Arab arts and political radicals in London this weekend


Owing, perhaps, to its exceedingly generous tax treatment of the sort-of resident foreigners known as ‘non-doms,’ London is the de facto capital of the rich developing world.  This can lend a decadent dimension to the city, with the archetypal café customers at mid-afternoon being a couple of Saudi girls, Birkin bags at hand, sharing tales of the things they did last night that they could less easily do at home.  But some good can come of it, too: cultural life in London is very often a refutation of the prejudiced notion that large swathes of the non-Western world are anti-modern.  As a result, London is the best place to experience, say, contemporary Arab culture if you are unable to get to Beirut or Cairo.

This summer, the Mayor of London is sponsoring a series of cultural events called Shubbak, which means ‘window,’ and though the name is not very promising the schedule is: the organizers have done a commendable job of bringing interesting artists of all sorts from the region.  So if you missed seeing the one-man show by Ahmed El Attar — an old friend from my Cairo days — or the talk by Hatem Imam, co-founder of the Beirut-based graphic quarterly Samandal which I wrote about in another post, then be sure to go to Serpentine Gallery in Kensington this weekend for a talk by Mike Vazquez about his efforts to build a library of radical publications.  I met Mike years ago when he and Kelefa Sanneh were editing Transition, a hard-to-pin-down journal (mostly) about contemporary African culture that used to bring me no end of reading pleasure, and now he has brought his Transition-y sensibility to another favorite arts magazine, Bidoun, which focuses on the Middle East.  I have no idea what, exactly, counts as a radical publication but finding that out is a compelling reason to go to the talk, which is being held under the aegis of the Bidoun Library, a traveling culture project that will host talks every Saturday at the Serpentine through 11 September.


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