion with filmmakers John Fiege and Anita Grabowski and Ben Powless of Ecology Ottawa after screening)
“an intimate portrait of a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion dollar project slated to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. They risk financial ruin, personal safety, and the security of their families as they attempt to protect their land and defend their rights. The film is both an exploration of the human spirit and a window into how social change happens in America.”More info…
FRIDAY: Virunga @ 6:30 pm (Includes Panel Discussion after the screening)
“Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last natural habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla. None of that will stop the business interests and rebel insurgencies lurking at the park’s doorstep. Orlando von Einsiedel pairs gorgeous natural scenes from Virunga with riveting footage of the Congolese crisis, raising an ardent call for conservation as a vital human enterprise. Along the way, he spotlights the incredibly dangerous work that is often required to safeguard the environment.”More info…
SATURDAY: Watchers of the Sky @ 6:00 pm & On The Side of the Road @ 8:45 pm
“WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.”More info…
“Former West Bank settler Lia Tarachansky looks at Israelis’ collective amnesia of the fateful events of 1948 when the state of Israel was born and most of the Palestinians became refugees. She follows the transformation of Israeli veterans trying uncover their denial of the war that changed the region forever. Tarachansky then turns the camera on herself and travels back to her settlement where that historical erasure gave birth to a new generation, blind and isolated from its surroundings. Attempting to shed a light on the country’s biggest taboo, she is met with outrage and violence.”More info…
Sunday includes a screening of Omar, one of my favourite movies of 2013. Along with dramas and shorts by Palestinian filmmakers, the festival also includes films about Palestine from the perspective of non-Palestinians. One example is Village Under the Forest.
“The Village Under the Forest explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under South Africa Forest. During the 1948 Nabka, more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. The Jewish National Fund raised money from around the world under the guise of ‘greening the desert’ and built forests and parks named after different countries on the remains of these villages in an attempt to erase their dark history. Writer/narrator Heidi Grunebaum revisits South Africa Forest, the forest she helped finance with the pennies she collected as a child twenty year ago. Using the forest and the ruins of Lubya as representative of a much wider process, this compelling film explores central themes of the Nakba – forced exile, erasure of memory, creating ‘facts on the ground’, and the Palestinian Right of Return.” More info…
“Making its debut at TIFF 2013, Giraffada is a light-hearted drama inspired by a true story. Ziad, a ten-year-old boy from the West Bank, spends all his free time at the Qalqilya zoo where his father Yacine (Saleh Bakri) works as the zoo’s veterinarian. In particular, Ziad has a special bond with the zoo’s two giraffes who he helps care for. Yacine, recently widowed, is determined to preserve the zoo as a haven for animals and for the local children who play there, temporarily escaping the hardships under occupation. One night, after an air strike on the city, one of Ziad’s beloved giraffes dies. The surviving giraffe stops eating due to the loss of her mate. Yacine is determined to save her by bringing in a new giraffe but the only zoo that can help him is in Tel Aviv. Yacine and Ziad are committed to doing whatever it takes to save their giraffe, even if it means breaking the law. Giraffada, which stars Mohammad Bakri (In Attendance), is a unique portrayal of childhood under occupation.”
Last week at Beit Zatoun TPFF hosted a talk on New Directions in Indigenous Cinema with Jesse Wente (Director of Film Programmes & curator of TIFF’s 2012 program First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition) and Rasha Salti (TIFF Programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema). Rasha discussed the historical and contemporary context of Palestinian cinema. There is a lot to be learned! The documentary Cinema Palestine offers more insight.
“Cinema Palestine is a poetic documentary which explores the life and work of multiple generations of Palestinian filmmakers and media artists. Based on in-depth interviews with a wide range of Palestinian artists living in the Middle East, as well as North American and Europe, the film documents the emergence of a Palestinian narrative through film, the relevance of film to the Palestinian national struggle and the relationship between art, personal experience and politics in one of the most contested landscapes in the world. The film features interviews with numerous filmmakers screened at TPFF including: Annemarie Jacir, Rashid Masharawi, Mohammad Bakri, Najwa Najjar, Hany Abu-Asad, Nasri Hajjaj and Mai Masri. A post-Screening Panel featuring Tim Schwab, Mohammad Bakri and Mais Darwazah will follow the film, with our guests further exploring the role of Palestinian cinema in the emergence of the Palestinian narrative.”
Screenings for the TPFF take place at TIFF and the AGO’s Jackman Hall. For full schedule details click here.
Multiculturalism – one side of many multiple stories.
In a single day, as I cover events, I may spend time in one space that is about design thinking then another that is about curation. I may go from an event on government policy to one on social innovation. Sometimes these spaces may be more straight than queer or more queer than straight. They are religious, agnostic, humanist, and sometimes self-helpish.
They might be Arab or Anishinaabeg spaces and the rituals, protocols and ceremonies change.
It’s a rich way to exist. It’s also complicated.
Because no matter if it is about profession, spirituality or cultural / sexual identity wherever I go everyone is trying to figure out who the hell they are and what the heck does it all mean when you put it into the context of communities that mingle and merge but often overlook the deeper complexities of diversity – most importantly the distinction between Immigrant and Indigenous narratives in Canada.
The narrative of ‘Multiculturalism’ makes invisible the story of the First Peoples. I would argue that was part of the plan. By placing ‘Canada the Good’ on the marquee with a storyline ‘Celebration of a Cultural Mosaic’ the light required to illuminate the systematic oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada instead casts a long shadow.
Initiatives like The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have now turned the spotlight onto that darkness but as the hearings come to a close, with so much being said, how do we move forward and ensure all the voices speaking are getting heard?
We listen – actively, deeply and with a commitment to sit with the uncomfortableness that comes when you bear witness to someone else’s pain.
The legacy of colonization is a culture built on the instability of over-consumption and hyper-consumerism that thrives on distraction. If that isn’t addressed, living in a world with a multiplicity of voices is going to be problematic because the process of engaged listening is at odds with a society that functions by keeping people in a detached state of insecurity and need.
The government may change but most likely it won’t. In the meantime we can recognize that people aren’t pie charts. We can colour code demographics and cover souls with blanket statements but then we will lose the emotional prosperity that comes when human beings learn how sit and be still with each other despite the surrounding noise.
The images in this post are from this past weekend’s events in Ottawa – The Book Launch of Min Fami at Octopus Books and Niigaan in Conversation at Carleton University. The quotes on the images of each woman demonstrate how many thoughtful people I encounter on any given day. It’s what makes me believe that a new space can be created regardless of systems in place that often seem beyond our control. To all the women I had the opportunity to listen to this weekend – Chi Miigwetch / شكرا.
MIN FAMI: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space and Resistance
“Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance is an anthology that cradles the thoughts of Arab feminists, articulated through personal critical narratives, academic essays, poetry, short stories, and visual art. It is a meeting space where discussions on home(land), exile, feminism, borders, gender and sexual identity, solidarity, language, creative resistance, and (de)colonization are shared, confronted, and subverted. In a world that has increasingly found monolithic and one-dimensional ways of representing Arab womyn, this anthology comes as an alternate space in which we connect on the basis of our shared identities, despite physical, theoretical, and metaphorical distances, to celebrate our multiple voices, honour our ancestry, and build community on our own terms, and in our own voices.”
IIGAAN’s Oshkadis Chineekaneech: The Youth Will Lead
Niigaan is an Anishinaabemowin word for leading into the future. Oshkadis Chineekaneech Is the Anishinaabemowin phrase that translates The Youth Will Lead.
“Niigaan: In conversation is an opportunity for settler Canadians to hear and respond to what Indigenous Peoples have been saying: Canada has not committed itself to addressing the colonial relationship it still has with indigenous peoples. Canada is in denial about that relationship. It is fair to say that most Canadians believe that kind of relationship no longer exists. We are trying to tell you that that is wrong.
The results of our work will be another step towards the continual positive development of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-native Canadians. The main end result will be to provide an engaging and focused space to encourage discussion, learn our collective history and to move forward to the future.”
When Worlds Collide How Do You Return Back to Home?
Last Friday I experienced Akram Khan’s DESH at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Akram is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary dancers / choreographers and like so many people in the 21st Century he is attempting to perform a balancing act between two (or more) worlds. There is the England of his own biography peppered with the history of the Bangladesh his parents left when they came from Dhaka to Wimbledon where Akram was born.
Once caught mimicking Michael Jackson dance moves, Akram (who also credits being inspired by the moves of Bruce Lee, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin) was immediately put into Kathak classes – his parents attempt to keep him rhythmically attuned to the sub-continent rather than the beat of American pop culture.
Eventually though the mash-up masala that London was produced this phenomenon of a performer who brilliantly synthesizes Occident and Orient into the most moving experiences for his audiences. Akram has also worked with other Brits who have built their careers around the psychological space created by cultural hybridity – writer Hanif Kureishi (Sammie & Rosie Get Laid, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia), internationally renowned artist Sir Anish Kapoor, and musician-composer-producer Nitin Sawhney who has worked with musical ‘fusion-aries’ like Natacha Atlas, Cheb Mami, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and most recently produced the score for Canadian director Deepha Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – a poignant narrative on the agony and the ecstasy of hovering between many states of being.
“Contemporary dance can have more ambiguity which means it can also have many more stories”
DESH (which means homeland in Bangla) starts in a pre-Partition place then moves forward and backward through memories around the birth of modern day Bangladesh and the genesis of the dancer’s career in Great Britain.
When asked after his NAC performance if DESH is based on the biography of his and his father’s lives Akram replies “it was personal, but not so much to be about me but to be universal.” Akram and his team went to Bangladesh to gather stories they could link to his own and from that experience arose DESH. He went on to say that in contemporary dance there is more ambiguity in the delivery so the interpretation is able to hit closer to home for more people regardless of whether the audience has a historical connection to the story.
The miracle of multiplicity.
A day after viewing DESH I found myself at DOPPELGANGING: A Master Class held at Galerie SAW Gallery and facilitated by Kuwati-born Palestianian-American media artist Basma Alsharif. Basma’s Master Class was based on her struggles as an artist and human being to come to terms with her own shifting identity(s). She relates that when in America she would put on her American identity like a cloak. On the family’s yearly visits back to Palestine she would switch her psychological attire. She would flip flop back and forth with desire for the place she wasn’t physically in “living two lives separated from each other but existing at the same time.” She says she began to “perform” her identities “either defending an identity or denying it” and always trying to find a way to solidify all of herself(s).
The Story of Milk and Honey قصة حليب و عسل
“I decided to explore the psychology of endless travel, isolation and escapism…I discovered a letter without an envelope or address”
The question she put to us – is there a way to take this bifurcation of our beings and turn it into a position of strength?
I would argue that many already have.
At a time when we have a multiplicity of narratives these voices did not descend into dissonance, rather they have become a well articulated melody that many hear.
The ability of artists to translate the universality of experience is what helps us remember how to listen to each others words and respect our shared humanity.
We all understand a desire for home, for sovereignty of state, for peace of mind.
Cultural provocateurs, like Akram and Basma, offer us a road map to recover the treasure of deep empathy and a way back to “home”.