The Arab British Centre is pleased to announce that the Award for Culture 2013 has been presented to the London-based, Prague-born, Iraqi playwright whose plays address issues in the Arab world.
The panel of judges, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, chose Hassan Abdulrazzak out of a shortlist of six nominees for his cultural impact on the general British public’s understanding of the Arab world. The judges felt that through his work, most recently with his second full-length play The Prophet, Abdulrazzak has risen to the occasion at a time where the Middle East is highlighted as a volatile and inaccessible place.
Abdulrazzak has written three successful full length plays and six short plays and he is currently working on three screenplays and a further full-length play, A Fire Blazing Brightly.
Describing his passion for writing plays, Abdulrazzak explained that, ‘theatre has the power to radically challenge your assumptions regarding a people or a culture and it can do so within the span of two or three hours’. He then went on to discuss his emerging career, ‘one of the main motivations behind becoming a playwright, other than to tell good stories, was to present aspects of Arab culture as I know it which I felt were absent from mainstream depictions in Britain and elsewhere’.
Through his writing, Abdulrazzak achieves the aspirations of which The Arab British Centre, that is, to nurture and promote awareness and enthusiasm for the rich cultures and traditions of the Arab world. Abdulrazzak described the impact of his first full-length play Baghdad Wedding (2007, Soho Theatre), ‘I wanted to show how the impact of Iraq’s multiple wars and years of sanctions have had on Iraq’s middle class, many of whom fled the country. For many English members of the audience the play was revelatory because it shed light on a segment of Iraqis that they rarely, if ever, saw on the nightly news.’
The Arab British Centre is thrilled with the winner and the overall shortlist chosen by this year’s panel of judges. All showed huge amounts of dedication to enthral the general British public’s understanding of the Arab world.
The Arab British Centre would like to congratulate Hassan Abdulrazzak and the five shortlisted nominees; Danah Abdulla, Khyam Allami, Daniel Gorman, Reem Kelani and Amin Matalqa. Huge thanks also to the prestigious panel of judges for selecting a wonderful array of individuals who we look forward to working with in the near future in promoting their work.
The Arab British Centre would also like to congratulate to individuals who were chosen by the panel of judges as worthy of "Special Mention".
The first is Beau Beausoleil who began Al Mutannabi street after a certain event;
"On 5 March 2007 a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, the street of booksellers and the center of the city’s literary community. In one moment of the history of this busy street of shops, outdoor bookstalls and cafes, more than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded.
"In San Francisco, I read about the explosion in my morning newspaper. I was shocked that a community focused on the printed page, and the sharing of knowledge had been so mercilessly attacked. As a poet and bookseller I recognized immediately that if I were an Iraqi my bookshop would have been on this street and as a poet this would have been my cultural community that was attacked. The enforced governmental/media "distance" between myself and the Iraqi people suddenly dropped away.
"My protest began with a call to poets,printers, writers and artists who value freedom of expression in the printed page. This grew into the Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project – and in a few months we had 43 broadsides and held our first exhibit and readings."
The Arab British Centre is proud to announce that they will be exhibiting a selection of the broadsides in their gallery space in 2014.
The second individual nominated for a "Special Mention" was the author Sarah Al-Hamad who most recently published Sun, Bread and Sticky Toffee;
"Coming from a foodie family in Kuwait meant that I had access to all those traditional dishes I grew up eating. Few of them, I knew, were recorded and so in a sense it was a document for posterity that I would also be creating, each cook having their own individual way of spicing a dish.
"Most people I meet will say that the Gulf has no cuisine, which isn’t true. It does. And like most, it came about as result of geography, climate and trade. Ingredients like dried limes or date essence water are unique to our region, and even the Indians, from whom we borrowed our spices and many dishes, do not use them in their cooking. It was also important that my books differentiate between the cuisine of the Levant and the Khaleej, both in the Middle East but with very different roots and influences.
"In the end, my cookbooks are windows onto a rather insular world. Khaleeji cultures are difficult to penetrate - but food is universal. In the Gulf, more than anywhere in the world, cuisine is home-based, there are no restaurants where you can sample a typical machbous, balaleet or m’rabyan. Without an invitation to a Khaleeji home visitors to the region (and they are increasing) will return without having had any."
About the Award for Culture;
At the end of May, The Arab British Centre launched its Award for Culture 2013. For the first time since its inception in 2008, the award has been tailored to celebrate individuals who have made the most constructive contribution to British understanding of Arab culture over the last two years. The award was open to individuals working in any field and we are delighted with the response; The Arab British Centre received more than forty applications from the world of arts and culture, including actors, musicians, curators, authors, playwrights, filmmakers and artists.
In addition to the £2,500 prize money, The Arab British Centre is able to provide the winner with opportunities to promote his or her work more widely. The Award for Culture 2013 is a successor to the Arab British Culture & Society Award, which ran for four years between 2008 & 2011 and celebrated organisations which had made a considerable impact on the British public’s understanding of the life, society and culture of the Arab world. Winners of that prize were Al Saqi Books, Zaytoun, Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival and Al Jazeera English.
The shortlist was chosen by a panel of distinguished experts with knowledge of the cultures of the Arab World and the United Kingdom. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has returned as Chair of this year’s panel. The other panellists are: Maxime Duda; Rose Issa; Deborah Shaw, and Brian Whitaker.
Biographies of the Panel;
Baroness Helena Kennedy
A barrister, broadcaster, and member of the House of Lords. She is an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues and has received many honours for her work. Current chair of Justice - the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists, she was the Chair of the British Council and Chair of the Human Genetics Commission. She recently produced a report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Human Trafficking in Scotland and was a member of the Government Commission on a British Bill of Rights. A Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. She is the Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Institute of Human Rights. She is also Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford.
Maxime Duda, CEO and founder of Arab New Trends. In 2007, he was commissioned to build what became the public association called LEOPArts (Lebanese Export Office for Performing Arts). LEOPArts was an Agency of Public Interest, supported by the Lebanese Minister of Culture, H.E Tarek Mitri. After moving to London in 2009, Duda launched Arab New Trends Limited, a UK based company that proposes Arts and Culture consulting services, with a focus on the Middle East and Northern Africa. Since moving to London, Duda has collaborated with Al Jazeera, the Jordan Festival and several Universities. Duda also has worked in curating events for Shubbak Festival, Nour Festival, the V&A, Barbican, Sadler Wells, The Tabernacle, The Scope and Rich Mix.
Rose Issa is a curator, writer and producer who has championed visual art and film from the Arab world and Iran for nearly 30 years. She has lived in London for the last 25 years, where from her project space in Great Portland Street she showcases upcoming and established artists. Rose Issa was guest curator for numerous private and public institutions in Beirut, Liverpool, London, Moscow, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Brussels amongst others. Rose also advises public and private art institutions on their loans and acquisitions of contemporary artworks from the Middle East, including The British Museum; the Imperial War Museum; The Museum of Mankind; the Victoria and Albert Museum; The Written Art Foundation, Wiesbaden; The National Museums of Scotland; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Smithsonian Institution (Sackler/Freer Gallery and National Museum of African Arts); the World Bank, Washington DC; and The National Gallery of Jordan.
Deborah has a career in theatre spanning over 20 years, as Associate and Artistic Director in regional theatre, as a producer, director and writer in the UK and USA and most recently as Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Director of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012. The World Shakespeare Festival was the centrepiece of the official culture programme of the London Olympics, and included 75 productions and projects (including film commissions, education and online projects). She has commissioned, developed and presented productions and co-productions from Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait, Germany Czech Republic, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Canada, India, Poland, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, South Africa and Zimbabwe. She is Executive Producer and the only non-Iraqi founder member of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Theatre Company, which won Best Production of 2012 for their latest production, Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, which has been seen in the UK, Qatar and Iraq in 2012 and will tour to Germany and USA in 2013/14. Later this year she joins Historic Royal Palaces as Head of Creative Programming, with responsibility for a new programme of artistic projects across the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Banqueting House.
Brian Whitaker is a journalist and former Middle East Editor of the Guardian newspaper. He is the author of two books about the region, "What's Really Wrong with the Middle East" and "Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East". His website, www.al-bab.com, is devoted to Arab culture and politics.