Arab Spring” On Display at London Summer Festival

The ripples of the “Arab Spring” are being felt well beyond theborders of the Middle East.  This last 4th of July, Boris Johnson, mayor of London, followed a precedent already established in other English cities by hosting London’s very first festival of contemporary Arab culture, Shubbak (or window in English).  Featured were works from an impressive, though by no means surprising, array of artistic disciplines: rap, poetry, sculpture, theatre, digital theatre, theoretical and political debate, and more ambitious larger projects, installations, and so on.  The popularity of the event suggests a newfound pride in the Arab world among expatriates living in the United Kingdom. Indeed, different forms of artistic expression have played an integral part in keeping up energy and morale, particularly among the youth of the Arab world who, in such astonishing numbers, are currently attempting to reclaim their rights and their dignity. This enthusiasm is a sight for sore eyes, to be sure, and the festival in Londonis to be congratulated for allowing it to be experienced by Westerners.  One of the most mature and impressive artists whose paintings were on display comes from Iraq, a country that has seen comparatively little benefit from the “Arab Spring.”  Yousif  Naser’s work is of an astonishing originality, but rather than tap into the cultural continuum of dissident poetry and music (i.e. the songs of Sayyid Darwish and Sheikh Imam), his paintings reflect the desolation and helplessness of his homeland.  Some artists involved in the event were more cautious than optimistic about the future, and it serves as a reminder that we must not inflate the bubble of revolutionary sentiment to ridiculous and untenable proportions; the Londonfestival deserves credit for allowing this type of feeling to be expressed as well.


--Michael Teague