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Arts and culture | Middle Eastern Culture Market

Middle Eastern Culture Market 2020 Online

Thursday 17 December 2020 - Sunday 31 January 2021

Around this time of year we look forward to welcoming you to the LUCIS Middle Eastern Culture Market, our annual festival of workshops, lectures, crafts, music, and dance. Normally we are in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. This year things are different.

This year, our Middle Eastern Culture Market goes online! LUCIS would like to provide you with a small taste of the cultural richness of the Middle East. We are proud to present an online version of the LUCIS Middle Eastern Culture Market, filled with tips for reading, watching, and listening. We hope to see you again in 2021, but for now: enjoy! 

Spice up your seasonal listening with some Middle Eastern tunes!

Support your favourite cinema and watch these recent masterpieces from and on the Middle East on Picl. Note: mostly Dutch subtitles.

Adam | Maryam Touzani | A beautiful, intimate portrait of female solidarity in Morrocco. Pregnant, unmarried Samia finds a place to stay with reluctant widow and mother Abla. As Samia starts helping out in Abla's bakery, the two women grow a special bond.

Notturno | Gianfranco Rosi | A stunning documentary of daily life in the war-torn border areas of Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan, and Lebanon.

Un Fils | Mehdy Barsaoui | Compelling family drama that takes place in Tunisia. Fares and Meriem, a French-educated, well-off couple, take their 11-year-old son on a trip to scenic Tatauoine. The family trip turns into a nightmare as their son is gravely injured in a terrorist shoot-out. 

Sidik en de panter | Reber Dosky | Beautiful documentary with breath-taking views of the mountains in Kurdish Iraq. We follow Sidik, who has spent the past twenty-five years searching the mountains to capture an image of the Persian panther, in the hopes of declaring the area a national park.

The Perfect Candidate | Haaifa Al-Mansour | Doctor Maryam regularly runs into the restrictions that Saudi society places on women. Through a combination of circumstances, she decides to run for office in her local council. Her campaign unexpectedly gains momentum.

Just 6.5 | Saeed Roustaee | Tense, action-packed thriller on the war on drugs in Iran. Detective Samad and his team are on the heels of notorious drug lord Naser. Remarkably, this film is an intricate character study of not only the detectives but also the villain, providing an intriguing insight into the Iranian police and justice system.

Trembling Landscapes | curated by Nat Muller, until 3 January 2021
From Judith Naeff: The exhibition Trembling Landscapes at the EYE filmmuseum brings together some of the most prominent artists of the Middle East to interrogate issues around landscape. On the one hand, representations of landscape engage with a heady mix of national and natural borders, tussles over resources and territory, and (colonial) history. On the other hand, it is a rich source of identity, tradition, and imagination. Because the screening program was partly canceled, a number of movies are now available online. These include a classic work of social critique by the distinguished Syrian documentary film maker Omar Amiralay, a beautiful film on the use of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitszbergen bij Syrian farmers and agrarian researchers based in Lebanon, introduced by our very own Christian Henderson and one of the most stunning film essays I know, Taste of Cement, weaving together construction and destruction, war and peace, home and exile, and a documentary addressing orientalist stereotypes in Hollywood cinema.

Or watch these slightly older award-winning films on a host of other platforms.

Capharnaüm | Nadim Labaki
This film concentrates on the adventures of Zain, a 12-year-old boy living in the slums of Beirut. When his parents marry off his younger sister Sahar to their landlord in exchange for a couple of chicken, he runs away from home. After a while he returns home and finds out that his sister has died and that his mother is pregnant again. He ends up in prison himself and decides to sue his parents for neglecting their children. 

For Sama | Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts
Heart-wrenching autobiographical documentary following filmmaker and activist Waad al-Kateab through five years of war in Syria. We see her take in the bloody details of the violence, including bombings and wounded victims at hospitals working under enduring circumstances, as well as her own personal dilemma of leaving in order to save her young daughter or staying in order to continue the struggle for freedom.

Sand storm | Elite Zexer
The film depicts life in a Bedouin village in Northern Israel. Jalila’s husband takes a second wife, leaving Jalila and her daughter no other choice but to conform to tradition. This does not prevent them from incorporating small forms of protest.

The Square | Jehane Noujaim
Immersive documentary focusing on the idealistic youngsters protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. We follow six protestors from the protests against President Mubarak, the euphoria and hope after his fall, the disillusionment following the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, through to the fall of President Morsi.

A Tale of Three Sisters | Emin Alper
Three sisters who lived at foster homes in a provincial town city as maids, are forced to return to their village after disputes with their host families. Their father does not have the means to support them. He marries the oldest sister, who is pregnant, off to a villager and tries to find a way to give the other two a better future in town.

Waltz with Bashir | Ari Folman
An intriguing animated documentary fiction film on the traumatic experiences of young Israeli soldiers. It tells the autobiographical story of Folman, who served in the Israeli army during the Israeli invasion in South Lebanon in 1982. He witnessed how the Israeli army did not prevent Christian phalangists from causing a massacre under the primarily Muslim inhabitants of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla.

A World not Ours | Mahdi Fleifel
An intimate and humorous documentary based on personal recordings and historical footage. This film portrays the members of three generations in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Helweh, in southern Lebanon.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night | Ana Lily Amirpour 
And now for something entirely different… "The first Iranian vampire Western," is a too-cool-for-school black-and-white film about a lonely chador-clad, skate-boarding vampire, who stalks the ghostly streets of ‘Bad City’ and falls in love with handsome Arash, whose heroin-addict father is beset by debt.

The Time That Remains | Elia Suleiman
This semi-autobiographical film tells the story of Suleiman’s own family in Nazareth, from 1948 up to the present day. With his typical dead-pan humour, he portrays the daily life of so-called ‘Israeli-Arabs’. Reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style, Suleiman combines absurdity and symbolism with brilliantly shot, rectilinear frames. 

The Salesman | Asghar Farhadi 
By the director of A Separation, this award-winning film follows actor couple Emad and Rana. When they move into a new apartment, Rana is assaulted and Emad sets out in search of answers and revenge. Tense and oozing with symbolism, this film portrays the strains on their marriage.

Wajib | Annemarie Jacir
Comedy-drama that unfolds over the course of a day as a Christian Palestinian father and his son, an architect living in Italy, hand deliver wedding invitations to the nuptials of daughter Amal. As they drive around Nazareth visiting relatives and family friends in an old Volvo, they reminisce and bicker, revealing the rift between the pragmatism of a conservative Palestinian living in Israel and the idealism of the emigrant.

Netflix is slowly expanding its Middle Eastern repertoire. Snuggle up and binge-watch these series (hey, it’s the best way to improve your foreign language skills).

Al Hayba
A Syrian-Lebanese television series that revolves around the feud between two clans in the Lebanese Syrian border area in a village called Al Hayba. The action concentrates on family life and interfamilial rivalry, with attention to issues as the position of women in a traditional society and how to adapt to modern life. 

Ethos | Bir Başkadır
The most recent Turkish Netflix original looks at the secular/religious divide in current Turkish society. We encounter several bubbles in the metropolis of Istanbul: impoverished internal migrants living a traditional life, a highly educated secular psychotherapist who is afraid of her headscarf-wearing patient, and a therapist with a Kurdish background struggling with the traditional attitude of her family and her secular life.  

Love 101 | Aşk 101
This teen dramedy is set in 1998, when four high-school students risk expulsion because of their poor behaviour. All of them face different problems in their private lives such as neglect, overambitious parents, and identity problems. When a young idealistic teacher prevents them from being expelled, they forge a plan to find her the love of her life, so she will stay in Istanbul.

The series is adapted from the oeuvre of the Egyptian author Ahmad Khaled Towfeq. The story is set in the 1960s, where professor Refaat Ismail encounters all kinds of paranormal experiences. At first he is sceptical, but soon he gets so much involved in the supernatural that denial proves impossible. 

Phi | Fi
This psychological thriller, two seasons, is based on the novels, a trilogy, of Akilah Kohen. It focuses on the obsessive love of self-made professor of psychology and host of an extremely popular TV show Can Manay for a young dancer. 

Resurrection Ertugrul | Diriliş Ertuğrul 
Long-running Turkish television series follows the legendary history of the forefathers of the Ottomans who migrated with their clan from Central Asia to the Middle East. Here they encounter corrupt and cruel Byzantines and crusaders who threaten their existence. The series is often compared to Game of Thrones.
Only partially available on Dutch Netflix, the first season with English subtitles can also be found on Youtube.

Secret on the Nile 
This Egyptian Ramadan series was adapted from the Spanish series Gran Hotel. The series relates the story of the owners and the staff of hotel in Aswan. Ali takes on a job at the hotel in order to examine the mystical disappearance of his sister who worked there. Gradually he finds out that the owner’s family has a big secret.
Gem of a series that follows the daily woes of the Haredi Shtisel family in their pursuit of love and happiness. The series addresses the pressures of living in an orthodox community, but thankfully steers clear of the worn-out ‘beautiful girl frees herself from oppressive religious milieu’. The charm of this drama with lots of humour is hard to pinpoint – blue-eyed protagonist Akiva may have something to do with it – but probably lies in “radical particularity and radical universality”. 

This low-budget series, made by young independent Saudi-Arabian filmmakers, was first broadcast on YouTube and takes place in the allegedly liberal city of Jeddah. It presents the lives of a young generation of middle-class adults as they try to find their place in Saudi society. 

Wolf | Börü 
This nationalistic military action miniseries concentrates on the missions of a special forces squad in the Turkish army and the private lives and loves of its members. The series relates real events, such as the terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul and one of the team members shooting a Kurdish girl, to the psychological impact it has on the feelings of its characters. 

Finally have time to sit down and read a book? Immerse yourself in these recent novels from and on the Middle East.

Gaan liggen om te sterven | Adalet Ağaoğlu
De eerste roman van een van de meest toonaangevende twintigste-eeuwse Turkse schrijfsters. Het beschrijft hoe de eerste generatie Turken opgroeit in de Republiek, gesticht in 1923, en worstelt met de seculiere moderne Turkse samenleving die Atatürk voor ogen heeft.

Celestial Bodies | Jokha al-Harthi 
Winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2019, this novel is a kaleidoscopic, non-linear tale revolving around the lives of three generations of women unhappy in marriage. Through it the reader glimpses the rapid changes that Oman has gone through in the past decades.

Salt Houses | Hala Alyan 
Lyrical debut of Hala Alyan, describing the life of a Palestinian family across several generations. This tale of war, loss, and displacement traces the family members from Palestine, to Kuwait, eventually scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond.

The immortals of Tehran / De onsterfelijken van Teheran | Ali Araghi 
Debut of a promising Iranian author, currently living in the US. A magical realist chronicle on several generations of a family originally living at in an apple orchard, later in Tehran, concentrating on their experiences during the Russian occupation in WOII, the Shah and the Iranian Revolution. 

Brieven in de nacht | Hoda Barakat 
Dit boek bundelt vijf brieven van vluchtelingen, gestrand in een niemandsland. Deze brieven vol heimwee, ontheemding en trauma zullen nooit aankomen op hun bestemming, maar blijken gaandeweg vervlochten. Verwoord in een prachtig beeldende, maar nooit sentimentele schrijfstijl.

God 99 | Hassan Blasim 
Hassan Owl is an aspiring writer who embarks on a quest to interview 99 individuals, to uncover the reality behind Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’. In between, Owl’s own story, as an Iraqi refugee, unfolds through his relation with a mysterious translator. Blending the fantastic with the everyday, this novel explores themes of exile, humanity, art, and philosophy.

Women of Karantina | Nael Eltoukhy 
A novel that defies description. This multigenerational story starts with the death of a dog and two lovers fleeing a murder charge in Cairo. They end up trying to build a new kingdom of crime in Alexandria: Karantina. The story features a defiant cast of pimps, dealers, thieves, prostitutes, and lunatics. A sprawling and baroque, satirical and subversive tale of the crime families of Alexandria.

Stepmother Earth | Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu
First English translation of one of the seminal Turkish novels dating from the early Republican Era. Due to the War of Independence (1919-1923) Turkish intellectuals discovered Anatolia as a place where loyal citizens were living. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his partisans aimed at modernizing the country including Anatolia. This novel depicts how an urban intellectual looks, sometimes with shocking disdain, at the poor circumstances in which the Anatolian people live.

Death is Hard Work / De dood is een zware klus | Khalid Khalifa
A father’s last wish, to be buried in his ancestral village, brings together three estranged siblings on a roadtrip. This might have been an enjoyable 350 km journey, had Syria not been immersed in civil war. They start out on a life-threatening and Kafkaesque odyssey, in which their stories mingle with the atrocities of the ongoing war.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo / De bijenhouder van Aleppo | Christy Lefteri
First novel of the British author, daughter of Greek-Cypriote refugees. Nuri and Afra have to leave their happy life in Aleppo because of the atrocities of the war. They embark on a dangerous and difficult journey through Turkey and Greece, to London. Nuri and Afra not only have to fight to reach their destination, but also to save their love for one another.  

Minor detail | Adania Shibli
An experimental novel in which the Palestinian writer, living in Berlin, expresses the difficulties a narrator encounters when she wants to tell a story of a Palestinian victim of rape. She wants to tell what happened in 1949 to a woman who was raped and murdered by Israeli soldiers in a camp in the desert near the Egyptian border. 

The Highly Unreliable History of a Madhouse | Ayfer Tunç
A newly translated book by one of the most prominent current Turkish authors. This experimental novel focusses on the tragic events in a mental health hospital located at the Black Sea coastal city of Trabzon, in the North East of Turkey. Tunç combines humor and irony with a highly literary innovative style.

The Corpse Washer | Sinan Antoon
This is a beautiful piece of fiction about life and loss in post-invasion Iraq, centering on a young man who desires to embrace life and the arts, but finds himself forced to return to the profession of his father and grandfather: to wash and shroud the dead.

An additional reason to read this last book in the coming weeks is that it would allow you to join the MENA reading group’s first session on 5 February 2021, an informal space to talk about literature from and about the Middle East and North Africa. Please sign up by sending an email to organizer Judith Naeff

For podheads and newbies alike, these podcasts come warmly recommended. Cook along with top chef Marwan Hazem or listen to some critical thinking.

Kerning cultures
“Stories from the Middle East and North Africa, and the spaces in between.” The motto says it all.

Yalla, bye 
Chat podcast with Hager and Mna, two Egyptian-American sisters in New York. “Welcome to Yalla Bye Podcast, where we'll be discussing all things Arab related (sometimes non-Arab related). Hear us go on and on about dating, growing up in the west, 3ozoomas, why the word "3o2balek" is so triggering.”

The Ottoman history podcast
“A podcast about the Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East, and the Islamic world.”

Al Empire
“Featuring exceptional Arabs around the world and their journey to the top.”

The East is a Podcast
“A mash-up of expert analysis, relevant extracts from texts, and archival audio. In each episode, a guest will help us explore the past, present, and future of the Middle East and North Africa through a crucial lens.”

Sacred Footsteps
“Sacred Footsteps is dedicated to travel, history and culture from a Muslim perspective. We talk to writers, historians, artists and others, about travel as a spiritual practice, and discuss aspects of Muslim culture and history that are often overlooked.”

Listen to cook Marwan Hazem tell stories about his favourite foods. Note: in Arabic.
“Status is an audio magazine which features interviews/conversations, on-the-scene reports, reviews, informed commentary and lectures held around the world on the Middle East and North Africa.”

“Gigs, News, reviews, interviews and the freshest tunes from across the Middle East.”

This is what I read
“A podcast about books from the decolonial and intersectional perspective. Abbie Boutkabout invites artists, writers, activists and performers to talk about these books that have shaped their lives, and about what drives their own work.” Note: mostly in Dutch.

For all die-hard fans of the LUCIS Middle Eastern Culture Market, these are just a few clips of artists who appeared in previous editions. We hope to welcome them back next year!

Wasim Arslan

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Jol Al Holo and Nikita Shahbazi (IMOVE Foundation)

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Also check out https://www.imovefoundation.org/

With special thanks to all Leiden University students and staff for their recommendations: Judith Naeff, Haneen Omari, Cristiana Strava and the students from her Urban Youth course, Petra de Bruijn, Maaike Beemsterboer, Anne de Groot, and Tineke Rooijakkers. If you have comments or suggestions, please get in touch!

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