Art in the press

Arab artists on the move. (Discussion) Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Also on Friday, Los Angeles Times reporter Ashraf Khalil, artist Emily Jacir, and filmmakers Omar Naim and Jackie Salloum participated in a well-attended afternoon panel on "Arabs in Arts and Media."

Speaking as an Arab-American working for a major news outlet, Khalil observed that "9/11 and the Iraq war have, ironically enough, boosted our careers," because now there is an "urgent need to understand the Arab world."

Given this "sense of mission"--and following mentors like Helen Thomas, now a syndicated columnist for Hearst Newspapers; The Washington Post's Nora Bustany; and her colleague Anthony Shadid, who won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize and whom Khalil described as his generation's "patron saint"--Khalil said he works to "add depth, humanity, to this back and forth."
While he did not face serious censorship as a reporter in the Baghdad bureau, Khalil told the audience, "The politics begins with Israel-Palestine." The "final frontier," he concluded, "is to see an Arab American covering Jerusalem."

Naim, director of "The Final Cut" with Robin Williams, said that he feels a great deal of pressure working in mainstream Hollywood without making specifically "Arab films." "I don't know what that is," he confessed. "I'm an Arab and I made a film; it's an Arab film."

Arabs should be in the arts, he elaborated, "not to see Arab views, but to see individual views of human beings who happen to be Arab."

Describing her art as internal conversations for Palestinians, Jacir said that she often feels that, in public displays of her work, "our sorrows and dreams are entertainment for other people."
The audience loved Jacir's descriptions of her work, particularly a 2001 guerrilla art project in which she asked 60 Palestinians to place personal ads on the same day in the Village Voice with two constraints: Ads must be seeking a Jewish mate so that they could return to their homeland and participants must refer to themselves as Semitic. Jacir read clips of news articles from the New York Post and U.S. News and World Report which, confused by the reasons and coordination of these ads, could only conclude that it was a terrorist plot.
Salloum described her work in various forms of media, including toys, gum ball machines and film, and presented the trailer for her upcoming film "Sling Shot Hip-Hop: The Palestinian Lyrical Front," which is in the final stages of completion.

All of the panelists emphasized the importance of supporting Arabs in the arts. Khalil decried the pressure many Arab parents put on their children to pursue careers in the hard sciences, saying "we need more liberal arts Arabs," while Naim urged parents to "make your children feel like this is a worthwhile thing to do" and to support Arab artists. "We don't need big hotels in the middle of the desert," he said. Supporting Arab artists "will make such a huge difference," he concluded. "I think we're ready to take up the challenge and fill this huge gap."

COPYRIGHT 2006 American Educational Trust - 8/1/2006; Horton, Matt