Organized by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture - AFAC
in collaboration with Kulte Center for Contemporary Art & Editions
and in partnership with the HIBA Foundation
Curated by Tarek El-Ariss and Rasha Salti
On Entering the Garden, which brings to mind Asmahan’s famous song, is the second installment of AFAC’s 15th anniversary celebration that launched in Berlin in January 2023 with Cultures of Scandal. Approaching Arab culture and arts from the perspective of “the garden” allows us to continue the critical examination of knowledge production and community formation in the region and its diaspora at a time characterized by experiences of loss and environmental collapse. Turning to “the garden” is an attempt to reactivate the senses and configure new modes of knowing and imagining at this historical juncture.
One of the most pervasive and vital tropes in Arab culture, “the garden” traverses poetic, literary, musical, visual and architectural imaginaries from antiquity through the modern era. From representations of desert oases (al-wahat) to incarnations of paradise (al-janna), gardens have given life to a language and a faith, and lent their names to cities across the region (like Riyadh and Aden, to cite two examples).
Whether wild or human-made, gardens appear prominently in classics of Arabic literature as the privileged stage of myriad transformative carnal, physical, and spiritual encounters. We find gardens in the playfully subversive stories of the Arabian Nights, in Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Nefzawi’s manual of erotology, The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delights, and in Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi’s sufi uplift of spiritual love in Alhambra’s gardens in The Bezels of Wisdom.
Starting in the 19th century with the Nahda or the Arab intellectual and cultural renaissance, “the garden” became the primary metaphor for modern society and community. With merely recalling the titles of Nahda journals and newspapers like al-Jinan (The Gardens), al-Junaina (The Little Garden), and Hadiqat al-Akhbar (The News Garden), the importance of the garden for thinking about Arab culture in the modern age becomes obvious. More specifically, the relation between art and culture as the garden’s harvest is a key site of Nahda thought as attested by newspapers such as Thamarat al-Funun (Fruits of the Arts). The notions of art and culture that we have today could be traced back to these publications and conceptualizations of a community that had to contend with great challenges from the fall of empires, the rise of new technologies, and the advent of colonialism. Revisiting them today by entering the garden is necessary to assess our current condition and reflect on our future prospects.
On Entering the Garden convenes academics, poets, novelists, filmmakers and performers to revisit the notion of garden as it deploys in various registers of intellectual and cultural production in our contemporary moment of decolonizing ideas and practices, ecological collapse, and drastic political polarization. The questions we hope to address are: What is the Arab garden of knowledge and culture in the age of the Anthropocene? What new discourses on sustainability, the environment, and diversity does the garden generate? What new modes of sensing and imagining emerge on entering the garden?
Stefania Pandolfo is professor of Anthropology and Medical Anthropology, and member of the Program in Critical Theory at The University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Impasse of the Angels: Scenes from a Moroccan Space of Memory (1997) and Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam (2018).
Rim Battal is a French/Moroccan poet, artist and journalist who currently lives between Paris and Marrakech. Battal devoted herself to artistic photography and writing following studies in journalism at the Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication (ISIC) in Rabat. In 2013, she was an artist in residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts de Paris and the Studio IWA of Casablanca. Since 2016, she has been practicing performed readings of her texts at the Bordel de la Poésie in Paris. Her latest publications are Mine de Rien (Le Castor Astral, 2022) and Pommes Girl (Kulte Editions, 2023).
Souad Labbize is a poet and novelist. Before settling in Toulouse, Labbize lived in Algiers, in Germany and in Tunis where she taught French. After the release of her first novel J'aurais voulu être un escargot, Labbize published collections of poems, including Brouillons amoureux (2017) and Je franchis les barbelés (2019).
Hamed Sinno is a composer, writer, performer, and social justice advocate, based in New York. Their research uses performance to explore the vocal organ and digital vocality as sites of political negotiation. H writes and lectures about popular culture as engaged practice. They have been the lyricist and front-person for Mashrou Leila since 2008. They have a BFA from the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut, and an MA in Digital Musics from Dartmouth College. Their debut full-length opera, Westerly Breath, was in development at The Industry Los Angeles, and opens at the New York Met Museum in January 2024.Their solo debut, Poems of Consumption, explores the overlaps of consumerism, mental illness, and environmental crisis. Poems of Consumption opened at London’s Barbican Centre in July 2023.
Salim Mrad is a Lebanese author and director. He has directed short personal documentaries like A letter to my sister (2008) in which he started his exploration of his family dynamics and A Trip to the barbershop (Yamagata Intl Film Fest 2009). He has also directed medium-length fictions like The demolition (2011) and X: the conception (2012), in which he mixes reality and fiction. His first feature documentary This Little Father Obsession (Visions du Réel 2016) deepens the filmmaker’s queer gaze on notions of procreation and transmission. Mrad also released a political trilogy of the body: Linceul (2018), Cortex (2019), and Agate Mousse (2020). He published his first book Muffins in 2022.
Abdellah Taïa is a Moroccan novelist and filmmaker who has been residing in Paris since 1998. He writes in French and published several books that were widely translated, including Le Jour de roi, which was awarded the prestigious French Prix de Flore in 2010. An adaptation of his novel L'Armée du salut was his first feature film, released in 2014, which screened at major festivals around the world, and was hailed by the New York Times as giving "the Arab world its first on-screen gay protagonist." Taïa made history in 2006 by coming out in his country, where homosexuality is illegal. His commitment to the defense of homosexuals in Muslim countries has made him one of the most prominent Arab writers of his generation - both "a literary transgressor and cultural paragon," according to Interview magazine.
Driss Ksikes is a Moroccan fiction and nonfiction writer, playwright, and scholar of media and culture. He is a professor of methodology and creative writing, and the director of Economia, HEM research center in Rabat. His book Le métier d’intellectuel : dialogues avec quinze penseurs du Maroc (The intellectual craft: interviews with 15 Moroccan thinkers), co-authored with Fadma Aït Mous, won the Prix Grand Atlas, Morocco’s most prestigious book prize in 2015. His main focus during the last ten years has been the relationship between art, knowledge production and public space. He is currently leading a research project supported by AFAC on the performing arts sector in the Arab region.
Hicham Bouzid is a creative director, editor, and curator based in Tangier, Morocco. Over the course of his 13-year career, he has collaborated with various cultural institutions and foundations worldwide, with a particular focus on examining the complex dynamics of Morocco’s urban and social landscapes under neoliberal policies over the past 25 years. Bouzid is the co-founder of Think Tanger, a cultural organization that combines multidisciplinary design practices, social innovation, and research. Under the umbrella of Think Tanger, Bouzid runs the Tanger Print Club, an art residency, publishes MAKAN, an annual journal, and has recently inaugurated a new cultural hub: The Kiosk. He is currently serving as a mentor for the program Building Beyond of The Prince Claus Fund Netherlands and has been appointed as a faculty member for the program Raw Académie in Senegal.
Zahia Rahmani is an art historian and writer of fiction, memoirs and cultural criticism. She is the director of the Art History and Globalization Research Program at the National Institute for Art History (INHA-Paris), an interdisciplinary program that focuses on contemporary artistic practices in a globalized world. She is also the author of a literary trilogy devoted to contemporary figures of the so-called banished men: Moze, 2003; Musulman, 2005 and France, récit d’une enfance, 2006, published by Sabine Wespieser Editor. In 2020, she was awarded the Albertine Book Prize for Musulman. She is currently conducting two research projects: Seismography of struggles - Towards a global history of critical and cultural journals and Lost paradises, Colonisation of Landscapes, Destruction of Eco-anthroposystems.
Adnane Baraka is a Moroccan independent filmmaker born in Marrakech. In 2011, he earned a degree in directing from ESAV film school in Marrakech. In 2010, he directed his first short documentary Talbanine about a remote and isolated school in the mountains. In 2019, he finished his first feature-length documentary APEX-Wandering stars, about three blind young Moroccans. Fragments from Heaven is a film that Baraka has been working on since 2014. The film was shot in multiple intervals between 2017 and 2019. Baraka is also a musician exploring sound experiments through his InCave and SENT projects.
Peter Limbrick is Professor and Chair of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Arab Modernism as World Cinema: The Films of Moumen Smihi (2020) and Making Settler Cinemas: Film and Colonial Encounters in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand (2010) and he has published on postcolonial and transnational cinemas in Framework, Third Text, Camera Obscura, and other journals. In 2022 he was Camus/AMIDEX chair at l’IMéRA, Aix-Marseille University. He is currently working on a book about Moroccan filmmaker and writer Ahmed Bouanani and his circle.
Rana Elnemr's practice is anchored in questioning what it means to live & experience place and time. Her process incorporates formal image-making techniques with contemporary art & strives to integrate various forms of collaborations & alternative pedagogical practices. Elnemr's work has been exhibited & acquired world-wide. In 2004, she was one of the founders of the Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) of which she remains an active board member.
Grégory Quenet is one of the pioneers of environmental history and humanities in France. Since 2012, he has been, and still is, the first and only professor in environmental history in France, at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (Paris-Saclay). Founder of the French Environmental Humanities Platform, he organized the 8th Congress of the European Society for Environmental History in Versailles in 2015. He was a member of the French World Heritage Committee and an expert for Taputapuatea marae, classified as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Hoda Barakat is a Lebanese author residing in Paris. Her novels include Stone of Laughter (1990), Disciples of Passion (1993), and Voices of the Lost (2017). Published in over 20 languages, Barakat’s work earned her great critical acclaim and many honors and awards including The Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature (2001), the Chevalier des arts et des lettres de l’Ordre du Mérite from the French Presidency (2008), and the International Prize of Arabic Fiction (2019). She was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2008), the Institute for Advanced Study at the Central European University in Budapest (2017), and Dartmouth’s Montgomery Fellows Program (2023). She taught at the University of Texas at Austin (2013) and the University of Virginia (2014), and regularly teaches at Dartmouth College.
Farouk Mardam-Bey is a Paris-based Syrian intellectual, historian, and editor of the Sindbad collection from Actes Sud. He is the author and co-author of many books including Itinéraires de Paris à Jérusalem, la France et le conflit israélo-arabe (1992-1993), La Cuisine de Ziryab (1998), Traité du Pois Chiche (1998), Dans la tête de Bachar al-Assad (2015). He also translated the works of poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Saadi Youssef.
Myriam El Haïk is a French-Moroccan artist born in Rabat in 1973. She is a visual artist, composer and performer. Her creative language is based on the repetition and combination of minimal patterns and actions. The act of writing and play are central to her approach. Deconstructing and subverting conventions, she loves to set her own rules when it comes to creating her pieces. Active in Berlin, Paris and Rabat, she participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Europe and Morocco. Additionally, she took part in several international fairs and festivals, among which the 2022 Berlin Biennale.
Youssef El Tekhin is a reciter and percussionist. He received traditional training on Arabic percussion instruments in Damascus, and studied classical Arabic rhythm at the Music Academy in Cairo. He is co-founder of the Oriental Dance & Music Workshop in Berlin; documentarist for oriental society and culture (productions for the House of World Cultures, Sender Freies Berlin and Channel Four-London, the Berliner Festspiele and Schloss Neuhardenberg); lecturer for rhythm theory at the music school Leo Kestenberg in Tempelhof-Schöneberg; since 1980 participation in numerous bands of different styles. El Tekhin is guided in his artistic work by the conviction that modernity can only spring from deep roots in tradition.
Yasmina Naji is a curator and the founding director of Kulte Gallery & Editions. She holds a Masters degree in Moral and Political Philosophy and in Editorial Advisory, and is a PhD student in Political Philosophy at La Sorbonne Paris IV. As a curator, Naji has organized more than 20 individual and collective exhibitions which included artists like Yto Barrada, Faouzi Laatiris, Kiluandji Kia Henda, Younès Rahmoun, Touda Bouanani and Aida Muluneh.
Tarek El-Ariss is an author, a scholar, and the James Wright Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College. Trained in philosophy, literary theory, and visual and cultural studies, his work deals with questions of displacement, modernity, and the somatic in literature and culture. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham, 2013) and Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (Princeton, 2019), and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (MLA, 2018). In 2021, he received a Guggenheim fellowship to complete his book, Water on Fire: A Memoir of War (Other Press, 2024).
Rasha Salti is an independent curator of art and film.
Rima Mismar is the Executive Director of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC).
Marwane Fachane is the Executive Director of HIBA Foundation.
The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – AFAC was established in 2007 by cultural lobbyists as an independent initiative that funds individuals and organizations in the fields of cinema, performing arts, literature, music, and visual arts while facilitating cultural exchange, research, and cooperation across the Arab world and globally. AFAC’s work is divided into five strategic areas: providing grants, developing training programs, building and sharing knowledge, broadening the pool of supporters for the arts, and cultivating appreciation for and engagement with contemporary arts and culture productions by connecting them with audiences. Based in Beirut, AFAC works with artists and organizations all over the Arab region and the rest of the world.
Kulte is a cultural platform dedicated to contemporary art, established in 2013 in Rabat. Kulte is primarily an independent publishing house (Kulte Editions), yet also includes a printing studio (Studio Riso), a café, a library, and an exhibition space. The structure’s editorial and artistic programming aims to reflect the richness of contemporary regional creation and production while stimulating interactions between artists, the public and the various players, be they cultural or economic. Convinced of the relevance of the printed object as a critical resource, Kulte focuses on publishing art books at affordable prices, translated in Arabic, French, and English, with the goal of allowing contemporary art – and its often political content – to be discovered and appreciated by a larger audience.
The HIBA Foundation was established in 2006 to develop various art forms, such as music, theater, dance, humor, street arts, photography, design, fashion and video. It supports, incubates private initiatives, encourages talent and participates in developing emerging arts by prioritizing contemporary creations. It also gives access to information on Morocco’s arts and culture sector to strengthen cohesion between cultural actors and the public.