Offscreen Expeditions

Updated 19 August 2012
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Offscreen Expeditions

In a creative collaboration with Edge of Arabia, eleven young artists between the ages of 16-25 from Saudi Arabia were selected for The Most Competitive Youth award to attend Crossway Foundation’s Offscreen Expedition program in the UK.
The Most Competitive Youth award is an initiative of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to bring Saudi Arabia’s economy to the forefront of competitiveness by engaging youth in Saudi Arabia (Saudi nationals and residents) to improve their communities by teaching skills that inspire creativity and promote innovation.
In 2011, The Crossway Foundation (a London-based charity promoting creative and cultural collaboration between young people in the UK and Saudi Arabia) collaborated with SAGIA on their Arts and Creativity category of the Most Competitive Youth award.
The eleven winners: Salwa Ali, Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali, Nasser Al-Salem, Mohammed Al-Ashoor, Mario El Khoury, Nora AlGosaibi, Nahla Khogeer, Tahani Al-Briki, Ahmed Kurdi, Basmah Felemban and Nouf Alhimiary, were selected amongst an overwhelming number of participating entries in the nationwide creative competition, “Most Competitive Youth,” conducted in December 2011.
The winning artists were awarded with a 16-day sponsored cultural journey last month to the United Kingdom that allowed them the chance to collaborate and work with professional artists, designers, museum curators, social entrepreneurs and filmmakers to develop skills in leadership, communication and creativity.
The artists mainly working in photography, painting and mixed media, toured London and Cornwall to work with leading creative establishments, which included Tate Modern and Tate St. Ives, The British Museum, The Delfina Foundation, The Victoria & Albert Museum, Penguin Books, The Barbara Hepworth Museum, White Cube Gallery and Mile End Community Project.
“The aim of the project is to give young people from the UK and Saudi Arabia the chance to communicate and learn from each other in positive and creative ways,” said Offscreen Expeditions Director Stephen Stapleton.
One of the winning photographer Mario El Khoury said, “This competition was about Haj, a journey to the heart of Islam — Makkah. Being part of the Saudi youth, knowing that I am not Saudi, but born and living among a multicultural and multi-religious environment pushed me toward participating and submitting my material to this competition.”
“And here we are, back, filled with nostalgia but gladly, thankfully and constantly having a different and completely new point of view when it comes to arts in general,” he added.
The tour also entailed engagement in creative workshops like developing the ‘Hash Tag’ project using a variety of media like photography, sculpture and video. The project was based on the exploration of online communications in Saudi Arabia, and how the digital platform is bringing changes in the country that is hugely becoming a social media reliant society at large.
Other highlights included a critical thinking workshop at Tate St. Ives, surfing, hikes along the English coast, and a workshop at The Newlyn Gallery with local students.
The artists were also allowed the chance to display their winning submissions in a special exhibition at the British Museum’s Addis Gallery, alongside the Museum’s star-studded and enormously successful exhibition ‘Haj: Journey to the heart of Islam,’ that was launched early this year.
The end of tour was also marked with another celebratory public exhibition of works that were created during the course of the journey by the selected winners.
Chairman of The Arab British Center remarked,“I have been associated with Saudi Arabia for 24 years, and have never come across this degree of exhilarating work before. I loved the energy and joy of the students, and the chance you have given them to release it. They really give me hope for the future of the Kingdom.”
Salwa Ali, another winning artist from Jeddah, said, “This expedition was planned to enhance my artistic abilities, but it went far beyond that. It has not only given me more confidence as a person, but it has encouraged me to try new things and to constantly look out for new opportunities. Best of all, I have acquired an extended family in the Offscreen Expeditions team.”
The works of the Create and Inspire winners will be on display in The Arab British Center, UK, until Nov. 2012.
You can follow their journey at: www.facebook.com/offscreenexpeditions and www.twitter.com/offscreenexped
Sign up for the Offscreen Expeditions newsletter and watch the films at: www.offscreenexpedition.com
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Email: [email protected]

 


Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages

Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat leads musicians during a rehearsal at Baghdad's School of Music and Ballet. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Iraq’s top musicians play on despite unpaid wages

In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.
An aging air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.”
The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theater on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.
The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.
The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.
“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”
Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.
It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Daesh militants, which came to an end last year.
But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption.”
“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.
“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”
When all its salaries are tallied up — including the maestro’s $1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor — the orchestra costs the state about $85,000 (€73,000) a year.
The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.
The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.
But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s Culture Ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.
“The Finance Ministry has asked for a regularization of contracts. Verification measures are underway and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.
“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”
For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.
Saad Al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive. “I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.
Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s Al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.
“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practice two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.
Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.
The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.
But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music. “There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid Al-Azzawi, an oboe player.
“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.
When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.
“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.