I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Bob Doughty with EXPLORATIONS
in VOA Special English. Today we visit the Arabesque festival at the Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. This three-week event brings
eight hundred artists to the city to celebrate the arts and culture of the Arab
world. The festival is presenting
theater, dance, music, film, literature and art from twenty-two countries in
the Middle East and North Africa. Organizers say this is the biggest Arab arts
event ever held in the United States.
That was a traditional song
performed by the Children of Al-Farah Choir from Syria. It was one of
many performances that were offered free of cost to the public. Visitors to the
Kennedy Center could also enjoy many free exhibits of art, jewelry and photography.
An exhibit called "Brides of
the Arab World" is in the two main halls of the Kennedy Center. The exhibit
includes over forty examples of women's wedding clothing from all twenty-two
countries in the League of Arab States. Some examples are very old, while
others are modern.
One wedding dress from Egypt is made of red material
covered in designs of gold thread. Four examples from different areas of
Palestine show cloth that is richly embroidered with many different colors.
The Arabesque festival cost about ten million dollars. Major
donors to the festival include the Helen Ruth Henderson Foundation, the states
of Kuwait and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington D.C.
The name of this festival was
inspired by the meaning of the word "Arabesque." The word comes from the word "Arab"
and is a design term used to describe flowing lines and geometric patterns.
Festival organizers say "Arabesque" was a good word to describe dance, theater
or musical styles that are marked by an Arab influence.
Several modern art exhibits are on the
top floor of the Kennedy Center. One
exhibit, called "Breaking the Veils," shows works by women artists from the Islamic
world. The art is part of the permanent collection of the Jordan National
Gallery of Fine Arts in Amman.
watercolor by the Saudi artist Fahda Bint Saud shows three women sitting in the
desert. They are completely covered by their blue head scarves. One woman
covers her eyes with her hands, the other covers her ears and the third woman
covers her mouth.
One of the most striking
exhibits is called "Roba Vecchia" by the Lebanese artist Lara Baladi. The art
installation is in a large, dark room. It is a life-size version of a
kaleidoscope. In the middle of the room is a tall triangular tunnel that is
covered in mirrors. At the end of the tunnel is a wall of brightly colored
moving video images.
As you stand inside the
tunnel, you see the video images reflected many times in the mirrors. You too
are reflected in the mirrors. The work is both surreal and beautiful. Lara
Baladi's work is influenced by the many different sights on the streets of
That was music by the
Somali-born rapper K'naan who also performed at the festival. His
poetic songs have a political message. K'naan's latest album, "Troubadour,"
came out last month.
Another exhibit at the Arabesque
festival features two calligraphy artists. The Iraqi artist Hassan Massoudy makes colorful paintings using Arabic writing. The Kuwaiti artist Farah
Behbehani uses different traditions of Arabic writing to illustrate "The
Conference of the Birds," a poem by a twelfth century Persian writer.
One room shows the jewelry of
Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy. Her
jewelry combines traditional designs from Arabic, Bedouin and Egyptian
cultures. The golden jewelry was creatively displayed in a collection of clay
pots on a large table.
room called the "Exploratorium" has soft chairs arranged in a circle. The
chairs tilt back so that it is easy to look up and watch a movie projected on
MOVIE: "Observe, measure,
calculate, experiment, classify, debate and teach are key words in the lexicon
of Arabic science"
The movie tells
about the advances in mathematics, astronomy and medicine in the Arab world
from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries.
The Caracalla Dance Theatre from
Lebanon gave two sold out performances at the Arabesque festival. The group
combines theater and dance to create colorful and dramatic performances. One
critic said the Kennedy Center stage has never sparkled as brightly as it did
the night of the group's "Knights of the Moon" performance. The critic praised
the extraordinary energy of the dancers who combine traditional dance with
ballet and modern dance.
The Arabesque festival also
presented several plays. One was
"Richard the Third: An Arab Tragedy." Kuwaiti director Sulayman Al-Bassam recreated Shakespeare's famous play in a modern Arab setting. The
performance also included live music.
Another play was "Alive
from Palestine: Stories Under Occupation." It was written by Palestinian artists as a way
to tell personal stories about the conflict in their homeland. The performers
are part of the Al-Kasaba Theater and Cinematheque in Ramallah. Both of these plays were performed in Arabic.
was music by Nawal, another performer at the Arabesque festival. Nawal is from
the Comoros Islands but now lives in France. She has been singing
professionally for over twenty years. Nawal sings in Comorian as well as in
French, Arabic and English. She plays musical instruments including the
gambusi, the daf and the guitar.
Several of the festival events
featured literature. For example, one afternoon a group of writers and critics
gathered to discuss book sales in the Arab world. Another day, a group of poets
from Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt discussed the future of poetry in Arab
Several new and old movies are
being shown at the festival. For example, "The One Man Village" will be shown
in the United States for the first time. This Lebanese movie was directed by
Simon El Habre. It is about a man who lives alone in a village from
which everyone fled during Lebanon's fifteen-year civil war.
Palestinian movie "Wedding in Galilee" will also be shown. The movie was
released in nineteen eighty-seven and became the first Palestinian film to be
shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
from the Arab world was also part of the festival. Ambassadors from countries
including Lebanon, Syria, and Morocco welcomed visitors to their homes to try
traditional foods from these countries.
Michael Kaiser is the president of the
Kennedy Center. He says he believes the arts create peace by providing a way to
understand other people. Mister Kaiser says he hopes the Arabesque festival will
bring such understanding between the Arab and Western worlds.
We leave you with music by
another group that performed at the Arabesque Festival. B'net Houariyat is made
up of five women from Marrakech. These musicians sing and dance to traditional
music from different areas of Morocco.
This program was written and
produced by Dana Demange. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Faith
Lapidus. You can see pictures of the Arabesque festival events on our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.