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Monday, July 23, 2018

Lifting the veil on Arab culture

The largest congregation of Arab artists in America seeks to bring Arabesque arts to the world

Published: March 8, 2009 4:38:38 pm

The largest congregation of Arab artists in America seeks to bring Arabesque arts to the world
Eight hundred of the finest artists of the vast and varied Arab have descended on the Kennedy Center for three weeks of unprecedented communion,celebration and cultural exposition. The Kennedy Center’s Arabesque festival is the largest congregation of Arab artists the world has ever seen.

Production of the festival has been a herculean undertaking. Five years in the making and encompassing 22 countries,it entailed a level of logistical coordination far beyond anything the Kennedy Center has attempted—40 performing groups,800 visas,middle-of-the-night conversations across 10 time zones and two tonnes of cargo being tracked as it travels from the Middle East. Enough drama,decor and design to transform the white-walled Kennedy Center into a beautiful,bustling Arab universe.

The festivals are “part of a whole project of the Kennedy Center to bring art about people of whom we know very little,so we can start to understand other people,” explains Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.

And of no region did our understanding seem quite so lacking as the Arab world. Now the veil is being lifted. “If we’re going to make peace and live together,we really need to understand them as people,” Kaiser says. “And I think the arts are really helpful at doing that.”
But unlike China and Japan,this wasn’t one country,and nothing even close to a monolithic culture. So over three years Kaiser and Alicia Adams,the Center’s director of international programmes,made lengthy sojourns to the Middle East to find the region’s most compelling artists.

“I’d go to the museums,go to the people’s homes,do all kinds of things to be able to soak up as much culture as I can,” Adams says of the journeys. Early on she learned how rich and complicated the artistic landscape is throughout the Arab world. Modern dance may be lacking in some countries with strict religious restrictions,while poetry is so popular that young people participate in American Idol-style competitions in the genre. Through all of it,though,Adams was struck most by “the beauty and the humanity of the people,” she recalls. “These are people like the rest of us. There’s no difference in that way.”

Adams was,however,initially nervous that her invitations to come to the United States would be rebuffed by artists who disagreed with American policies. It was wasted worry. “Just about everybody felt that this was an important thing to do. They were anxious to put a different face on their countries—on the arts and cultures that they reflected through the work that they did,” she says.
_Ellen McCarthy,LATWP

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