Winners of the Arab British Centre’s Award for Culture were announced in London on Thursday, with children’s book author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan winning the prize in the individuals category and event agency Marsm in the organisations category.
The biennial award, which was established in 2008, recognises contemporary artistic and cultural contributions from the Arab world to British society, with the added aim of providing financial support to individuals and organisations to help bolster their careers.
In 2017, the award was given to playwright Hannah Khalil, who will present a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company in October, and cultural platform Arts Canteen, which put together the first music festival in Gaza in 2010.
This year, Syrian writer and artist Kaadan has been chosen for her work in children's literature. Born in Paris, raised in Damascus and now living in London, Kaadan has been drawing since she was eight years old. Even in her early years, it seems she was certain of her future as an author, distributing a children's magazine to her classmates in the fifth grade.
Her books speak of stories from the Arab world, tackling delicate subjects such as the war in Syria and its effects on children. For example, her 2012 book Ghadan (Tomorrow), which was translated to English last year, follows a pivotal moment in a Syrian young boy's life as he finds that he can longer go outside to play or leave the house to visit his neighbour because of the growing military conflict outside.
Established in 2015, the events agency Marsm has focused on promoting the Arab music scene in the UK through events and music festivals. Founded by Khaled Ziada, who has worked in musical production for over a decade, Marsm has brought many talents to Britain, including Yasmine Hamdan, Lena Chamamyan, Cairokee and 47Soul. Their roster of artists encompasses classical, hip hop and electronic genres.
Kaadan and Marsm will receive a £2,500 (Dh11,300) cash prize, and a travel grant from the British Council to visit a country in the Arab world.
The 2019 Award for Culture panel of judges includes Venetia Porter, a curator of Islamic and contemporary art at the British museum; Lynn Gaspard, publisher at Saqi Books; Karl Sharro, architect and designer and Sir Derek Plumbly, chairman of The Arab British Centre.
At the awards ceremony in London’s Living Room, City Hall, Plumbly spoke to the 250 guests at the reception: “All this positive energy is against the backdrop of dark and very difficult times in much of the Arab world, and great uncertainty here. But that only goes to make the Centre’s role of opening windows on the diversity and creativity to be found in the Arab world all the more important. The scope for prejudice and misunderstanding is great. Polls suggest high levels of ignorance, both of the Arab world and of the contribution Arabs and people of Arab heritage have made and are making to life in Britain.”
The runners-up for the Award were also recognised the ceremony, including artist Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings who creates abstract textile works that glean inspiration from the warm colours of her native Sudan. Meanwhile, Sarha Collective was selected for the runner-up organisation category. Serving as a platform for multidisciplinary events, including exhibitions, performances and film screenings, the collective focuses on emerging artists, particularly those whose works have not yet shown in the UK. One of their most recent projects, for instance, is A Land without Jasmine, the first Yemeni theatre production staged in the UK.
This year's shortlisted candidates predominantly featured Arab women in the individuals category. Namely, stand up comedian Esther Manito, who is Lebanese-British, musician Juliana Yazbeck, whose music comments on immigration and gender inequality, and Samar Ziadat, co-founder of the Dardishi arts festival in Glasgow. In the organisations category, the nominees included The Barakat Trust, and Comma Press.