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Arnout Mampaey & Isabel Voets [red.]


6 preface

Mohamed Ikoubaân

10 Europa y su relación con los árabes Europe and its relations with the Arabs

Gema Martín-Muñoz

20 Mezzaterra Fragments from the Common Ground

Ahdaf Soueif

28 De arabische kunstenaar die in Europa kunst wil gaan maken, ziet zich voor een dubbele uitdaging gesteld The Arabic artist who wants to make art in Europe faces a double challenge

44 Le hip hop dans ses retournements As Hip Hop (Re)turns


Identity… I prefer it with Sauce Andalouse

80 het huis van europa The house of europe


Abdelkader Benali

Gérard Mayen

Taha Adnan

Ramsey Nasr

Pascal Nicolas

88 about The authors 90 about the partners 92 about the productions 100 Colophone 103 documentary


preface Mohamed Ikoubaân


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“In this age of globalisation, with its accelerated, dizzying fusion of cultures which affects us all, there is a need for a new definition of identity – and the sooner the better! We cannot force billions of desperate people to choose between an unsparing claim on their identity on the one hand and on the other hand, the loss of all identity, between fundamentalism and disintegration. (...) If we do not encourage them to respect their diverse backgrounds, if they cannot reconcile their need for identity with an honest and uncomplicated openness towards different cultures, if they feel forced to choose between self-denial and the denial of another, we are raising legions of bloodthirsty fools, large multitudes of people who have lost their way.” (Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. 1999). In 1993 the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf won the Prix Goncourt for his book Le 'Le Rocher de Tanios'. Since June 23, 2011 Maalouf has been a member of the Académie Française, where he replaces the deceased Levi-Straus. The Syrian-born poet Adonis, who lives in Paris and has often been tipped as Nobel laureate for literature, received the prestigious German Goethe Prize. He is the first Arabic-speaking poet who can boast of having been awarded this prestigious literary prize by Germany. The French-Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun won the Prix Goncourt for ‘The Sacred Night’ and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for ‘This Blinding Absence of Light’. The Anglo-Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif has written bestsellers such as “In the Eye of the Sun ‘and’ The Map of Love’, a novel shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 1999. The British-Libyan writer Hisham was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2006 for his debut novel ‘In the Country of Men’ and won The Royal Society of Literature Prize. The Dutch-Moroccan Abdelkader Benali received the Libris Literature Prize in 2003 for his novel ‘De Langverwachte’ (‘The Long-Awaited ‘). Ramsey Nasr, a Dutchman with Palestinian roots, was appointed city poet of Antwerp in 2005 and then in 2009, Poet Laureate of the Netherlands. The BelgianMoroccan dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui appears on stages throughout Europe and beyond, and in 2011 received the National Dance Award for Outstanding Male Performance for ‘Dunas’. Recently he also received the Flemish Culture Prize for the Performing Arts. The French-Tunisian Hela Fattoumi, along with Eric Lamoureux, has run the Centre de Caen Chorégrafique since 2004. Today, the French-Algerian dancerchoreographer Nacera Belaza leaves her mark on the contemporary dance scene in France and abroad. For ‘Le Cri’ the French dance critics awarded her the prize for the choreographic revelation of the year in 2008. At the age of 19, the French-Lebanese pianist and soloist Abdel Rahman El Bacha was awarded both the first prize by the jury and the Public prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in 1978. In 1983 he received the Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros for his recordings of early works by Prokofiev. In 1998 he was awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and in 2002 received the Medal de l’Ordre du Mérite from the President of Lebanon.

In 1982 the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid won the gold medal in ‘Architectural Design’ with a design for the renovation of a maisonette in Eaton Place, London. In 2004 she was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize by the Hyatt Foundation, and is the only woman ever to have received this award. Throughout history the relationship between the Arab world and Europe has not been all plain sailing. Mutual fascination and demonization have generated a complex love-hate relationship between the two worlds. However, in the course of the last century, and as a result of migration from different Arab countries, the presence of people of Arab origin in Europe has increased exponentially. ‘The Arab’ is no longer merely the exotic person in western imagination but is physically present in our region. Prominent political leaders may no longer believe it, but the path that has been taken is irreversible. Cosmopolitanism has become the reality of many European cities and societies. European artists with non-European background are simply a part of the art scene. For more than 10 years Moussem has provided a stage in Flanders and Brussels for artists with a different cultural background or with a link to the Arab world. With we and our other partners would like to share this experience with other European partners and countries. In the project the questioning of the European canon by European artists with an Arab background plays a central role. We strive to develop a European network that is focused on the production, support and distribution of the work of these artists. Finally, the exchange between artists and partners is an important objective of this project. With we do not wish to present an objective sample of Arab artists in Europe. Our starting point is the individual stories of artists who differ greatly. Their only common denominator is that they rely on their European and Arab background to give artistic shape to their story.

Berchem, autumn 2012.

Moham ed Ikoubaân

In the future we hope to expand this small network to include other artists and partners, and to create a deep and profound artistic dialogue that transcends the flat populist discourse of many politicians and opinion makers. Consequently, Moussem and want to stimulate a new form of cooperation on a cultural level with the Arab communities in Europe as a bridge, on the basis of equality, reciprocity and equal participation of all.



Qui Je Suis - Moussem 2011 Abdelmalek Kadi & Meryem Jazouli

Š Yann Verstraete


EUROPA Y SU REL ACIÓN CON LOS ÁRABES Gema Martín-Muñoz La realidad árabe en Europa no es un hecho reciente ni unidimensional. Por el contrario, cuenta con un gran arraigo histórico y ha tenido múltiples expresiones y momentos desde la Edad Media hasta la actualidad. Se podría decir que las aportaciones árabes han tenido un papel destacado en la construcción de Europa y en la configuración de su realidad contemporánea. La complejidad de la cuestión reposa en la distancia que se ha establecido entre los hechos y la interpretación selectiva que los europeos han realizado de esa historia intercomunicada. La presencia e influencia de la arabidad y los árabes en la historia de Europa ha sido marginada y considerada un accidente ajeno a su devenir fundacional. Desde el descubrimiento de América y la expulsión de los árabes musulmanes y judíos de España y Sicilia, Europa se va a ir interpretando a sí misma como una identidad cerrada que se proclama la única depositaria de los atributos de la humanidad, rechazando todas las aportaciones y legados árabes e islámicos de su propia historia. A través del Renacimiento se elaboró una interpretación selectiva de esa Historia en la que el Oriente desaparece en toda su impresionante contribución al desarrollo del pensamiento europeo para asentar el mito, que prevalecerá hasta hoy día, de que éste se basa en una sola fuente original greco-romana.


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En período contemporáneo la comunicación entre Europa y el mundo árabe ha dado sus frutos. El impulso del pensamiento liberal árabe así como el reformismo modernizador islámico de Yamal al-Din al-Afgani y Muhammad Abduh, se articuló tomando como referencia la modernidad europea. Esos pensadores, conscientes de la necesidad de sacar a sus sociedades de la decadencia del califato otomano, tomaron como referencia el pensamiento moderno europeo adaptando contenidos y haciendo equivalencias entre conceptos clásicos del islam de los siglos precedentes y nociones nuevas desarrolladas en la experiencia europea. Pero la expansión colonial de los siglos XIX y XX significó una radical ruptura de esa dinámica positiva y una eclosión del Orientalismo en las Artes y las Ciencias Sociales. Son múltiples las facetas en que Europa ha inventado el Oriente. Es una vieja historia de atracción y dominación. El Orientalismo es una de las formas a través de las cuales Europa buscaba definirse a sí misma en contraposición con un Oriente recreado e imaginado a la medida de sus fantasías, sus intereses y su propia necesidad de sentirse superior y moderno. El orientalismo más directamente vinculado a la empresa colonial representó a los “indígenas” de las tierras árabes como inferiores e intrínsecamente ajenos a la modernidad europea. Susceptibles, pues, de ser civilizados. Y así se encontró una justificación moral a la dominación colonial, convertida en una misión histórica del ser superior que se sentía obligado a llevar la civilización a los pueblos retrasados. Ese contacto progresivo con las tierras orientales a través de viajeros y artistas, generó así mismo un orientalismo romántico y

EUROPE AND ITS REL ATIONS WITH THE ARABS Gema Martín-Muñoz. The Arab reality in Europe is neither a recent nor a one-dimensional phenomenon. On the contrary, it has deep historical roots and has assumed multiple expressions and developments from the Middle Ages to the present day. It could be said that Arab contributions have played a leading role in the construction of Europe and in the configuration of its contemporary reality. The complexity of the question is grounded in the distance that has been established between the events and the selective interpretation that Europeans have given to this inter-linked history. The presence and influence of Arab identity and the Arabs in the history of Europe have been marginalised and are considered as an accident alien to its founding development. Ever since the discovery of America and the expulsion of Muslim Arabs and Jews from Spain and Sicily, Europe would start to see itself as a closed identity and the sole custodian of the attributes of humanity, rejecting all Arab and Islamic contributions and legacies of its own history. A selective interpretation of this history was developed through the Renaissance in which the Orient and its impressive contribution to the development of European thought disappear, making room for the establishment of a myth that prevails down to the present day, to the effect that it is based solely on a single, Greco-Roman source. Communication between Europe and the Arab world in recent times has produced results. The impulse of Arab liberal thought as well as the Islamic modernising reformism of Yamal al-Din al-Afgani and Muhammad Abduh, have been articulated by taking European modernity as a reference. Aware of the need to pull their societies from the decline of the Ottoman caliphate, these thinkers took modern European thought as a reference and adapted the contents through equivalencies between classic Islamic concepts of previous centuries and new notions developed in the European experience. But the colonial expansion of the 19th and 20th centuries meant an abrupt end for this positive dynamic and the hatching of Orientalism in the Arts and Social Sciences.

Gema Martín -Muñoz

Europe invented the Orient through multiple facets. It is an old story of attraction and domination. Orientalism is one of the forms through which Europe tried to define itself through a contrast with an Orient recreated and imagined in line with its fantasies, interests and need to feel superior and modern. Orientalism linked more directly to the colonial enterprise represented the “indigenous” populations of Arab lands as being inferior and intrinsically alien to European modernity – and consequently susceptible to being civilised. This is how a moral justification for colonial domination emerged, one that was turned into a historical mission of the superior being who felt obliged to bring civilisation to backward peoples. This gradual contact with Eastern lands through travellers and artists moreover created a romantic and aesthetic orientalism, devoid of previous aggressiveness, which tried to highlight what


esteticista que, descargado de la agresividad del anterior, buscaba resaltar lo más diferente y pintoresco. Un mundo de palacios, mujeres bellísimamente sensuales, y paisajes de desiertos o ciudades llenas de cúpulas y calles laberínticas. Esa recreación exótica, llena de clichés y estereotipos, realizada a través de multitud de obras de reconocidos pintores y grabadores, fue también un excelente reclamo publicitario utilizado por muchas marcas comerciales. La atracción del oriente inventado fue utilizada de manera recurrente para vender todo tipo de productos, desde cosméticos a alimentarios, compañías de transporte y empresas de promoción turística, produciendo una particular colección de carteles publicitarios de gran interés artístico pero también sociológico. España contó con una rica producción propia en la que al Oriente lejano se le añadió nuestro particular Oriente local, Al-Andalus. Iconos del legado andalusí, como la mezquita de Córdoba, la Alhambra y el Alabaicín granadinos, fueron rica fuente de inspiración publicitaria para tan insólitos productos como bebidas, galletas, tabaco, etc. En un ambiente inspirado entre el orientalismo de AlAndalus y el de las Mil y Una Noches, esos carteles comerciales incitaban a aproximarse a sus productos como si de algo especialmente exótico y diferente se tratase. Una idea romántica del ser oriental que transportaba a la sociedad europea hacia mundos supuestamente lejanos, tan irreales como tan cercanos eran los verdaderos árabes que formaban parte de la propia Europa, y sobre los que se creó otra mirada bien diferente.


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En el mundo real, la empresa colonial trajo consigo una importante aportación humana a través de la emigración árabe a Europa que se arraigará generacionalmente en la misma y aportará una identidad nueva a la pluralidad europea y contribuirá a su desarrollo socioeconómico y nacional, aunque el pensamiento europeo elaborará una interpretación discriminatoria hacia ellos y su universo cultural. La afirmación de la superioridad cultural europea, llevará a interpretar a las “otras” culturas a través del anclaje culturalista: como inferiores y retrasadas, antagónicas con la modernidad e incapaces de progreso si no renuncian a los supuestos lastres culturales y religiosos de su identidad original, ya sea ésta árabe y/o musulmana. A partir de entonces, ese marco interpretativo que estructura a la opinión pública, domina el discurso mediático y dicta el magisterio intelectual en nuestras sociedades occidentales, se intensificará en los momentos políticamente más hegemónicos (la nueva consagración de la supremacía occidental tras la Guerra del Golfo y su compañero de viaje culturalista de la teoría del Choque de civilizaciones) o más desafiantes (el 11/S y la estigmatización colectiva de árabes y musulmanes).

E l i n soporta b le pes o de l a su pu esta d eca d en c ia El “fenómeno de la decadencia” forma parte del paquete culturalista que de los árabes suele acompañar a las visiones dominantes europeas y occidentales.

was most different and picturesque. A world of palaces, gorgeous sensual women, and landscapes of deserts or cities filled with domes and narrow winding streets. This exotic recreation, full of clichés and stereotypes, achieved through the many works by well known painters and engravers, was also excellent advertising used by many commercial brands. The attraction of the invented Orient was used time and again to sell all sorts of products, from cosmetics to foods, forwarding and tourism promotion companies, producing a particular collection of advertising posters of great artistic but also sociological interest. Spain had its own rich production in which the distant Orient was added to our particular local Orient, Al-Andalus. Icons of the Andalusian heritage, such as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Alhambra and Alabaicin in Granada, were a rich source of advertising inspiration for countless unusual products such as beverages, biscuits, tobacco, etc. In an environment drawing inspiration concurrently from the Orientalism of Al-Andalus and One Thousand and One Nights, these commercial posters beckoned to approach their products as if they were something specially exotic and different. A romantic idea of orientalism that transported European society to supposedly distant worlds as unreal was as remote, as the real Arabs who constituted part of Europe itself were close, and about who another, quite different view was created. In the real world, the colonial enterprise brought with it a major human contribution through Arab emigration to Europe which was to become rooted through subsequent generations and contribute to its socio-economic and national development, even though European thought was to come up with a discriminatory interpretation concerning them and their cultural universe. The affirmation of European cultural superiority would interpret “other” cultures through a culturalist perspective, namely that the “others” were inferior and backward, out of step with modernity and incapable of progress unless they renounced the supposed cultural and religious burdens of their original identity, whether Arab and/or Muslim.

Gema Martín -Muñoz

Ever since then, this interpretative framework that has structured public opinion, has dominated the discussion in the media and has dictated the intellectual approach in our Western societies, and would be intensified at politically more hegemonic moments (such as the new consecration of Western supremacy through the Gulf War and its cultural travel companion, the theory of the Clash of Civilisations), or more challenging moments (9/11 and the collective stigmatisation of Arabs and Muslims).

T he u nb e a r a b le b ur den o f su pposed d ec l i n e The “decline phenomenon” is part of the culturalist package that often accompanies the dominant European and Western views of the Arabs. It is worth reconsidering the general trend in organising cultural and artistic events about Arabs in Europe (and the West in general) by lingering on the


No es irrelevante recapacitar sobre la general tendencia en la organización de manifestaciones culturales y artísticas sobre los árabes en Europa (y Occidente en general) a quedarse en el pasado siempre que se valora la creación árabe: las grandes exposiciones sobre los omeyas o abbasíes, la arquitectura islámica clásica, la caligrafía otomana, etc. Sin dudar del valor y significado de dicho legado histórico, la cuestión está en que centrándose mayoritariamente en ese patrimonio clásico se está también transmitiendo indirectamente que después de esos siglos no existe más que el vacío, la decadencia, la falta de creación. La realidad es bien distinta. Las nuevas generaciones árabes están completamente insertas en la innovación, las vanguardias internacionales y la aportación desde su propio contexto y personalidad al proceso mundial del arte. Las resistencias vienen del culturalismo imperante que suele resistirse a salir del pasado para homologar a lo árabe en el presente. Interesantes iniciativas europeas participan en la deconstrucción de esta sinergia, mostrando la identidad árabe que también tiene la innovación y creación actuales, si bien es necesario multiplicarlas para romper mentalidades ancladas en una memoria colectiva europea construida desde los imaginarios y las interpretaciones ideológicas político-culturales.


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Algo similar ocurre con la lengua árabe. Ese rico mundo creativo que se desarrolla hoy día habla en su propia lengua, y, por tanto, la normalización internacional de la lengua árabe debería acabar con esa leyenda de lengua difícil y exótica, al margen de las lenguas modernas y creadoras identificadas con las occidentales. Uno de los problemas que se ha derivado también de esta visión es que fue interiorizada y asumida por los poderes poscoloniales árabes. Las políticas culturales y artísticas oficiales de los diferentes países árabes han contribuido mayoritariamente a enraizar esa concepción a favor del pasado, convencidos de que la manera de reivindicar sus aportaciones a la civilización universal era exportando su rico pasado e ignorando a sus artistas contemporáneos. Además, el pasado no reivindica, critica y desafía a los poderes establecidos, a diferencia del artista vivo, ciudadano que vive y expresa cultura y política. En consecuencia, muchos de esos artistas tuvieron que realizar una diáspora permanente o temporal para encontrar los apoyos necesarios que en sus países no les daban. Y es por ello también que las recientes revoluciones árabes están representando no sólo una ruptura política sino también una impresionante eclosión y expresión pública de creación moderna. Al igual que han exprimido al máximo las potencialidades que las nuevas tecnologías de la comunicación ofrecen hoy día, también han expresado y transmitido sus sentimientos, sus críticas y sus aspiraciones a través de los muros, las paredes y los rincones de todas las ciudades epicentro de la revolución. Han pasado claros mensajes al poder contra el que se baten, han conversado con sus ciudadanos y han transmitido al mundo exterior que quieren que todo cambie. La pintura, la escultura y el grafiti, entremezclados, nos dibujan el mapa político de la contestación y la rebeldía a través de una expresión artística intensa, liberada tras décadas de censura, control y represión. Los artistas árabes actuales, en Europa, Occidente o en Oriente Medio, están aportando al proceso internacional de renovación e innovación permanente de

glorious past of the Arab world: the major exhibitions about the Umayyads and the Abbasids, classic Islamic architecture, Ottoman calligraphy, etc. Without doubting the value and significance of that historical heritage, at issue is that by focusing mainly on this classical heritage, it is indirectly suggested that there has been nothing since those centuries than a vacuum, decline, and lack of creativity. The reality is quite different. New Arab generations are fully integrated in innovation and international vanguards, and contribute from their own context and personality to the world processes of art. Resistance stems from the prevailing culturalism which often refuses to come out of the past and to approve of Arabs in the present. Interesting European initiatives are contributions to the deconstruction of this synergy by showing that Arab identity includes contemporary innovation and creativity, although there is a need to multiply them in order to break with a mentality that is embedded in a European collective memory constructed by the imagination and interpretation of political and cultural ideologies. Something similar is happening with the Arabic language. This rich, creative world which is developing nowadays speaks in its own language, and therefore the international standardisation of the Arabic language should put an end to that legend of a difficult and exotic language, at the margins of modern and creative languages identified with the Western ones.

Gema Martín -Muñoz

One of the problems that has also been derived from this view is that it was interiorised and assumed by the Arab post-colonial authorities. The official cultural and artistic policies of the various Arab countries have contributed greatly into having this concept in favour of the past take root, convinced that the way to claim their contributions to universal civilisation was to export their rich past whilst ignoring their contemporary artists. Furthermore, the past does not claim, criticise or challenge established powers, unlike the living artist, a citizen who lives and expresses culture and policy. Consequently, many of these artists had to create a permanent or temporary diaspora in order to find the necessary support that was not available in their countries. For this reason too, the recent Arab revolutions represent not only a political break but also an impressive hatching and public expression of modern creativity. In equal measure with the potential that new communication technologies have tapped to the maximum, such artists have expressed their feelings, criticisms and aspirations through the embankments, walls and corners of all the cities that served as epicentres of the revolution. They got clear messages across to the powers that be about what they were fighting against, engaged their fellow citizens in conversation, and let the outside world know that they want everything to change. Painting, sculpture and graffiti have been intermingled to sketch the political map of opposition and rebelliousness through an intense artistic expression, liberated after decades of censure, control and repression. Contemporary Arab artists in Europe, the West and the Middle East are making contributions to the international process of renovation and ongoing innovation in the arts. It is necessary to know them and to change decisively the view of culture and the policies concerning Arab identities. However, the feeling or expression of “Arab identity” is complex to define and thus, each individual perceives, develops, uses or rejects it as he or she sees fit. There are some


las Artes. Lo que se impone es conocerlos y cambiar de manera determinante la visión de la cultura y sus políticas con respecto a las identidades árabes. No obstante, el sentimiento o la expresión de “identidad árabe” es complejo de definir y, de hecho, cada individuo lo siente, elabora, utiliza o rechaza de acuerdo con su libre elección. Hay quienes discrepan en que se les catalogue como “artistas árabes” y reivindican su pertenencia individual y universal a la cultura, independientemente de su lugar de origen. Otros, por el contrario, crean con una conciencia clara de que están aportando a su universo civilizacional de origen una nueva creación, una innovación que a su vez se inserta y contribuye a la universal; o bien son hijos de un mestizaje cultural que reivindica sus diversas identidades. En realidad, en un mundo tan trasnacional y expatriado como el actual, las divisiones binarias entre “nosotros” y “ellos” son artificiales y crean mentalmente la cultura de la distancia en contra de la comunicación transcultural. Establecer un “canon occidental” y un “canon árabe” en las artes contemporáneas es irreal porque hoy la creación artística se convierte rápidamente en un lenguaje universal, aunque no por ello tiene que desprenderse de identidad y significación particular. No se trata de definir lo que es indefinible globalmente (cada cual elige sus identidades y las afirma o expresa cuando libremente así lo decide) ni encorsetar al mundo en identidades cerradas y binarias, sino romper las mentalidades que recrean monopolios de supremacía cultural entre unos y otros, y alejar las tentaciones neo-orientalistas a la búsqueda del mero envoltorio “exótico y étnico”.


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Madrid, otoño 2012

who take issue with being labelled as “Arab artists” and claim an individual and universal adherence to culture, irrespective of their place of origin. Others, on the contrary, have become clearly aware that they are bringing to their civilisation of origin new creativity and innovation which are in turn integrated in and contribute to universal civilisation; or they are the offspring of cultural crossbreeding and lay claim to their different identities. In reality, in such a transnational and expatriate world as ours at this time, binary divisions between “us” and “them” are artificial and create mentally a distance against transcultural communication. Establishing a “Western canon” and an “Arab canon” in contemporary arts is unreal because artistic creation today is rapidly turning into a universal language, which is not to say that particular identity and significance have to give way. It is not a question of defining what is globally non-definable (everyone chooses his or her identities and affirms or expresses them when s/he so decides freely) nor of constricting the world into closed and binary identities, but of changing mentalities that recreate monopolies of cultural supremacy between them, and of averting neo-Orientalist temptations in search of the simple “exotic and ethnic” packaging.

Madrid, autumn 2012

Gema Martín -Muñoz 17


Oedipus in Egypte - DNA 2011 Sabri Saad El Hamus

Š Jean van Lingen


Mezzaterra Fragments from the Common Ground Ahdaf Soueif Holland Park. He came towards me through the crowd in the drawing room of the grand house that I’ve never been in before and have never been in since. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘I’ll show you the menagerie.’ That was twenty-five years ago. I have, in some sense, been examining the menagerie ever since. I had thought it made no difference where one lived: Cairo, London, what was a four-and-a-half-hour-flight? We were citizens of the world and the world was fast becoming more connected. I saw the difficulty only in terms of the personal life: on the one hand, how much would I miss my family, my friends, the sun, the food, the – life? On the other, what was life worth without this miraculous new love? We married in 1981. But I did not move to London permanently until 1984 when our first child was born. I shared, of course, in the general life of the country that had become my other home. I supported Spurs, kept an eye on house prices, formed political opinions and found that whatever view I might hold about Thatcher or Europe or the NHS, I was bound to find it expressed somewhere in the common discourse of the mainstream media. Where I felt myself out of step was when this discourse had anything to do with Egypt, the Arabs or Islam. I had become used to what was at that time an unequivocal support for Israel in the British media, but it troubled me that in almost every book, article, film, TV or radio programme that claimed to be about the part of the world that I came from I could never recognize myself or anyone I knew. I was constantly coming face to face with distortions of my reality.


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I reasoned that this must be the experience of every ‘alien’ everywhere and that it shouldn’t be taken personally. But it was a constant irritant – and world geopolitics meant that interest in where I came from was growing. Was the misrepresentation reciprocal? If I were an American or British person living in Egypt, and if I knew Arabic well enough to read the mainstream Arabic press, would I constantly be brought up short by skewed accounts of my history and culture? Would I switch on the television to find a doom-laden voice intoning about how the Celts worshipped the massive stones placed on Salisbury Plain by astral beings? Would I switch on my car radio and hear an account of yet another outbreak of ‘Christian paedophilia’, with a background theme of church bells and Christmas carols? Would I wander into the movies and come face to face with an evil American character bent on destroying the ‘third’ world so the cinema audience cheers when the Arab hero kills him? I have to say the answer is a resounding no. Where the Arab media is interested in the West it tends to focus on what the West is producing today: policies, technology and art, for example – particularly as those connect to the Arab world. The Arab media has complete

access to English and other European languages and to the world’s news agencies. Interpretative or analytic essays are mostly by writers who read the European and American press and have experience of the West. The informed Arab public does not view the West as one monolithic unit; it is aware of dissent, of the fact that people often do not agree with policy, of the role of the judiciary. Above all, an Arab assumes that a Westerner is, at heart, very much like her – or him. Many times I have heard Palestinian village women, speaking of the Israeli soldiers who torment them, ask ‘does his mother know he’s doing this?’ Living in London, I know that I am not alone in the experience of alienation; there are hundreds of thousands of us: people with an Arab or a Muslim background living in the West and doing daily double-takes when faced with their reflection in a western mirror. I felt upset and angered by the misrepresentations I encountered constantly and I felt grateful when a clear-eyed truth was spoken about us. And then again, who was us? I went to school in London briefly when I was thirteen. Mayfield Comprehensive in Putney. There, the white girls thought I was white (or thought I was close enough to white to want to be thought of as white) and the black girls thought I was black (or close enough to black to make identifying with the whites suspect). But that did not mean I could associate freely where I chose; it meant that I had to make a choice and stick with it. And whichever group I opted for I would be despised by the other. After three months I refused to go to school. Thinking about it now, I see this as my first serious exposure to the ‘with us or against us’ mentality; the mentality that forces you to self-identify as one thing despite your certain knowledge that you are a bit of this and a bit of that. Growing up Egyptian in the Sixties meant growing up muslim/Christian/Egyptian/ Arab/African/Mediterranean/Non-aligend/Socialist but happy with small-scale capitalism. On top of that, if you were urban/professional the chances were that you spoke English and/or French and danced to the Stones as readily as to Abd el-Haleem.

This territory, this ground valued precisely for being a meeting-point for many cultures and traditions – let’s call it ‘Mezzaterra’ – was not invented or

Ahdaf Soueif

In Cairo on any night you could go see an Arabic, English, French, Italian or Russian film. One week the Russian Hamlet was playing at Cinema Odeon, Christopher Plummer’s Hamlet at Cinema Qasr el-Nil and Karam Mutawi’s Hamlet at the Egyptian National Theatre. We were modern and experimental. We believed in art and science. We cared passionately for freedom and social justice. We saw ourselves as occupying a ground common to both Arab and Western culture, Russian culture was in there too, and Indian, and a lot of South America. The question of identity as something that needed to be defined and defended did not occupy us. We were not looking inward at ourselves but outward at the world. We knew who we were. Or thought we did. In fact I never came across the Arabic word for identity, huwiyyah, until long after I was no longer living full-time in Egypt. Looking back, I imagine our Sixties identity as a spacious meeting point, a common ground with avenues into the rich hinterlands of many traditions.


discovered by my generation. But we were the first to be born into it, to inhabit it as of right. It was a territory imagined, created even, by Arab thinkers and reformers starting in the middle of the nineteenth century when Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt first sent students to the West and they came back inspired by the best they saw on offer. Generations of Arabs protected it through the dark time of colonialism. My parents’ generation are still around to tell how they held on to their admiration for the thought and discipline of the West, its literature and music, while working for an end to the West’s occupation of their lands? My mother, for example, who had fallen in love with the literature of Britain at school, and who could not be appointed English lecturer at Cairo University until the British had left, did not consider that rejecting British imperialism involved rejecting English literature. She might say that true appreciation and enjoyment of English literature is not possible unless you are free of British colonialism and can engage with the culture on an equal footing. This is the stance that Edward Said describes: ‘what distinguished the great liberationist cultural movements that stood against Western imperialism was that they wanted liberation within the same universe of discourse inhabited by Western culture’.


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They believed this was possible because they recognized an affinity between the best of Western and the best of Arab culture. Ideals of social justice, public service and equality, identified in modern times as Western, are to be found in the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. If science flourishes in the West now, it had flourished in the Arab and the Muslim lands from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries. The principles of objective scientific enquiry described by Roger Bacon in 1286 are the same as those expressed by al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham in 1020. Taxation and philanthropy produced free health care in Baghdad in the tenth century as they did in London in the twentieth. In both cultures the system of patronage had been the midwife to great architecture, literature and music. And as the European renaissance had blossomed in the sixteenth century out of the mix of Europe’s availing itself of Arab science while discovering its own classical heritage and enjoying an economic boom, so the Arabs looked to build their twentieth-century renaissance on their adoption of Western science and the rediscovery of their own classical heritage. This was precisely the creative fusion behind, for example, the extraordinarily innovative revival in Arabic poetry in the second half of the twentieth century. Generations of Arab Mezzaterrans had, I guess, believed what Western culture said of itself: that its values were universalist, democratic and humane. They believed that once you peeled off military and political dominance, the world so liberated would be one where everyone could engage freely in the exchange of ideas, art forms and technologies. This was the world that my generation believed we had inherited: a fertile land, an area of overlap, where one culture shaded into the other, where echoes and reflections added depth and perspective, where differences were interesting rather than threatening, because they were fore-grounded against a backdrop of affinities. The rewards of inhabiting the Mezzaterra are enormous. At its best it endows each thing, at the same moment, with the shine of the new, the patina of the old; the language, the people, the landscape, the food of one culture constantly reflected off the other. This is not a process of comparison, not a ‘which is better

than which’ project but rather at once a distillation and an enrichment of each thing, each idea. It means, for example, that you are both on the inside and the outside of language, but within each culture your stance cannot help but be both critical and empathetic. But as the Eighties rolled into the Nineties the political direction the world was taking seemed to undermine every aspect of its identity. Our open and hospitable Mezzaterra was under attack from all sides. Personally, I find the situation so grave that in the last four years I have written hardly anything which does not have direct bearing on it. The common ground, after all, is the only home that I and those whom I love can inhabit. As components of my Mezzaterra have hardened, as some have sought to invade and grab territory and others have thrown up barricades, I have seen my space shrink and felt the ground beneath my feet tremble. Tectonic plates shift into new positions and what was once an open and level plain twists into a jagged, treacherous land. But in today’s world a separatist option does not exist; a version of this common ground is where we all, finally, must live if we are to live at all. And yet the loudest voices are the ones that deny its very existence; that trumpet a ‘clash of civilisations’. My non-fiction, then, from the second half of the Eighties, through the Nineties, rather than celebrating Mezzaterra, became a defence of it, an attempt to demonstrate its existence.

Ahdaf Soueif

The whole question of Islam and the West needs to be examined honestly. The current pieties that say ‘we know so little of each other’ or, in the words of Lord Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘we must get rid of the deep hatred we have for each other’, may be well intentioned but they rest on untrue premises and are not helpful. The huge populations of Arab Christians and the Christians who live in Muslim countries know a great deal about Muslims and there is no evidence that they ‘hate’ them. In fact Arab Christians have fought side by side with their Muslim compatriots, neighbours and friends for fourteen centuries. And Muslims have had to learn about Western Christians if only because the West has been the dominant power in Muslim lives for the last 200 years. As for hatred, a ‘secular’ Muslim cannot, by definition, hate a Christian on the grounds of religion. A ‘believing’ Muslim cannot hate a Christian or a Jew because of who they are since Islam is clear that Muslims must live in fellowship with people of the Book. There is, though, an important difference between Christians and Muslims in terms of belief. Since Islam came after Christianity and Judaism and saw itself as a continuation of their traditions, it is part of the faith of a Muslim to believe in Christ, Moses and the prophets of the Old and New Testaments. This is stated in the Qu’ran and it is not open to choice. A believing Christian or Jew, on the other hand, can choose whether or not to believe that Muhammad was a prophet and, therefore, whether Islam too came from the God of Christianity and Judaism. This difference is well demonstrated in the language used by extremists on both sides which – while equally foul – differs in one respect: Christian extremists call Muslims idolators and regularly describe Islam and the Prophet in abuse terms. The most recent high-level example is the Chief of US Military Intelligence, Lt.-Gen. William Boykin, who, while under investigation for boasting that ‘my God is bigger than his (a Muslim fighter’s) god. My god is a real God, his god is an idol’, is also being linked to the torture of detainees in


Guantanamo and Iraq. Islamist extremists at their most virulent never attack Christianity, Christ, or ‘the Christian God’. They never speak against ‘Christians’; the term they use is always ‘Crusader’. It should be said that representation in the Western media is not high among the priorities of my friends in Egypt and other Arab countries. Nor should it be. But for those of us who live in the West this fashioning of an image that is so at variance with the truth is very troubling. As Jean Genet observed in Un captif amoureux, the mask of the image can be used to manipulate reality to sinister ends. And while it would not be correct to attribute malign motives to the media in general, it is not unreasonable to feel that by promoting a picture of the Arab world that is essentially passive, primitive and hopeless, a picture that hardly depicts Arabs as agents of action (except for terrorists and suicide bombers), the media validates the politicians’ dreams of domination. This, also, is where a certain breed of Arab intellectual plays a crucial role. Decrying the political oppression rampant in their countries of birth and exposing the atrocities that take place there, these intellectuals (the majority of whom are to be found in Washington, DC) will implicitly widen their critique to the very culture and people of these countries. They therefore provide the ideological justification to ‘save these people from themselves’. This has been seen in action recently in the writings of Arab intellectuals embedded with the US administration encouraging it into its disastrous Iraqi adventure.


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It has become commonplace to say that the world has never known such dangerous times. It’ possibly true. The givens we live with at the moment are well rehearsed: the absence of a world-power alternative to that of the United States, the US’s umbilical links with the global ambitions of capitalism and corporatism, and the reach and power of contemporary weapons. I would add to these that the identification (despite the efforts at blurring) of Islam as ‘the enemy’ is particularly dangerous. When the West identified the USSR as the enemy, it had to construct ‘the Evil Empire’ from scratch. But with Islam, the ideologues and propagandists of the West need only revive old colonialist and orientalist ideas of Islam as an inherently fanatical, violent ideological system that rejects modernity. They can play to deep-seated fears and prejudices with the roots stretching back into the Middle Ages. When, at the height of troubles, the IRA launched a bombing campaign on the mainland, the suggestion that this was a manifestation of ‘Catholic fanaticism’ was a marginal one. However repellent their bombing of civilians, it had to be regarded and dealt with as a politically motivated act. A similar reaction was afforded the African National Congress’s bombing campaign – no reasonable person suggested that this was ‘black fanaticism’. From 1970 to 2000 the United States has been directly implicated in creating and nurturing Islamist groups to counter secular national liberation movements in Palestine and other Arab countries. It, and the Arab regimes, have succeeded in pushing most political opposition in the cloak if Islamism. Now that the most militant of Islamist extremists, whose lands are the ‘objects’ of Western policies, are no longer content for the battles to be fought exclusively on their home ground and have brought a sample of the carnage into the territory of the West, we hear a ready-made discourse on ‘nihilistic Islamic fanatics’ who are on the rampage because they hate the

democracy, freedom and prosperity of the West. One does not have to condone the killing of civilians to admit the political demands behind it. In fact denying the existence of those political demands guarantees the continuation and escalation of the conflict and the deaths of yet more innocents. A bleak, bleak picture. And yet there is still hope. Hope lies in a unity of conscience between the people of the world for whom this phrase itself carries any meaning. We have seen this conscience in action in the demonstrations that swept the planet before the invasion of Iraq, in the anger of Americans and Europeans at the pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in the courageous stand of the Israelis refusing to serve the occupation and the private citizens from every part of the world who have tried – and some have paid with their lives – to stand between the Palestinians and their destruction. We see it every day in the writings of the brave and dogged few in the mainstream media and in the tireless work of the alternative and fringe media. It expresses itself in the myriad grass-roots movements that have coalesced into a worldwide effort to influence and modify the course of global capitalism. For all this voices, these consciences, to be effective, however, Western democracies have to live to their own values. It is shameful that on questions of international politics there is so little to choose between the governing parties and the opposition in the US and Britain. Democracy presupposes vigorous opposition on matters of national importance; it also presupposes a free and informed media which sees its task as making the facts available to the electorate. The current attacks on civil rights on both sides of the Atlantic, the drive to place security concerns before every other concern, the attempts to tamper with education and the law to serve a political agenda remind me of nothing so much as the activities of the ruling regimes in the Arab world for the last several decades; activities that have now brought the Arab world to what Arab intellectuals argue is the lowest point in its history. Globalisation is happening. It is driven by economics, economic ideology and communications. But does this have to entail the economic, political, cultural annexation of chunks of the world by whoever is the most powerful at any given moment? Surely that is the path to constant conflict, to grief and misery. There is another way and that is to inhabit and broaden the common ground. This is the ground where everybody is welcome, the ground we need to defend and expand. It is to Mezzaterra that every responsible person on this planet now needs to migrate. And it is there that we need to make our stand.

London, June 2004

Ahdaf Soueif 25


Gebeurd in Bagdad/Scenario of Love - Moussem 2011 Hassan Khayoon

Š Yann Verstraete


De arabische kunstenaar die in Europa kunst wil gaan maken, ziet zich voor een dubbele uitdaging gesteld Abdelkader Benali Op een dag wordt de Arabier wakker in een hotelkamer in een middelgrote Europese stad om te ontdekken dat hem iets is ontnomen. Bij het ontbijt kijkt hij schichtig om zich heen om te zien of hij signalen kan opvangen van de persoon die hem dit heeft aangedaan. Ook een dief moet ergens ontbijten. Hoe hopeloos naïef deze gedachte is, weet de Arabier wel maar in de loop der jaren heeft hij naïeve gedachten leren cultiveren bij gebrek aan reële gedachten. Alleen de hoop laat ruimte voor vooruitgang. Als hij de dief niet voor het middaguur vindt, zal hij aangifte doen. Het vreemde en ook beangstigende is, dat hij niet weet wat hem is ontstolen. Roerend in zijn ei ziet hij de situatie bij de politie al voor zich. “Waar wilt u aangifte van doen?” “Diefstal.” “Wat?” “Weet ik niet. Moet ik nog zien achter te komen.” Rare jongens, die Arabieren.


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Sinds hij in Europa is, doet hij z’n best om niet over te komen als een rare Arabier. Toen hij zijn vaderland verliet, hield zijn familie niet op te zeggen: “Wees een ambassadeur voor de Arabieren. Hang niet de paljas uit. Spreek met twee woorden. En respecteer de gastvrijheid die je ontvangt.” Ga daar maar eens aanstaan. Kort samengevat, hij moest nederigheid betrachten. Om de woorden kracht bij te zetten kreeg hij een blauwe stropdas mee die, in de ogen van zijn familie, hem als geschikt moest doen overkomen in de ogen van de mensen. Maar wat brengt die nederigheid hem nu hij in de ontbijtzaal zit, bestolen en wanhopig? Inwendig kookt hij van woede terwijl er aan de buitenkant alleen maar hoffelijkheid en een zekere vorm van berusting te zien is. Vandaag hoeft hij niet te werken. Hij heeft een job in het hotel als manager; in ruil ontvangt hij kost en inwoning en een redelijk maandloon. Hij spreekt zijn talen, in tegenstelling tot zijn collega’s. Maar een paar mensen kennen hem bij z’n achternaam. De meesten noemen hem bij zijn voornaam. Als hij afwezig is, wordt hij de Arabier genoemd. Een medewerker in een dronken bui biechtte hem dat op. “Wanneer je er niet bij bent dan ben je de Arabier. We haten je, Arabier! We houden van je, Arabier!”

the arabic artist who wants to make art in europe faces a double challenge Abdelkader Benali

One day the Arab wakes up in a hotel room in a medium-sized European city only to find that something has been taken from him. At breakfast he looks around furtively to see if he can pick up signals from the person who did this. Even a thief must have breakfast somewhere. However hopelessly naive this idea may be, the Arab knows that over the years he has learned to cultivate naive ideas in the absence of those that are real. Only hope leaves room for improvement. If he hasn’t found the thief by noon he will report the theft. The strange and frightening thing is he doesn’t know what has been stolen. Stirring his egg he already pictures the scene at the police station. “What is it you wish to report?” “A theft.” “Of what?” “I don’t know. I still have to find out.” Arabs are weird. Ever since he has been in Europe he has done his best not to come across as a crazy Arab. When he left his homeland his family kept telling him: “Be an ambassador for Arabs. Don’t act the clown. Speak with few words. And respect the hospitality you receive.” This is no easy matter. In short, he must act with humility. To add force to the words of advice, he was given a blue tie which, in the eyes of his family, would give him the appearance of respectability. But what has this humility brought him, sitting here in the breakfast room robbed and desperate? Inside he is boiling with anger while on the outside he shows only courtesy and a certain degree of resignation.

Abdelkader Benali

Today he does not have to work. He has a job in the hotel as manager; in exchange he receives room and board and a reasonable monthly wage. Unlike his colleagues he knows his languages. Only a few people know him by his surname. Most of them address him by his first name. If he is absent he is referred to as the Arab. An employee confessed this to him in a drunken stupor. “When you’re not there you are the Arab. We hate you Arab! We love you Arab!”


Hij loopt naar buiten voor zijn dagelijkse wandeling. De Arabier is lang geleden uit zijn vaderland vertrokken om na jaren van afwezigheid te kunnen zeggen dat wat daar gebeurt niet zijn zaak is. Wat dan wel zijn zaak is, daar moet hij nog zien achter te komen. De baan die hij heeft is inmiddels wel zijn zaak geworden. Wanneer een hotelgast ontevreden is, raakt hem dat als een mokerslag. Als een werknemer wat te laat is, gaat hem dat niet in de koude kleren zitten. De oude studievrienden met wie hij hierover zou kunnen praten, leven ver van hem weg. Het merendeel van hen heeft een baantje gekregen in de alsmaar uitdijende bureaucratie van hun moederland. Ze zouden zeker neerkijken op het werk van een manager omdat het hen eindeloos vermoeiend lijkt. Voor een bureaucraat is vermoeidheid de ultieme vorm van inefficiëntie. En er is sprake van liefde voor het vak wanneer het dossier wordt vergezeld van een nieuw dossier, zodat het oude dossier er minder eenzaam bij afsteekt. Die vrienden leven ver van hem vandaan en als hij ze zou bellen, zouden ze niet goed begrijpen waarom hij al die moeite nam om hen op de hoogte te brengen van zijn miserie. Want bestolen worden toont, in hun ogen, alleen maar aan hoe rijk hij is geworden. Het is een privilege dat licht gedragen moet worden. Ze zullen hem beschimpen en hem verwijten maken. Was het sowieso geen slecht idee om die baan als manager aan te nemen? En na wat formele vragen en wederhoor zouden ze concluderen dat zolang hij geen dossier bijhield, een ordentelijk dossier, er met zijn leven geen land te bezeilen viel. Wat zijn vrienden zouden zeggen, zo vaak uitgedacht wanneer hij de slaap niet kon vatten, klopte ergens ook wel. Hij ging nooit terug naar het moederland, hij bezat er geen grond, geen huis, geen vrouw, zijn lach weerklonk niet in de straten, hij was niet aanwezig bij besnijdenissen, bij Ramadans, bij moskee of kerkgang, met Kerstmis, met Pasen en hij bezat ook geen dossier. Ze hadden zeker reden om hem heel serieus de maat te nemen! Waarom heeft hij hen over zoiets pietluttigs gebeld, terwijl zij honger lijden, een baan zoeken, vechten voor gelijke kansen.


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Gelukkig is er nog altijd de Marokkaanse slager om wat verlichting in zijn leven te brengen, wanneer hij met zijn ziel onder de arm loopt. Maar ook bij de Marokkaanse slager waar hij zijn vlees, groenten en fruit koopt, kan hij helemaal niet op de proppen komen met het verhaal van de diefstal. Daarvoor is het veel te weinig concreet. In hun ogen is hij een grote meneer die de dingen altijd net even iets anders ziet. Dus veel van wat hij zegt, daar verbazen ze zich over. Maar bestolen worden en niet weten wat er van je gestolen is, dat is een brug te ver. Net als hen is hij een Arabier, maar dan van de verlichte klasse. Zelfs wanneer ze met elkaar concluderen dat ze tot een grote gemeenschap behoren, die zijn wortels uitstrekt van Bagdad tot aan Tanger, is de verzuchting toch dat zij vlees hakken en hij zijn handen nooit vuil heeft gemaakt. En dat zorgt voor een kloof die met veel respect in stand wordt gehouden. Hij is in hun ogen geïnteresseerd in dialoog en allergisch voor cynisme – dat valt hen althans steeds op. Je moet wel van heel goeden huize komen om je zo’n positie te kunnen veroorloven.

He goes outside for his daily walk. The Arab left his homeland many years ago, long enough to feel that what is happening there is no concern of his. What does concern him is something he will still have to find out. His job has by now become his business. When a hotel guest is dissatisfied, it hits him like a sledgehammer. When an employee is too late for work it bothers him a lot. The old college friends he could talk to about this live far away. Most of them have a job in the ever expanding bureaucracy of their homeland. They would certainly look down on the job of manager because it would seem to them endlessly tiring. For a bureaucrat, fatigue is the ultimate form of inefficiency. And there is talk of love for the job when the dossier is accompanied by a new dossier, so the old dossier appears less lonely. These friends live far away and if he called them they wouldn’t understand why he would go to all the trouble of informing them of his misery. In their eyes the fact he has been robbed only shows how rich he has become. This is a privilege that should be born lightly. They would taunt and reproach him. Wasn’t it a bad idea after all to take on the job of manager? And after some formal questions and replies, they would conclude that as he kept no record, no orderly record, how could he then hope for a good life? What his friends would say, which he has often thought about when sleep eluded him, did have some truth to it. He never visited the mother country, he owned no land, no house, had no wife, his laughter did not echo in the streets, he was not present at circumcisions, at Ramadan, at the mosque or church hall, at Christmas or Easter and he also had no dossier. They certainly had no reason to take him very seriously! Why has he called them about something so trifling when they are starving, trying to find work and fighting for equal rights? Fortunately there is still the Moroccan butcher to bring some relief to his life whenever he is bored. However, he cannot tell the Moroccan butcher, where he buys his meat, vegetables and fruit, the story of the theft either. He has too little concrete information for that. In their eyes he is the great man who always sees things from a slightly different perspective. So they are surprised at much of what he says. But being robbed and not knowing what has been taken, that is going a bridge too far.

Abdelkader Benali

Like them he is an Arab, but then of the enlightened class. Even when they all agree that they belong to a large community whose roots stretch from Baghdad to Tangier, they bemoan the fact that they are chopping up meat while he has never dirtied his hands. And that creates a gap that is maintained with a great deal of respect. In their eyes he is interested in dialogue and allergic to cynicism – at least this is something they perceive. You have to be very good indeed to be able to afford such a position. They are deeply impressed by his knowledge of Arabic. Nobody speaks it better than he does. They come from Morocco but have lived all their lives here. Arabic is a language unknown to them. When they speak it, it is full of grammatical errors. They call it Couscous-Arabic. Once he started talking about the great


Ze zijn diep onder de indruk van zijn kennis van de Arabische taal. Niemand spreekt het beter dan hij. Zij komen uit Marokko maar leven al hun hele leven hier. Het Arabisch is voor hen een onbekende taal. Als ze het spreken dan zit het vol grammaticale fouten. Couscous-Arabisch noemen ze het. Een keer begon hij te praten over de grote Arabische schrijvers. Hij begreep niet waarom die slagerjongens zich niet wat meer verdiepten in hun eigen cultuur. Het zei hen niets. Een Nederlandse vrouw, die wat in een bak met bosjes muntthee zat te wroeten, hoorde hem en riep: “Van die namen heb ik romans gelezen.” Toen ging ze snel verder met wroeten in de bak met bosjes muntthee. Wat zou het opluchten als hij iemand zou ontmoeten die, al was het maar voor een kwartiertje, naar zijn verhaal luistert. Het zou niet gebeuren. Bovendien, hij merkt dat hij in de loop der jaren zwijgzamer is geworden. Het is niet meer zoals vroeger, toen hij bij het minste of geringste alles maar wilde mededelen. Het spontane is er vanaf. Hij is zijn woorden zorgvuldig gaan kiezen, als mineralen die eerst geslepen moeten worden voordat ze in de toonbank worden gelegd. Dat heeft hij in Europa geleerd in de omgang met de gasten die inchecken; met het personeel maar vooral met zijn bazen. Om vooruit te komen in Europa moet je niet teveel woorden verspillen.

Hij keert terug naar het hotel, gaat z’n kamer in.


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Als hij eenmaal weet wat hij mist, zal hij ook een aanknopingspunt hebben om erachter te komen wie de dief is. Hij sluit zijn deur altijd af; de ramen gaan op een kier. Hij slaapt op vijf hoog, het is onmogelijk om daar door het raam te komen. En als het al was gebeurd, dan had hij het gemerkt. Van het minste of geringste schrikt hij wakker. Al jaren. Soms kijkt hij naar Al Jazeera; daar gebeurt altijd alles een week eerder dan in de Europese media. De tijdmachine stelt hem niet teleur: uiteengereten lichamen, huilende vrouwen, treurige kinderen. Dit is niet de Arabische wereld die hij kent. Er is in de Arabische wereld van Al Jazeera geen ruimte voor een lach, verwondering en al het spontane. Men heeft wel wat beters te doen. Al Jazeera lijkt op Europa. Geobsedeerd door macht, geobsedeerd door de massa, geobsedeerd door zichzelf. De arrogantie van Al Jazeera doet hem denken aan een lilliputter die gigantische groeistuipen heeft gekregen en zich plotseling een reus waant. Een keer in de maand toont Al Jazeera een documentaire waarin een Arabier die in Europa woont, wordt belicht. Het programma heet ‘In de migratie’ en migratie moet worden opgevat als een entiteit, als een plek waar men tegen z’n zin naar toe gaat. Het programma plaatst de gasten – luitspelers, artsen, zakenmannen – als geslaagd. Toch missen ze hun vaderland. Ze zijn blij voor de kansen die ze hebben gekregen, maar het wordt niet duidelijk hoe de relatie met het nieuwe land werkelijk is. Alsof Al Jazeera bang is dat teveel details de melancholie, die migratie ook met zich meebrengt, zal verpesten. Hierdoor krijgt het programma iets van een verplichte oefening met een voorspelbare uitkomst. De migrant is ontheemd, hij lijdt aan emotionele slapeloosheid: zelfs wanneer hij onder zeil is, gaan zijn gedachten toch uit naar dat andere land.

Arab writers. He didn’t understand why these butcher boys did not immerse themselves more in their own culture. It meant nothing to them. A Dutch woman who was rummaging in a bowl containing bunches of mint tea heard him and called out: “I have read novels by these writers.” Then she quickly went on rummaging in the bowl. It would be such a relief to meet someone, if only for fifteen minutes, who listened to his story. This never happened. Moreover, he has noticed that he has become more silent over the years. It is not like before, when he would comment on any little thing, however minor. All spontaneity has gone. He has started to choose his words carefully, like minerals that first have to be carefully cut and polished before being displayed at the counter. He has learned this in Europe when dealing with guests who check in; with the staff but especially with his bosses. To get ahead in Europe you must not waste too many words.

He returns to the hotel and goes to his room. Once he knows what is missing it will give him a clue as to who the thief is. He always locks his door and leaves the windows slightly ajar. He sleeps on the fifth floor so it’s impossible to get in through the window. And besides, if this did happen he would notice. He jerks awake at the slightest noise. This has been so for many years. Sometimes he looks at Al Jazeera where everything always happens a week earlier than in the European media. The time machine never disappoints him: dismembered bodies, crying women, sad children. This is not the Arab world he knows. In the Arab world of Al Jazeera there is no room for laughter, wonder or any form of spontaneity. People have better things to do. Al Jazeera resembles Europe. It is obsessed with power, the masses, itself. The arrogance of Al Jazeera reminds him of a midget who has experienced huge growth spurts and suddenly thinks of himself as a giant.

Abdelkader Benali

Once a month it shows a documentary film that focuses on an Arab living in Europe. The programme is called In the Migration, and migration should be understood as an entity, a place where people go against their will. The programme describes the guests – lute players, doctors, businessmen – as successful. Yet they miss their homeland. They are pleased with the opportunities they have been given, but it is not clear what their relationship with the new country is really like. It is as if Al Jazeera is afraid that supplying too many details of the melancholy that is also a part of migration, will spoil it. Consequently, the programme is a bit like a mandatory exercise with a predictable outcome. The migrant is displaced, he suffers from emotional insomnia: even when he is under sail his thoughts still go out to that other country.


Bij een gematigd klimaat horen gematigde emoties. En goed kunnen rekenen, optellen en aftrekken, is ook een emotie. Hij begint een lijst te maken waarin hij alles opsomt wat hij bezit en wat hem dus afgenomen kan worden. Zo’n lijst kan heel lang zijn, maar bij hem valt het nog wel mee. In het hotel kent men hem als een man die niet veel nodig heeft. Hij gaat na wat hij bij aankomst heeft meegenomen, wat hij heeft weggedaan – dus waar hij van weet dat het niet buiten hem om is verdwenen – en wat hem nog rest. De uitkomst ervan moet aan het licht brengen wat hij mist. Een kat, die op een dag kwam aanwandelen en die hij heeft geadopteerd, houdt hem gezelschap. Hij noemt de kat Oum Kalsoum omdat ze zo mooi kan miauwen. Hij schrijft op: Een waterpijp (verkocht) Baboesjas (versleten, weggegooid) Foto’s van familie, vrienden. Studententijd. (bewaard; in een mapje, deels verkleurd toen ik ze te lang in de zon liet liggen) Cassettebandjes van de zangers van zijn jeugd: de Libanese Fairouz, de Egyptische Abdalhalim Hafez en de Algerijnse Warda (sommige kapot, sommige nog in redelijke staat. Allen in bezit. Wat moet de dief ermee?) Kilo pistache (voor noodgevallen. Nog in bezit.) Verzameld werk van Mahmoud Darwisj, Kanafani, Mahfouz. (In bezit. Een dief steelt geen oud papier.) Dit zijn allemaal zaken die voor een dief van hier totaal geen waarde hebben. Je kan ze niet verkopen. Niemand is erin geïnteresseerd.


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En toch, overziend wat hij daar allemaal heeft opgeschreven, ziet hij wat hij is. Een hunkerende man. Maar dat er niemand is in het hotel, die hem hier ooit over zal aanspreken, dat verbaast hem toch zeer. En dus besluit hij om een cassettebandje af te spelen van Fairoez, al was het maar om te zien wat voor reacties het uitlokt. Er gebeurt niets. Misschien staat de muziek niet hard genoeg. De muziek harder afspelen, durft hij niet. Met de hand strijkt hij over zijn stropdas.

In het lokale cafe waar hij sinds zijn aankomst, jaren geleden, een plekje heeft gevonden, onderhoudt hij zich met de stamgasten. Het komt niet in hem op zijn verwarring onder woorden te brengen. De indruk die ze van hem moeten krijgen is dat hij sterk en daadkrachtig is. Een romanticus die tot grootste daden in staat is. En omdat hij dat is gaan doen, zou het wel heel vreemd zijn als hij zou vertellen dat het toch een tikkeltje anders lag. Toen hij zijn weg zocht, vertelde hij vaak over zijn vaderland om contact te maken met al die vreemdelingen. Op die manier hoopte hij geaccepteerd te worden. Hij wilde geen vreemde zijn. Daarnaast had hij goed onthouden wat ze hem van thuis hadden meegegeven: “Wees een ambassadeur van je volk!” Het verhaal moest bemiddelen waar ervaring en bekendheid tekortschoot. “Mijn eerste geliefde heette gazelle. Mijn tweede geliefde heette Warda. Mijn derde geliefde is dit land.”

In temperate climates emotions too should be temperate. Being good at math, addition and subtraction is also an emotion. He begins to make a list in which he enumerates everything he owns and so what can be taken from him. Such a list can be very long, but his is not too bad. In the hotel he is known as a man of few needs. He checks what he brought with him on arrival, what he has done away with - so that he knows it has not disappeared outside his doing - and what he has left. The outcome should bring to light what he’s missing A cat, who suddenly came walking in one day and which he adopted, keeps him company. He calls the cat Oum Kalsoum because she can meow so beautifully. He writes: A hookah (sold) Babu jacket (worn, discarded) Photos of family, friends. Student days. (preserved, in a folder, partly discoloured after being left lying too long in the sun) Cassette tapes of the singers of his youth: the Lebanese Fairouz, Egyptian Abdalhalim Hafez, and the Algerian Warda (some broken, some still in reasonable condition. All still in possession. What would a thief want these for?) A kilo of pistachio nuts (for emergencies. Still in possession) Collected works of Mahmoud Darwisj, Kanafani, Mahfouz. (In possession. A thief does not steal old paper.) These are all things that have no value for a thief here. You cannot sell them. Nobody is interested in them. And yet, looking over what he has written he sees what he is. A man who yearns. But the fact that no one at the hotel will ever mention this to him, greatly surprises him. And so he decides to play a tape of Fairoez, even if only to see what reactions it provokes. Nothing happens. Maybe the music is not loud enough. He dare not turn up the music. He runs his hand over his tie.

In the local pub where he has found a place since his arrival many years ago, he talks to the regulars. It does not occur to him to express his confusion. The impression that they should have of him is of someone who is strong and decisive. A romantic who is able to perform great deeds. And because this is what he has been doing it would be very strange if he told them things were actually slightly different.

Abdelkader Benali

When he was still trying to find his way, he often talked about his homeland to make contact with all those strangers. In this way he hoped to be accepted. He did not want to be a stranger. In addition to this, he remembered well what they had told him at home: “Be an ambassador of your people!” The story would mediate where experience and familiarity were deficient. “My first love was called gazelle. My second was called Warda. My third is this country.”


Ze konden wel om hem lachen, de Arabische romanticus, die met zijn aanwezigheid een heel nieuwe, grappige manier van kijken meebracht. “Mensen zoals jij zijn hier al lang uitgestorven,” zei een stamgast die literatuur had gestudeerd. “Heel lang geleden kwamen ze in deze contreien voor. Ze koppelden een heldere geest aan een onverzettelijke geldingsdrang. Ze reisden wat af. Gek genoeg gingen ze allemaal de kant op waar jij vandaan komt. Alsof daar de Heilige Graal om hun onrust te stillen te vinden was.”

Hij bezoekt de lokale bibliotheek. Met de bibliothecaresse (knotje in het haar, hier en daar wat grijs, leesbril aan een koordje) heeft hij een goede verstandhouding opgebouwd. Ze koestert een fascinatie voor zijn land, gevoed door de romantische reisliteratuur van Franse schrijvers. Daar kwam ze ook voor uit. Toen ze hoorde dat hij uit een van de contreien van Arabia Felix kwam, kwam er op haar toch al opgewekte gezicht een heel grote glimlach bij. Zo’n glimlach van ontroering die mensen hebben wanneer ze herinnerd worden aan een plaats waar ze heimelijk over dromen. “Verlang je er naar om terug te gaan?” “Natuurlijk. Het is mijn land. Maar waar ik aan zal komen, dat is niet meer mijn land. Blijf ik hier, dan is het mijn land. Op zo’n afstand voel ik me verbonden. Ga ik er naar toe, dan wordt het andermans land. Een land van miljoenen.” De mevrouw leek het te begrijpen. “Je zegt het allemaal zo mooi,” zuchtte ze. Er was niets moois aan zijn verdriet. “Wanneer jullie verlangen dan treurt de hele wereld. Wanneer wij verlangen, dan regent het op natte kranten,” zei ze triest. Het speet hem dat hij haar had meegezogen in zijn melancholie, melancholie die als een kreupele hond achter hem aanliep.


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Wat ze daarmee wilde zeggen, begreep hij niet. Hij hield er niet van als zijn vaderland werd afgeschilderd als een duister oord vol corruptie, dictatuur en armoede. Zelfs als het waar was, je land was toch je land. Net zo vervelend vond hij het wanneer mensen zijn land ophemelden om die typische sfeer, de nationale keuken of de schoonheid van de mannen en vrouwen. Voor hem was verlangen overal op aarde hetzelfde. Wellicht doelde ze op een gemoedstoestand die veranderde zodra het klimaat veranderde. Om haar te troosten zei hij: “Ook gemoedstoestanden zijn onderhevig aan de veranderingen in het klimaat. Reken maar dat, wanneer hier de zeespiegel stijgt en de droge sirocco gaat blazen, je net als ik heel verlangend uitkijkt naar de herfst.” “Laten we een keer een kopje koffie doen om daar over te praten.” De Arabier haalde zijn schouders op. Die houding betekende in zijn land: graag, kom maar op. Niet voor haar. Schouders ophalen drukte onverschilligheid uit zodat er niks terechtkwam van het kopje koffie. Toch had hij veel aan haar. Ze was attent, nieuwsgierig en behulpzaam.

They were able to laugh at him, the Arab romanticist, whose presence brought a whole new way of looking at things. “People like you are long extinct here,” said one of the regulars who had studied literature. “A long time ago they were found in these parts. They combined a clear mind with an unyielding assertiveness. They travelled a lot. Oddly enough, they all headed in the direction of where you come from. As if this is where they would find the Holy Grail and assuage their unrest.”

He visits the local library. He has a good rapport with the librarian (hair in a bun, threads of grey here and there, reading glasses on a cord). She has a fascination for his country, fuelled by romantic travel literature of French writers. She was quite open about this. When she heard that he came from one of the lands of Arabia Felix, a big smile appeared on her already cheerful face. The sort of emotional smile that appears when people are reminded of a place they secretly dream of. “Do you long to go back?” “Of course. It’s my country. But what I will find there is no longer my country. If I stay here, then it’s my country. At such a distance I feel connected. If I go to it, then it becomes someone else’s country. A country of millions.” The lady seemed to understand. “You say it all so beautifully,” she sighed. There was nothing beautiful about his grief. “When you yearn the whole world grieves. If we yearn, then it rains on wet newspapers”, she said sadly. He regretted that he had drawn her into his melancholy, melancholy that followed him like a crippled dog. He did not understand what she was trying to say. He did not like his country to be described as a dark place full of corruption, dictatorship and poverty. Even if this is true, your country is your country. It also annoyed him when people extolled his country for its atmosphere, the national cuisine and the beauty of men and women. For him yearning was the same everywhere on earth.

Abdelkader Benali

Perhaps she was referring to a mood that changed when the climate changed. To comfort her, he said: “Even moods are subject to climate changes. When the sea level rises here and the dry sirocco starts to blow, you too will start to long for autumn.” “Let us meet sometime for a cup of coffee and talk about it.” The Arab shrugged. In his country this meant: yes, let’s do that. But not for her. A shrug expressed indifference so nothing would come of the coffee. Yet she meant a lot to him. She was attentive, curious and helpful.


Omdat hij nieuw was in de stad en zich een plek zocht, introduceerde ze hem de schrijvers die over zijn wereld hadden geschreven. Flaubert, De Nerval, Lamartine; dat waren haar favorieten. Hij las ze, niet allemaal met veel genoegen. Ze konden soms heel vervelende dingen zeggen over zijn land. Dan hield hij even op met lezen om zich af te vragen of het allemaal wel klopte. Wat waren die reizigers toch naïef, net zo naïef als hij in dit nieuwe land? Op Flaubert had de combinatie van armoede en ziektes een onweerstaanbare charme uitgeoefend. Hij had zelfs een leprozenziekenhuis bezocht om zich te goed te doen aan de weerzinwekkende aandoeningen. Het Oosten was een fantasiekabinet. Wat hem aansprak in het Westen, als hij het zo moest stellen, was de weerzinwekkende hygiëne. Net als hij waren die reizigers op zoek naar een wereld waar ze hun dromen van verlossing werkelijkheid konden zien worden. Een droomwereld waar hij, net als de bibliothecaresse, wel de charme van in zag, maar niet meer dan dat. Wanneer de Arabier werd gevraagd waarom hij weg was gegaan uit zijn vaderland, zei hij: “Liefde.” “Liefde?” “Een vrouw met wie ik schreef nodigde me uit. Ik ging haar achterna.” Na een paar jaar kreeg hij, veroorzaakt door ontwikkelingen op het wereldtoneel, weer die vraag en toen was zijn antwoord: “Vrijheid.” “Vrijheid?” “In mijn land waren de straten spijlen, de huizen gevangenissen voor vrijdenkers. Ik kwam een vrouw tegen die me vleugels ombond.” Toen, weer door ontwikkelingen op het wereldtoneel, men hem opnieuw vroeg waarom hij was weggegaan, zei hij: “Een procent groei voor een procent van de bevolking – daar valt niet mee te leven. Ik studeerde aan de universiteit. Met mijn vingers tekende ik formules in de lucht maar op papier mochten ze niet bestaan. Ik las een oude Economist, de laatste pagina, waar de groeicijfers per week staan. Het viel me op dat hier de groei per hoofd van de bevolking groter was. Daar moest ik zijn.”


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Toen men begrepen had dat de Arabier steeds een ander antwoord gaf op steeds dezelfde vraag, hield men niet op hem die vraag van tijd tot tijd te stellen. “En waarom ben je nu hier?” “Democratie.” “Islam.” “De Franse keuken.” “Bier.” “Genot.” “Eerlijkheid.” “Verbeelding.” “Oase.” “De Midzomernachtsdroom van Shakespeare.”

Because he was new in town and trying to find his place, she introduced him to the writers who had written about his world. Flaubert, De Nerval, Lamartine; these were her favourites. He read them, but not all, with great pleasure. They could sometimes say very nasty things about his country. Then he stopped reading for a while to consider whether they were wrong. Weren’t these travellers simply naive, just as naive as he was in this new country? The combination of poverty and disease had exercised an irresistible charm on Flaubert. He had even visited a leper hospital to relish the appalling disease. The East was a cabinet of fantasy. What he had found particularly appealing in the West was its abhorrent hygiene. Like him, those travellers were seeking a world where their dreams of redemption became reality. He, like the librarian, could see the charm of such a dream world, but no more than that. When the Arab was asked why he had left his homeland, he said: “Love.” “Love?” “A woman I was corresponding with invited me to come. I followed her.” A few years later, and due to developments on the world stage, he found himself being asked the same question and then he answered: “Freedom.” “Freedom?” “In my country, the streets were bars and the houses prisons for freethinkers. I met a woman who gave me wings.” Then, and again through developments on the world stage, people once again asked him why he had left, he said: “One percent of growth for one percent of the population – this was unacceptable. I studied at the university. With my fingers I drew formulas in the air but they were not allowed to exist on paper. I read an old Economist, the last page, where the weekly growth rates are stated. It struck me that the growth per capita was greater here. This is where I had to be.” When they realised the Arab always gave a different answer to the same question, this did not stop them asking him the same question from time to time.

Abdelkader Benali

“And why are you here?” “Democracy.” “Islam.” “The French cuisine.” “Beer.” “Pleasure.” “Honesty.” “Imagination.” “Oasis.” “Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.”


Toen hij ’s avonds laat halfdronken naar huis waggelde, liep hij een groepje jongens tegemoet die vanuit het niets dingen naar hem begonnen te roepen. “Gore Arabier. Je neukt al onze vrouwen. Je neukt al onze dochters. Je neukt al onze moeders. Je neukt alles wat los en vast zit. Ze zouden je aan je besneden lul moeten ophangen aan een palmboom. Iemand moet het klusje doen. Er is hier geen plaats voor jou. Je bent uitschot. Verbeeld je maar niks. Uitschot blijf je.” Hadden ze hem maar geslagen dan zou hij tenminste de blauwe plekken hebben om naar te wijzen.

’s Avonds komt de onrust, die hem even verlaten had, weer terug. En met de onrust komen de prangende vragen. Natuurlijk was het opstellen van een lijst geen slecht idee. Wat hij erin schreef echter wel. Het moest anders. Wat bezat hij nog meer naast al zijn bezittingen? Zaken van immateriële waarde? Hij pakte z’n stoel en begon te schrijven. Lijst van immateriële zaken, die men kan bezitten en die gestolen kunnen worden: Mijn dromen Eer Verlangen Honger Verdriet Vaderlandsliefde Ik Jij De rest Mijn geschiedenis Natuurlijk, dit alles kan hem ontnomen worden, maar ze zijn toch ook van een soortelijk gewicht dat, afhankelijk van waar hij is en hoe hij zich voelt, altijd aan verandering onderhevig is. Wat er gisteren niet was – dat vreemde besef van wie hij nu is – kan zich morgen ineens heel sterk laten voelen.


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Met die gedachte sluit hij de avond af, loopt nog een keer door het hotel ter controle voordat hij naar bed gaat. In bed draait hij zich een paar keer om tot hij de ideale positie heeft gevonden, waarin hij ook zijn verwarring als bedgenoot de ruimte laat. In een laatste omwoeling voor hij echt in slaap valt, omhelst hij haar.

Amsterdam, zomer 2012

When, late at night, he was tottering home half drunk, he came across a group of boys who suddenly started shouting at him. “Filthy Arab. You fuck our women. You fuck our daughters. You fuck all our mothers. You fuck anything and everything. They should hang you up by your circumcised dick on a palm tree. Someone has to do the job. There is no place for you here. You are scum. Don’t get any ideas about yourself. You will always be scum.” If they had beaten him, at least he would have the bruises to show for it.

In the evening the unrest that had briefly left him, returned. And with the unrest came the pressing questions. Of course compiling a list was not a bad idea. But what he wrote down on it, was. It should be done differently. What else did he possess apart from all his possessions? Things of no material value? He sat down and began to write. List of immaterial effects that one can possess and that can be stolen: My dreams Honour Yearning Hunger Grief Patriotism I You The remainder My history Of course, all this can be taken from him, but their value, depending on where he is and how he feels, is always subject to change. What was not there yesterday - that strange sense of who he is today – can suddenly manifest itself very powerfully tomorrow. With that thought he concludes the evening, walking around the hotel checking everything one last time before he goes to bed. In bed he turns a few times until he has found the ideal position in which he also allows room for his confusion as a bedfellow. In a final stirring before he falls asleep, he embraces it.

Amsterdam, summer 2012

Abdelkader Benali 41


Le trait Compagnie Nacera Belaza 2012

Š Laurent Philippe

Š David Balicki

Le hip hop dans ses retournements Gérard Mayen Comment un genre chorégraphique peut se refermer en assignation identitaire. Et comment certains artistes, dont Nacera Belaza, parviennent cependant à en rouvrir le potentiel de contradictions. Réflexions.

Cette scène : le rédacteur de ces lignes, critique de danse, débarque en gare d’une ville de la province française, à l’occasion d’un festival. Le directeur de ce festival se trouve sur le quai. Il est venu accueillir des artistes. Parmi lesquels les membres d’un crew fameux de hip hop. Ce programmateur s’avise alors que le critique n’a jamais rencontré ce groupe. Il se met en devoir d’effectuer les présentations. Avec ce commentaire, car notre homme est par ailleurs directeur d’un ballet d’une maison d’opéra de l’Hexagone : « Rendez-vous compte, ces jeunes gens venaient s’entraîner sur le parvis de notre opéra. Non seulement, nous les y avons fait rentrer, mais encore c’est pour qu’ils se retrouvent sur scène ! » L’anecdote est minuscule. Néanmoins significative des impensés de toute une politique culturelle publique à destination du hip hop. Son lot de paternalisme satisfait, compris. L’auteur de ces lignes se trouve en situation paradoxale. Il est spécialisé en danse contemporaine. Il y défend des options esthétiques axées sur la déconstruction de la représentation spectaculaire, la mise en critique des modes de production et de contrôle des corporéités dans le monde de la danse. L’auteur de ces lignes doit confesser ne connaître presque rien au hip hop, quand il entreprend ici de livrer un texte entier de réflexions à son propos.


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Le hip hop, il s’en est tenu à distance, y déplorant une reproduction de formes extrêmement codifiées et attendues comme telles, à rebours donc de ses propres options pour l’exploration, l’incertain et l’ouvert. Plus confusément, sans jamais s’être attardé à le formuler jusqu’à ce jour, c’est le complexe socioculturel du hip hop de création à la française, les implicites que celui-ci véhicule, qui lui ont inspiré de vives réticences. Ce malaise récurrent s’est exacerbé au cours de l’été 2012, avec la mise en regard de plusieurs spectacles ayant à voir avec le hip hop, mais révélateurs de démarches totalement contradictoires. Nacera Belaza, dans sa pièce Le trait, créée alors au Festival d’Avignon, aura été une actrice de ce débat esthétique en gestes, avec un effet de clarification particulièrement pertinent. Au reste, on n’est même pas sûr qu’elle se sente elle-même très concernée par la question ici soulevée. Et il ne s’agit pas de l’enrôler à son insu au service de thèses qui, peut-être, ne la motivent guère. Mais il s’agit de se saisir de ce que fait l’art, qui ne se confond pas, ne se rabat pas exclusivement, avec (sur) ce qu’une artiste énonce comme relevant précisément de ses intentions.

As Hip Hop (Re)turns Gérard Mayen

How a choreographic genre can shut itself in an appropriated identity and how certain artists, including Nacera Belaza, nonetheless manage to reopen its potential for contradictions. Reflections.

The setting: the author of these lines, a dance critic, arrives at the train station of a provincial town in France for a festival. The director of that festival is waiting on the platform. He has come to welcome the artists. They include the members of a celebrated hip hop crew. The director realises that the critic has never met that group. He takes it upon himself to make the introductions, with the following remarks (bearing in mind that he is also the director of a ballet in a French opera house): “Would you believe that these young people used to come to practice in front of our opera? Not only did we let them in, but saw to it that they got on stage too!” Though ever so small, the anecdote is nonetheless indicative of the inconceivable approaches of an entire cultural policy geared to hip hop. Its paternalistic fate satisfied and understood. The author of these lines is in a paradoxical situation. He specialises in contemporary dance. He defends the aesthetic options directed at the deconstruction of dramatic performance, the critique of ways of producing and controlling images of the body in the world of dance. The author of these lines must confess that he knows next to nothing about hip hop, when he undertakes to provide an entire text of reflections about it. He has remained remote from hip hop, deploring a performance of extreme codified forms expected as such, the exact opposite of his own opinions for exploration, for the uncertain and the open. Even more confusingly, without having dwelt upon it to date, it is the socio-cultural complex of hip hop in its French variety, and what is implicit therein, that is a source of strong misgivings for him. This recurrent uneasiness was exacerbated in the summer of 2012, during the performance of several shows relating to hip hop which nonetheless revealed completely contradictory approaches. In her play, Le trait, created for the Avignon Festival, Nacera Belaza will have emerged as a protagonist in this aesthetic discussion in gestures, with a particularly pertinent clarifying effect.

Gérard M ayen

For the rest, we are not even certain that she feels much concerned about the question raised here. And it is not a matter of citing her, without her knowledge, to support theories in which she is perhaps not in the least interested. Rather, at issue is to focus on what art does, which is not tp be confused with – and does not fall exclusively back on – what an artist enunciates as revealing her intentions with precision.


Notre optique critique est d’insister sur cette production de l’art. Laquelle se réalise – au sens d’effectuer son précipité dans le réel – à travers sa réception par un public. La perception par ses spectateurs, qui est processus actif, mobilise les horizons d’attente et positions peuplant le théâtre mental qui, en chacun sous-tend l’activité d’un regard. Regard socialement et culturellement construit, à travers une série de savoirs, de croyances, d’espoirs, de préjugés, qui y sont inscrits. Spectateur, le critique pourrait se considérer avant tout spécialiste des modalités de réception des œuvres, plutôt que de leurs spécificité en soi. Attentif à saisir leur mouvement de sens à l’endroit où celui-ci est généré : soit le nœud activé de tensions, de reconnaissances, de rejets, qui se serre et se desserre entre une action sur un plateau et ses observateurs (spectateurs) activement impliqués dans une salle. Mourad Merzouki fut l’artiste associé de l’édition 2012 du festival Montpellier Danse. Ce chorégraphe dirige la compagnie Käfig. Issu des banlieues de Lyon, il y a créé le centre Pole Pick, de production et de formation en hip hop. Il a créé plusieurs pièces qui ont séduit des cercles élargis du public de la danse. Il a été désigné directeur de l’un des dix-neuf centres chorégraphiques nationaux (CCN) de l’Hexagone, à Créteil, ville nouvelle de la banlieue parisienne. A Montpellier Danse, Mourad Merzouki a montré pas moins de trois pièces. Nous n’aurons pu n’en voir qu’une : Käfig Brasil, pièce à grand effectif mêlant des danseurs de hip hop de l’Hexagone et des homologues brésiliens. Avec un résultat qui confirma les réticences critiques évoquées plus haut.


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Lorsqu’un projet artistique entend faire place à l’altérité dans une situation de relation interculturelle, que peut-il travailler, sinon faire place à l’autre dans un processus dense et complexe. Prendre le temps et les précautions pour que se construise en sa direction un regard qui fasse droit à la fragilité relative d’une mise en relation. De se défaire des clichés et faux-semblants. Ne pas esquiver une part d’attentive errance dans les voies de l’étonnement, du doute, de la remise en cause. Pourquoi pas la tension ou l’incompréhension. Pratiquer l’ouverture des possibles d’un dialogue, sans que sa teneur et ses motifs soient acquis d’avance. L’art chorégraphique s’active à un endroit privilégié dans ce sens. A côté des mots, mais aussi à côté des images – malgré les pressions très fortes qui s’exercent sur lui pour le réduire à ce régime – l’art chorégraphique œuvre à même les corps, dans des productions d’actes en prise directe sur le réseau diffus d’une matérialité généralisée de la construction symbolique des espacestemps. Quand cet art se défait de son cantonnement dans le seule entretien de référents techniques, il est à même de déchaîner, au sens de libérer de leurs chaînes, des forces qui ont elles-mêmes valeur de lecture interprétante d’un lien au monde. La présence ici et maintenant d’une corporéité agissante dans un corps donné à voir, à travers l’insondable épaisseur de ses significations jamais épuisées, ouvre à une perception sensible de la construction culturelle, politique, bref historique, des êtres au monde.

Our critical approach is to insist on art being produced, in the sense of being achieved, by assuming real form through the way it is received by an audience. The perception by spectators, which is an active process, mobilises the horizons of expectations and positions that fill the mental theatre, which underlies the contemplating activity in each one. A socially and culturally constructed contemplation through a series of knowledge, beliefs, hopes and prejudices attached thereto. As a spectator, the critic could consider himself first and foremost as a specialist in the ways that works are received, rather than their specific features per se. Attentive to grasp the meaning of their movement in the place where it is generated: namely, the activated node of tension, recognition and rejection that is tightened and loosened between an action on a stage and its actively involved observers (spectators) in a theatre. Mourad Merzouki was the artist who took part in the 2012 edition of the Montpellier Danse Festival. This choreographer heads the Käfig troupe. Stemming from the suburbs of Lyon, he created the Pole Pick Centre for the training in and performance of hip hop there. He has created several shows that have enchanted broader circles of dance audiences. He has been appointed director of one of the nineteen national choreography centres in France in Créteil, a new town in the Parisian suburbs. At Montpellier Danse, Mourad Merzouki staged no fewer than three shows. We were able to see only one: Käfig Brasil, a production with a large number of hip hop dancers from France and from Brazil – with a result that confirmed the critical misgivings mentioned above. When an artistic project plans to make room for alterity in an intercultural situation, what can it work on other than make room for the other in a dense and complex process: to take the time and precautions for a perspective to emerge that takes due account of the fragility of such a relationship; to break free from clichés and false pretences; so why not tension or incomprehension? An opening to the possibilities of a dialogue, the tenor of and reasons for which are not preconceived. The choreographic art is activated at the right place in this respect – apart from words, but also apart from images – in spite of very great pressure that is exerted on it to reduce it to this regime – the choreographic art works with bodies to produce acts that are directly connected with the diffuse network of a generalised materiality of the symbolic construction of space and time.

Gérard M ayen

When this art breaks away from its encampment in the exclusive cultivation of technical references, it is capable of unchaining – in the literal sense – forces that have an interpretive connotation of a link with the world. The presence of a corporality, here and now, that is acting in a given body to be seen, through the unfathomable depth of inexhaustible meanings, opens up a sensitive perception to the cultural, political – and in word – historical construction of being in the world.


Voilà ce qu’ignore Käfig-Brasil. Cette pièce ne semble pas poursuivre d’autre objectif que de conforter son public dans la certitude acquise que des jeunes hip hopeurs, français ou brésiliens, ne sauraient être que des jeunes gens épatants de vitalité généreuse, tout au crépitement de leurs prouesses virtuoses. Ecrasés par la saisie frontale du plateau, les déplacements en sont ordonnés selon les techniques de l’unisson, de la diagonale, de la symétrie, la centralité, la maîtrise rythmique implacable qui, malgré les apparences trompeuse de son exubérante effervescence, produisent un spectacle comme une forme stable et régulière. Jamais le regard ne risque de s’y échapper, d’errer, d’expérimenter une disponibilité à ce que la confrontation à une altérité pourrait risquer de suggérer d’imprévu. Saturé d’air du temps médiatique, écrasé par un primat du corps-image, ignorant toute notion d’un corps-critique, Käfig-Brasil recourt aux procédés les plus conventionnels de l’écriture chorégraphique, derrière les trompeuses figures d’un exceptionnel de ses prouesses physiques les plus spectaculaires. Il ne se passe rien dans Käfig-Brasil. Ou bien il s’en passe énormément, et il faut s’y attarder. Comment en est-on arrivé là ? Comment des artistes issus de l’immigration, eux-mêmes affublés de l’étiquette de l’altérité, en viennent à reproduire un régime de représentation qui s’inscrit dans la longue tradition de la mise en spectacle des clichés de l’altérité, trouvant dans l’époque coloniale un moment essentiel de sa constitution ? Là, il faut se souvenir de notre directeur de ballet d’opéra, ravi d’avoir ouvert sa porte aux jeunes banlieusards qui, sous son porche, tournaient en toupie sur la tête. Et avancer un certain nombre d’hypothèses.


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Un rapport d’équivalence s’est installé, entre les notions de culture de rue, de relégation urbaine, et d’appartenance communautaire maghrébine. Un motif s’est imposé dans les esprits : le danseur de hip hop est un jeune Maghrébin. Ou accessoirement un noir. Il n’est pas un jeune des milieux populaires, assignés à résidence périphérique par le régime néo-libéral. Il est issu de l’immigration. Il est maghrébin. Par bonheur, son confondant talent de danseur atteste qu’il peut faire autre chose que dériver dans la délinquance. Les effectifs des opérateurs du service public de la culture sont massivement issus des rangs des couches moyennes blanches éduquées, de fibre politique social-démocrate. Depuis Malraux, ce corps s’est constitué autour de l’objectif de démocratisation de l’accès à la culture, justifiant la vigoureuse implication des instances publiques dans l’entretien d’un niveau conséquent de production et de diffusion artistique. Or il demeure un point, anxiogène pour ses acteurs, où cette politique piétine sur un constat d’échec obstiné : soit son incapacité à entraîner vers la fréquentation de la création artistique les secteurs de la population les plus relégués. Dans un tel complexe, l’intégration du jeune hip hoppeur maghrébin dans la périphérie de la galaxie chorégraphique contemporaine revêt une valeur symbolique inestimable.

That is what Käfig-Brasil overlooks. This show does not seem to pursue any objective other than to reassure its audience in the established certainty that young hip hoppers, French or Brazilian, can never be more than outstanding young people with generous vitality, to the crackling of their virtuoso exploits. Crushed by the frontal aspect of the stage, movements are arranged according to the techniques of unison, diagonal, symmetry, centrality, a relentless rhythmic mastery which, its misleading appearances of exuberant effervescence notwithstanding, produce a show as a stable and regular form. The eye never risks escaping, erring, experimenting with the eventuality that confrontation with alterity could risk even a suggestion of the unexpected. Saturated with the current mediatised climate, crushed by a primacy of body and image, unaware of any notion of a critical body, Käfig-Brasil resorts to the most conventional processes of choreography, behind the misleading figures of the most spectacular physical feats. Nothing happens in Käfig-Brasil. Or perhaps, a great deal happens and you have to linger thereon. How did things get to this point? How did artists stemming from immigration, themselves rigged out in the alterity label, manage to stage a programme which is fully in line with the long tradition of staging clichés of alterity, finding in the colonial era an essential moment of its constitution? Here, we should bring to mind our director of the opera ballet, delighted to have opened his doors to young people from the suburbs who were doing summersaults in front of the opera house – and also to put forward a number of hypotheses. An equivalence ratio has been established between the notions of street culture, urban relegation, and of belonging to the North African community. A motif has taken hold of people’s mind: the hip hop dancer is a young North African – or, secondarily, black. He is not a young man from working class circles, assigned to a peripheral residence by the neo-liberal regime. He stems from immigration. He is North African. Fortunately, his astounding talent as a dancer stands proof that he can do something else than drift into delinquency. The overwhelming majority of civil servants in the cultural front stems from the white, educated middle class, with a socio-democratic political orientation. Since Malraux, this body has been driven by the objective to democratise access to culture, justifying the muscular involvement of the public authorities in maintaining a substantial level of artistic production and dissemination.

Gérard M ayen

There remains a lingering anxiety-provoking point for these stakeholders, where this policy fails to make headway before an obstinate record of failure: namely, its incapacity to get the more underprivileged segments of the population to partake in artistic endeavours. In such a complex, the integration of a young North African hip hopper in the periphery of the contemporary choreographic galaxy is of inestimable symbolic value.


Alors comment produit-elle des formes aussi navrantes que Käfig-Brasil ? Nos jeunes banlieusards, décidément indécrottables, demeureraient-ils indexés par essence sur un horizon artistique borné ? Ou ne serait-ce pas qu’ils se conforment à ce qui est attendu d’eux ? Car enfin ils seront les emblèmes de la faisabilité d’un idéal d’intégration réussie. Dans cet optique, ce n’est pas à l’institution culturelle de se modifier. Il s’agira juste qu’elle ménage des places en son sein, à des éléments porteurs d’un genre chorégraphique allogène, détectés pour leur aptitude au maniement des procédures et techniques de production d’une forme spectaculaire homologables sur le marché de la diffusion – fût-il publiquement médié – de la danse. Le principal souci de cette politique – et principal filtre sélectif – aura été la canalisation des énergies tapageuses qui tournent sur la tête dès qu’une dalle se présente (sur un parvis d’opéra par exemple) et son formatage selon les nécessités d’une forme reproductible présentable dans le rapport scène-salle conventionnel régissant les usages installés du spectacle. Deux discours corrélatifs et massifs ont été greffés sur cette stratégie. D’une part celui de la promotion socio-culturelle à travers les outils de construction et d’expression de soi pourvus par les pratiques artistiques. D’autre part le légendaire d’une méritocratie républicaine assurant à qui le veut les gratifications de la légitimation par ses instances les plus contrôlées. Or des signes nombreux attestent des limites, voire échecs de cette politique. Quels signes ? Parmi les artistes hip hop qui ont emprunté cette voie, la plupart ont perdu leur crédit symbolique auprès de leur milieu d’origine. Qui vient voir Käfig-Brasil ? Toujours le même public de couches moyennes blanches éduquées, paraissant se satisfaire au spectacle des bons sauvages désormais civilisés, heureusement encore porteurs des traces vitales de leur originalité socio-culturelle, mais débarrassés des désolants stigmates de la marginalité.


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C’est hautement éducatif. Ces spectateurs y viennent volontiers accompagnés de leur progéniture, ce qu’ils s’abstiendraient de faire pour d’autres genres artistiques. Le hip hop permet de faire constater, par les jeunes générations, de leurs propres yeux, que des Arabes peuvent parfois réussir quelque chose de bien. C’est le complexe de Zidane. Parallèlement on aimerait vérifier combien de ces jeunes spectateurs sont prudemment scolarisés dans des établissements privés, protégés des risques d’un contact trop effectif avec l’Arabe réel. Où donc existe le hip hop pendant ce temps ? Il se développe de manière phénoménale, dans la culture juvénile de masse, à travers les battles, que cette politique publique a abandonnée au secteur lucratif des producteurs de loisirs des réseaux de la radio privée ultra-commerciale. Ce hip hop réel n’a d’ailleurs pas fini d’y générer de multiples sous-genres et innovations passionnants. Et il n’est pas là plus subversif que sur les scènes de la culture publique cultivant l’imagerie des postures de la rébellion, comme le rock a su si bien le faire pour d’autres générations d’adolescents alors plus blancs.

So, how does it produce such harrowing forms as Käfig-Brasil? Could our young people from the suburbs, who are decidedly hopeless, remain essentially fixed on a narrow artistic horizon? Or could it be that they are conforming with what is expected of them? Because they will ultimately be emblematic of the feasibility of a successful integration ideal. In this regard, it is not up to the cultural institution to change. It will simply have to make room, within its ranks, for elements bearing a foreign choreographic genre, chosen for their ability to fashion production procedures and techniques into a form of show that is conformable with the dissemination market, albeit publicly mediated, of dance. The prime concern of this policy – and main selective filter – will have been to channel flashy energy that starts spinning as soon as a slab is available (in front of an opera house, for instance), and turn it, in accordance with need, into a reproducible form that can be presented within the conventional setting of a stage and a theatre that governs the established customs in the performing arts. Two massive, correlative discourses have been grafted onto this strategy. On the one hand, that of socio-cultural promotion through the tools of self-construction expressed through artistic practices. And on the other, the well-established tenet of republican meritocracy that ensures the rewards of legitimacy by its more controlled authorities. Yet there are main signs that this policy has its limits and that it has even failed. What are these signs? Most of the hip hop artists who have embarked on this path have lost their symbolic credibility in their communities of origin. Who goes to see Käfig-Brasil? Always the same educated, white middle class audiences, who seem content with the show of the noble savages now civilised, who fortunately still bear vital traces of their socio-cultural originality, but have got rid of their distressing signs of marginality. It is highly educational. These spectators come voluntarily accompanied by their offspring, which they would refrain from doing for other artistic genres. Hip hop enables young generations to see with their own eyes that Arabs can at times do something well. It’s the Zidane complex. In parallel, it would be interesting to find out how many of those young spectators are cautiously educated in private schools, protected from the risks of excessive actual contact with real Arabs.

Gérard M ayen

Where then, does hip hop exist during this time? It has developed in phenomenal fashion, in the mass youth culture, through battles, which this public policy has abandoned to the lucrative sector of producers of spare-time activities in ultra-commercial private radio stations. This real hip hop has for that matter continued to generate multiple passionate sub-genres and innovations. And it is not more subversive there than on the stages of public culture cultivating the image of rebellion, like rock was able to do so well for other generations of teenagers, who were whiter at that time.


Quant aux quelques figures sélectionnées dans le réseau réservé du hip hop de création artistique homologué par l’institution culturelle, il vit les affres de l’intégration : il s’adapte avec plus ou moins de bonheur à des codes, usages et injonctions souvent opaques, modèles esthétiques et discursifs seulement implicites, aux arcanes jalousement gardées par les cercles avisés de la culture officielle, occupés à leur auto-reproduction. Tâtonnant sur ces terrains mouvants, issus de secteurs socioculturels originellement foncièrement “étrangers” à cet étrange univers, ces chorégraphes réussissent l’amalgame entre d’une part le bain médiatique des motifs de l’air du temps, que leurs antennes populaires leur font capter avec une intuitive aisance, et d’autre part une adaptation plus ou moins (mal)adroite au modèle supputé de la grande forme spectaculaire de plateau issue de tradition chorégraphique moderne et contemporaine occidentale. Tissée de malentendus, hantée d’implicites, et rarement questionnée, la mouvance esthétique ainsi produite ne génère que de façon rarissime des formes susceptibles de mobiliser une prospective de recherche et d’exploration. Dans ce domaine, un tressage de bonnes volontés, pactes sourds et satisfactions en raccourcis, l’emporte largement sur les prises de risque. A ce jour le hip-hop est l’un des creusets où se nourrit la réaction réparatrice d’un consensus populaire, quand il n’est populiste, effarouché par les audaces vites réputées hermétiques de la “non-danse”.


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Ainsi des cercles de la danse contemporaine auront expérimenté avec le hip hop, à usage du seul circuit des plateaux scéniques, ce qu’aura été ultérieurement la politique sarkozienne d’incrustation de visages visiblement minoritaires sur le petit écran ou dans les rangs ministériels. Soit un jeu de marionnettes où le bon Maghrébin vient dissoudre par la magie du jeu des représentations, les défis qu’on se fait fort de traiter ailleurs au karcher ; défis que l’altérité pose à une société hésitant entre la perspective d’entrer en devenir, et la tentation de se reproduire fixe en intégrant ce qui peut l’être. On n’a pas vu que ce type de hip hop cet été à Montpellier Danse. On a aussi vu une pièce d’Hooman Sharifi, intitulée Now the field is open. Quel titre ! Quel retournement vers une ouverture des horizons. Hooman Sharifi est d’origine iranienne, implanté en Norvège dans le contexte de la fuite de sa famille sous le régime khomeyniste. C’est parfois son “iranité” qui attire les programmateurs. Est-elle légitime ? Il n’a plus jamais remis les pieds à Téhéran. Or il en refuse l’assignation. Il n’est pas “issu de”. Hooman Sharifi dit n’entretenir aucun culte émotionnel d’identification, ni à un Iran perdu, ni à une Norvège adoptée. Son sentiment à cet endroit, il lui faut le construire au coup par coup. Donc extrêmement mobile. Non sans résonance avec cela, il considère que chacune de ses pièces doit se renouveler du tout au tout dans une expérimentation chorégraphique chaque fois générée par l’enjeu spécifique qui l’anime. Abordant l’altérité, Now the field is open envisage le plateau comme une place publique ouverte à une forme patiente et attentive de déambulation physique en métaphore d’un acte civique. Les interprètes fidèles d’Hooman Sharifi, jeunes danseuses scandinaves, filiformes et immensément blondes, incorporent la gestuelle hip hop comme par un vertige sur le bord d’elle-même.

The few selected figures in the reserved hip hop network of artistic creation approved by the cultural institution feel the pangs of integration: they adapt with greater or lesser satisfaction to what are often opaque codes, customs and injunctions, to only implicit aesthetic and discursive models, to mysteries guarded jealously by the circles of official culture in the know, busy working on their self-perpetuation. Groping their way on these shifting sands, and stemming from socio-cultural sectors which at the outset were basically “alien” to this strange universe, these choreographers succeeded in combining the media bath of prevailing motifs that their popular antennae enabled them to receive with intuitive ease on the one hand, and a more or less (mal)adroit adaptation to the calculated model of large-format performance on stage stemming from the Western modern and contemporary choreographic tradition. Spun with misunderstandings, haunted with innuendoes, and rarely questioned, the aesthetic movement thus produced only rarely generated forms capable of mobilising prospects for research and exploration. In this field, an embroidery of good intentions, verbal agreements between deaf people and short-term satisfaction well outweighs any risk taking. Hip hop is to this day one of the crucibles where the restorative reaction of popular consensus comes to feed, when it is not populist, frightened away by the audacity of “non-dance” which is all too quickly deemed hermetic. Contemporary dance circles will have thus experimented with hip hop, using the sole circuit of the performing stage, which will subsequently emerge as the Sarkozyan policy of introducing visibly minority faces on the small screen or in ministerial ranks. In other words, a puppet show, where the good North African comes to take up, through the magic of the performing arts, the challenges that have elsewhere required pressure-cleaning equipment; challenges that alterity throws down for a society hesitating between the prospect of taking action for the future, and the temptation of being replicated by integrating what can be integrated. This was not the only hip hop seen at Montpellier Danse this summer. We also saw a show by Hooman Sharifi, entitled Now the field is open. What a title! What a return to an opening of prospects. Hooman Sharifi is of Iranian origin, living in Norway where his family fled under the Khomeini regime. It is at times his “Iranianness” that attracts programmers. Is it legitimate? He has not set foot in Teheran ever since. So he refuses the designation. He does not “stem from.” Hooman Sharifi says that he does not cultivate any emotional cult of identification, neither with a lost Iran, nor with an adopted Norway. He has to build his feeling in this place blow by blow – and thus extremely mobile.

Gérard M ayen

In line, to some degree, with the foregoing, he thinks that each of his shows must be renewed entirely in a choreographic experimentation regenerated each time by the specific stakes that underline it. In broaching alterity, Now the field is open considers the stage as a public space, open to a patient and attentive form of physical ambling as a metaphor of a civic act. Hooman Sharifi’s loyal performers – young, lanky and immensely blond Scandinavian dancers – integrate hip hop gestures as a sort of vertigo on its own precipice.


La trame reste lâche, mais l’écoute corporelle attentive, et l’observation réciproque méticuleuse. A chaque fois que les motifs partent en solo, ils ne sont pas regardés comme exploit d’un numéro de cirque, mais comme une personne entière en train d’acter. Tout demeure subtilement suspendu, et de grands motifs collectifs peuvent survenir par la logique d’un groupe au travail sur soi, qui prennent la forme de vastes rituels enveloppants. Si la gestuelle dominante de cette pièce est hip hop, elle s’offre comme signe contaminateur de corps en corps, passé en partage depuis ceux des danseurs qui, dans le groupe, le portent comme langage privilégié. Mais toute cette vibration de circulations sans tapage, assimile ce code gestuel comme un vocabulaire possiblement universel, au lieu de l’assigner comme marqueur convenu d’une singularité intra-exotique, pourvoyeuse de clichés de l’altérité soumis aux injonctions imagières de la toute-puissance médiatique. Là, les corps respirent. Corps spectateurs compris. Dans Le trait au festival d’Avignon, Nacera Belaza a pris le risque d’un bouleversement de son art. Depuis l’origine, celui-ci s’est construit quasi exclusivement en duo, composé de la chorégraphe elle-même et sa sœur Dalila. Elles servent une exploration obstinée d’une gamme gestuelle minimaliste, répétitive, tendue sur d’infimes modulations tensionnelles. A ces deux corps, saisis de balancements à l’infini, ou tournoiements, paraissant aptes à la lévitation, le mouvement semble donné depuis une vibration générale du monde, que la danseuse aurait à rendre passagèrement perceptible. Corps capteur des signes les plus inaperçus d’une émotivité spirituelle imprégnant le réel. Et non corps projeté dans la productivité d’une gestuelle expressionniste pour l’extériorité. Indéfiniment, quelque chose échappe, dans des gouffres d’intériorité, par la danse de Nacera Belaza.


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Or, deux hip hoppeurs sont présents sur le plateau de Le trait. Comment définir leur posture d’altérité à l’endroit d’une Nacera Belaza que nombre de spectateurs occidentaux s’obstineront à capturer elle-même dans la posture de la rémanence étrangère perpétuée de l’immigrée ? Les deux hip hoppeurs qui œuvrent au côté de Nacera Belaza sont algérois. Ainsi vivent-ils le présent d’un contexte culturel qui imprègne toujours fortement la conscience contemporaine de la chorégraphe. A part quoi, la distance semble incommensurable, entre l’idée même de la danse que peuvent cultiver ces deux danseurs d’un côté, la chorégraphe et sa sœur de l’autre. Dans Le trait, la paire des hip hoppeurs s’est vu attribuer une séquence singulière propre. Les signes extérieurs les plus grossiers de leur apparence sont gommés par deux tenues uniformes, sobres, et un éclairage économe, comme toujours chez Nacera Belaza. On n’est pas ici sur un plateau de show télévisé. Les deux garçons sont posés droits, côte à côte, face au public. C’est un engagement de toute leur personne, sobrement perçue en intégralité, et non dans les jeux extrêmes de démembrements, distorsions et isolations de segments gestuels, en 3 D survoltés, que le regard commun attend du hip hop.

The weft remains loose, but the bodily perception is attentive, and the reciprocal observation meticulous. Each time that the motifs are performed as a solo, they are not seen as an exploit in a circus performance, but as a fully-fledged person in the process of acting. Everything remains subtly suspended, and major collective motifs can occur through the rationale of a group working on itself and assuming the form of vast, encompassing rituals. Whereas the dominant gestural language of this show is hip hop, it is offered as an infectious sign of body to body, shared between those among the group’s dancers that raise it into a privileged idiom. Yet all this vibration of circulation without racket, gets this gestural code across as a potentially universal vocabulary, instead of designating it as an agreed marker of an intra-exotic singularity, teeming with clichés of alterity subjected to the image injunctions of media omnipotence. There the bodies breathe – including bodies of spectators. In Le trait at the Avignon Festival, Nacera Belaza took the risk of upsetting her art. That art has from the outset been constructed almost exclusively as a duo, composed by the choreographer herself and her sister Dalila. They have embarked on a persevering exploration of a minimalist and repetitive gestural range stretched over infinitesimal modulations of tension. For these two bodies, engaged in infinite swaying or turns, seemingly apt to levitate, movement seems to stem from a general vibration of the world, which the dancer has made momentarily perceptible. A body that receives the spiritual emotionalism that permeates reality – not a body projected in the production of expressionist gestures for exteriority. Something escapes indefinitely in the chasms of interiority, through the dance of Nacera Belaza. Two hip hoppers are present on stage in Le trait. How can their posture of alterity be defined at the locus of a Nacera Belaza whom many Western spectators will insist in capturing in the posture of the perpetuated foreign remanence of the immigrant? The two hip hoppers working alongside Nacera Belaza are from Algiers. They are thus living the present in a cultural context that is always strongly pervading the contemporary consciousness of choreography. A part from that, the distance between the very idea of dance that can be cultivated by these two dancers on the one hand, and the choreographer and her sister on the other, seems immeasurable.

Gérard M ayen

In Le trait, the pair of hip hoppers has been assigned a proprietary singular sequence. The crudest exterior signs of their appearance are erased by the identical sober clothing and parsimonious lighting, as is always the case with Nacera Belaza. This is not the stage of a TV show. The two lads are presented straight up, side by side, facing the public. Their entire person is committed, perceived soberly as a whole, and not in extreme games of dismemberment, distortion and isolation of gestural segments, in hectic 3D, which the common eye expects from hip hop.


Débute alors un long galop de répétitivité, aux accents et impacts vifs, abrasifs, secoué et compressé dans un espace confiné mais étiré à la fois. Le trait produit un fil tendu de hip hop, au-delà du hip hop, irrépressiblement poussé de l’avant, où le regard s’affole de ne plus être sûr de discerner des variations effectives. L’éblouissement n’est plus pour les surenchères de figures acrobatiques, qui sont expulsées de cette transe sèche. L’éblouissement est pour une élévation dans une épure, vouée à la saccade de son énergie ramassée, relâchée, animant un corps qui refuse ici d’être amputé, et vendu à la découpe des regards assoiffés de clichés. Il y a dans Le trait un hip hop échappé, en fait tout autre chose que du hip hop, hors la fantasmatique du légendaire des banlieues françaises. Cela est alors posé en redoutable enjeu d’altérité, par une chorégraphe effectivement en recherche des distanciations imaginaires qu’inspire la singularité de son propre positionnement interculturel. Plutôt désintégré. Et magnifiquement déterminé.


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Paris, été 2012

A long gallop of repetition then commences, with lively and abrasive accents and impacts, shaken and compressed in a confined, yet at the same time stretched space. Le trait produces a tight wire of hip hop, beyond hip hop, irrepressibly pushed forward, where the eye panics not to be able to discern effective variations any longer. The dazzlement is no longer for the overblown efforts of acrobatic figures which are expelled from this dry trance. It is for a blueprint devoted to the jolt of its gathered energy, then released, that drives the body that refuses to be amputated here and sold in cuts to eyes thirsting for clichĂŠs. There is a hip hop in Le trait that has broken away, in fact something completely different from hip hop, outside the fantasy of the legends about the French suburbs. It is then put forward as a formidable challenge of alterity, by a choreographer who is actually in search of imaginary detachments that inspire the singular nature of her own intercultural position. Rather disintegrated. And magnificently determined.

Paris, summer 2012

GĂŠrard Mayen 57

1979 Moussem & Strange Fruit 2011

Š Yann Verstraete



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Identity… I prefer it with Sauce Andalouse Taha Adnan

I d e n t i t y Sauc e I have always appreciated poets’ vilification of big concepts and grand phrases. I really enjoy transforming the “I” into the “other” like Arthur Rimbaud with ample poetic disregard in the matter of the “I”, the “other” and Identity. In my play “Bye Bye Gillo”, Gillo, the monodrama’s protagonist says: “With Lisbeth, all closed doors open; even the doors of night clubs which are guarded by tough bouncers. As soon as they see your face they make sure you know the club is exclusive to its members. Lisbeth is my membership card to life in all its amiability; a live membership card on two legs. When I sit with her at a café, I am certain that no one will question my identity, because Lisbeth is my identity”. In this article, perhaps I conceal a blatant lack of a specific vision or an ultimate definition of the concept of Identity. It is reasonable to think that my understanding of identity varies according to context and according to the moment. Generally speaking, I cannot stand a rigid Identity. When my Moroccan girlfriend drew my attention to the fact that I hardly ever eat bread anymore, she took the opportunity to point out that I also eat too many chips which has earned me a lentil in my gut. To add insult to injury, she insisted that she was being polite in using the word ‘lentil’ because of the characteristic of this pulse which is to expand (especially after the age of forty). Some responsibility has to be claimed by Belgian beer with its creamy foam. My girlfriend, with her usual habit of mixing the issues, spoke, for some mysterious reason, about Identity. She said that the potato chip has become my new nutritional Identity. I was not at all bothered with this comment; I merely noted that I do prefer this delicious Identity with Sauce Andalouse. This is a Belgian sauce of which Andalusia has no knowledge, yet it assumes an Andalusian personality just like I assumed, according to my accusing girlfriend, this golden blond personality, and here I make reference to the potato chip dipped in a heavenly sauce.

O n e K i ng f o r Se ver a l Republ ics

Taha Adnan

The Belgians were pioneers of the idea of the metropolis, which was later taken up by others. This idea came to them from the gut feeling that they are a country which lacks genuine connectedness. This is a realization that most countries will come to in this age of globalisation - the globalisation of nationalism in particular. The idea of European unity, which is a successful application of ‘Escape to the Front’ policy, originates from the Benelux. It is a Belgian idea essentially based on a pearl of wisdom that says: “A problem shared is a problem halved” so instead of bearing the burden of our disasters alone, we look to others to share it so we can all rejoice in misery. This way, we are all equal. How is this for utmost wisdom?!



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Compared to their French, German or even Dutch neighbours, the Belgians seemed to have buried the idea of a country built on the inflated concept of the nation. Even the King here is imported from Germany so he seems, for the length of his reign, spread amongst several Republics. What connects Belgians is neither language nor identity. What connects them is the football team, the Red Devils, and aged beer made in convents, in addition to the potato chip. How funny that Mrs Potato, all the way from South America, has such a key role in unifying the nations of these lowlands! Belgium is a small laboratory which has produced the idea of a united Europe. It is a negation of the theory which establishes national unity based on the one nation one language concept... To each his own Belgium in this country. In the north, the Flemish imagine it to be with claws and a mane like the king of the jungle. In the south, the Walloons see it with a beak and wattle to make any rooster proud. Between the rooster and the lion there is long bickering which yields what could be knowingly called: Contemporary Belgian History. The Belgium that I personally see, without intellectualisation, is beautiful and wonderful with a rooster’s wattle, and a lion’s claws. Furthermore, she wears a Fez, red of course, and most probably Moroccan. Brussels is a living and wonderful embodiment of this glowing sense of recognition, and sometimes an overwhelming possessive desire. Even the fundamentalists see it as a veiled blonde when they call for ‘Sharia for Belgium’. This is why it was chosen as the Capital of the United Europe. It is really nothing. I mean exactly everything. It is not Flemish or Walloon. It is both together at the same time; a mixed region in which each has a share. But it is essentially Belgian. Just Belgian. Most of its people speak French without being French. Some speak Flemish, which is originally Dutch, but not exactly. But it is European as well. In the European quarter, English is spoken. In Brussels, there is no prevalent language. This linguistic mix makes the Arab author lighter of his linguistic burden, and of the linguistic arrogance that prevails in Paris, London, Berlin or Amsterdam. Perhaps that is why I continue, comfortably, and without a false sense of uprootedness, to write in Arabic. Arabic is purely a Brussels language, just like French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Polish, Turkish, Tamazight and Kurdish.

T he De at h Cert if ic at e of the Protagonist i n Sea so n of Migr at ion to the North

Taha Adnan

I was twenty six years old when I first came to Brussels. I arrived like any other half-baked goods. It was not easy for me to change my language. Writing language is not a hairstyle that can be easily changed. It is normal for my writing style and the writing style of the new generation of authors living abroad to differ from previous authors. Especially with regards to the perception of the “I” and the “other”, and the “here” and “there”. We are not a direct extension of the literature of the Arab Diaspora, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century with the migration of the Lebanese and Syrians to the West who were fleeing from the injustice of the Ottomans. We are not an extension of the literature of the Diaspora which was popularised by the Independence governments, courtesy of their oppressive ‘nationalist’ regimes, or the literature



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of Exile which emerged with the waves of expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Because I am not fond of creating new labels and not qualified for it, I do not have a title for the writings of my generation who are spread all over the western European Diaspora. What is certain, however, is that the majority of those who emigrated, did so by choice and for reasons that are probably not political, so they are not expelled or exiled. Young men and women have generally resided in their European host countries and became acclimatized. They excel in a literature that could be classified as Arabic, just as much as it could belong to the contemporary literature of their host countries. We can call it what we like: Diaspora literature, or even literature in residence. Obviously, a creative person carries his/her homeland and memory. If it is considered normal for the homeland to be present in our work, then it is not acceptable for us to ride the Metro every morning and write about Camels and travelling Caravans. How can we expect to reiterate the bottomless chagrin of the exiled and the immigrants of old over the distant homeland, now that Satellite dishes, the Internet and Charter flights dispel that feeling of being ‘away from home’. Today we boast of a new literature which does not feed on ready-made issues ingrained in the Arab reader’s mind. This reader no longer needs the tears of sorrow and yearning for the homeland, nor the wondrous description of worlds he only knows from TV screens, nor a virile protagonist that melts the hearts of fair maidens. These are naive images which were ingrained in us since Taha Hussein. This blind author enchanted his readers with an exaggerated description of the beauty of his French wife, Suzanne, in his book ‘The Days’ in the first half of the last century. Today, readership is different, and people are different. Our young men, full of life, are killing themselves searching for old and fat women to secure Residence Permits in Europe and cannot even find them.

Taha Adnan

The protagonist of the contemporary Arab novel written in the West has undergone a metamorphosis. He no longer resembles Mustapha Said, the protagonist of the Novel ‘Season of Migration to the North’ (1966), the famous novel of Tayyeb Saleh. Mustapha Said came to Europe in the early migration seasons when the image of the moustachioed virile Arab reminded them of the Shahryars of the Orient who need more than one female to satisfy their insatiable lusts. The contemporary European image of the Arab has changed in a way that reduces his inner conflict and lack of security. The Arab is either a poor janitor who works like a mule and fathers a dozen children for optimal pay-out, or he is a grocer who works from early morning till late at night all week including Sunday. Or he is unemployed and plays cards at the coffee house all day and waits for Social Security benefit at the end of the month. Or he is a drug dealer who hangs out on street corners where his ‘shop’ is open to the skies, unless he is doing time in prison. Or he is a man without papers who targets women in search for someone to marry him. Or he is a terrorist who dreams of blowing up the largest number of people in order to secure himself a mighty palace in the afterlife.



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He a d s an d Ta ils During the Opening of the Arab Film Festival in Brussels in 2006, I attended the screening of the film ‘Heads and Tails’ by the Egyptian Director Kamlah Abu Zikra. The film talks about the relationship between a college professor of Theatre Studies in his 50s, with a young woman graduate from the university of life. The relationship is a confrontation between two worlds: the world of a disciplined professor who is strict to the point of rigidity and the world of a young woman full of life and freedom. The film lightly and humorously monitors the qualities of the two characters who meet in the aftermath of the professor’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity. He, who imagined life as flowing as a spring and as exact as a Swiss watch. The scene where the infidelity is discovered does not result in a fight or initiate a murder. The man simply gathers his things and leaves the home to become thereafter immersed in questioning his whole life, which was the start of an exciting story successfully conveyed by Kamlah Abu Zikra. During the discussion after the film, I was expecting pleasantries and compliments and praise aimed at the Director accompanied by some questions and queries around her cinematic work. So we can proceed to what’s important – the after show Reception. The initial interjections were reasonable, until a Belgian lady started to talk. She looked distinguished and well dressed, and asked a very good question. She wanted to know whether the film was banned or subject to a fatwa. The answer was direct and succinct: ‘No’. Subject closed. An open and shut case. But our sister in the potato chip was not completely convinced. She was disappointed in this film which no one tried to ban. Maybe she prefers what is prohibited. So she had to pursue her interjection by pointing out, this time, that the film lacks realism. For example, the film does not include scenes of a violent nature. It seems that our insightful critic had visited Egypt on vacation and witnessed two fights in one week. The lady looked worthy of sympathy – she the one who came to sympathise with a banned film or an oppressed (female) protagonist. The film disappointed her by not showing any scenes of violence and let her down where no one could have predicted. The difficulty here is that the image of the Arab, cinematically, suffers from a generalisation made by Production companies, and perceived by Western audiences. This is due firstly to years of “Hollywood Jihad”, then it was passed on to the European cinema which highlights immigration as a social and security problem, and which paints immigrants as out of work, thieves, deviants, or terrorists. Actors of Arab origin are often pigeon-holed in specific cinematic roles, which flirt with the expectations of an audience that feed on soundbites in the news and do not touch upon the issue of the Arab, except in sensationalised matters. This sensationalism adopts and inflames anxiety and fear in Western audiences; fear of this misfortune of human mass.

Taha Adnan

In the film ‘Heads and Tails’ there was no fight in public. The deceived husband did not jump to the knife to spill blood and salvage his ‘honour’. So it was hard to accept it as an ‘Egyptian’ or an ‘Arab’ film from the southern hemisphere. The currency that is demanded by some audiences in the northern hemisphere has only one facet.



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L i t e r at u r e aga in s t Pr ejudice Are these stereotypes just a product of our contemporary history? I think not. I think it is more complicated than that. This stereotyping stretches beyond the wave of contemporary Arab migration to the West. In the eighteenth century, Montesquieu wrote in his book the ‘Spirit of the Laws’ that the Arabs “are a nation of bandits”. Voltaire, one of the symbols of enlightened thinking in France, and one of the most prominent opponents of the Inquisition, religious wars and prejudices, considered the Arabs to be a “nation of thieves”. These and others participated in creating a stereotype (of the Arab to the Westerners), even before exclusion policies and the lack of equal opportunities threw some immigrants and their children into the clutches of adversity. The very existence of the Arab in the Western satellite is considered a kind of ‘invasion’ that demands a justification of this completely unwanted presence. This remains acceptable between two sides that initially meet at war, before meeting at the table of ‘a dialogue of civilisations’. However, does being ‘victims’ of negative stereotyping qualify us Arabs to give lessons in tolerance to everyone? Would it be sufficient to declare that some racist rhetoric that emerges from our ranks is from rogues who do not represent us, to make us feel the comfort of the perpetual ‘victim’ comfortable in his/her own space. The poem of al-Mutanabbi, in which he mocks Kafur al-Ikhshidi, the ruler of Egypt, was studied by one and all. But who among us was really disturbed by the racist inferences that seep from such satire? The slave is no brother to the godly free man Even though he be born in the clothes of the free Do not buy a slave without buying a stick with him For slaves are filthy and of scant good The disdainful position that despises the other because of their ethnic differences is repeated frequently in Arabic literature. It reaches those representing this ‘other’ in a nation where, in theory at least, there is no preference of the Arab over the non-Arab except in piousness. I am certain that this may not sit comfortably with some souls who would like to believe in the purity of literature and history. I am also aware that it is not right to take the verses out of context and that it necessarily presents a partial picture. I do not want to reduce the works of the Arabs’ most important poet to a few lines that show racist tendencies. But I am against the continued inclusion of such verses in secondary education syllabi. This is how we create a racist culture in our youth. This is promoting a racist culture with a song and a dance.

T he Be lg ia n Illn es s Taha Adnan

In addition to literature and history, there is a sociological reality represented in migration. Migration started with mostly rural folk moving to the city, and then they travelled to the north. Immigration opened the Arab immigrant to the city. It was then fortified with new comers of exiles and political dissidents and students, who were mostly urbanised, in addition to the emergence of the new generations within the Metropolis. The urban reality of European capitals is multi-cultural in nature and



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incorporates various lifestyles. To each, a different country. So I do not mind carrying my homeland on me - I carry my city on my back like a trained snail. Stendhal said that the Arabs are a ‘nation without a home’. I will not disappoint him, even nearly two centuries after his death. So I live in Brussels, this Babylonian city without a need for towers, carrying a homeland of dreams and a home of words. It is important to settle somewhere, in language for example. Language, as Heidegger one day said, is the dwelling of the living. I am comfortable in this linguistic dwelling that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf. I feel I belong to a multitude of places. I was born in Safi on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is a mighty sea which gulps up a fifth of the Earth’s surface. When at its shore, it is hard to imagine that anything at all exists beyond it. It was not wrong of the Arabs to call the Atlantic the Sea of Darkness. In Costa Rica, I stood at its other side without it meaning anything to me. I realised ever since, that the Atlantic is not a civilised ocean, as it does not promote belonging, which is the complete opposite of the Mediterranean. Although I grew up in Marrakesh, which is a city with the features of an oasis, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, I can claim that I am Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is not just a sea, it is a meeting lake open to three continents and innumerable civilisations... it is a way of thinking and a way of life. I am also African. I practiced my African-ness, unequivocally, through my poem “a Eulogy to Amadou Diallou”, the Liberian young man who was arbitrarily killed, in front of his home in the Bronx, New York, by 4 police officers in February 1999. They shot him 41 times as if they were in shooting practice. The poem was the product of my first visit to New York in October 2000. I did not understand why I felt such deep belonging to this continent when I was that far away from her. “Africa is Hell on Earth, and her sons are damned without Sin”

Taha Adnan

In Zambia, in central southern Africa, I found myself away from this wonderful hell. Our guide to Victoria Falls in Livingstone was a young Zambian man called Martin. Some members of the delegation were Dutch tourists carrying their own sandwiches, which they got rid of when monkeys attacked one of them and tore her bag open to steal the sandwich. There were British tourists wearing colonial hats worthy of Tintin and his adventures. Martin was friendly. Without any particular reason, I told him that I was Moroccan and an African, like him. He flashed an arrogant half smile at me saying “No my friend, not exactly. Now you are in the true Africa. You, the northern Africans, are closer to the Europeans and you look like them”. I felt like someone whose pride in his continent was dragged through the mud. So I retorted: “How dare you say this, especially since your city is called Livingstone after a Scottish missionary who thought nothing of naming your falls after his Queen, Victoria. Also, you are called Martin and not Kaomba. Which of us is more like the Europeans?” I spoke with confidence as I patted my Belgian passport which I used to travel to the depth of Africa. I have been ‘officially Belgian’ since 2000. I am still trying to be just Belgian. Some may think this is easy. I mean the Belgian belonging. Not at all. It involves taking a huge risk with uncalculated consequences. This is particularly so with the unfortunate French scourge and their sarcastic jokes about the Belgians, which resonates in the Maghreb. The Belgians do laugh at these jokes, without



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prejudice towards the French who, in their opinion, suffer from a “Crocodile complex” because of their big mouths. The Jordanians, they used to call the Palestinians ‘Belgian’ as an insult. Perhaps this is due to the Belgian-made weapons used by the Palestinian Resistance militia. The Palestinians – who constitute more than half the Jordanian population – speak with an accent similar, in a way, to how the Belgians speak French. The Arabs, and the Palestinians, each within his own language, are one accent! In Tangier, the Belgian immigrants are called “Bouhamroun” - the Measles- which is a disease that presents with red rash on the skin. At the beginning of the summer, the traffic flows with cars with red number plates. They are the cars of immigrants arriving from Belgium. They carry their Identity proudly on their number plates, even though they are the summer measles in Tangier. I do not own a car, but I love Convent beer and chocolate and fried potato. I spend most of the holidays at the Flemish beach like the Walloons and part in the Walloon Ardennes like the Flemish, and I travel every year to the old country like any self-respecting immigrant. And just like any true European, I complain every day about the weather in a continent which blatantly flouts seasonal weathers.

F o r a G lob a l Cult ur a l Spring In the smoking lounge in my place of work – the smoking lounge is the best place for news and gossip, and to analyse Champions League interviews, as well as the occasional political chitchat – a colleague talked at length about what she called the Facebook Revolution in the Arab World. She said that the Arabs owe Mark Zuckerberg. Because I know this colleague very well, I know that she is incapable of thinking outside television reference, whereby experts take turns in issuing modern fatwas about world affairs and global issues. So I did not protest, but another colleague quickly added with a more confident tone, “They also owe it to Bernard-Henri Lévy, as he helped them a lot in accomplishing these revolutions”. I was truly afraid that this Spring is just a joint American Jewish scenario and perhaps I am the only one who did not know about it! This media reduction of the Arab movement to just Facebook Revolutions is quite unfortunate. So all the credit goes to the West, and its fruits of Technology. As if the Arab Spring was too good for the Arabs. It took too long to achieve, and when it finally came, it came by the grace of a miracle.

Taha Adnan

This made a lot of people deal with these movements as if descended from the heavens by supernatural powers. As if the movements and the popular struggles across the Arab World did not offer martyrs or sacrifice, and as if no objective conditions produced such movements. At last, I responded in mock innocence: “The ‘Time for Outrage’ group is this week calling for demonstrations in Brussels under the banner ‘the Global Spring’, but I do not know who is behind it. Do you think it is Stephane Hessel or someone else?” It did not seem that my colleagues had ever heard of Hessel or the ‘Time for Outrage’ group. Perhaps because nothing in their lives outrages them. Apart from this, it is one of the positive outcomes of this Spring that it released the image of the Arab from the frame of the eternal loser to which he has been condemned since the defeat in 1967.



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The feeling of defeat and humiliation was confirmed by the failure of most developmental models, national modernisation, socialism, and liberalism all alike. This allowed the Salafi (fundamentalist) option to impose itself, by violent means, as a compelling alternative on everyone. This Spring also contributed to the thrashing of the image of the extremist Arab terrorist which has taken hold since September 11th 2001, and which was adopted by many Western governments as an excuse to support Arab despotic regimes in confronting their people. The youth of the Arab Spring embarrassed everybody. More importantly, Obama’s famous phrase “Yes we can” is happening here and now and was translated in practice into Arabic and found its first seedling in Tunisia, the land of Abu alQasem al-Shabi who wrote “The Will to Live” If, one day, a people desires to live Then fate will answer their call. We have not crossed the river yet, and have not reached the bank. We still have a lot to accomplish. The political Arab Spring has not yet been completed. It also needs a cultural Spring to extract this movement from the tight military uniform sought after by the religious brigade in order to contain it. It needs a cultural spring that defends Liberty and allows Arab identity, in its mosaic, to formulate in new ways, and bring citizenship into the fore. I prefer the concept of citizenship in its openness that transcends identities and countries. Citizenship is here and there. Citizenship is an area for sharing and coexistence. Maybe we do need today to promote this cultural citizenship which accommodates the culture of the other and considers it an important part of its own identity which cannot be achieved outside of pluralism, and cannot develop outside interaction. Every culture incorporates its other and is enriched by it. The recognition of Arab culture in its regional specificities as well as its indigenous cultures in some areas, in addition to cultural minorities which may well be adopted, is its way to globalism. This globalisation does not stifle individuality and pluralism but accommodates them in a positive way that ensures that it presents itself to the world having gotten rid of all feelings of inferiority. Cultural dialogue, before the engagement with the ‘other’ who has a different civilised and cultural environment, must be framed in the cultural ‘self’ in its various sensitivities and political and intellectual backgrounds, as well as its ethnic and religious affiliations.

Taha Adnan

It is a test for coexistence between the producers of ideas here and there. Ideas, like civilisations, do not collide. Sometimes they intersect and they always feed on each other to produce small ideas that grow and flourish under the wing of dialogue. Dialogue should not remain defensive against frustration and despondency brought on by the difficulties of managing life together. This measure is imposed upon to protect the pure identity and sometimes takes on the shape of coercion through policies of arrogant cultural ‘integration’. It is a path that has several branches and needs to formulate an infinite multitude of identities, which makes them susceptible to enrichment daily. Perhaps literature has a role to play, too.



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Literature entices us to a place that is not distracted by the superficial and the transient. It is concerned with the essential and looks to the future. Literature exposes our concerns and our weaknesses, our aggression and our delicateness, our hopes and our disappointments, our predicament and our salvation. Literature is a living expression of our identity which is inherently plural, and of our human essence with all its contradictions. It is the best book in which we can be read, as we are, without make-up or touches or prejudices. It is the best table upon which we gather to partake in deep discussion and intimate negotiations about our shared life and humanity.

Brussels, September 2012

Taha Adnan 77


Scenario of Love Moussem & Teater Foratt 2012 Hassan Khayoon


Š Amanda Wickman

het huis van europa Ramsey Nasr

mijn buurman heeft een continent bedacht een glooiend rijk met weinig eigenschappen geen wind of echo: instapklare vlaktes maken het leven lang en af de burgers zijn beschaafd aan alle kanten volledig rond en eengemaakt gelijken zij hun munten, talen, hun tomaten vredig rollen ze over straat ook in mij gedijt dat eindeloos verlangen naar orde, huiselijkheid buurman en ik, wij aanvaarden elkaar vormen het schuim op onze idealen maar soms, wanneer de wereld brandt vlak voor het slapengaan soms denk ik zachtjes aan mijn afkomst dan ruik ik u op afstand daar, onder gladde jongenshuid ontwaakt in honderdduizendvoud een ronduit tegenstrijdig gat een hol gevuld met kelten en katharen etrusken, moren, magyaren het stinkt er naar melk en mannenvacht


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naar visigoten, protoslaven lappen trekken op jacht naar de kruin vandalen bevolken mijn onderbuik mijn vlees puilt uit, begint te smelten bask! saks! merovingers haken zich vast aan tere ribben ik val uiteen, kom samen in horden ik word een goede barbapappa voor al mijn reizende voorvaderen hier gaat de mikmak van europa


the house of europe Ramsey Nasr Translation: David Colmer my neighbour conceived a continent a rolling realm where features are few no wind or echoes, just furnished plains to make our lives complete and long the citizens are civilised to uniformity rough edges gone and rounded off like their languages, their coins and tomatoes they roll on down the road in peace it also thrives in me, this endless longing for order, domesticity my neighbour and I accept each other we are the froth on our ideals but sometimes when the world’s on fire just before I go to sleep I think softly of my origins and smell you in the distance where, under smoothly boyish skin a pit of gaping contradiction awakes a hundred-thousand-fold a hole full of celts and cathars etruscans, moors and magyars reeking of milk and manly hides of visigoths and proto-slavs lapp hunters head up north vandals settle at gut level my flesh bulges and starts to melt basque! saxon! merovingians hook onto tender ribs

Ramsey Nasr

in hordes I fall apart and come together turning into a good barbapapa for all my travelling forebears that’s europe with the works



mijn buurman had een continent bedacht maar ik zoek een kamer voor mijn gasten een huisje voor gemengde komaf of gewoon een vat om in te slapen ik zoek een plek vol ongemak liefst hoekig zoals vroeger: slecht geregeld tochtig en half af, maar écht – geef me houvast tussen kelder en dak bouw voor mij een roestig huis tegen een merelveld vol schone mythen tegen de klaprozen van poperinge en de gouden kiezen van auschwitz


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tegen een uitzicht op mist en zuiverheid bouw mij een moeilijk, pijnlijk huis

my neighbour conceived a continent but I need a room for my guests a home for my mixed origins or simply a barrel to sleep in I need a place with discomforts with old-style corners: badly arranged draughty and incomplete, but real – something to grip between cellar and roof build me a rusty house against the dizzy myths of the field of blackbirds against the poppies of poperinge and the gold teeth of auschwitz against a prospect of mist and purity build me a difficult, painful house

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Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival

Š Robert Cook



THE IMPORTANCE OF MOUSSEM.EU Pascal Nicolas The world is an exciting, challenging and uncertain place to live in. More and more borders are broken down: capital, goods, knowledge and cultures travel around the world. Only the men and women of flesh and blood are stopped at European and some national boundaries. Such as also happened to Duraid Abbas and Amar Al Bojrad on their way to Liverpool. Nevertheless, many international and intercultural contacts are very superficial. Only rarely is there a real exchange based on true equality and mutual respect. The Moussem arts centre therefore found that something urgently needed to be done about this. And so it was that the project was started with several European partners: a process of cultural and artistic globalisation that always takes place in a certain place (Antwerp, Amsterdam, Brussels, Cairo, Casablanca, Liverpool, Malmö, ...), for an audience that is as diverse as possible from real people and organisations (such as De Nieuw Amsterdam, Compagnie Nacera Belaza and the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival). stands also for a process of deep discussion and intimate negotiations to inhabit and broaden the common ground of Mezzaterra where everybody is welcome, as both Adhaf Soueif and Taha Adnan describe it.


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Artists stand with both feet in the mire of the past - their personal history or the tradition of their culture - and they recreate that swamp in the smooth surface of their imagination. A mirror in which everyone who makes an effort can recognise and question themselves. This is beautifully illustrated in the documentary “Traduit de l’Arabe’ by Nacera Belaza, Sabri Saad El Hamus and Strange Fruit. Art can constantly bring about change in the minds of people. Policymakers should therefore not ignore the artistic world. Just as the arts need social embedding. Artistic creation is an original contribution to the development of a society in two ways: it lays bare some of the origin and is an individual standpoint taken with regard to the environment, such as that of the Arab in the story of Abdelkader Benali. The way in which artists communicate in and through their creative process is a reflection of the challenges which a democratic society in a globalising evolution must meet. Indeed, art is always a confrontation with another or ‘the other’. At the same time, in many of the arts it is clear that the otherness of art or the artist is not necessarily determined by the ethnic or historical background. It is the personal opinion of the artist and the eye of the public that determines the dynamics of the ‘house of europe’, not the (post) colonial categories of nation or ideology. Why does it appear so difficult for people to freely take on the confrontation and the discussion between new expressions of culture compared to the mainstream in their own environment, with the prevailing classical canon?

Perhaps it has to do with the complex identity with which both artists and citizens, activists and the public go through life. A fruitful intercultural dialogue does not want a further reduction of identity, but a positive investment in collective and individual identity and individuality. If identity is not viewed as a confirmation of identity but as an affirmation of difference, this leads to excesses such as exoticism or orientalism, as described by Gérard Mayen. The artist is then trapped in what distinguishes him from us, instead of seeing this distinction as a necessary starting point for encounter and mutual enrichment. In such a context people from different cultural backgrounds can indeed meet each other but not enter into an equal dialogue. If we manage to see beyond our differences, then in the artistic field there is still the question of whether criteria can be identified for selection and presentation. Unilaterally established criteria do not work. Criteria need to be negotiated, as is evident in the argument of Professor Gema Martín-Muñoz. Otherwise there is too great a risk that the dominant Western concepts and standards are ultimately applied to uphold and confirm existing positions of power. Leaving the safe space of being right to negotiate what is beautiful and important in the journey of the new world, does not appear to be easy. With we note that artists with an Arab background play an important role here, with the Arab communities in Europe as a bridge, such as Mohamed Ikoubaân states in his foreword. The interests they have to defend are not connected to old or new imperial dreams and can stimulate a new form of cooperation based on equality, reciprocity and equal participation of all. Shaping a European society is more than changing a façade. Indeed, the confrontation of ideas, attitudes and values ​​require not only a negotiation on criteria and meanings. The responsibility for an assertive participation in the brewing of new European cultural identities lies with everyone who participates. A major challenge in Europe today therefore seems to lie in the field of supporting artists with an Arab background. Otherwise the discussion on participation and cultural exchange risks being held on unequal terms. The European canon is a process, a challenge, a concept that must be interpreted. Or better said: “So what if we want to say something about something else?”

Pascal Nicolas

Antwerp, September 11th 2012.


about The authors Taha Adnan Taha Adnan is an author, poet and journalist of Moroccan descent. He lives and works in Brussels. Amongst other things he also founded the Brussels intercultural newspaper El Souk. In 2011 his play ‘Bye bye Gillo’ was awarded first prize at the Monodrama Festival in the United Arab Emirates. For this publication he has written an essay in which he reflects on the identity of Belgium in Europe and consequently on his own identity as a new Belgian in Brussels. Abdelkader Benali Abdelkader Benali is a Dutch author and television presenter of Moroccan origin. In 2010 he received the E. Du Perron Prize for his novel ‘De stem van mijn moeder’ (My Mother’s Voice). Apart from novels and plays he also writes editorials for Het Algemeen Dagblad, De Groene Amsterdammer, Esquire, De Volkskrant and Vrij Nederland. For this publication he has written a new story in which he reflects on the identity of Arabs in Europe.


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Mohamed Ikoubaân Mohamed Ikoubaân studied law and literature in Morocco. At the age of 26 he came to Belgium. He worked in the integration sector and in 1996 founded the working group on culture within the Federation of Moroccan Associations. At present he is artistic director of Moussem Nomadic Arts Centre and he brings Arab art and culture in Flemish and Brussels theatres, concert halls and museums. For this publication he has written a preface in which he further explains the meaning and the ambitions of ‘’. Gema Martin-Muñoz Gema Martin-Muñoz is a sociologist, Arabist and essayist. She has written several books about the Arab world and also regularly produces commentary pieces for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. She taught Arabic Studies for many years at the University of Madrid and until recently was director of Casa Arabe in Madrid. For this publication she has written an introduction on the relationship between Europe and the Arab world.

Gérard Mayen Gérard Mayen is a French journalist and dance critic. His plays are published in almost all specialised media in France (Danser, Mouvement,, Quant à la danse, Repères Biennale du Val-de-Marne, journal de l’ADC Geneva, ...) For many years he has followed the work of Nacera Belaza and accompanied her to Algeria in the spring of 2012. For this publication he has written a reflection on that journey and on Nacera Belaza’s work. Ramsey Nasr Ramsey Nasr was born in Rotterdam in 1974 as the son of a Dutch mother and a Palestinian father. He is a poet, writer, actor and director. He has received many awards for his prose and poetry in the Dutch language. Nasr was appointed poet laureate in 2005 and in 2009 was appointed Poet Laureate in the Netherlands for a period of four years. He writes articles and opinion pieces for many Flemish and Dutch newspapers and magazines and he has made several journalistic television programmes. This book, with his consent, includes the poem ‘het huis van Europa’ (the house of Europe) which he wrote as Poet Laureate on the occasion of the opening of the House of Europe in The Hague (NL). Pascal Nicolas Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1961, Pascal Nicolas studied psychological and educational sciences. Currently he is coordinator of international projects for the Belgium-based Moussem Nomadic Arts Centre and coaches several artists and (intercultural) projects, companies and festivals on a freelance basis. He works for, supporting European artists with Arabic origins, questioning the European canon and exploring ways to provide them with access to regular art institutions. In 2006 he received the Award for Development and Emancipation of Muslims. In the past he published work about ‘Glocal Art’ and was also president, founder, board member and independent consultant of several associations and councils, mostly in the (inter-)cultural field. Ahdaf Soueif Ahdaf Soueif is an author and political and cultural commentator. She lives in London and Cairo. Her most famous novel, ‘The Map of Love’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. She also regularly writes opinion pieces for The Guardian and for the Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk. This publication - with her ​​permission – includes excerpts from her collection of essays’ Mezzaterra, fragments from the Common Ground’ from 2004.


about the partners Moussem, BE In 2001 Moussem started as a festival and has grown into a nomadic arts centre (with an administrative residency in the CC Berchem). As an international crossroads for contemporary artists with a link to or openness to the Arab world, a diverse urban audience and mainstream art institutions in Flanders, Brussels and Europe, Moussem produces many interesting artistic creations. Due to the nomadic nature of the organisation, Moussem works together with various theatres and institutions such as CC Berchem, Amuz and Monty in Antwerp, as well as with Bozar and Les Halles in Brussels. Compagnie Nacera Belaza, FR Nacera Belaza is a French choreographer with Algerian roots. Her creations balance on the spiritual tension between mind and body. Each production of Compagnie Nacera Belaza creates a space that is brimming with tension and yet is provokingly empty. Nacera Belaza is constantly seeking the fine line that runs between spirituality and fun. She tries to keep her art in line with her ​​Islamic faith. True to her sober lifestyle, her creations are nevertheless alluring and frivolous.


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De Nieuw Amsterdam, NL Since its foundation in 1986, De Nieuw Amsterdam (DNA) has become the most prominent multicultural theatre company in the Netherlands. Annually DNA produces two performances which are rooted in a rich and extensive repertoire. The theme generally revolves around our rapidly evolving society, with a deep respect for the rituals and practices of the multicultural cast. Apart from this DNA also runs an annual theatre: ITS DNA. Each year a dozen students with diverse cultural backgrounds are prepared for an official stage training. Director and actor Sabri Saad El Hamus is artistic director of the theatre as well as the training. Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, GB The Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival (LAAF) is an annual festival which was started in 2002 by the Liverpool Arabic Centre and The Bluecoat arts centre. Meanwhile LAAF works together with the largest arts organisations in Liverpool, such as The Picturehouse, FACT, The National Museums Liverpool and the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, but also with various artists and societies. Year after year the festival grows in size, audience, ambitions and character and is the only annual festival of its kind in the UK. In 2010 LAAF won the Arab British Centre’s Culture & Society Award for its outstanding contribution to the spread of knowledge and appreciation of Arab culture in the UK.

Teater Foratt, SE Teater Foratt is a Malmö based independent theatre group. Their theatre concerns contemporary issues such as alienation, wars,  women`s rights,environmental issues etc. Since the start in 2005  Teater Foratt has toured in Egypt, Vietnam, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.  And continues to engage in international collaborations. In 2009 Theatre Foratt joined forces with theatre group Insite and together  the groups established Bastionen, the largest free theatre house in the south  of Sweden. European Commission Culture programme: a serious cultural investment The EU’s Culture programme (2007-2013) has a budget of €400 million for projects and initiatives to celebrate Europe’s cultural diversity and enhance our shared cultural heritage through the development of cross-border co-operation between cultural operators and institutions. The Culture programme aims to achieve three main objectives: to promote cross-border mobility of those working in the cultural sector; to encourage the transnational circulation of cultural and artistic output; and to foster intercultural dialogue. For the achievement of these objectives, the programme supports three strands of activities: cultural actions; European-level cultural bodies; and analysis and dissemination activities. Associated partners Association les Rencontres de la Danse (AR2D), Casablanca, MA Studio Emad Edin Cairo, EG


about the productions Scenario of Love by Hassan Khayoon theatre Drawing on a script by Aoutif Naim and the preparatory production ‘It happened in Bagdad’, Hassan Khayoon (BE) works with Ala Houssein and Rayam Al Jazairi (SE) on a play about their experiences during the war of the USA against Iraq: a housewife and a soldier try to organize their life during the war. Their movements, their thoughts, their voices are permeated by the word “war” and give the word meaning, even if they don’t want to. And eventually “war” devalues their own meaning. She and he in a house full of memories. Everything but the bed and some images is destroyed. It’s autumn and sadness fills the air. She is standing in this mess. He is ready to leave in his military uniform. Scenario of Love tells about love and sadness in times of war. He wants to leave the army and escape to unknown harbours. In love for his country as many Iraqi soldiers. A country where love for the fatherland is reduced to love for the leader. But his sacrifice means that he leaves behind his beloved, what she cannot understand. Scenario of love tells about painful choices which many Iraqis had to make as a result of the many wars in their country. A story where desertion becomes an act of patriotism and an escape, a brave action. Direction: Hassan Khayoon Actors: Ala Houssein, Rayam Al Jazairi Text: Aoutif Naim Dramaturgy:Niclas Sandström Light & sound: Jonas Åkesson Montage: Hamdan Saray Production: Moussem and Teater Foratt (Malmö) With the support of the European Union Prepremière on November 17th 2011, ccBe (Antwerp).


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Première on April 19th 2012, Teater Bastionen (Malmö).

Le Trait by Compagnie Nacera Belaza dance Le trait as the line which unites the three pieces of the new creation of Nacera Belaza. Two solos and one duo, like an echo to the path of the French-Algerian choreographer. After dancing many years with her sister Dalila, Nacera Belaza puts her dance to the test of the solo. A way to experiment more than ever the loneliness, this feeling that seems necessary to "remain porous to her environment and to be able to welcome the world in herself". For Le trait, Nacera and Dalila Belaza therefore each sign a piece, for herself and only herself. Separated on the stage, they will be nevertheless united by the relationship that they both have to the body, to the space and to the emptiness. But this creation meets as well another story: the choreographer's one and her native land, Algeria. Through Le trait, with two young dancers met on the other side of the Mediterranean, Nacera Belaza also explores the links between some traditional dances of Algeria, some sacred rituals and her own composition, that we fain characterized as hypnotic. A composition, a line, a stroke, that we find again from piece to piece, always present but constantly reinvented. The artist' one who aspires to "find the place where the time is not anymore counted, to touch of a finger the infinite in order to reach a space where we can finally share". Because if she takes a minimalist form, Nacera Belaza' s dance is infinitely generous, inviting the spectator to make its own path to better come to her meeting. All her power resides there, apart from the spectacular, in the intensity of the tiny, letting grow an experience of the sensible, revealing an own poetry to bring forth a thousand images, without ever representing one of them. Choreography: Nacera Belaza Le Cercle (duo) Choreography: Nacera Belaza Performance: Mohamed Ali Djermane, Lotfi Mohand Arab Sound and Light Conception: Nacera Belaza Light: Éric Soyer Sound Editing and Producing: Christophe Renaud, Benoît Rapidel Le Cœur et l'Oubli (solo) Choreography: Dalila Belaza Performance: Dalila Belaza Sound and Light Conception: Dalila Belaza Light: Éric Soyer Sound Editing and Producing: Christophe Renaud, Benoît Rapidel La Nuit (solo) Choreography: Nacera Belaza Performance: Nacera Belaza Sound and Light Conception: Nacera Belaza Light: Éric Soyer Sound Editing and Producing: Christophe Renaud, Benoît Rapidel


Première on July 8th 2012, Salle Montfavet, Festival d'Avignon.

1979 by Moussem & Strange Fruit (Duraid Abbas, Amar Al Bojrad & Sarah Eisa) dance theatre Wouter Hillaert in De Standaard about 1979: ‘1979 doesn’t address you as a zapping occidental, but as a human being. Your belly understands what your head cannot grasp’ 1979 witnessed events that later caused an eight-year war: In Iraq, Saddam Hussein got the power after the resignation of former president Al-Bakr, while Khomeini rose to power in Iran after the success of the Islamic revolution. Both of these new leaders killed, tortured and suppressed their own people like animals, before engaging in a war with each other. This war came at a great cost in lives and economic damage. A million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers as well as civilians are estimated to have died with many more injured. The performance1979 is not about giving you facts. It rather seeks to submerge you in a state of being, created by two artists who were born during this war.


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With an ‘installation-dance-performance’ the artists draw the audience into the horrors from the cellars of their memory, where a human life was worth less than a dog’s. Duraid Abbas Ghaieb is an actor, theatre maker, dancer born in Baghdad in 1980. Duraid joined the Institute of Fine Arts at the age of 15 to study theatre. After graduating with a Diploma in directing in 2001 he went directly to the College of Fine Arts to undertake a Bachelor of Theatre in 2007. During his degree, Duraid participated in Iraq’s first ever Contemporary Dance workshop and went on to join ‘Iraqi Bodies’, one of the first ever Modern Dance Groups in Iraq. Their first project ‘Crying of my mother’ performed nationally, regionally and internationally. Duraid’s extensive talents include acting in many short films within Iraq and also working as the leading actor in a major feature length film ‘Battle for Haditha,’ directed by Nick Broomfield shot in Jordan in 2007. This film took the prize for the ‘Best Director’ at the Toronto Film Festival in 2007. Duraid is now living in Holland. He worked there with Iraqi Bodies as a dancer. Furthermore he is also working in Belgium as an actor and director, for example in ‘Irakese Geesten’, which won the KBC prize for young theatre and was selected for the Flemish-Dutch Theatre Festival 2010. Amar Al Bojrad was born in Baghdad in 1983. Amar studied dance and scenography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad from 1999 to 2004. During his studies he danced with the Iraqi National Folk Dance Company of Baghdad. In 2006 he joined Iraqis Bodies and travelled around the world with the production ‘Crying of My Mother’. Since 2010 he is working with Moussem and also participated in ‘Insomnia’, an other ‘Iraqi Bodies’ production.

Sarah Eisa was born in Germany and studied theatre at RITS in Brussels. During and after her studies, she worked at the Royal Flemish Theatre as an actress and a dramaturge for several productions, with directors Ruud Gielens and Johan Dehollander. With theatre group ‘tocht’ she started to make own productions, supported by the arts centre Monty in Antwerp. She continued to participate in various projects as an actress and performer, like ‘Saturn II’ for the festival ‘The Game is Up’, ‘’ for the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, or ‘Irakese Geesten’, which won the KBC-prize for young theatre and was selected for ‘Het Theaterfestival’ as one of the ten best performances of 2010 in Flanders. Together Sarah, Duraid and Amar founded the company Strange Fruit and will tour with 1979. Text & direction: Duraid Abbas Choreography: Amar Al Bojrad Concept: Amar Al Bojrad and Duraid Abbas Performers: Amar Al Bojrad and Sarah Eisa Installation: Duraid Abbas, Kristel Van den Heede, Amar Al Bojrad, Hussein Shabeeb Music: Roeland Luyten Video editing: Hamdan Saray Decor: Hussein Shabeeb Assistant: Moayed Joda Light: Thomas Glorieux Production: Moussem in cooperation with WCC Zuiderpershuis With the support of the European Union Première on November 20th 2011, Zuiderpershuis (Antwerp).


oedipus in Egypt by De Nieuw Amsterdam music theatre ‘Oedipus in Egypt’, a musical theatre production by Sabri Saad El Hamus (NL), artistic director of the Dutch theatre company DNA, together with Egyptian artists (from partner Studio Emad Eddin) and Dutch artists. Depending on the location, local artists will be deployed in a subsequent bilingual version. For his ‘Oedipus in Egypt’ the Dutch-Egyptian theatre producer Sabri Saad El Hamus drew inspiration from similarities between the Greek legend of King Oedipus and its Egyptian counterpart, the myth of Pharaoh Echnaton. While it has never been possible to link the legend of King Oedipus in Greece with a historical event, the stories of Echnaton are supported by historical facts. In his book ‘Oedipus and Echnaton’ Immanuel Velikovsky equates the two kings. He reexamines the historical facts and postulates that the legend of Oedipus from the Greek Thebes developed from the history of the royal family of Echnaton from the Egyptian Thebes. Sabri seized the opportunity to turn this assumption into what he saw as the ideal site-specific project using Dutch and Egyptian actors and performing it in both the Netherlands and Egypt. The script of the play was written by Gerard Koolschijn, translated into Egyptian-Arabic by Taha Hussein and adapted by Mustafa Stitou. In Egypt the leading roles will be played by Egyptians, supported by a Dutch chorus, with a Dutch text. In the Netherlands it is the other way round: Dutch actors will play the leading roles, but then with an Egyptian chorus. Within the framework of, the leading roles will speak English. So a truly intercultural dialogue, particularly as the chorus explains/comments on the play.


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In each location Sabri Saad El Hamus will provide the prologue. The cast consists of ten Egyptian actors (including three musicians from Upper Egypt) and two Dutch musicians, plus five local actors in each case. In Egypt the production will be performed against the backdrop of the Great Pyramid of Giza, while in Europe islands or beaches will be found which refer to the oasis-like atmosphere of the palm-fringed road that culminates in the monumental silence that surrounds the pyramid. “The ingeniously designed flight of steps which leads to the entrance to the pyramid, strengthened our resolve to perform the play there,” says Sabri. “This location does away altogether with the need for a specially designed set. We will capitalize on the elements that already exist there: the steps, the sand and the stones. Moreover, Arab thoroughbreds will be given a prominent role in the play. Sophocles’ powerful script, supplemented with sound and lighting effects will ensure an unforgettable evening and one that gives the myth of Oedipus back to Egypt.” “With ‘Oedipus in Egypt’ we want to build a bridge between the Egyptian-Arab and the European-Western cultures, whereby cultural diversity and variety manifest themselves through natural harmony.”

Produced by: Theatergroep De Nieuw Amsterdam Script: Sophocles Dutch translation: Gerard Koolschijn Egyptian translation: Taha Hussein Adaptation: Mustafa Stitou Dutch cast: Peter Bolhuis, Reinier Bulder, Mirjam Stolwijk, Steven Hooi, Sarah Marie Eweg, Lisa Frenkel and Chiron Holwijn, Sabri Saad El Hamus Musicians: Laurens Joensen, Anne Bakker Egyptian cast: Mohamed El Hagrasy, Mirette Mechail and Mounir Saeed Musicians: Essam El Makssour, Gamal Mossad, Rabie Zein Director: Sabri Saad El Hamus Dramaturgy: Hubertus Martin Mayr Director’s assistant: Leonie Baars Compositions: Bob Zimmerman Lighting design: Gé Wegman Set: Leo de Nijs Sound design: Husein Samy Costume design Egypt: Nermine Said Assistant costume designer Netherlands: Wiba Klein Casting advice: Jeannette Snik Production manager: Liselotte Bos Production assistant: Nadja van der Weide Technical aspects: Mark Snitslaar Sound: Fons Baltus and Jeroen Vermeulen Line producer Egypt: Ahmed El Attar Theatergroep De Nieuw Amsterdam Artistic director: Sabri Saad El Hamus Business manager: Gerrit Wijnhoud Secretariat: Hans Verburg Press and publicity: Lieke van Gurp Graphic design: Paulina Matusiak Photography: Jean van Lingen The following helped make ‘Oedipus in Egypt’ possible: City of Amsterdam, Performing Arts Fund, SNS REAAL Fund, Prince Berhard Culture Fund, Embassy of the Royal Netherlands in Cairo, Egypt. With thanks to: Lieven Slabbinck, Al Warsha Theatergroep and Jacco Patist. ‘Oedipus in Egypt’ is part of the project, which enjoys the support of the EU Culture Programme. Première on July 8th 2011, Tolhuistuin (Amsterdam).


wie ik ben - qui je suis by Abdelmalek Kadi & Meryem Jazouli dance theatre Wie ik ben – Qui je suis, a theatre/dance production by Abdelmalek Kadi (BE) and Meryem Jazouli (MA) based on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s autobiography in verse ‘Poeta delle Ceneri’ to the rhythms of Schubert’s Winterreise. Pier Paolo Pasolini is widely considered to have been a highly-gifted artist. His work is inextricably bound up with his life which was a constant battle against slavery in the fullest sense of the word. The driving force behind his work was the struggle for human dignity. Pasolini had an extremely complex personality with many different faces: intellectual polemist, essayist, poet, theatre maker and dramaturge. Through all these artistic activities he constantly questioned society and the spirit of the age. In ‘Poeta delle Ceneri’ – which he wrote in 1966 when he was staying in New York before becoming an international celebrity -, he looks back on his past and on his work and investigates the circumstances which made him a poet. He shows us that the struggle for human dignity is his main motivation for writing and explains why poetry is so vitally important to him. The story gives us a glimpse of the Italy of the time and we see that all in all the world has not changed very much since then. ‘Wie ik ben’ is presented as an interview with Pasolini in a hotel room in New York, far from the writer’s beloved Italy. It is a moving confession in which the poet proves extraordinarily honest about his life and reality and shows amazing insight into the world and how it is organized.


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The seeds of this project were sown in meetings between Abdelmalek Kadi and Meryem Jazouli both at the Moussem Festival in Brussels and at the Contemporary Dance Festival in Marrakech. These meetings between Kadi who is always on the lookout for open-minded people - and Jazouli - who might be described as the embodiment of contemporary dance in Morocco and with her study centre builds bridges over the Mediterranean - made a cooperation almost inevitable. Together the Brussels actor with a predilection for movement and voice and the theatrical dancer from Casablanca set to work on Pasolini’s text, which exudes openness. Kadi and Jazouli invent a new language to communicate, a language drenched in dance and theatre in which movement and word are central and humanity is distilled from the original text. The gesture emphasizes the emotion of the word in the unspeakable. The music is used as demarcation.

Direction, script and acting: Abdelmalek Kadi Dance and choreography: Meryem Jazouli Text: Pier Paolo Pasolini Music: Franz Schubert Produced by: Moussem in cooperation with ARD Casablanca and CC Berchem Première on November 17th 2011, ccBe (Antwerp)



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Colophone This is a publication by Moussem Berchem, 2012 Translation: RMV-translations Translation from Arabic: Reem Abdelhadi Cover photo: Julie Verlinden Design: lu’cifer Compilation: Arnout Mampaey & Isabel Voets Project coordinators: Mohamed Ikoubaân & Pascal Nicolas V.U.: Mohamed Ikoubaân Drie Koningenstraat 126 2600 Berchem

Thanks to Gerrit Wijnhoud Razanne Carmey Faye Christiansen Taher Qassim MBE Charles Buchan Ekin Oklap Elodie Mieville-Penkova Lucille Rautureau Saskia Liénard

This project has been funded with the support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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traduit de l’arabe Why does it appear so difficult for people to freely take on the confrontation and the discussion between new expressions of culture compared to the mainstream in their own environment, with the prevailing classical canon? Leaving the safe space of being right to negotiate what is beautiful and important in the journey of the new world, does not appear to be easy. The European canon is not a static set of acquired, well-defined values, but should rather be seen as a process, a challenge, a concept that must constantly be (re)interpreted. In 2011 the Nomadic arts centre Moussem (BE) launched the project with De Nieuw Amsterdam (NL), Compagnie Nacera Belaza (FR) and the Liverpool Arabic Arts Centre (GB) with the support of the European Commission. enables artists of Arabic origin to create with international perspective. With we do not wish to present an objective sample of Arab artists in Europe. Our starting point is the individual stories of artists who differ greatly. Their only common denominator is that they rely on their European and Arab background to give artistic shape to their story. Moreover, stands for a process of deep discussion and intimate negotiations to inhabit and broaden the common ground of ‘Mezzaterra’ where everybody is welcome. The film portrays Nacera Belaza, Sabri Saad El Hamus, the LAAF and Strange Fruit. Together with the film an ambitious publication is made. Several of the finest and internationally best reputed authors and opinion makers delivered a contribution for this book. The multilingual book contains articles, essays, poems of Ahdaf Soueif, Abdelkader Benali, Gérard Mayen, Professor Gema Martin-Muños, Taha Adnan and Ramsey Nasr with an introduction of Mohamed Ikoubaân and closing remarks by Pascal Nicolas. In the future we hope to expand this small network to include other artists and partners, and to create a deep and profound artistic dialogue that transcends the flat populist discourse of many politicians and opinion makers. Consequently wants to stimulate a new form of cooperation on a cultural level with the Arab communities in Europe as a bridge, on the basis of equality, reciprocity and equal participation of all. documentary Duration: 30 min. Subtitled: English, français, Nederlands.

Isbn 9789081978507

Profile for Arnout Mampaey

Traduit de l'arabe  

Why does it appear so difficult for people to freely take on the confrontation and the discussion between new expressions of culture compare...

Traduit de l'arabe  

Why does it appear so difficult for people to freely take on the confrontation and the discussion between new expressions of culture compare...

Profile for moussem

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