AlMonitor: Palestinian Cultural Scene Thrives Amid Hardships

Palestinian actors perform in the play “Steal Less, Please” in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Feb. 6, 2013. (photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

By: Lena Odgaard for Al-Monitor Posted on June 7.

In Al-Kasaba Theater in Ramallah, a group of actors were getting ready to go on stage. In the yellow light of lightbulbs framing the mirrors, actresses Amira Habash, Maisa Abd Elhadi and Shaden Kanboura applied makeup, painting their lips bright red and straightening their hair as they prepared to play American high-society girls in the romantic comedy “Holiday.” They laugh as they hear their male counterparts singing and joking in the hall.

“I like this theme because most plays and movies are about the Palestinian cause; there is no variety in the characters we play,” said young Abd Elhadi, who plays Julia Habib, daughter of a rich Palestinian-American businessman who falls in love with an ordinary guy, Jamil Selim, who cares not about money but about enjoying life to its fullest. The spoiled rich girl then has to decide if she is willing to go against her father’s wishes and leave the high-society life to follow love.

The play is originally from the United States and was written in 1928, but the general director of Al-Kasaba Theater, George Ibrahim, altered the characters to be Palestinians to make them easier for the audience to relate to. And though the play isn’t about the Israeli occupation, the play’s themes of love and money are also relevant for Palestinians, as they are for all human beings, said Ibrahim.

“I choose plays that concern society — the next play is about women’s rights. But I thought it was time for a comedy, and maybe next a musical,” said Ibrahim, adding that naturally, politics also dominate the themes of the plays. “You cannot avoid the occupation — it’s controlling us and is present in every part of our daily details. It’s like we are married to it with no way to divorce.”

Ibrahim has run Al-Kasaba Theater first in Jerusalem and later in Ramallah since 1970. And though it’s a struggle to find funding for long-term projects, the theater has survived in a turbulent environment and experiments with many different genres and themes. It is also the only place in the Palestinian territories to offer a three-year degree in drama. But it’s not easy.

According to Ibrahim, people have still not reached a place where they are willing to pay for culture and art. “There’s a lack of this bug I see other places which will drive people to the theater instead of buying cigarettes,” he said, adding that most people just don’t have money because of the current financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority. In many cases, performances like “Holiday” are therefore shown free of charge.

And in spite of the economic and political situations, the Palestinian cultural scene is thriving. Recent numbers from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that throughout the past decade the number of theaters has more than doubled, museums have tripled and cultural centers have multiplied seven times from 50 in 2002 to 646 in 2012.

Palestinian Minister of Culture Siham Barghouty attributes the significant rise in cultural venues and activities to the long period of relative calm.

“People want a normal life. Going to the theater or listening to music is part of that — especially among youth,” she told Al-Monitor at her office in Ramallah, adding that during the second intifada in the early 2000s, people couldn’t go out, which killed the cultural scene. But now, 10 years later, the number of people who visit museums or attend lectures, poetry readings or concerts has risen to levels even higher than before the intifada. In Ramallah, colorful posters on every street corner advertise past and upcoming festivals.

According to Bargouty, the Ministry of Culture prioritizes cultural activities in rural areas or cities far from Ramallah where people have fewer opportunities. But she admitted that the ministry doesn’t focus on the Israeli-controlled Area C, which constitutes around 60% of the West Bank, due to Israeli restrictions. She said that even in Jerusalem and in Area B, which is under Israeli security control, they face obstacles if they try to build new venues and risk the military turning an area into a “closed military zone” if they try to arrange a festival.

According to Ibrahim, who has toured the West Bank with a mobile theater showing puppet shows for children, he sees villages in Area C being widely neglected.

“No one goes there. Sometimes I reach a place and there is no electricity and I have had to connect to my car battery,” he said. He sees it as the government’s responsibility to ensure that cultural events also reach these areas.

According to Julien Chiappone-Lucchesi, director of the French Institute in Ramallah, around 80% of major cultural activities happen in Ramallah. He sees the city’s many cafes, coffee shops and political and international institutions fostering an atmosphere of freedom to address even sensitive social and political topics. In his view, this has also lead to an increase in quality with some events, such as the annual Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, now offering a better program than its counterpart in Tel Aviv. Chiappone-Lucchesi added that while they are more careful when choosing events in the institutes’ Gaza branch, he never censors events in Ramallah. But the flipside of the vast number of cultural opportunities is competition for an audience.

“In a day, you can have up to three or four events and since it’s often a small circle of the bourgeois who attend, they can’t be at the same place,” he told Al-Monitor.

The American-funded “Holiday” has had no problems attracting audiences. On its opening night May 30, a wide international audience crossed the checkpoints from Jerusalem to see the play, which featured English subtitles on a screen above the stage. But the play also tours other cities and arranges for busses to bring people from rural areas.

“For some, it’s the first time they see a play, and you hear them complain that there is alcohol and girls in the play, or it not being about the occupation,” Firas Abu Sabah, one of the actors, told Al-Monitor with a smile.

Lena Odgaard is a Danish journalist reporting from around the Middle East, primarily on Israel and Palestine. On Twitter:  @l_odgaard

This article first appeared here: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/palestinian-culture-art-ramallah.html#ixzz2VZjbCw9a

 

MIFTAH: The vibrant canvas that is Palestine

Date posted: April 29, 2013
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

Oppression can do strange things to people. When it is oppression in the form of a decades-long military occupation, it means the occupied people run the risk of becoming one-dimensional in the sense that the occupation is what defines them and shapes their past, present and future.

For the Palestinians, this is true to a large extent. Because the Israeli occupation consumes us, preoccupies our everyday lives and effects the smallest aspects of it, we find ourselves thinking mostly about this occupation and ways to resist it, do away with it, or at least work around it.

The thing is, the Palestinians are hardly one-dimensional. The fact that the occupation has taken over so much of our lives does not mean we do not have the potential to embrace other less discouraging aspects of life itself. In the past week, Ramallah – the hub of Palestinian cultural life – has seen Palestinian Fashion Week, the Contemporary Dance Festival and a Spring Festival for children. All of the above activities have been distinctly Palestinian but they were not solely catered to the traditional theme of occupation and oppression, which the Palestinians have grown so accustomed to and believe is the only way the world views them.

Read more…

AlJazeera: Palestinians celebrate festival of dance

Away from the factional politics and the tensions, residents of the West Bank have been celebrating on the streets.

The second international dance festival in Ramallah has provided Palestinians with a rare chance to dance their woes away.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh reports.

More from: Aljazeera English

Travel to and explore Palestine’s cultural landscape: Summer academy in Ramallah

Posted on 25 March 2013

European Union National Institute of Culture

3 weeks in Ramallah, live, work and join our visual journey! Summeracademy Ramallah is inviting participants from all walks of life and all corners of the world to meet and mix with Palestinian participants! We will explore the cultural landscape of the region and facilitate the contact within all aspects of Palestinian life, society and close neighborhood. We want to discover unseen images and collect unheard stories that will give a fresh impression of contemporary life in Palestine. Date: 13 August – 3 September.

Our participants will be encouraged to follow their own vision as well as working in groups. By using the full range and capacity of audio-visual and time-based media we will elaborate each work piece to its full potential. The participants will have the opportunity to present their artistic results in the final exhibition.

Of course, we will have a rich social life too. Every season new cafés are popping up all over the place where you can have a shisha while taking snacks. Visit stylish restaurants and colorful  barbecues which are open until 4 in the morning. Ramallah´s nightlife offers an interesting cultural program of free concerts of Arab, Classical or Rock music in public spaces. You can listen to lectures in lush gardens under fig trees, watch Art House Films at Al Kasaba, dip into the world of the Hip and the Beautiful at Bar Beit Al Aneesa, listen to famous Khalas Rock band or Arab singer-songwriters and a lot more to explore and have fun.

We look forward to make excursions to Bir Zeit, and if possible, to Jerusalem and Nablus to visit galleries, artistic projects and theater projects, Slow Food initiatives etc.

If you have personal questions, please let us know: office@summeracademyramallah.org!

To apply for the workshop please go to Application in the menu bar or click here.

Excursions to several cultural organizations in the region, e.g.:
Al Qattan Foundation,  Al Sakakini Cultural Center,  Al Kasaba CinemaBir Zeit MuseumArt School RamallahMahatta Art GalleryAl Ma´amal Art GalleryAl Hoash, Al Riwaq Architectural CenterDanish House in PalestineThis Week In Palestine(Monthly Cultural Magazine)

Nabila Irshaid offers her expertise in art in public space, participative art, art as a process and audio – visual concepts. She can provide her knowledge about the cultural landscape of Ramallah and its surroundings and has some knowledge about local life.

Tobias Hammerle will be the second instructor during the workshop and will share his many technical skills and experience in teaching all over the world.

More information about the Instructors 2013 you’ll find here.

This article originally appeared here

euronews le mag : Art festival in Ramallah

Published on Nov 15, 2012 by 

http://www.euronews.com/ Qalandiya, the first ever Palestinian Contemporary Art Biennale has been held in Ramallah. One of the most popular displays was a pop art-inspired needlework portrait is of Mohamed Bouazizi, the market stall holder who sparked the beginning of the Arab Spring when he burned himself to death in protest at being rough-handled by the police.

The biennial took its name from one of the most famous symbols of Palestinian separation, the Israeli checkpoint at Qalandiya, which is one of the main crossing points between the West Bank and Israel.

Displaying art installations in hard-to-access Palestinian villages scattered across the West Bank was a gamble, but it worked. People flocked to the Abwein village for a day packed with art and fun.

Using villages as art galleries, and borrowing its name from a crowded refugee camp and Israeli military checkpoint, Qalandiya International was a chance for Palestinian artists of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel and Gaza to get together and overcome their politically fragmented world.

Jerusalem artist, Jumana Manna’s short movie was inspired by a 1942 picture of a high society masquerade hosted by Palestinian politician Alfred Roch, a reenactment that has won Manna the festival’s “Young Artist of the Year” award.

For more information see
http://centrefortheaestheticrevolution.blogspot.fr/2012/11/gestures-in-time-a…

Find us on:
Youtube http://bit.ly/zr3upY
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/euronews.fans
Twitter http://twitter.com/euronews