Masafat, a platform of Arab-British artistic exchange
London - Fostering professional and artistic exchange across the Arab world and Britain is the aim of Masafat, a two-part, multi-arts event in London and Cairo. Thirty Three Thirty Three, in partnership with the ICA and VENT, presented the first edition of the festival in London with the event to be continued in Cairo.
The British programme included music performances, films and talks in which film-makers from the Middle East and North Africa used the privilege of living in the West to highlight the experiences of people in their home countries.
Slingshot Hip Hop braids together the stories of young Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel as they discover hip-hop and use it to surmount divisions imposed by the occupation and poverty, festival promotional material stated. From internal checkpoints and separation walls to gender norms and generational differences, the documentary is the story of young people crossing the borders that separate them, the statement said.
“Growing up as an Arab in the USA, all I saw were negative images about Arabs. One time I heard about Palestinian hip-hop on the radio and decided to research more about Arab hip-hop. I found out that there were about ten Arab hip-hop rappers in Palestine.” film director Jackie Reem Salloum said.
“I thought about how privileged I was to be in America and I wanted to inform the West about hip-hop in Palestine. I decided to travel to Palestine with my cousin and document it and what I found was just amazing… Both the elderly and children were at the concerts, which you don’t really see in the West. They were so happy I was spreading their message.”
Salloum pointed out that hip-hop presented a new way for Palestinians to learn about their history, which was usually hidden from them in school. American rappers such as Tupac Shakur inspired Palestinians to rap about their daily struggle against the Israeli occupation.
“The rappers would conduct workshops in schools to teach (the students) about hip-hop,” he said. “Palestinians aren’t really taught about their history in school, so hip-hop brought that back by presenting facts through lyrics. They were taught about their identity and social issues.”
Palestinian rappers, especially from Gaza, are faced with the challenge of blockades and financial hindrance. They are given support by Arab-American rappers.
“It is hard to create beats in Gaza. Studio time is very expensive so Arab-American rappers sent them beats to use them,” Salloum revealed.
French-Iranian film-maker Arash Nassiri said he also wanted to reveal the experiences of people from his home country. He interviewed Iranians in the United States and Europe who remember Iran before the 1979 revolution and presented their experiences in different ways in two short films.
His film Tehran-Geles is a fictional vision of Tehran that uses Los Angeles as its set. During an aerial journey, personal memories of migrants create an echo of the collective story of the Iranian capital.
“Tehran-Geles and New Days are like twins,” he said. “They are about memory and urban space. My inspiration was not through a book or a story or theory. It is just the desire I have of space. I documented my experiences and through that documentation an idea popped up.”
Nassiri’s technique of an aerial journey encourages viewers to see Los Angeles from the collective perspective of the Iranians living in the West, feeling lonely and nostalgic.
He documented immigrants who left Iran in the ‘70s and remember the more Western pre-revolution Tehran, which has gone through a drastic transformation since.
“Tehran in the ‘70s was influenced by American lifestyle and I wanted to project the ‘70s in parallel with the present,” he said. “In the ‘70s there were a lot of Americans commissioned to build malls or infrastructure like highways.
“It did not have the same feel in the ‘80s after the wars that Tehran faced and, of course, after the revolution with the lifestyle completely changing. There was a metamorphosis and an economic depression. The ‘70s city that was known faded away.”
Filmed during Persian celebrations in spring, Nassiri’s work in progress New Days shows the inhabitants of Los Angeles as hosts to memories of Tehran. They speak Farsi instead of English.
“I wanted to create a tale that was in transition of time, from one year to the other. I used the memories of Iranians to deploy them in the city using amateur actors reciting Farsi they hear through a headpiece,” he said.
Masafat ran in London in early September and was scheduled for September 20th-24th in Cairo. The Arab Weekly was among the sponsors of the event.