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Call for Proposals 2015 Syria, Beyond Arts Projects’ summaries 8 projects granted by the Prince Claus Fund and the British Council


Syria, Beyond Arts 2015: Projects granted per country

Countries ASIA Jordan Lebanon Syria and Lebanon Turkey TOTAL

Projects granted 1 4 1 2 8


Syria, Beyond Arts 2015: Projects granted per categories Categories Literature, Media/Journalism Photography Audio-Visual Theatre/Performance

Nr of Projects 1 1 2 4

Projects’ Name The Pages Workshops for Children and Youth Cardboard Castle Mare Nostrum; The Day I Lost my Shadow Youth Theater; Dushka; The Last Month of the Fifth Year; A Ticket to Atlantis


CONTENTS Literature, Media/Journalism - The Pages Workshops for Children and Youth

5 5

Photography - Cardboard Castle

7 7

Audio-visual - Mare Nostrum - The Day I Lost my Shadow

9 9 11

Theatre/Performance - Youth Theater - Dushka - The Last Month of the Fifth Year - A Ticket to Atlantis

13 13 15 17 19


Literature, Media/Journalism 'The Pages Workshops for Children and Youth' Who: Samer Al Kadri What: A series of cultural and artistic workshops for Syrian and Turkish children and youth Where: Pages Bookstore Café, Istanbul, Turkey When: December 2015 – November 2016 Amount: 24.730 Euros

A picture of the bookshop and café at the opening-day (source: Pages’ Facebook page)

A view of the internal multi-purpose space

In June 2015 the neighbourhood of Fatih in Istanbul (Turkey) witnessed the birth of the Pages Bookstore and Café, one of the first Arab bookstores in the city. The idea for it came from the Syrian couple Samer al-Kadri and Gulnar Hajo, founders of the children’s publishing house Bright Fingers. Due to the uprising, the couple left Syria with their two daughters, first setting up in Jordan and later moving to Istanbul in 2013. Eventually, Pages Bookstore and Café was founded by a group of eight collaborators – artists, actors, filmmakers, writers and publishers from Syria, Turkey and Oman. The aim was to serve the needs of the Syrian people living in Turkey, to keep their culture alive while living in exile. Pages offers a venue for artistic expressions, readings, debate and discussion. Visitors of any age and nationality can meet and interact, find books and ideas of interest, and also get a taste of Syrian food. In the frame of the Call Syria, Beyond Arts 2015, the venue will offer on a regular basis a series of multi-day workshops on different topics, ranging from storytelling, puppetry, drawing, literature and performance arts to design, media, journalism, human development, peace and conflict studies and more. The workshops will be held free of charge for participants and will primarily address children (4–10 years), young adults (11–17 5

years) and youth (18–25) from displaced Syrian families living in Turkey, but will be open to other nationalities too. Over a period of 12 months, 36 workshops in Arabic, Turkish and English for around 20 participants each will be curated, namely three per month (one for children, one for young adults, and one for youth). Talented and accomplished writers, artists, professionals, and cultural practitioners – both from the Syrian diaspora as well as from other Arab, European and Asian countries – will be invited to share their multicultural and broad experience. Through these activities, children and youth are given the opportunity to express and develop themselves artistically and culturally. Furthermore, the Pages Bookstore and Café aims to provide a creative cultural platform that goes beyond the narratives of war, conflict, refugee status, and victimhood, to bring the Syrian diaspora closer together and to restore confidence in the community. The initiative also strives to create stronger relations between participants from Syrian, Turkish and other backgrounds residing in Istanbul. Indeed, Turkey currently hosts one of the biggest populations of displaced Syrians that have fled the conflict. The living circumstances are difficult for most Syrian refugees and there are a lot of tensions between them and the Turkish population. Pages tries to address this situation and foster mutual understanding.


Photography ‘Cardboard Castle’ Who: Alaa Sheikh Hassan What: Photo-documentary book and exhibitions about the urban development of Damascus, Syria between 2007 and 2011 Where: Beirut, Lebanon When: September 2015 – September 2016 Amount: 18.000 Euros

Pictures from Alaa Sheikh Hassan’s website

Cardboard Castle is a documentary photography project started in 2007 by the Syrian photographer and filmmaker Alaa Hassan. Together with a writer and a photobook editor, Hassan wishes to research, write and design a documentary photography book that focuses on the visual identity and urban development in Damascus between 2007 and 2011, just before the beginning of the Syrian uprising and civil war. In those years, Hassan documented Damascus from a socio-political point of view, beginning with the presidential advertisement campaign of Bashar Al Assad. The book will directly address a collective Syrian and global question: why did the war happen in Syria? Thus, it will offer readers and viewers a chance to look back at, reflect and learn about the reasoning that may have led to civil war. The project represents a diverse yet consistent photographic collection of the city, its everyday life, its demographic, economic, social and political context, supported with an in-depth academic study about the urban development of Damascus. In this context, images of the slums will stand for both the location of the opposition to the government and the displacement of a large majority of the civil population. The addition of a theoretical analysis will help contextualise the photographs. With its sophisticated combination of theory and photography, of academic and artistic research, Cardboard Castle will invite Syrians (and the international audience) to reflect on the different circumstances that led the country into a severe conflict. It will act as a form of cultural expression in a highly repressive environment 7

and will stimulate critical thinking and dialogue in Syria (particularly among its youth) about the immediate past in order to better understand the present and the next future. Beside the publication of 500 copies of the book in Arabic, the project will lay the foundation for three photographic expositions, respectively held in Lebanon, Turkey and the USA. As a matter of fact, Lebanon and Turkey have the biggest concentration of displaced Syrians, while the United States give access to a wider audience. In the USA, the exhibition will also indirectly discuss the heavily involvement of the American government in the Syrian conflict and politics.


Audio-visual ‘Mare Nostrum’ Who: Anas Khalaf & Rana Kazkaz co-founders of Synéastes Films What: A short film reflecting on the complex choice of migrating Where: Aqaba, Jordan When: December 2015 – May 2016 Amount: 20.000 Euros

Anas Khalaf

Rana Kazkaz

Mare Nostrum is the title of a new short silent film by the filmmakers-duo Anas Khalaf & Rana Kazkaz through their film production company Synéastes Film (founded 2010). Both Khalaf and Kazkaz are invested in the production of films related to Syria, and in creating international co-productions with other countries such as France, Australia and Jordan. Their previous work has gained international recognition. This new film will be shot in the port city of Aqaba in Jordan, on the shore of the Red Sea, with Syrian actors. Instead of actual dialogues, the story will be accompanied by an exclusively composed musical score by the Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh. Mare Nostrum takes its name from the (failed) Italian operation undertaken in October 2014 to save migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea and aims to tell the story of migration through the hopes and fears of a Syrian father who contemplates sending his six-year old daughter across the Mediterranean in order to reach Europe. The absence of dialogues and the fact that a very complex issue is narrowed down to a personal experience make the film accessible to an international audience. “Migrants who leave Syria for Turkey or Lebanon find themselves on a boat, even if they do not know how to swim. Will they reach Italy? Will the boat sink? Will they be rescued? Will they drown?” With this plot, the film portrays the journey of thousands of Syrian migrants who decide to cross the Mediterranean Sea risking their lives in order to escape the war in their country. Although migration is already much debated, 9

giving the crisis a human face may have the potential to generate larger impact and inspire solidarity with people who are forced by events beyond their control to make difficult choices with a profound impact on their own lives and those of their loved ones.


‘The Day I Lost my Shadow’ Who: KAF Production Co. What: A fiction film portraying the tremendous impact of war on ordinary women and children in nonpolitical contexts Where: Beirut, Lebanon When: October 2015 – December 2016 Amount: 17.320 Euros

Still from Damascus ‘Roof and Tales of Paradise’ by Soudade Kaadan

Soudade Kaadan

The Day I Lost My Shadow consists in the production and shooting of a feature fiction film, written and directed by the Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan, who is a talented documentary director and co-founder of the Syrian production house KAF (founded in 2008 together with Amira Kaadan). The organisation’s main activities include the production of fiction and documentary films in a country where most production houses concentrate mainly on television series. Most of the films created and produced by KAF investigate women’s role and will to survive in a male society. The production of The Day I Lost My Shadow will involve a team of Syrian artists and professionals, most of whom will be females. In this way, the project aims to empower female artists, while also contributing to create job opportunities for displaced Syrian professionals. Given the instable political situation in Syria, the film will be shot in areas reminding of the Syrian territories, such as Lebanon or Turkey. Indeed, the story takes place in Syria in 2011 and portrays some days in Sana's life, a young mother in her thirties, searching for cooking gas to prepare food for her nine-year old child despite water outages and power cuts. She needs three days to find two cylinders of gas, only to discover that they are useless. As a matter of fact, according to Soudade Kaadan, during the Syrian uprising daily life became extremely difficult. In her opinion, getting access to basic necessities such as bread, electricity, food and gas was often 11

an impossible task. The film uses the experiences of Sana and other women she meets in her journey to make clear how the atrocities of war impact on ordinary people, and specifically, how Syrian women are affected even in non-political contexts. According to Human Rights Watch, women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government. When men become soldiers, activists or are imprisoned, women are left alone with their children, facing security agents, death and bombing. While media focus on the armed and the political conflict, it is often forgotten how also real people must endure cruel and violent circumstances in times of war. Removed from orientalist clichÊs of females, the film sheds light on ordinary women and children who, although having the luck of surviving, are left with deep emotional scars.


Theatre/Performance ‘Youth Theater’ Who: Marie Elias and Dima Abazah, on behalf of “Citizens. Artists” What: workshops, grant-making, production of new theatre pieces, staging of 1-2 plays, and book publication Where: Damascus (and other cities), Syria – Beirut, Lebanon When: February 2016 – December 2016 Amount: 15.000 Euros

Marie Elias, 2009 (Source: The Arab Fund For Arts and Culture’s website) Abazah)

Interactive Writing Workshop by Marie Elias, Syria 2014 (Source: Dima

“Citizens. Artists” is an independent, civil, non-profit company established in 2012. The organization seeks to create links between culture and society and promotes the values of citizenship and art. Its mission is to support theatre performances by young actors, interactive theatre workshops (technique and writing skills) and publication of theatre books (new texts or translated ones). Hence, “Citizens. Artists” has been working for many years helping directors, actors, actresses and writers do their first productions. To this purpose, Maria Elias and Dima Abazah propose to co-ordinate a set of activities that will generate new opportunities for young Syrian theatre-makers to further develop their skills and use interactive theatre to create a positive impact in their country. In particular, they will organize a series of workshops on classical and interactive theatre writing and techniques. The workshops will take 3 months, will be led by theatre professors and teachers and will address young Syrian theatre writers living both in Lebanon and Syria. The main session will be in Beirut. It will be followed by mentoring through personal meetings between supervisors and participants. The results of the workshops (i.e. the newly written plays) will be published in a book. In addition, the project will entail an activity of micro grant-making to enable theatre-


makers to write, direct and present their own theatre productions. The best 1 or 2 works will be performed in Damascus and Beirut. Eventually, the proposal will give space to fresh voices by fostering the creation, promotion and performance of new/innovative plays by young Syrian theatre talents. It will also build interesting connections between Beirut and Damascus. Interactive theatre is chosen as the main focus since it can be used as a tool to unveil people’s sufferings, ease dialogues, say the unspoken in a rational and artistic way, and promote critical questionings. Thus, the project presents a unique opportunity to target vulnerable social groups in conflictafflicted areas. Additionally, it has a remarkable capacity building component that can open spaces for freedom of expression and artistic experimentation as well as promote the use of arts to strengthen resilience in a highly difficult and violent environment.


‘Dushka’ Who: Omar Al Jbaii What: theatre performance based on 10 poems by the Egyptian poet Amal Dunqul Where: Beirut, Lebanon When: December 2015 – January 2016 Amount: 17.300 Euros

Pictures taken during the performance of “One Thousand and One Tents” by Omar Al Jibaii

Journalist, playwright and director Omar Al Jbaii will create a theatre performance to reflect on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, show that mutual killing is not a solution and call for peace and concord in a time of violence and war. The play will take place in a traditional theatre (Italian box) in Beirut because of its resemblances with both a refuge and a grave. This ambiguity, together with the darkness and the silence of the structure, will create an intimate atmosphere and convey a sense of the sacred. In addition, Dushka will not be based on a traditional plot – the causal correlation between the scenes towards the climax and then to the solution, but on stylistic correlation, meaning that each scene is an independent artistic unit in itself. Indeed, the performance is based on 10 poems by the Egyptian poet Amal Dunqul, who is one of the most significant (political) poets of modern Arabic literature. Some of his poems call for violence and revenge, while those written just before his death are saturated with wisdom and refinement. Al Jbaii’s text is based around these conflicting meanings, which are sadly relevant to Syrians today. It seeks to reject the spirit of violence by staging its ugliness on stage. In particular, two opposing types of stanza are chosen: those which call for struggle and revenge, such as Do not reconcile and Son of Noah, and those which enhance contemplation and liberation from destructive tendencies, without ignoring the call to resist tyranny, such as Flowers and Birds. The use of interactive theatre will serve to re-enact pain, violence and happiness and come to a closure: Al Jbaii is convinced that putting violence on stage won’t shock people; on the contrary, it will help them release anger. Even more, framing violence within an artistic context will make it clearly unacceptable. Puppets will be used for the most shocking scenes, and emotional relief will be provided by screening comic videos projections accompanied by music. 15

With this initiative seven Syrian amateur actors and actresses will be trained through targeted workshops and will perform on stage. Through their actions as narrators and mimes and through the alternation between seriousness and comedy, the public will be invited to reflect on the difficult choice between forgetting the blood of the 250 thousand people who have been killed in the Syrian conflict so far and continuing the fight. In addition to an ordinary audience, refugees from the camps will be transported to and from the theatre as part of this project. Not only will they be relieved from the hardships of camp life, but they will also participate in the collective reflection about Syrian events.


‘The Last Month of the Fifth Year’ Who: Yasser Abu Shaqra and Hakan Silahsizoglu What: theatre performance production and staging Where: Istanbul, Turkey When: December 2015 – November 2016 Amount: 21.650 Euros

Still from a video on Yasser Abu Shaqra for the Playwright Residency Program (Available at:

Yasser Abu Shaqra (Source:

The play The Last Month of The Fifth Year is about the journey of a young Syrian-Palestinian playwright from Damascus who moves to Gaziantep, Turkey. There he meets a Syrian girl with Turkish mother and a young homosexual Syrian journalist who has a relationship with a Turkish guy. Encountering several people in all their complexity, the playwright goes through a lot of questions about identity, revolution and love. In this way, the performance explores the process of confronting “the Other”, someone who comes from a different culture, country, gender, and political background. This project by Yasser Abu Shaqra and Hakan Silahsizoglu will raise awareness about Syrian artistic existence in Turkey, and will give Syrian artists a voice in the Turkish theatre scene for the first time. Besides creating new opportunities for displaced artists, it will offer an alternative image of the Syrian community rather than the cliché of “the refugee”. In addition, it will address the growing tensions provoked by asylum seeking in Syria’s neighbouring countries and will try to foster mutual understanding between different groups. Indeed, artists from both communities (Syrian and Turkish) will work together to help the playwright create a fulllength play. Moreover, the latter will be performed both in Arabic and in Turkish. It will thus be accessible to audiences with various linguistic backgrounds. Prior to the performance, a one week workshop will be held at Kucuk Salon in Istanbul involving all collaborators. This workshop is designed to help build up the characters and introduce the project to Turkish directors and designers who could also work on the piece. 17

The performance will be held in Istanbul too for a week and will then be available for touring in and outside Turkey, where possible. Ideally, it will bring a positive cultural approach to conflict situations and social unrest and it will create space for dialogue through freedom of speech and artistic expression.


‘A Ticket to Atlantis’ Who: Mayar Alexani What: performance and audio-visual installation Where: Beirut, Lebanon When: January 2016 – November 2016 Amount: 16.000 Euros

Images from the multidisciplinary Syrian performance “Above Zero” by Ossama Halal with Mayar Alexani (among others)

A Ticket to Atlantis is a multimedia documentary theatre performance that explores what happens when a link is created between the obsession of finding a safe haven and the ancient myth of Atlantis, the lost, sunken city. The project will gather the talents of artists from different disciplines and will bring in documentary elements and actual events. It will be based on interviews with immigrants who chose to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, testimonies of fishermen and rescue teams as well as news, statistics, and scientific facts about life in the sea. Yet, the real will be also mixed with the mythological and the legendary. The performance will take place in a swimming pool overlooking the sea. Its borders and shape symbolise a fragment of the sea and are used to examine the state of the body in the water. The accompanying text, music and video will create a sensation of intimacy and remove the swimming pool from its connotation as urban space for pleasure and relaxation. The performance will be interactive and will involve the audience in a call for ‘lightness’, a sensation inspired by the sea and desired because of the current political situation. Furthermore, the audience, its breathing and its rhythms will become integral part of the show. Indeed, the project will incorporate a two-channel video: one channel will be documentary, showing the reality of the asylum seekers, before, after and during their journey; the other one will enhance the sensorial experience felt by the public and capture the movements of the performers under water. The music will be inspired from the folk songs of fishermen and will reflect breathing, muteness, suffocation, audible silence, water vibrations, the moaning sounds of whales and infinite echoes moving between heaviness and lightness. On the one hand, A Ticket to Atlantis aims to shed light on the contemporary human reality of thousands of asylum seekers trying to reach Europe by sea and wants to be a tribute to all refugees – both those who survived and those who died in the journey – in the attempt to restore their humanity and take them out 19

from the logic of statistics. On the other hand, it is a collective search for a utopian city which, just as the legendary Atlantis mentioned by Plato, lies at the bottom of the sea, where no races or religious groups exist, where everybody is welcome, where there are no barriers or frontiers. This project tries to address refugees’ critical situation with passion as well as artistic means. It advocates the importance of personal narratives in writing history and in helping to understand the times we are living in. It calls for culture and art as places to challenge the mainstream media narratives on the reality of war and displacement. It questions the identity of the sea as a mere crossing area and the preconceived idea of Europe as a land of opportunities. Its interconnection of reality with fantasy makes the unimaginable thinkable and understandable and the conversation between past and present that it carries out makes possible to discuss a possible future.


Syria Beyond Arts 2015 Project Summaries  
Syria Beyond Arts 2015 Project Summaries