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Unesco awards prize to London’s Shubbak Festival for promotion of Arab culture

media Becoming by Tunisian photographer Hela Ammar at the Shubbak festival of Contemporary Arab culture, London 2019 Hela Ammar / Shubbak

Unesco's Deputy Director-General, Xing Qu is on Thursday to award the 16th edition of the Unesco-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture to two laureates at a ceremony in Paris.

One of them is London’s Shubbak festival of contemporary Arab culture. The other is Samandal, an association of comic book artists from Lebanon.

Created in 1998 at the initiative of the United Arab Emirates, the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture rewards each year, two individual organisations, one from the Arab world and the other from a non-Arab country, who have made a significant contribution towards the development, dissemination and promotion of Arab culture in the world. The prize carries a monetary value of $60,000, equally divided between the two laureates.

Shubbak means ‘window’ in Arabic

For Daniel Gorman, executive director of Shubbak, one of the key goals of the festival is to get as much of the artwork into the public domain, accessible to “accidental audiences” as he calls them. That means ordinary people “walking in the street who will happen upon work by a contemporary Arab artist.”

Daniel Gorman Director of Shubbak Festival of Contemporary Arab Culture 12/06/2019 Listen

One example of this is the photographic works of Hela Ammar for the new site-specific installation Becoming, on display in Shepherd’s Bush Market, London. The Tunisian artist spent time with women in London who have recently arrived and are finding it difficult to settle in.

The large-scale portrait photographs appear on different surfaces in the market. Voices and stories, sourced through interviews, are audible and blend with the different sounds of the market.

According to Unesco, the Shubbak festival focuses on personal expressions of artists, and “champions a multiplicity of voices and a diversity of nuanced viewpoints, which stand in contrast to the dominant media’s conflict-focused narrative on the Arab world.”

One of the aspects Daniel Gorman is particularly proud of is the fact that Shubbak has managed to fit into a broader arts infrastructure and is now working with a number of partners across Europe.

A window looking both ways

“It’s gone from being something that pops up every two years, has artists on the stage and then disappears again to really thinking about how it fits in to the wider infrastructure, of both the Arab arts infrastructure and the wider arts infrastructure in the UK and across Europe.”

Several of the artists participating are based in France. One of them is Franco-Syrian actor and director Ramzi Choukair, based in Marseille. His performance piece X-Adra will make its UK debut featuring Syrian activists who recount their experiences in the notorious Adra prison.

One of the visual artists represented is Hicham Berrada, born in Morocco, who lives and works in Paris. His Dreamscapes exhibition shows kaleidoscopic sculptures, installations and video works inspired by scientific processes and natural phenomena such as ‘heat, cold, magnetism’ and light.

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