’The EAT Festival was to inspire hope and community spirit’

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Akthar Chanal performs at the opening day of EAT festival in Lahore, the festival ends each night with musical performances, a format that stays consistent in each city. (AN photo)
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Ali Azmat performing on night two of the EAT festival in Lahore. (AN photo)
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Asrar performing on the final night of EAT in Lahore. (AN photo)
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Asim Azhar takes to the stage on night two of the EAT festival in Lahore. (AN photo)
Updated 19 March 2018

’The EAT Festival was to inspire hope and community spirit’

LAHORE: This weekend in Lahore was one for the books as the last leg of the EAT Festival wrapped up. There were more than 80 stalls hosting a smorgasbord of delicious foods with cuisines from all over the world, and with fresh, new food hopefuls bringing their startups to the massive event.
EAT, which has been a much-anticipated event since it began five years ago in Karachi, included performances by Ali Azmat, Asim Azhar, Aura, Fuzion and Asrar and saw people of all ages and backgrounds in attendance.
“The EAT festivals were our way of giving back to our city by revitalising its public spaces. Food was an excuse to bring people together in the least controversial way,” said Omar Omari, one half of the duo behind CKO Events Architecture and the EAT Festival.
Along with partner Aslam Khan, he decided to invigorate what was a tense and bleak atmosphere not only at home in Karachi but all around Pakistan as well.
“At the time the EAT festivals were conceived the situation in Pakistan was at an all-time low. We wanted to inspire hope and inculcate community spirit between the people of Karachi. To let them feel that just for a few days our city and this place could be a getaway from all the negativity,” Omari said.
And the public, in Karachi, Lahore and the nation’s capital, responded in kind.
“The response has been phenomenal,” said Omari. “When you are at the festival and in that space you can feel the positivity and love, and that is something money can’t buy. It is the very same reason that people keep coming back and the platform has grown over the years.
“The festival has taken on the identity of a cause more then just a food festival. It was never meant to be a commercial venture. It has been a launching ground for young foodpreneurs who have chosen the EAT festivals as their launching pad. Many successful restaurants and eateries have been established from here and have gone on to open chains.”
The EAT Festival boasts tremendous numbers in the 300,000-plus range across all three cities — a feat that has not been reached by any other festival across Pakistan throughout the year.
A notable accomplishment for the festival is its inclusive atmosphere. EAT is not for only one class or one kind of customer. It has managed to bust through socioeconomic lines to include everyone. This has been a deliberate move by the creators of EAT.
“The EAT festival was very consciously designed to appeal to a high-end customer base in terms of the branding positioning,” said Omari. “However it was also consciously designed to be very inclusive in the choice of venue — an iconic public space that sat on both sides of the bridge, so to speak — the entry fee, the food prices and the egalitarian look and feel of all the stalls eliminated the pomp and show of higher-bracket restaurants.”
Additionally, the event has both been lauded and come under fire for its strict attendee rules. They made the entry for families only to encourage families, and particularly women, to come.
“The event is entirely families only,” Omari said. “Which is a better way of saying ‘no stags.’ We have faced a lot of criticism over the years for enforcing this, but we have found it a very successful way of making the space friendly and safe.”
The success of the festivals has kept the duo inspired for more to come.
“Plans are underway to take the brand international in order to spread the love,” Omari said. “In time the EAT festivals will be just a small drop in the ocean compared with the grander scheme.”
For more photos from the event, click here.

Get hooked on traditional Palestinian embroidery

Updated 20 September 2018

Get hooked on traditional Palestinian embroidery

  • Joanna Barakat gives workshops on Palestinian embroidery
  • She talks about the significance and history of the craft

DUBAI: I just finished cross-stitching my first Gaza cypress tree motif, begun around the kitchen table of the UAE-based artist Joanna Barakat, who gives workshops on Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez. Next up: Motifs from Hebron, Ramallah and Jaffa.

Until I took her class, which she’ll be teaching at Tashkeel in Dubai next weekend, I hadn’t paid much attention to the stitches that adorn the region’s fabrics. Now, I read them like signposts for clues as to where they’re from.

Barakat, who was born in Jerusalem, begins with a talk on the history of tatreez, showing us photos from different regions before 1948 and passing around examples of her grandmother’s work.

We learn how embroidery was more elaborate for weddings, how women incorporated their environment in their work — Jaffa, for instance, has an orange motif — and how it reflected their status. Bedouin women stitched a blue hem on their dresses, adding red motifs if they remarried. “Each tribe had its own style and its own way of dressing to express their identity,” Barakat says.

The Nakba in 1948 almost killed off the tradition, as women lost access to the region’s textile factories. “Everybody was traumatized,” she says. “You had a good decade there where almost nothing came out.”

But their resilience resurfaced in their craft, earning them a living in refugee camps. “It became a symbol of resistance and empowerment.”

In that way, Barakat uses embroidery in her paintings: in one self-portrait, a needle punctures her chest on the canvas, “trying to stitch my own Palestinian identity into me,” she explains.

Her workshop may have stitched some of that into me as well. After giving us our own cross-stitch kits, with Aida fabric, green threads and cypress tree patterns, she shows us how to stitch, correcting us patiently as we go. As they might say in crochet class, I’m hooked.

Joanna Barakat’s workshops on Palestinian embroidery are at Tashkeel in Dubai on Sept. 29 and Dec. 8 for $73, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with a one-hour break, lunch included. Email [email protected] for more information.