London’s festival of contemporary Arab culture

A window on contemporary Arab culture. That’s what is promised at the second ever Shubbak Festival, a fortnight-long event which opened last week. Running until 6 July in venues scattered all across London, this festival celebrates the visual arts, music, and Arabic translations and literature.

The first Shubbak Festival in 2011 was a great success and it has now become a biennial event. We’ve selected a handful of this year’s events which focus on the Arabic literary circle in and around London, offering insights on a variety of novels, short stories and poetry, much of which is based on Arabic translations. More details of these events, like the host of other film, music, drama and art activities throughout the festival, can also all be found on the Shubbak Festival website.

27 June saw Asia House in West London host ‘Contemporary Arabic Fiction’, a discussion on Arabic literature, and the wider Arab world in general. The talk was hosted by Jana Elhassan and Mohammed Hasan Alwan. Elhassan has published articles, short stories and a novel during her literary career, and recently completed an Arabic translation of an Oxford University Press publication on the future of technology. Hasan Alwan is a Saudi Arabian novelist, poet and short story writer, who has recently had his poem “Oil Fields” translated and published in The Guardian. Both writers discussed their own works and the works of others, through the themes of memory, destiny and migration, particularly within diasporic communities.

The following day, Rich Mix in East London featured ‘Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus’. This free event was hosted by Mohamed Mesrati, a novelist and short story writer who has also had essays published in Banipal, the magazine of modern Arabic literature. Mesrati discussed Writing Revolution, a new publication released in May. The book is a collection of accounts from those witnessing the protests, demonstrations, and cultural changes across the Arab Spring. Writing Revolution is based mainly on Arabic translations, and even picked up a translation award earlier this year.

Later this week, on 4 July, ‘Continuous City – Mapping Arab London’s Literary Scene’ will be held at the Serpentine Gallery in Westminster. It’s not too late to check out this great free event, which will feature a roundtable discussion chaired by Deena Chalabi. Chalabi is the curator at Pop Up Mathaf, an organisation which develops international artistic collaborations. She will be joined by leading figures of London’s literary scene, and will be discussing the various options and ways of mapping London’s Arab artistic and literary heritage. The group will also be paying tribute to the late Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, who lived in London and had many of his major novels published in English based on the original Arabic translations.

Whether you’re intrigued by the vibrant Arabic culture within London, or simply wish to celebrate the Arabic cultural heritage here in the United Kingdom, why not visit the Shubbak Festival website and check out some of the events? Whether you prefer painting, sculpture, poetry or dance, you’ll find many of the most exciting up and coming and well-established Arabic artists wherever you decide to go.