UK awards ‘open a window’ on Arab art, culture

Nadine Kaadan (second-right) celebrates with family and friends. (Supplied)
Updated 28 September 2019

UK awards ‘open a window’ on Arab art, culture

  • The awards ceremony highlighting Arab art and culture’s contribution to UK life was held in the City Hall offices of the London mayor
  • More than 250 guests, including diplomats from the UAE, Kuwait, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania

LONDON: Arab art and culture took center stage in London when leading Arab artists ranging from children’s authors to hip-hop performers came together to celebrate the Arab British Center’s awards.

The awards ceremony highlighting Arab art and culture’s contribution to UK life was held in the City Hall offices of the London mayor on Thursday.

More than 250 guests, including diplomats from the UAE, Kuwait, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania, applauded the individual and group winners: Syrian children’s author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan and Palestinian production company MARSM.

MARSM’s portfolio of artists ranges from classical to hip-hop, and includes established and emerging talent from the Middle East.

Sudanese textile artist Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings was runner-up in the individual category and artist platform Sarha Collective runner-up in the group category.

In her acceptance speech, Kaadan, whose moving stories such as “The Jasmine Sneeze” and “Tomorrow” bring Syria to life for young readers, said: “This award tells us something: We are Arab women, this is who we are. We are empowered, we are strong.”

Federika Schliessler from MARSM said: “We are proud of creating a platform where artists do not compromise who they are and what they believe in, especially in order to find a place and voice in a city like London.”

Christina Hazboun from MARSM added: “At a time of political fragmentation in the Arab world, our work at MARSM helps bring the Arab community together through the appreciation of culture. Music brings the society together to appreciate the sounds of home, and focuses on our similarities.

“This award will support our work in bringing the sounds of the alternative Middle East and North Africa to the UK,” she said.

Sir Derek Plumbly, chairman of the Arab British Center said: “All this positive energy is against the backdrop of dark and difficult times in much of the Arab world, and great uncertainty here. But that only goes to make the center’s role of opening windows on the diversity and creativity to be found in the Arab world all the more important.”

Plumbly added that the center has been working on a new program, Arab Britain, that will explore the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in the country, retracing the ways the Arab world has influenced and shaped British culture and society.


‘Arabs Are Not Funny’ comedy show just the opposite

Taking the stage at London’s lavish Royal Albert Hall were mixed Arab-Western comedians. (Supplied)
Updated 22 February 2020

‘Arabs Are Not Funny’ comedy show just the opposite

LONDON: Don’t let the name fool you, Friday night’s “Arabs Are Not Funny” comedy show was filled with nothing but quick-witted, snarky and overly-relatable quips. 

Taking the stage at London’s lavish Royal Albert Hall were mixed Arab-Western comedians Wary Nichen, Leila Ladhari, Mamoun Elagab and Esther Manito, with Iraqi-Scottish Sezar Alkassab hosting. 

The sold-out show started off with the host forcing the zaghrouta (a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound of joy) out of the audience, after encouraging them to “laugh at our culture and enjoy yourself.”

Sudanese-Irishman Elagab, who was recently nominated for BBC New Comedian of the Year, kicked off the night with a comedic look back at his upbringing in the UK, dealing with extremists in class, and the struggle of explaining stand-up comedy to his Sudanese uncle.

The sold-out show started off with the host forcing the zaghrouta. (Supplied)

Lebanese-Brit Manito humored the audience with stories of the struggle of taking her British husband to Beirut to meet her relatives, raising two children as an Arab mom, and having her Lebanese father living with her family yelling and cursing at the TV and on the phone. 

Tunisian-Swiss-Austrian Ladhari joked about her boyfriend’s father trying to bond with her by trying to sympathize with Daesh and letting her know that he “too doesn’t like eating pork.”

The highlight of the night was Algerian-Frenchman Nichen, who spoke of his job as a fulltime immigrant and the racism he endures in daily life in Paris. 

The show was organized by Arts Canteen, an organization that curates and produces events, exhibitions and festivals that support emerging, mid-career and established artists from the Arab world and surrounding regions, bringing their work to new audiences in the UK and beyond.