In 2007, London’s Arab British Centre began honouring the work of the many organisations in the UK working hard to change how Arab culture is perceived. It made perfect sense, given that this is essentially the Arab British Centre’s role as well.
The Arab British Centre Award for Culture was born, and has since been awarded to the London bookshop and publisher Al Saqi, the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival and Al Jazeera English. This year, however, the award has changed to reflect the work of individuals rather than organisations, in the hope that the £2,500 (Dh14,700) prize money and associated promotional opportunities could help develop a career in Arab-focused culture. The submissions featured entries from across the artistic spectrum – musicians and film directors, magazine editors and playwrights. Here are the six on the shortlist.
A playwright and film director of Iraqi origin, Abdulrazzak won plenty of plaudits for his recent play about modern Egypt, The Prophet.
“Theatre has the power to radically challenge your assumptions regarding a people or a culture. I want to present alternatives to Arab stereotypes in the West as well as to hold a mirror up to our societies.
“My aim is to create complex stage plays that weave the personal and political but without compromising on the entertainment. That’s why I believe the use of humour is vital when depicting stories about the Middle East, which might be thought of as a ‘heavy’ subject. This award is an excellent platform for Arab artists to promote their work and I hope that it will present me with the opportunity to fulfil a long-held dream: to have productions of my plays in the Arab world.”
A designer by trade, Abdulla is editor of Kalimat, a publication that aims to showcase Arab creatives. She is also the curator of a current exhibition in London, In the City, which reimagines Alexandria, Algiers, Baghdad and Nablus.
“Kalimat was launched in November 2010 and seeks to provide an outlet for social, cultural and political expression for Arabs across the Arab region and its diaspora. It’s not necessarily about Arab affairs; instead we like to give Arab creatives a space to showcase their work, even if their first language isn’t English. The magazine is published in print and online. We host talks aimed at discussing art, design and culture, and run a design studio, too.
“In the future, we want to develop a research centre based in London and Amman focused on design as a catalyst for change. I hope my work has allowed a wider British audience to engage in an international conversation with creative Arab people, too.”
A graduate from the American Film Institute, Matalqa has directed three feature films, 27 shorts and written more than 20 screenplays. His latest movie, The United, was released earlier this year.
“I first became aware of the Arab British Centre last year when it held a screening of my first film, Captain Abu Raed, as part of its Safar: Journey Through Arab Film Festival. It was great to be included with other classic Arabic films and now I am honoured to be a finalist in the Award for Arab Culture.
“Between Captain Abu Raed and my new Disney football film, The United, I’ve set out to make films that represent Arabs in a universally appealing way, both for Arab and global audiences, to bridge the cultural gap. I feel that cinema is the most powerful tool to create human connections across the divide. Films travel, entertain and change perceptions. This is my mission.”
With the aim of bringing together communities in the UK and Arab world, Gorman has set up a series of music, film and literature festivals under the Reel banner, focusing on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
“Over the past six years, I have developed several large-scale festivals and long-term exchange projects which have focused on fostering dialogue between communities in the UK and the Arab world. All my work aims to challenge stereotypes and familiarise audiences in the UK with the rich variety of Arab culture – and winning the award would greatly help me to continue to develop that engagement with the Arab world.
“I must say, though, that as much as being on the shortlist alongside artists I deeply respect is a huge honour for me, all my work is collaborative. It wouldn’t happen without the support and graft of the Reel Festivals team and the artists we work with.”
A Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster perhaps best known for her 2006 album Sprinting Gazelle, Kelani has led pioneering Arab music workshops in British schools and given masterclasses at prestigious music colleges.
“I realised my calling at the British Museum’s acclaimed exhibition of Palestinian Costume in 1990: I wanted to perform and present all that was good about Palestinian and Arabic culture to a non-Arab audience. Ever since, whether it’s concerts, workshops or radio work, I have always sought to enlighten as well as to entertain. I have always been more focused on mainstream British audiences. Teaching non-Arab schoolchildren Arabic songs can be especially satisfying.
“As an independent Palestinian Muslim female singer, I have never actually won a prize, so I don’t know what it might feel like!”
Allami released his debut album Resonance/Dissonance to great acclaim in 2011. Since then he’s toured across the world and regularly collaborates with contemporary musicians from the Arab world.
• The winner will be announced on Thursday. Visit www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk for details