Asian and African studies blog

11 posts categorized "Events"

16 July 2015

Shubbak Literature Festival at the British Library

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On Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 July 2015, the British Library will host the Shubbak Literature Festival as part of Shubbak, London’s largest biennial festival showcasing the best in contemporary Arab culture.

As one of the leading collections of historical and contemporary Arabic texts in the United Kingdom, the British Library is delighted to partner with translator Alice Guthrie, Saqi Books and Shubbak to bring together some of the finest writers from across the Arab world, while also reflecting the diversity of current Arab writing in the UK and Europe.

An illustration from a 13th century manuscript of al-Ḥarīrī’s Maqāmāt showing the people in a garden making music with Abū Zayd approaching. From the 24th maqāmah (British Library Or.1200, folio 68r)  noc

Knowledge of Arabic literature – both classical and modern – has been largely confined to academia. However, over the past decade or so there has been a noticeable increase in awareness and accessibility of contemporary Arabic literature in English, largely due to the efforts of established publishers such as Saqi and Banipal. This is also the result of a new generation of translators, publishers, bloggers, journalists and critics responding to a greater desire to read a wider and more diverse array of voices coming from the Arabic-speaking world. ‘The Rise of Arabic Literature in English’ will be the subject of the opening panel of the festival chaired by Robin Yassin-Kassab, and featuring Marcia Lynx Qualey of the Arabic Literature (in English) blog, Iraqi author-translator Sinan Antoon, British-Palestinian novelist and playwright Selma Dabbagh, and scholar and translator Daniel Newman.

Mourid Barghouti, Raʾaytu Rām Allāh ʻI saw Ramallahʼ (Cairo: Dār al-Hilāl, 1997) and Qaṣāʼid al-raṣīf  ʻPoems of the Pavementʼ (Beirut: al-Muʼassasah al-ʿArabīyah lil-Dirāsāt wa-al-Nashr, 1980)

Poetry, although it is the oldest form of Arabic literature, continues to be a popular mode of expression for the beauty and complexity of the Arabic language, as well as for airing contemporary social and political concerns. Saturday evening’s event, ‘The Astonishing Form’, will celebrate poetry with a variety of radical and powerful voices. Compèred by Malika Booker, the event will feature readings by renowned Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, as well British-Egyptian performance poet Sabrina Mahfouz, Iraqi poet Ghareeb Iskander, whose work engages both ancient and modern Iraqi history, and Palestinian poet-activist Rafeef Ziadah, whose poems ‘We Teach Life, Sir’ and ‘Shades of Anger’ went viral.


As well as long-established literary forms, the Shubbak Literature Festival will also engage with emerging genres. ‘Science Fiction in the Arab world’, chaired by Sinbad Sci-Fi’s producer Yasmin Khan, will feature Egyptian and Iraqi authors, including IPAF-winning author of Frankenstein in Baghdad, Ahmed Saadawi. Comic books and graphic novels will be the focus of a panel entitled ‘Drawing Your Attention’, chaired by Paul Gravett, co-curator of British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition, that will feature Lena Merhej, co-founder of the Samandal collective in Lebanon, Andeel, co-founder of Egypt’s Arabic comic magazine Tok-Tok, and British-Libyan manga-influenced comic writer, Asia Alfasi.

Faïza Guène, Kiffe kiffe demain (Paris: Hachette littératures, 2004) and Tok-Tok

Histories of migration, transnational cultural exchange and exile have played a role in the development of modern Arabic literatures. While some Arab authors have made European cities their homes, others have been born here and write in languages other than Arabic. The panel ‘Arabic Europe’ will examine how the contemporary European political and cultural landscapes intersect with the Arabic roots of writers living across Europe today. Shubbak’s artistic director Eckhard Thiemann will discuss these issues with Moroccan-Dutch poet Mustafa Stitou, Algerian-French writer and director Faiza Guene, and British-Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela. Shubbak closes with renowned Lebanese novelist and public intellectual Elias Khoury in conversation with author and academic Marina Warner. Khoury will also read from his novels, which include the acclaimed novels Gate of the Sun and Yalo.

Elias Khoury, Abwāb al-madīnah ‘City Gates’, with illustrations by Kamal Boullata (Beirut: Dār al-Adāb, 1990)

The festival will also feature readings in Arabic and English by Man Booker International Prize finalist Hoda Barakat, as well as Syrian author Samar Yazbek and Atef Abu Saif from Gaza. In addition, there will be free events for both children and teenagers. A series of short films from PalFest and Highlight Arts will also show throughout the weekend, and there will be bookstall from Al Saqi Bookshop and free smartphone and tablet access to digital Banipal Magazine within the Library building from now until the end of the festival.

Read the full Shubbak Literature Festival programme for booking information. You can also follow Shubbak on Twitter @Shubbak or using the #Shubbak hashtag.

Daniel Lowe, Curator of Arabic Collections

16 September 2014

One-day Symposium: British Library Persian Manuscripts: Collections and Research

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One day symposium: British Library Persian Manuscripts: Collections and Research
British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Friday, 31 October 2014, 9.30-17.30 (Programme details here)

Or_2265_f066v_1000Khusraw and Shirin listen to stories told by Shirin's handmaidens. From Nizami's Khamsah. Painting in Safavid Tabriz style c 1540s,  ascribed to Aqa Mirak (British Library Or.2265, f. 66v)

The British Library is holding a one-day symposium on the theme of digitisation and new research on its collection of Persian manuscripts, one of the most significant in the world in both size and importance. It is currently mid-way through a partnership project with the Iran Heritage Foundation and other supporters to convert catalogue records for Persian manuscripts into digital format as well as to digitise selected items from the Library’s vast collection with a view to making the data freely accessible online to readers worldwide. The main underlying objectives are to aid scholarship on the cultures and history of the Islamicate and Persianate world, and to help preserve this delicate material for posterity. Although only a small number of manuscripts have been digitised to date, the range is expected to grow over the coming years thanks to continued public and private funding.

Progress so far has already facilitated some exciting developments and discoveries. Join project members and scholars to explore the Library's Persian collections and find out more about recent research.


Booking will be available from Monday 22 September from British Library Events . Tickets include a light lunch and refreshments and are priced at £15, £12 (over 60s), £10 (concessions).


Dr Sâqib Bâburî, British Library (abstract)
Two new sources for the study of Muḥammad Vājid ʿAlī Shāh in the William Irvine Collection

Dr Bruno De Nicola, University of St Andrews (abstract)
Rashīd al-Dīn’s World History: manuscripts of Jāmi‘ al-tavārīkh in the British Library

Dr Walter N. Hakala, University at Buffalo, SUNY (USA) (abstract)
Minimum taxable knowledge: the niṣāb genre of multilingual vocabularies in verse

Jeremiah Losty, British Library (Emeritus) (abstract)
James Skinner's artists

Dr Stephan Popp, Institut für Iranistik, Vienna (abstract)
Horoscopes as propaganda under Akbar and Shāh Jahān

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College, London (abstract)
The confluence of two oceans: Hindustani music in the British Library Persian collections

Dr Emily Shovelton, Independent Scholar (abstract)
Margins of the Divine: the Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan  (British Library Add. 27261)

Dr Eleanor Sims, Editor of Islamic Art and Independent Scholar (abstract)
More from Mashhad? A recently re-discovered illustrated Shahnama manuscript of the 17th century

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, British Library (abstract)
Niẓāmī through digital eyes: observations on masterworks in the British Library


Further reading

Recent posts on some of our Persian manuscripts:

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 2
Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 1
Two Persian ‘Ming’ manuscripts on view at the British Museum
Persian letters from the Nawabs of the Carnatic 1777-1816
James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised
A Khamsah with illustrations ascribed to the painter Bihzad (Add. 25900)
A newly digitised unpublished catalogue of Persian manuscripts and postscript
Some portraits of the Zand rulers of Iran (1751-1794)
The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece


For further information: contact Dr. Sâqib Bâburî (


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10 January 2013

Mughal India exhibition

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Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire
British Library (till 2 April 2013)

The current exhibition at the British Library explores one of the most powerful and splendid of all the world's great dynasties with Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. The 'Great Mogul' seated on a jewel-encrusted throne is one of the most enduring images of India. But apart from this almost mythical ruler, the Mughal dynasty produced a great number of rulers of outstanding ability in statecraft and culture, whether in empire building or patrons of art and architecture.

This exhibition is the first to document the entire period, from the 16th to the 19th century, through more than 200 exquisite manuscripts and the finest paintings drawn almost exclusively from the British Library's extensive heritage collection.