Compared to the French, Danish cultural production keeps a relatively low profile around Beirut. This weekend, however, a warehouse space in Corniche al-Nahr will host a brief florescence of Danish and Arab art.
Saturday’s Danish-Arab Urban Arts Festival promises a 12-hour program of events that range from puppet theater, hip-hop performance, film screenings, recycled art workshops, poetry readings, an Eastern-Western fusion music jam, plastic arts exhibitions, contemporary dance performances and late night DJ séances.
This first (and in all likelihood only) edition of this festival has arisen from the efforts of the Danish Embassy in Lebanon, the Danish Center for Culture and Development and the Lebanese event management company Tarte aux Poires.
Featuring an array of artists from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Denmark, the one-day festival has been in the works since August 2011, when the Danish and Lebanese co-organizers agreed to pool their respective artist networks.
Selected participants were put in contact to create formal (financial) and informal collaborations, the fruit of which will be on show all day Saturday.
“Lebanon is rich with potential for cultural activities,” said Maria Lindhardt, the Danish Embassy’s tirelessly enthusiastic cultural attaché, “and we, along with the DCCD, could see the potential, the strength of doing an event like this; for the alternative urban artist in Lebanon and the wider region.”
In discussing the festival’s many purposes for the artists involved, Lindhardt said the event will provide a platform for a genre of art often overlooked by the region’s conservative governments and domestic audiences.
“These alternative expressions are largely isolated to small crowds who know where to look and are already in that environment,” Lindhardt noted. “However, looking at the rest of the region, artists and art in and of itself is a big part of changing societies, along with [the] expression [of] criticism.
“Not to say we’re telling them to be critical!” Lindhardt laughed, a tad nervously, “but in alternative art there’s this characteristic awareness.”
The festival is comprised of six different elements, each devoted to a different media – exhibitions of film, dance, plastic arts and music stand alongside poetry readings, workshops and digital communication – aka the art of blogging.
The events have been scheduled to be staged in a meticulously decentralized manner. As there is no “main stage” to dominate the event, artists and their work will be presented to spectators in a spirit of egalitarianism.
The Hakawati-inflected Les Amis Marionettes will be on hand with Asdikaa al-Duma, the mobile puppet theater, to present a pair of interactive plays (at 3:30 and 7 p.m. respectively).
There will also be a graffiti workshop featuring the work of Danish, Syrian and Lebanese urban artists – including Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri, The Tangent Space Art Collective, Nathalie Yared, Alexandra Warde and EPS, Phat2 and Chad the Mad.
Danish recycling artist Thomas Dambo (who specializes in creating art out of waste materials) will be collaborating with local street artists to produce a site-specific piece for the Warehouse space hosting the event.
The Kids’ Urban Garden’ will host drawing lessons for the youngsters and display flipbooks produced by Lebanese artists, as well as a reading and poetry corner.
The festival also promises to screen a pair of feature-length Danish animated children’s films. “The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear” is centered on the rivalry of two families – one human, the other not – when, after the death of his own cub, a male polar bear steals a newborn child from a nearby human couple.
“A Tale of Two Mozzies” tells the story of a pair of mosquitoes, Dagmar and Egon, who are drawn into an exciting forest floor drama when Dominella, the wicked red ant queen, and her soldiers kill the black ant queen and take over her hill.
For those too old for the Kids’ Urban Garden, the highlights of the festival include the screening of “Shatila Girls,” with filmmakers Ina Lindgreen & Kamilla Bruus on hand for a post-screening Q & A at 6:30 p.m. The film is a product of a Danish-Lebanese project called “Capturing my Camp” in which Danish film professionals worked with young girls from refugee camps to make their own films.
The festival will also project a six-film program of Danish and Lebanese shorts – all developed in a cooperative effort involving the Danish Film School and Screen Institute Beirut.
Other adult highlights include a contemporary dance performance by Danish ensemble “Mancopy,” which will be performed among the crowd, at 6:30 p.m., and a set by Syrian rapper Omar Offendum (at 11:45 p.m.).
For DJ Rita Christina Biza – who will be performing during the late-night performance set as a member of the DJ duo LadyBox – interactive happenings like this festival are important. “The more connected, the more you collaborate,” she said, “the better the art.”
The Danish-Arab Urban Arts Festival runs from 3 p.m. Saturday to 4:30 a.m. Sunday at Solea 5 (immediately across from the Beirut Art Center), Corniche al-Nadr. Entrance is free. For more information, please visit: urbanartsbeirut.com, or call 03/045007.