Shaping Change: Women, Art and Culture symposium is part of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival. The symposium used both debate and performance to discuss the issues of the patriarchal attitude towards women within the Arab community, which has lead to restrictions on women’s ability to be creative practitioners. It also discussed wider issues such as domestic abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The debate was lead by Nazir Afzal who talked about his own experience of honour killings and forced marriage and how by bringing these to the forefront of discussion, progression has been made. Elham Manea in her discussion elaborated on these points, from a personal view point, discussing the problem of the ingrained traditional norms of heterosexual male dominance and how the suffering of her mother and the progressive views of her father had influenced her as a writer. This is the first event for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival that discusses Arabic women’s rights issues and the challenges they face as women within society and their community. The main challenge is the silence that surrounds them as they are denied a voice in which to share their experience either through fear or lack of knowledge of the English language. The festival allows women a voice through both the art and debate and it was the artists’ own personal stories which made the symposium so groundbreaking and thought provoking.
Poet Ameena Atiqt and musician Nadya Shanab both demonstrated how the arts have brought a voice to the Arabic women’s community. Ameena is a visual poet whose poetry is not about barriers but empowerment and she gives a voice to women who don’t have the opportunity to speak. Nadya also does this through music. In her piece I am a little Egyptian girl she discusses the wide practice of female genital mutilation in her native Egypt and the effects this has on women. She sings in Arabic to make her community aware of the practice but the message of the song still reaches a wider audience through its power and emotion. Both artists make the invisible visible through their work and the final speaker; artist Rachel Gadsden aims to do this not only for women but also for people with disabilities. She makes a point of incorporating both mainstream and disability art sectors together as she believes it’s important to have the subject in the public domain in order to break boundaries and reflect on what it is to be human.
The main message in Shaping Change: Women, Art and Culture, was that it is everyone’s responsibility to talk in an open manner about the issues affecting women, without fear of causing offence. These issues need to be at the forefront of the public conscience in order to breakdown barriers. Nazir made this clear in his comment; ‘no woman is safe they just have different degrees of safety’. The issues raised in the symposium are not confined to just the Arab community but they span into the wider society. Therefore we need to have the courage to hold these discussions in order to make a change.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival: Shaping Change: Women, Art and Culture symposium, Bluecoat, Liverpool
6 June -14 June 2015