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Liverpool Arab Arts Festival returns 16 July – 14 November

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF), the UK’s longest running festival of Arab arts and culture, returns in July 2021 for its 23rd edition. The multi-artform programme of live and online events is an artist-led response to the complexities of the climate emergency in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region today.

The first wave of festival events encompasses July and August, with events for September, October and November being released later in the year. LAAF’s launch programme features the world premiere of Eating The Copper Apple by poet lisa luxx; Grounds for Concern, a new installation by visual artist Jessica El Mal; Trauma Then, Trauma Now by Youcef Hadjazi at the Royal Standard; the premiere of Blue Spaces by music collective ھيHeya; the return of the ARTISTS | IDEAS | NOW series of talks, as well as a new film programme running throughout the festival.

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World is a panel of leading female journalists featured in the book. LAAF has commissioned the first episode of a new podcast What Happened in Baghdad by Kamel Saeed, which presents a fascinating audio journey of discovery into the creatives that once called the Iraqi capital home.

Grounds for Concern. Courtesy of Jessica el Mal

Key projects later in the festival include an ambitious new LAAF commission, 22, which will bring together 22 Arab artists, activists and creatives from across the MENA region nations to create an artistic anthology in response to the climate emergency. Threads is a new multidisciplinary performance and digital work bringing together three Arab women artists – Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings, Alia Alzougbi and Rihab Azar – as they weave together stories of migration, disability and the passage of time.

The dire impact of the climate crisis is already being disproportionately felt in the MENA region, an area which has faced unprecedented climatic events in recent years. Scorching temperatures, rising sea levels and dwindling natural resources increasingly threaten a region already confronting the continuing realities of conflict and colonialism. From performance to visual art, LAAF 2021 will provide a platform to express the lived experiences of those often excluded from climate conversations, while addressing interconnected issues such as imperialism, climate justice and capitalism.

Jack Welsh, Festival Programme Manager, said: “Across four months, our programme will engage, inform and creatively reimagine our future direction with respect to the climate emergency. Artists and performers from across the Arab world will ask what the international community can learn from those who are already stepping up to respond to the crisis on their doorstep? How can we establish a collective approach to dealing with this enormous challenge?”

Founded in 1998, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival takes place each year in leading arts and cultural venues across Liverpool. This year’s programme will include a mix of physical and online events, continuing LAAF’s mission to celebrate the best in Arab arts and culture, while connecting physical audiences in Liverpool with digital audiences around the world.

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 festival is for the first time expanding from its usual two-week period to a longer festival, spanning almost four months from July to November.

Youcef Hadjazi

The first wave of programme, spanning July and August 2021, includes:

Two live performances of poet lisa luxx’s Eating the Copper Apple, taking audiences on a journey from West Yorkshire to the borders of Syria in a one-woman show exploring identity, culture and displacement.

Shaped by luxx’s life, the play brings together politics, dreams, loss and fulfilment – asking the big questions about how we become who we are and exploring the intricacies of the mixed heritage experience. At once funny and philosophical, Eating the Copper Apple examines the tremendous impact of displacement on how we view our lives and identities. Funded by the Al-Omar family and Arts Council England, the work was originally commissioned for LAAF 2020 and has been supported by LAAF since its inception. It is a deeply collaborative work by a team of female Arab creatives. Jessica El Mal’s installation Grounds for Concern at Mann Island Atrium from Friday 16 July questions the concept of land ownership and the true boundaries enforced by human made borders. An installation on the outside wall of Open Eye Gallery at Mann Island Atrium consists of two hanging digital collages. Printed on chiffon, these collages depict the Strait of Gibraltar – an incredibly significant frontier and trade route between Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Today, the Strait is a notable passage for migrants from Africa headed to the EU, which has led to its current status as one of the most heavily surveilled areas in Europe.

In August, Youcef Hadjazi’s project Trauma Then, Trauma Now, will be exhibited at Liverpool’s Royal Standard. It explores collective and transgenerational trauma in post colonial nations by focusing on the Algerian Civil War, often known as ‘The Black Decade’. The first gallery presentation of this project, Hadjazi will present a new performance film informed by research the artist has been undertaking over the past year. Through this in depth research of the war and its impacts on the Algerian population, Hadjazi aims to deconstruct and highlight the ways that a legacy of colonial trauma can transcend generations.

Panel discussions include Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, focusing on how intrepid Arab and Middle Eastern sahafiyat – female journalists – are shaping nuanced narratives about their changing homelands. It will feature journalists Aida Alami, Eman Helal, Heba Shibani, and the book’s editor, Zahra Hankir.

What Happened in Baghdad by Kamel Saeed, an emerging UK-based Iraqi creative, presents a fascinating audio journey of discovery into the creatives that once called the Iraqi capital home. This new podcast series is being launched at Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2021, with a commissioned episode looking at Iraqi bibliomaniac, eccentric, and prolific writer, Al Jahiz (776-868), and his magnum opus, Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (الحیوان كتاب’ (Book of Living Things’; an unusual encyclopaedia, illustrating and describing over 350 species of animals. With guests including artists, writers and scholars, Saeed offers listeners a glimpse into an extraordinarily rich period of world history.

LAAF will digitally host the premiere of Blue Spaces by experimental music project ھيHeya – a group which acts as a bridge for women making music in the Middle East. In Blue Spaces, members Nour Sokhon, Yara Mekawei, Zeynep Ayşe Hatipoğlu and Jilliene Sellner bring us a film event that raises questions about class, gender and colonialism and how they relate to the climate crisis. Composed of voice, cello, sonic interventions, field recordings and video footage from Cairo, Beirut, Istanbul and Hastings, the ethereal, fluid feel of Blue Spaces exists in stark contrast to the realities of class, gender and the political and climate based traumas of the Middle East.

July will also see the return of the ARTISTS | IDEAS | NOW series, featuring some of the most exciting Arab artists from across the globe. These artist-led talks will focus on prominent issues related to the climate emergency. Further talks in the series will be held in September and October.

For more details on the first wave of festival events, visit arabartsfestival.com/2021festival and visit our Eventive page to book tickets.