On 30 June the Shubbak festival of contemporary Arab culture returns to the British Library with a day of literary events. The British Library has hosted the festival previously in 2015 and 2017. Recordings from these events can be accessed through the British Library’s Soundcloud (here and here). This year, in addition to panels on new feminist and queer writing, and historical fiction, the festival will also features spotlight sessions on specific authors, and two creative installations by Moroccan artist Aïcha El Beloui and Saudi design practice Bricklab. Details of the programme can be found below and tickets can be purchased through the British Library website.
THE ENDLESS WAVE: New Feminist Writing, hosted by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
12 pm–1.15 pm
What does it mean to be an Arab feminist in 2019? How does the legacy of previous generations intersect with current creative practice and globalised movements like #MeToo? Three artists using diverse artforms discuss and perform their work. French-Moroccan journalist, commentator and Prix Goncourt-winning novelist Leïla Slimani‘s recent nonfiction work on Moroccan women’s sexuality generated much debate. Award-winning Egyptian graphic novelist and web comic artist Deena Mohamed is the creator of the veiled female superhero Qahera. Badriah al Beshr is a Saudi journalist, chatshow host and novelist known for tackling women’s issues.
(Left to right): Lullaby by Leïla Slimani ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor (London : Faber & Faber, 2018). BL, H.2018/.9220. Shubbīk lubbīk : qiṣṣah muṣawwarah by Deena Mohamed (Cairo : 2017). BL, YP.2018.b.610. Mother of all pigs : a novel by Malu Halasa (Los Angeles, CA : The Unnamed Press, ). BL, YD.2019.a.3105.
SPOTLIGHT: New Arab Writing from London with Malu Halasa, hosted by Jo Glanville
Malu Halasa has co-edited five anthologies on Middle East culture and politics. Her debut novel, Mother of All Pigs, unveils contemporary life in Jordan, as one family confronts its secrets over the course of a weekend’s festivities. At times witty and energetic, compassionate and awe-inspiring, an Arabic translation is forthcoming in 2020. Malu Halasa reads from and discusses her novel and practice.
BOLD VOICES: New Queer Writing , hosted by Puck Khalaf
Building on Shubbak’s 2017 inaugural queer panel, Bold Voices brings together a new range of artists at the cutting edge of LGBT+ creative expression. Three artists from this exciting and defiant scene present their approach ranging from comics to storytelling and activism. From Beirut comes poet, playwright and actress Dima Mikhayel Matta, the founder of Beirut’s storytelling platform Cliffhangers. Syrian Swedish novelist Khaled Alesmael's Selamlik, a homoerotic depiction of Syria, has sold over 2,000 copies in Sweden. Joseph Kai, whose comics centre around the unspoken, marginalization and gender, is editor at the Lebanese collective Samandal.
SPOTLIGHT: new Syrian fiction with Dima Wannous, hosted by Bidisha
Damascus-born Dima Wannous is a writer and cultural journalist. She has written for multiple Arab and international newspapers, managed the cultural section of the online magazine Modon, and hosted a cultural TV show from 2008-18. Her second novel, The Frightened Ones, focuses on the notion of fear and how central it is to dictatorship. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018, the novel is about to be published in Elisabeth Jaquette’s English translation. Dima Wannous reads from and discusses her novel and practice.
SPOTLIGHT: New Kurdish fiction with Bakhtiyar Ali, host by Bonnie Gree
Bakhtiyar Ali is a prominent Iraqi Kurdish novelist and literary critic, essayist and poet, awarded the prestigious Nelly Sachs Prize in 2017. His novel I Stared at the Night of the City was a bestseller in Iraqi Kurdistan and made history as the first Kurdish novel ever to be published in English translation. He is joined by his translator Kareem Abdulrahman, currently completing the translation of Ali’s next novel The Last Pomegranate, to read an exclusive extract and to discuss contemporary Kurdish literature in the Arab region and beyond.
(Left to right): I stared at the night of the city by Bakhtiyar Ali ; translated from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman (Reading : Periscope, 2016). BL, H.2018/8208. Ruqaya Izzidien. al-Nabīdhah : riwāyah by Inaam Kachachi (Beirut : Dār al-Jadīd, 2017). BL, YP.2018.a.5596.
TELLING THE PAST: Contemporary Arab Historical Novels, hosted by Laleh Khalili
Many Arab writers create historical novels to recast fraught histories. What are their motivations and methods in approaching history through the creative lens? Twice shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Iraqi writer Inaam Kachachi‘s novels focus on contemporary Iraqi history. Iraqi-Welsh writer Ruqaya Izzidien‘s debut novel features Iraqi, Welsh and English characters in WWI Baghdad. Sudanese IPAF-shortlisted author Hammour Ziada‘s latest historical novel examines cycles of oppression through twentieth-century Sudan. Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun‘s IPAF winning Destinies, Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a four-part epic of the Palestinian exodus and right to return.
Aïcha El Beloui: Morocco
Gathering personal narratives through interviews, researching the sound archives in the British Library and walking through West London’s streets, the artist discovered the agreements between Morocco, Spain and France as the catalysts to Moroccan presence in the city.
Drawing from this material she will create one of her distinctive maps. Seemingly simply rendered in black and white, they are filled with richly textured incident and associative connections. Charting routes between Morocco and London, and recognising original dreams and aspirations as well as today’s experiences of second and third generation young people, the artist invites the viewer to reflect on themes of citizenship and belonging.
Aïcha El Beloui’s map will be available in paper formats, digitally and as an installation, travelling to different sites across the city.
Aïcha El Beloui is a Casablanca-based illustrator, graphic designer, and creative director. Trained as an architect, she worked originally for UNESCO in heritage preservation. She regularly works with communities to discover a neighbourhood and filters her observations into maps and illustrations.
Bricklab: Geographical Child’s Play
Bricklab, the designers of the first Saudi pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale, create a new pop-up sculpture especially for Shubbak. 22 brightly coloured units equalling in number the 22 states of the Arab League are arranged in different constellations to offer new viewpoints of geographies, nations and the power to imagine other realities. No unit can stand on its own, but has to be grafted onto others. Some constellations seem hierarchical, others more egalitarian. Geographical Child’s Play conjures up poignant and surprising alignments and dependencies. Stretching nearly 10m as a line or barely 3m as a circle, Geographical Child’s Play is Bricklab’s most public and engaging sculpture so far.
The bright colours and low level hint at nursery furniture or playground equipment. It is an invitation to imagine geopolitics through the lens of play and a deliberately naïve hope.
Established in Jeddah in 2015 Bricklab (Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz) quickly established itself as one of the most dynamic current design practices in Saudi Arabia. Their work has been shown at 21,39 Saudi Art Week, Alserkal Avenue in Dubai and Venice Architecture Biennale. In 2018 they took part in the British Council and V&A International Designers Workshop.