Hekayat 10…

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Updated 29 January 2014

Hekayat 10…

Hekayat Ashara, Arabic for the “Story of 10”, is a photography project, with a social vision that aims to develop talents and create awareness among underprivileged women through the medium of photography. The project can be captured in three words, culture, documentary and empowerment.
Zaynab Odunsi, a photography lecturer at Dar Al-Hekma, was the main force behind this initiative. She described the project as an interactive mission to engage women who have been isolated from the changing world and highlight their potential and capabilities through the art of photography.
Odunsi explained that the premise of the project was to connect 10 students, who would act as mentors, with 10 ladies from Al Ruwais District in Jeddah in a memorable photography journey. The 10 women chosen for the project were from different nationalities in a bid to interact with different cultures and explore new experiences through the camera lens. The participants included four Saudis, one Filipino, two Yemenis, one Sudanese and two Somali women. She stressed that her choice of Al-Ruwais District was intended to draw upon the history of the landscape and the vast potential, which lies within its inhabitants.
Dr. Suhair Al Qurashi, dean and president of Dar Al-Hekma College, said “As a leading higher education institution in Saudi Arabia, we aim to act responsibly in everything we do and always strive to be good social citizens, by giving back to our nation and society. We recognize that we have an impact on our environment and communities around us. The Story of 10 is our latest project and part of our approach and commitment to ensure that social responsibility is rooted within the college culture. The Story of 10 empowers women to be independent and encourages them to use their talent in a beautiful way, while making a living.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Lamya Gazzaz, vice dean of student affairs at the college, described the project as a “Rewarding experience in which Dar Al Hekma students took on the role of mentors to 10 remarkable ladies from Al-Ruwais District, teaching and assisting them on how to master the art of photography,” adding, “As a result, inspiring pictures were captured and a collection of images from Al-Ruwais District will remain in the Hekayat Ashara book as a reference for future generations.”
Roua Basaad, one of the mentors, and team leaders, described the project as a rewarding and challenging experience, which allowed her to grow personally and academically.
“As a fresh graduate, it was easy to connect with the students during the selection process. The experience of selecting 10 students from a varied body of enthusiastic applicants became even more interesting when we had to match the student “buddies” to the 10 women from Al Ruwais District. We tried to ensure that the participants were compatible in terms of their personalities and interests.”
Commenting about the challenges faced during the project, she said, “Naturally, all projects have ups and downs, but the matching process was truly a blessing, as it helped break down social barriers and served to create the most comfortable rapport from the beginning. Being involved in the project from the onset allowed me the vantage of watching how the 10 ladies progressed week after week. It was remarkable and inspiring to see their eagerness to learn; their enthusiasm was the fuel to our energy, as they pushed us on, in even during those rare dark days.”
Ahaad Al Amoudi, another student mentor, conveyed the experience as a gratifying journey of learning and group effort.
“We have been involved in this project for almost one year, working alongside one another. The beauty of the project stems from the opportunity it allowed us in being a part of a community initiative that gave these women a chance to learn and expand their horizons. Working on a project that gave back on a one-to-one level and a community as a whole is extremely inspiring,” she said.
For her part, Samar Al Ammari, one of the 10 female participants, said “As a Saudi I feel proud to have participated in this project. It has brought a great change in my life and my family’s life. Initially, it was challenging for me to engage with people from other nationalities, but now I feel I can do many things to make my people and my country proud. Photography has always been a dream to me, but now I can say I can dream, and for that I am so lucky. Zaynab has been a good mentor and has inspired us to believe we can do anything we set our heart and minds to do.”
Another participant, Brkyah Al Jahdali, expressed her happiness that Al Ruwais District was chosen as the focus of the project.
“Al Ruwais beats in my heart; this is the place I was born, brought up and in which I matured to who I am today. I feel immense happiness that Zaynab selected this particular place. I hope that I may be remembered among my brothers, sisters and locality as a self-motivated woman, who aspired to go a long way in her career,” she said.
One of the juries for the project, Abdullah Al Shahri, a prominent Saudi photographer, said being a part of the project provided him with a different and more realistic appreciation of photography. He explained that the women behind the lens captured their surrounding and life from a profound perspective.
Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Makki has documented the story and intricacies behind the project, to provide a wholesome perspective of the characters and storylines behind the project.
Recounting his experience, Makki said, “I am overwhelmed to be a part of Hekayat Ashara. It has indeed been great interacting with all the ladies and mentors from various background, and nationalities. Interviewing the participants has shed light on their experience and has added a unique, human element to the project. I hope this is a stepping-stone toward greater success. I believe Hekayat 10 will go a long way and open many doors of opportunity for the participants. The book and exhibition will also serve to further highlight the project,” he concluded.

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‘It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination’

Syrian band Tanjaret Daghet (which means ‘pressure cooker’ in Arabic).
Updated 39 min 28 sec ago

‘It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination’

  • Syrian artists-in-exile discuss their absence from their homeland and its impact on their work
  • For many exiled Syrian artists, their work is an expression of grief

DUBAI: “Being away from Syria is difficult,” young poet Maysan Nasser said. “Seven years later, it still feels like a phantom limb. It feels like the echo of white noise that is reverberating louder by the day.”

Nasser, a Beirut Poetry Slam champion, was talking separation: The idea that the loss of Syria is like an amputation. After seven years, she is still looking for answers to questions of home and belonging.

The first time I saw Nasser perform was last year during Zena El Khalil’s ‘Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon,’ a “40-day intervention” designed to permanently kick open the doors of Beit Beirut, a museum to the memory of the city in Sodeco. Her performance was raw and emotive.

The second time was in the basement of Riwaq Beirut, a coffee shop, cultural center and bar all rolled into one. She was addressing a small but appreciative young crowd and looked nervous. It was just a few weeks after she had launched the open-mic night ‘Sidewalk Beirut’ and the anxiety and jitters remained. In reality they shouldn’t. The crowd loves her.

“In this enforced distance from Syria, such communities have become my anchors,” she admitted. Yet her work, although deeply personal — sometimes painfully so — never directly discusses Syria or her home city of Damascus.

“I believe the distance of separation was the birth of my work,” she said. “It was in this distance that I was able to reconsider who I am, what my relationship to my family is like, what my relationship to my body is. I believe my poems to be attempts at understanding myself and my surroundings, but also my past.

“So when I speak about my mother and my relationship to her, I am also considering my mother’s past and the traditions she has internalized and passed on to me, which inevitably cast light on a time and place in Syria, and which inevitably expose my own connections and roots — or lack of, at times. This separation, in a sense, has coincided with a coming of age.”

At the same time as Nasser was hosting her early edition of Sidewalk Beirut, a mile or so away at The Colony in Karantina Zeid Hamdan, a pioneer of Lebanon’s underground music scene, was preparing to perform at Sofar Sounds. The venue —hidden up three flights of stairs in the Dagher Building — was little more than two empty rooms and an adjacent terrace. With him were the Syrian band Tanjaret Daghet (which means ‘pressure cooker’ in Arabic).

Hamdan has been performing with the trio since they left Damascus in 2011. Theirs is an energetic, sometimes harsh, alternative-rock sound, although that is changing. Their soon-to-be-released new album, “Human Reverie,” is as much about electronica as it is guitars and vocals.

“This pressure we’re living is kind of unique,” said Tarek Khuluki, the band’s guitarist and sometime vocalist. “You see people who are nagging about it or who are trying to use this pressure as a tool to escape the reality we’re living in, which can lead to unbalanced results. At the same time, you see people who are making the best they can with the little amount of nothing that they have. All they want is to see their ideas manifest themselves in art or in any other shape. 

“Psychologically, we’ve learned not to think too much and not to play the role of victims, but to focus on our own language, which is music.”

It’s hard to discern whether the war in Syria has had a direct impact on Tanjaret Daghet’s work, or whether the wider woes of the Arab world are partially responsible for their sound and lyrics. They sing of political oppression and societal pressure, the absence of feeling and the loss of voice.

“We do not live the state of war in the real sense of the word,” says Khaled Omran, the band’s lead singer and bassist. “What we’re living is a kind of internal war, which has arisen from our instincts as humans. It’s our right to express ourselves through art and music because it’s more humanistic, and this has allowed us to meet several artists and to exchange expertise. Who knows, maybe if we had stayed in Syria, none of that would have happened.” 

Outside of Beirut, up in the mountains of Aley, a series of old Ottoman stables have been converted into a residence for Syrian artists. Since it was first opened by Raghad Mardini in May 2012, Art Residence Aley has hosted numerous artists, including Iman Hasbani and Anas Homsi. Both now live in Berlin. Beirut, for some, is only transitory. 

“It has given me a wider vision of the world,” says the artist and film director Hazem Alhamwi of his own exile in Berlin. “Maybe it’s more painful, but it’s more real. It is training for how to change pain into creative energy. Since 2014 I have been painting a collection I call ‘Homeland in the Imagination’. It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination.”

Alhamwi is best known for “From My Syrian Room,” a documentary in which, through art and conversation, he attempts to understand how Syrians have learned to live with the distress and anxiety caused by war. It was while editing the film in France in 2013 that he realized he could not return to Syria, he said.

“I feel tired,” he told Arab News. “I feel as if I have one leg here — where I have to integrate, and want to — and the other leg in Syria, where I cannot stop being interested in what is happening. My family, my friends and my memories are still there. On the other hand, I feel like I am discovering another kind of violence, moving from living under a military dictatorship to the dictatorship of money. It’s a smooth violence written on smooth paper and put into a clean envelope. I feel myself in the stomach of the capitalist machine.”

For many exiled Syrian artists, their work is an expression of grief; a way to portray an overwhelming sense of loss. For others, those expressions are more subtle.

“We watch so many lies on TV, that it looks like art could be the only honest witness to modern times,” said Alhamwi, whose next film, produced by Zeina Zahreddine and Florian Schewe, will examine issues of identity. “Even many people’s facial expressions are not real. But good art is not only a mirror of the artist, but also of the spirit of the time they live in; or it’s at least the result of this reaction (of) the artist (to) the era.

“Art always tries to get people to pay more attention and not to repeat the same mistakes, but to learn from them instead. In wars, where the feelings of people are ignored and all the focus is on weapons, killing, fire and iron, art protects people’s real memory, away from any agenda or propaganda. It is this complicated memory that reflects the events, the emotions and the point of view of the artist. That is why art is needed in war as a special documentation. To tell the stories of people who didn’t get involved, because of position or fate,” he continued. “Art is a way for artists to survive in a world controlled by violence.”