Scottish festival creatively narrates Palestinian storylines

Refugee Festival Scotland extends Scotland's warmth to its new residents, and their families across the world [Lucas Kao]
5 min read
18 June, 2021
As part of International Refugee Week 2021, 'Refugee Festival Scotland' highlights the cultural richness of refugee communities throughout Scotland. This year, the festival renders Palestinian narratives through choreographed dance performances.

Refugee Festival Scotland 2021 will be running from June 14 to June 20 in honour of International Refugee Week 2021. The festival aims to highlight various different cultures and the rich diversity of refugees in Scotland and this year sees participants from Palestinian heritage shining light to unearth hidden Palestinian narratives through the use of expressive arts.

Farah Saleh, a Palestinian dancer and choreographer from Edinburgh, is one such participant of the festival, who has created an artistic dance video installation called Past-Inous and will be releasing a 12-minute interactive event highlighting Palestinian narratives.

“For me, this is an expression of a resistance movement in the international diaspora and I feel that I am doing my part to raise awareness of the situation in Palestine through my work,” Farah Saleh told The New Arab.

"Past-Inous is about connecting with people by expressing gestures from our grandparents and the struggles of Palestinian land and seeing if there is reminiscence in our body of our grandparent’s gestures and how we would perform them today using our body"

Born in the Al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, Farah had always enjoyed dancing since the age of six when she started ballet. She moved to Ramallah with her family and went on to study contemporary dance in Italy, later becoming a professional choreographer working on projects for the Sarreyet Ramallah Dance Company in Palestine and international dance projects in Europe and the US.

She currently resides in Edinburgh where she is the Associate Artist at Dance Base in Scotland.

“Past-Inous is about connecting with people by expressing gestures from our grandparents and the struggles of Palestinian land. It is about seeing if there is reminiscence in our body of our grandparent’s gestures and how we would perform them today using our body,” she explains.

Perspectives

Farah often tries to engage the audience and create awareness on a variety of issues through using gestures and creative means of art. She believes that art has the power to “make a change” and much of her work has highlighted the status of Palestinians in the West Bank.

“Some of the gestures we use to represent our struggles unearth various different stories. I believe that my body is like an archive,” she tells The New Arab.

Past-Inous features 11 dancers, all of whom are third-generation Palestinian refugees based in Gaza, Berlin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Nablus. They use performing art as a means of expressing themselves and their Palestinian identity.

Past-Inous is a creative collaboration between Palestinians spread throughout the world, united by dance and a shared history [Refugee Festival Scotland]
Past-Inous is a Palestinian creative collaboration - separated by the Nakba, united through dance and shared histories [Refugee Festival Scotland]

“Refugee Festival Scotland has made us feel like a community. The curators worked hard on meeting artists needs and enabled us to get to know each other. We were not only able to view each other’s work but also open up dialogue and conversations, and I feel it really helps us make connections with artists, organisers, the audience and all those taking part.”

Farah hopes that the interactive nature of the digital performance of Past-Inous will encourage the audience to try and re-enact their gestures and understand the stories behind them.

“We hope it brings awareness about the ongoing situation in Palestine and hopefully creates positive change. I think it is essential and important to be part of this platform and share the story so people can learn and exchange their thoughts. Many will be able to relate despite being from different backgrounds.”

Past-Inous is one such example of a group of talented individuals from refugee backgrounds who have worked to create an expression of their cultural identity, lived and past experiences and hopes for the future

The event will open on June 18 and will be digitally released as part of the week-long festival so that anyone can access it and participate around the world.

“I am over the moon that Palestine is being represented at the Refugee Festival Scotland as the country is often underrepresented in many ways," Representative Spokesperson for Refugee Festival Scotland, Baz Alden, told The New Arab.

"People cannot even see Palestine on the map anymore if they were to Google it, so it’s important that Palestinian culture and identity is highlighted and seen.”

Baz, who is of Palestinian heritage is assisting with the upcoming events at the festival. He says he is committed to ensuring it represents a range of cultures and backgrounds. 

“The festival includes various forms of art and exhibitions, dancing and singing, food, both in-person and online, for children and for adults. Some are for women only and others are mixed. We will even be campaigning to make the system more welcoming. It is not only open for refugees and asylum-seekers but for everyone”.

Refugee Festival Scotland is an initiative supported by the Scottish Refugee Council and has been running since the year 2000 with the aim of bringing communities together and highlighting the value and cultural richness that refugees bring to Scotland.

"Refugee Festival Scotland is a time of the year when we get together to celebrate the riches New Scots bring and the warm welcome Scotland has always extended to its new citizens. The pandemic has reminded us of our collective need for common humanity – and despite the continued Covid restrictions, we have a vibrant and colourful programme of events lined up to make this a festival to remember,” CEO Sabir Zazai told The New Arab.

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Scotland plays host to a diverse and vibrant population with refugees being welcomed from Palestine, Syria, Sudan and many other countries across the Middle East. The Scottish Refugee Council hopes events like this one will also reflect support for those seeking a safe sanctuary in Scotland.

"This year's festival comes at a critical time in our history. It coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, a UN multilateral treaty that defines the rights of refugees. Over these 70 years, people fleeing conflict, human rights violations and persecution have sought sanctuary here in Scotland and they have enriched our communities, both socially and economically,” Sabir added. 

Past-Inous is one such example of a group of talented individuals from refugee backgrounds who have worked to create an expression of their cultural identity, lived and past experiences and hopes for the future.

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others.

Follow her on Twitter: @TasnimNazeer1