art of resistance

The Book To Read: Desert Songs Of The Night.

somuchlove/Cairo by Nour El Demerdash/

Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Years of Arabic Literature is a new anthology of Arabic poetry and prose, published last year by Saqi Books.

It reminded me of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (2010, W.W. Norton & Company), which I really liked, so I decided to get my hands on Desert Songs of the Night as soon as possible.

Desert Songs of the Night presents some of the finest poetry and prose by Arab writers, from the Arab East to Andalusia, over the last fifteen hundred years. It was edited by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey.

I’ve read most of Bushrui’s work on Kahlil Gibran and was really enthusiastic to see him involved in this project. Bushrui died last year, so reading this book felt like the right way of paying respects.

The book itself was a huge task to take on – presenting fifteen centuries of a literature still largely unknown outside of the Arab world, finding a proper way to introduce each period and provide a wider context, linking it all together, choosing what’s important and what can be left out, adding the always present translation doubts…

It wasn’t easy, and that is obvious when reading the book.

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The collection moves from the mystical imagery of the Qur’an and the colorful stories of The Thousand and One Nights, to the powerful verses of longing of Mahmoud Darwish and Nazik al-Mala’ika, and the resistance of the great Fadwa Tuqan.

It includes translated excerpts of works by the major authors of the period, as well as by lesser-known writers of equal significance. The editors stress that Arabic does not necessarily mean Islamic – in this anthology, there are many works by Christian and Jewish authors who formed an integral part of the culture of the Arab world.

Most of this collection covers the seventh to the 15th century, and then the 20th century – the time of revival in Arabic literature. There are many good selections – interesting, unique, important works – but the book left me craving for more structure, for the links binding it all together (literature with the body of history and time).

It would be amazing if each section included an introductory essay by the editors, it would make some of the writing much more understandable and allow the reader to connect all the dots. It would be nice to find out more about the authors and what their art meant in times and spaces they were living in.

All of that being said, this is still a really important anthology and I highly recommend reading it. The variety of the collection offers a good glimpse of the diverse and beautiful world of Arabic literature. Like the old poet Abu Tammam, quoted in the book, described it: “Blood relationship we may lack, but literature is our adopted father”.

We should let literature teach us, let it enable us to grow together, to get to know each other. Also important to mention, like Hanan Al-Shaykh puts it:

“At a time when the world is obsessing about violence and bloodletting in the Arab world, this remarkable anthology, which spans 1,500 years of Arab literary genius, is a stark reminder of the story we keep missing about the region.”

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Previous The Book To Read:

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

The Librarian of Basra

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

The Art Of Mohammad Khayata.

khayataweb/Walking on Thread, photo via Mohammad Khayata website/

I was first introduced to Mohammad Khayata’s work while I was strolling down the streets of Beirut last November. On of his works (Walking on Thread) was exhibited in a gallery I passed by and it caught my eye immediately. I told myself I should remember his name and investigate more about his art when I come back home.

Khayata is a painter and a photographer, born in Damascus in 1985. His first solo exhibition was organized in Lebanon, three years ago.

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Khayata’s work is beautiful – it’s sensitive, powerful, thoughtful. In Bits and Pieces, he portrays symbols of what went on in Syria, combining stories and memories like a patched work stitched and tied to a canvas.

The images capture real life grief – from the portrait of a man wrapped in a patched quilt made of memories to another one disappearing into a patched quilt holding a suitcase in preparation to leave behind his world and life as he knew it.

He started from the captured moment, sketched it and finally gave birth to an entity painted on a canvas full of personal memories, feelings and passions to make visual the unspoken words.

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In Blue Period, Khayata starts from his brother’s story, “who filled a boat with his body and went far away for a new hope surrounded by whales, to smugglers who create creative ways to fill our bodies in tanks of chocolates and oil”.

The work is about the burden of our choices, how they are forced upon us, how it can all change our lives.

It is “about our choices that became rare, destiny that became like that of a fisherman who throws his hook in a sea of memories hoping his bate will catch possessing thread of power, or a suitcase to emigrate as far as you can get in this world, a bullet to kill or get killed by, or an empty bottle to lock and isolate yourself in”.

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Remember Khayata’s name, like I did that day when I passed by that little gallery. He is an artist whose compassion and tenderness goes a long way.

//all photos © Mohammad Khayata//

For more on Khayata’s work, visit his website.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Playlist: Nakba Day.

shatila 5 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Peric, MER/

Today’s playlist is a little different. It’s fifteenth of May, Nakba day, the day of the catastrophe.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, when they watched skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back to that all-defining 1948.

To commemorate this day, I am posting a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called The Dice Player. This video features a beautiful animation by Nissmah Roshdy. Darwish writes:

And so the fear strolled within me

And I strolled barefoot in its path

Leaving behind my childhood memories

And the dreams I had for tomorrow

Previous Playlist:

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: Still Moving, Still Standing Still.

72/Aden, Yemen. image © Josef Hoflehner/

A week ago, Human Rights Watch released a statement calling on participants to the Yemen peace talks to “support international investigations, transitional justice, and victim compensation as key elements of any agreement.”

HRW warned that the armed conflict in Yemen has been characterized by numerous violations of the laws of war by all sides, which have not been investigated nor have resulted in any redress for victims of unlawful attacks.

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“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of nine Arab countries has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes against residential neighborhoods, markets, and other civilian structures causing several hundred civilian casualties. Ansar Allah, the northern group, also known as the Houthis, and other armed groups on both sides have committed various abuses in ground operations. Although a ceasefire was announced on April 10, fighting has continued across Yemen”, HRW report says.

Human Rights Watch has documented new coalition airstrikes that appear to be unlawful. Six attacks in and around the capital, Sanaa, in January and February, killed 28 civilians, including 12 children, and wounded at least 13 others.

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In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented 43 airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, which have killed more than 670 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions.

The HRW report comes as MSF decided to withdraw from the World Humanitarian Summit due to a lack of confidence that the summit will address weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response in conflict zones including Yemen and Syria.

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HRW is unaware of any investigations by Saudi Arabia or other members of the coalition into allegedly unlawful attacks or abuses, or of any compensation for victims. In their public statements, none of the participants in the talks has indicated a need to include accountability or redress in the peace process.

Just two days ago, a number of outlets including Al Arabiya and Press TV, reported that direct peace talks were indefinitely postponed after the Hadi government withdrew due to a “lack of progress”. Meanwhile, the Houthis accuse the coalition of launching new airstrikes that killed seven people in Nihm.

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Couple of weeks ago, I posted the interview Status Hour did with Safa al Ahmad, freelance journalist and filmmaker who has been reporting on Yemen  since 2010. In case you haven’t done it yet – do listen to Ahmad, she is one of the few reporters able to talk about the complexity of the situation on the ground in Yemen today.

Throughout this post, I included photos from the great Austrian photographer Josef Hoflehner, most of them taken in Yemen in 2005.

I chose the photos that (to me) depict a state of waiting, of moving (and wanting to move) and standing still at the same time. I think that is the state most Yemenis find themselves in these days.

joseph//all photos © Josef Hoflehner//

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art of resistance, Iraq

Nawar Tamawi’s Instagram Guide To Iraq.

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Meet Nawar Tamawi. Tamawi always hated the way Hollywood portrayed Iraq – either as an eternal warzone or a desert full of camels and belly dancers. He started taking pictures, as a way of fighting against these narrow (mis)conceptions about his country.

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Tamawi says instagramming allowed him to explore Iraq in a way he hadn’t done before – “through the vintage alleys of Baghdad, the ancient streets of Babylon, holy sites in Najaf and Karbala, the old citadel in Erbil, and to the tip of Mesopotamia, where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet in Shatt Al Arab, near Basra.”

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He has set a goal for himself to capture the beauty of all eighteen provinces of Iraq – unfortunately, some of the places he wants to visit are still largely dried out and neglected. He writes how life in Iraq is getting more unbearable, day by day.

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Tamawi writes:  “More and more, I feel like an outsider in my own home. There’s constant chaos and uncertainty. People’s opinions aren’t respected. I don’t want to be part of a herd that is walking through its days with no control over anything that is happening around it.

Nowadays, I notice that I’m pulling out my phone camera less frequently. I feel that presenting Iraq in a beautiful light is disingenuous, that I’m fooling the audience. I feel like Iraq is fading away, overpowered by violence and sectarianism.”

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Tamawi is honest about his doubts, his fears. Still, he says that, when he looks at the photos taken so far, it gives him comfort – “but all the pictures are real, and when I look back at my shots, there is something reassuring in them, that a different Iraq is possible. That is why I take pictures of Iraq.”

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Tamawi also recommends some other Instagram accounts that you need to follow to see Iraq in a way most media outlets refuse to show. Read more about it here and be sure to go through and follow Tamawi’s Instagram profile.

//all photos © Nawar Tamawi//

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