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Sneak preview: The Shubbak Arab arts festival Open in fullscreen

Lana Asfour

Sneak preview: The Shubbak Arab arts festival

'Cities of Salt' tells of the exploitation of Gulf oil

Date of publication: 8 July, 2015

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Culture: The eagerly awaited festival arrives again in London, promising a mine of treasures from across the Arab world and its diaspora.
This year's Shubbak Festival of Arab culture and arts promises to be the best since its foundation in 2011, and reconfirms London's importance as a hub of vibrant Arab cultural activity.

Running throughout July in venues across London, and true to its name, "window" in Arabic, the biennial Shubbak Festival offers an eye-opening and innovative view into some of the most interesting contemporary art, theatre, music, dance and literature from the Arab world and its diaspora.

With established London institutions - the Barbican, South Bank Centre and British Library - hosting shows alongside more experimental venues - the Arcola, Bush, Young Vic and Cockpit theatres - the programme is set to be varied, wide-ranging and thought-provoking.

This is the third instalment of the festival, which seems to get bigger and better with each of its appearances, every two years.

The organisers are aiming higher than ever this year, but it is worth remembering that they are also simply responding to London's natural importance as centre for arts and for Arab culture, where there are Arab cultural events all year round.

"[The festival] will once again bring together London's cultural institutions with the most exciting Arab artists and companies, positioning London as a global destination to witness and engage with the plurality of Arab cultural creativity," said Shubbak's artistic director, Eckhard Theimann.

Music highlights include the festival's gala opening concert at the Barbican, featuring celebrated Arab musicians including Karima Skalli and the Asil Ensemble.


The world premiere at the Royal Opera House of scenes from Cities of Salt, a forthcoming work by Syrian composer Zaid Jabri, promises a taste of the classic novel by Abdelrahman Munif. Expect the tale told by the social and economic consequences of the arrival of American oil companies in the Gulf.

One of the festival's main visual arts strands is named "Art in the Public Realm". This includes sound-art installations, street art and sculpture, and the first British-commissioned "calligraffiti" mural by French-Tunisian artist el-Seed.

Seed's work is also to be found on a 47-metre minaret in the Tunisian city of Gabes, in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, on walls of galleries in New York, Melbourne and Jeddah - and on motorway underpasses in Qatar.

The British Library, meanwhile, will be hosting talks and discussions with some of the most acclaimed contemporary Arab writers. Among others, Samar Yazbek, Sinan Antoon, Elias Khoury and this year's Man Booker finalist, Hoda Barakat, will grace a variety of panels.

Contemporary Arab films will be screened at the Mosaic Rooms, and will include a retrospective of the work of Palestinian film-maker Michel Khleifi, who will personally introducing a selection of his favourite films by other directors.

Dance highlights include Badke, a collaboration between Belgian choreographers and Palestinian dancers, inspired by dabke, hip-hop and capoeira. Meanwhile, When the Arabs Used to Dance choreographer Radhouane el-Meddeb pays tribute to a golden age in the Arab world - the 1960s and 1970s, when TV screens, theatres and cinemas were filled with provocative dancing.


The Shubbak Festival this year features around 60 events in over 40 venues across London. The Shubbak Festival starts on July 11 and runs until July 26. Click here for programme and bookings.

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