London’s annual Nour Festival returns to the multicultural metropolis 20 October-6 November 2016, promising to highlight “the best of contemporary arts and culture from the Middle East and North Africa.” Sadly the festival’s overarching mission is challenged and overshadowed by unprecedented turmoil and fragmentation in the region it celebrates and showcases.
As the five-year-old festival’s audiences have come to know, nour means light in several languages of MENA. The word is replete with secular and religious, temporal and spiritual nuances in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu and many other languages besides. It’s a ready metaphor and a fitting title for a festival celebrating a whole range of art from performance to literature to visual. (A forerunner in Los Angeles, Noor Iranian Film Festival, has focused on cinema, mainly from Iran, since 2007).
But nour or light is in short supply these days and not just in the Middle East. As Europe awaits with bated breath some chink of light from America’s darkening horizons, Europe must first extinguish the fires being lit in unexpected corners by Britain’s controversial vote on Europe. Neither aspiration nor ambition nor endeavour seem an appropriate panacea—and it’s only just the beginning of who may know what.
Amidst these gross and gruesome uncertainties, art as ever offers some welcome solace, as does that mother of all intangibles, hope.
The festival’s programme suggests that optimism prevails amidst forbidding tableaux of turmoil and despair. The promise that something positive may lurk in dark places, when we least expect it, is the fuel that drives many a despondent spirit.
Art has come to the festival from places torn by trouble and strife. To be sure, more of it would have come, but for the circumstances beyond control of many of those wanting to take part, and not least of the obstacles being visa curbs in the aftermath of Brexit.
Several of the countries featured in the festival are among those caught amidst mindless wrecking of the arts, civilisations, culture and society in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. The violators of civilians and civilisations include countries that fund art, art fairs and art museums in their own lands, so how ironic is that?
And while they are at it, the conflicts they are blindly bankrolling are setting in store future deprivation that will divest their own citizenry not only of art but of basic comforts. Because funds meant for public welfare in posterity are squandered on weapons in pursuit of illusions of power.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands seeking refuge from war have perished or been reduced to humiliation in Europe. Many of those homeless would have produced more art, for festivals such as this one, but now they struggle for shelter and sustenance.
Still, art seldom fails to touch the heart or change our lives, however imperceptibly. The festival’s potential for entertainment, education and reflection no doubt is immense and suitable for people of diverse persuasions and tastes, but the suggestion of hope is a bonus. © Sajid Rizvi.
Nour Festival is coordinated by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea