UK cultural festival focused on Muslims packed with thought-provoking events

A still from Lind and Sansour’s 2015 film “In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain.” (Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, Dubai and Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid)
Updated 15 April 2018

UK cultural festival focused on Muslims packed with thought-provoking events

  • The sci-fi panel will focus on new sci-fi perspectives and leading voices in the field

DUBAI: “What does Sci-Fi reveal about how technology will affect the future of religion, power and politics?”

This is just one of the subjects to be tackled by a panel of artists and writers participating in the inaugural MFest in London. MFest bills itself as a festival of culture and ideas dedicated to Muslim communities. With over 25 events running April 27 to 29 at The British Library and P21 Gallery, MFest, a not-for-profit organization, aims to provide a platform in the center of London for emerging and established writers, performers and artists to present their works and bring together Britain’s varied Muslim population. The program includes talks, workshops, and performances with events for families, children and adults.

The sci-fi panel, curated by Sindbad Sci-Fi under the theme “Spicing Up Sci-Fi: The Dunes Strike Back,” takes place Saturday April 28, with award-winning journalist and playwright Faisal Al-Yafai chairing. It will focus on new sci-fi perspectives and leading voices in the field; participants include Noura Al-Noman from the UAE, author of the “Ajwan” space saga; filmmaker Soren Lind, who will present the plot for a new film “In Vitro,” co-directed with Palestinian filmmaker Larissa Sansour; “Zero Point” author Nafeez Ahmed; and Naomi Foyle, author of “The Gaia Chronicles,” an eco-science fantasy quartet set in a post-fossil fuel Mesopotamia. 

The panel will also use the themes raised in Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi epic novel “Dune,” as a springboard to explore the sociological impacts of today’s pressing ecological issues. Discussion points will include the potential impact of fictional narratives on real-world environmental challenges such as water conservation, peak oil, and the repercussions of global warfare.

Participants will also discuss how sci-fi could help to explore the ethical and spiritual challenges posed by the rapid pace of technological innovation, including artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and space colonialism.

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Updated 25 September 2018

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Cirque du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh
  • They paid tribute to Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.

Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.

As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.

The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.