A laboratory of social change

22 Jun

For several weeks now the movement of the “Indignados” – the ‘outraged’- has taken over the public squares first in Spain, and subsequently in Greece and other European cities. Very interestingly none of the major newspapers and agencies gave any attention or coverage to the movement despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people peacefully manifest daily demanding a better life. As usual the manifestations attracted the interest of the media only when there was trouble- clashes with the police, and massive tear gassing of the demonstrators as in the case of Athens on Wednesday June 15th. Yet what needs to be stressed (and mainstream media shy away from) as a small number of writers have accurately observed, is the importance of these movements in putting forward new ways of conceiving and practicing democracy, new concepts of communication and collective action.

In a recent article in the Deutsche Welle, two academics engage in a very interesting discussion of the radical shifts in the European political imaginary with their starting point being the coverage of the Greek “indignados” in the German press:

Demonstrations in Syntagma square in Athens, June 2011

“The media reproduction of the movement in Syntagma square is a of a purely exotic nature in Germany.” says Vassilis Tsianos. “This exoticization has to do on the one hand with a Greek peculiarity which is the great love for uprisings. On the other hand it has to do with the fact that in Germany people cannot comprehend the intensity and dimensions of the social changes currently happening in Greece. The result is the dominance of an exoticizing gaze which often contains racist elements as we saw a few days ago when Ms. Merkel made the remark that the Greeks are lazy and should be working more.”

Simon Teune adds that the lack of coverage of such demonstrations in Germany is also due to a type of political fatalism among Germans: “In Germany such manifestations around economic and social issues like in Greece and Spain, are not taken seriously into account because there is a belief that the decision-making in such matters – privatizations or lowering of wages- are incontestable and there are no alternatives”.

Both Tsianos and Teune agree on the imaginative and social power of this movement. Looking at its role at a European level, Tsianos says that:

“In this moment, the Mediterranean is a vast social and imaginative laboratory of social reconstruction and of a new relationship to politics that has no relation to existing political parties or the existing political system. Presently Europe experiences an immense democratic challenge that comes from the Mediterranean.”

Source: Deutsche Welle
Translated from the Greek by A. Stathaki

MedinNYC: happening in the city

16 May

– The Film Society of the Lincoln Center presents the series: Open Roads: New Italian Cinema that will run for one week from the 1st of June until the 8th. The festival will feature old and new Italian film directors including the U.S. premiere of Giulio Manfredonia’s Whatsoeverly ‘a delicious political satire that has become one of the most popular Italian films ever made’. Ticket sales open to the public on May 19th with prices ranging from $7 (members) to $12 for the general public.

From the movie Lost Kisses screening at Open Roads

-At MoMA, the MoMA store features, for a limited time only, the Destination: Istanbul products collection, showcasing contemporary Turkish designers. According to the store’s website “the collection captures the aesthetic of a cultural crossroads where east meets west and ancient meets modern. Istanbul’s celebrated design history is an amalgam of Byzantine and Ottoman influences, blending geometric patterns, rhythmic lines, and vivid colors.” Revenues from products sales will go towards contributing to the Museum’s programs and exhibitions.

-The installation The Hidden Location by Egyptian video artist Hassan Khan will be presented at the Queens Museum of Art, starting May 22nd until August 14th. The 52 minute visual material “takes the city of Cairo and its inhabitants as a container in which disparate scenarios and investigations come to life.” The event will be complemented by parallel activities such as discussions, screenings and a musical performance of the artist following the opening- click here to find out more.

Returning home meaningfully

10 May

Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat was in the Thessaloniki International Book Fair as part of Middle East Festival: When ideas revolt. The following is an interview in the Greek press on the occasion of her visit.

Hoda Barakat, has lived through the civil war and Israel’s invasion in Lebanon. She left Beirut in 1989 at the age of 37 “ at a time when violence was at its peak” and went to Paris, where she lives and works to this day. “I was taken by a feeling of fear, especially with regards to my two kids. I could not find any meaning in living in a country that was self-destructive and destroying me, as part of a general, indiscriminate madness. I wished to leave, to get away, not necessarily to reach somewhere or build something somewhere else. I felt that my inner life was full”.
The war in Lebanon radically changed her worldview. How does she see the current turmoil and the bloodshed that is currently shaking the Arab world? “These events were not expected nor easy to foresee. Yet they were so much needed! I wouldn’t call them “conflicts” though, but revolutions. Both in Egypt and in Tunisia. These societies could no longer remain inert, on the verge of death, outside of time.” Will they be able to find political stability? “Democracy is an almost absolute value” Barakat says. “It is something that is practiced daily, while the way towards it is long, I’d say endless. For us every step of the way is a big accomplishment and it’s worth the risks”.

Barakat’s first novel The stone of laughter was published in 1990 and received the Al Nakint prize. Next there was The enlightened (1993) and The Tiller of Waters (1999) that received the Naguib Mahfouz prize in 2000. The novel’s central hero, Nicolas Mitri, is a Greek-Orthodox Lebanese. “There’s really strong ties between these orthodox Lebanese and the Greek-Orthodox of other countries like Russia, but particularly with Greece because of its proximity” she explains. “History and geography are full of examples. The Greek community in Lebanon was very affluent and there are still families in the country with a hundred per cent Greek names. These bonds are strong and impossible to break.”

The world-traveled novelist still writes in Arabic (her work has been widely translated) and Beirut always features in her books. “I believe that, had I stayed in Beirut, I would still have the same opportunities to write and get published because I write in Arabic. Compared to other Arabic countries, women in Lebanon enjoy great freedom. Also in Egypt, in Tunisia, women were and remain present. They keep on fighting their fight daily and vigilantly. In other countries it will be harder to improve their status because of the weight of racial, religious and other traditions. Still, the first step is enormous. The times are changing when women realize that they are citizens. In that sense globalization has done some good.”

Having lived in two different countries and two cultures Hoda Barakat believes that we live in a time of “false ideas” that the Westerners have for the ‘Orientals’. “This one-sided approach is our century’s evil” she points out. “We refuse to meet the ‘other’, we have a deep-seated hatred for differences. Before we even start talking about acceptance or tolerance, let’s talk about the interest, the curiosity that we are missing. Look at the difference between traveling, the journeys from which there are still written documents dating back to antiquity, and today’s tourism”.

In her new home, France, did she encounter difficulties to be welcomed and accepted? “I have never been a victim of racism, but that doesn’t mean I don’t experience the problem, among Arabs or foreigners in general. People are generally more tolerant to a wealthy foreigner as opposed to a poor one who doesn’t even know how to defend him/herself. But if I never encountered racism it had nothing to do with being wealthy. What saved me is the good command of the French language and knowledge of my civil rights as well as the fact that financially I didn’t have to ask the support of the French government. And I should also add the literary success which came very fast when my novels were published in France, and I was honoured twice with the highest prizes in the cultural field.” Yet she never forgets that she is a “foreigner”: “I am not in France in order to become a local. I am a Lebanese who doesn’t live in Lebanon but who returns there with more freedom, more meaningfully and radically. My writing testifies to this”.

Source: Eleftherotypia.
Translated from Greek by Aktina Stathaki

Report from Greece

28 Apr

The mainstream cultural scene in Greece had been, in the past twenty years or so, largely Eurocentric, particularly in the field of theater and performance: the postmodern trends of Germany, new playwriting from Britain, and increasingly American dramaturgy were featuring prominently in every season. Artistic directors of significant institutions, later moved to key positions of state theaters and foundations, would infuse these institutions with their own Eurocentric experiences and sensibilities. The result was a programming that was opening up to the international scene but primarily in a one-way direction: the north-west, at the expense of giving an opportunity to Greek audiences to find out what is happening in the arts scene of their immediate neighbors.
Coming back this time, I am noticing a shift: more and more theaters and institutions start exploring notions of “Greekness” and a collective identity in broader terms, looking beyond the here and now in diasporic or past identities, freed from nationalistic excesses, or exploring the country’s broader Euro-Mediterranean and Balkan history and connections. And while not mainstream, these efforts are gaining ground and being endorsed by prestigious foundations. I cannot say for sure what is the reason for such a shift- surely the sociopolitical changes in the Mediterranean region that bring the Arab world to the fore, and the alienation that the country feels from central Europe as a result of the current harsh European economic policies towards the south, play an important part. But in addition as new theater groups emerge and young artists start making their mark, there seems to be a need for new forms, new texts, new styles and sources of inspiration. It will be indeed of interest to see what artistic forms- if any- and trends beyond Europe’s worn-out postmodernism will emerge to express the contemporary Greek psyche and the country’s tumultuous present. Until then here’s some of the events happening at present that attracted my attention:
-As part of their Cycle Mediterranean, a story of Charm, the new Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, presented the symposium People and the global trade in the Mediterranean’s port cities of Antiquity and the 21st century with artists and researchers from Turkey, Greece and France. The same Center is currently presenting the exhibition Polyglossia, with works by contemporary Greek artists from the diaspora. According to the program the exhibition wants to “shed light on the convergences and divergences (in, for instance, the media chosen or how it is used), both between artists of roughly the same generation in relation to their American or European norms, and between artists of different generations who employ the same means of expression.”

-The Benakis Museum of Islamic Art has brought to Athens the exhibition “The Book of Travels” around the figure of Evliya Celebi, a traveler of the Ottoman Empire. The exhibition was first presented in England, as part of the British Council’s program Our shared Europe, to explore the interconnections between the Ottoman and British Empires. The exhibition at the Benaki museum, set among the museum’s permanent collection, is beautiful in giving details of the architecture, religious practices and daily life in major cities of the Ottoman Empire, through Celebi’s eyes.

-Outside of Athens, in the northern city of Kozani, the Third Festival of Storytelling is devoted on the topics of refugees, immigration and diaspora and will present invited artists from Greece, Cyprus, Albania, France, Lebanon, Armenia and more. You can check it out here: www.kozani-festival.gr
-The upcoming Thessaloniki International Book Fair, “opens widely a gate to the Mediterranean based on contemporary ideas and current riots with Middle East Festival – when ideas revolt”. It will feature prominent writers such as: Salwa Al Neimi (Syria), Gamal Ghitany (Egypt), David Grossman (Israel), Tuna Kiremitci (Turkey), Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Deniz Kavukçuoğlu, (Turkey), Sophie Bessis (Tunisia), Boualem Sansal (Algeria), Malek Chebel (Algeria), Bahaa Taher (Egypt) and Subhi Hadidi (Syria). (Stay tuned with the BTS blog for interviews with some of the participating artists).
And last but not least: A celebration of ancient Greek and Byzantine gastronomy with lectures, tasting, recipes and music is coming up at the Lazaridis Estate. Enjoy!

Libyan in New York

30 Mar

An interview by Marco Alfieri.
Edited by Dominique J. Tibbs

Hasem, you are a Libyan, living in New York City and you are here in the US during these last days. First of all, tell us something about you and your family: what do you do in Libya and why have you decided to come to NY?

I was born in 1983 in Benghazi. I worked as a doctor in Libya in the Benghazi Medical Center. I decided to come here because it has always been my dream.

Have you heard from your family? What do they say about the revolution?

Most of my family members are in Benghazi. I finally spoke to my sister yesterday and she was excited about the revolution. She described that that for the first time in her life (she is 34 year old), she saw Libyans working together as one big family, trying to safeguard their belongings and take care of their city. We haven’t seen this in a long time in the country.

How do you feel to be so far from home? And what are you trying to do to help your country?

I feel selfish missing my family and missing the most important moment for Libyans. The only thing that I can do is gather the Libyans who live here. Today we did a demonstration in front the Libyan House to show our support to the revolution. I know it is nothing compared to what our families are suffering.

When you were in Libya, did you think that your country wasn’t free?

Yes, every day we felt that we were in a prison. [We were] not free to talk or to express ourselves. We felt that the Libyan energy resources were consumed by Gaddafi and his family. While most of my friends were trying to make the ends meet, his sons were partying around the world. His famous son (Saadi) spent money in Italian soccer clubs.

The purpose of the rallies is to get the freedom which we’ve been denied for 41 years-the freedom of a better life. We were led by a family that was not legitimate to rule the country. They used Libyan resources for their pleasure.

Libya is rich in oil and many other countries, such as Italy, depend on its resources. What is the role that countries with economic interests in Libya could play?

At this moment, I feel that these countries with an interest in Libya’s oil resources are watching the situation from far. They care more about the oil than Libyan bloodshed.

How much is the Internet important in these days of revolt? In Tunisia and Egypt, the Internet was the social change’s media. Is this the same in Libya?

Yes, [the internet] has played a huge role in the Libyan revolution. The February 17 revolt in Benghazi was organized by thousands of Facebook pages. No press was allowed to get into the city. From abroad, I have access to a page called “The Light House (Al Manara)” that gives my friends and me reliable information about my city and Libyan cities. The reliability of this site has been proven many times in the world wide press.

Submissions deadline extended!

29 Mar

We have received an overwhelming response by artists in Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Spain and more! As a result we have decided to extend the submissions deadline to April 10th, 2011 to allow artists more time to send us their work. Keep the submissions coming, there’s extraordinary material and we’re so excited to find out about it! The call for submissions is here.

MedNYC: upcoming events in the city

20 Mar

BTSblog selects and brings to you events of interest happening around the city

March 25-27: DIWAN a Forum for the arts: the Arab American National Museum’s biennial conference that brings together Arab American artists and scholars, will take place at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Click here for the schedule.

April 13-16: At Dance Theater Workshop, Juliette Mapp presents The Making of Americans, a contemporary dance work based on Gertrude Stein’s novel and exploring the choreographer’s own Albanian-American roots.

May 16th: Spanish playwright Inigo Ramirez de Haro will talk about Blasphemy in Contemporary Spanish Theater at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center