As the deaths mount from Covid-19, Arab artists, writers, musicians and curators are pondering what their place will be in the post-coronavirus world.
Some hope that the shift to more art online will democratize art, making it more accessible to those who can’t afford a ticket to a major art exhibition in Dubai or Venice or a performance at the Cairo Opera House. Others ponder aloud about putting art in supermarkets and other businesses still allowed to be open in a world shut down in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes.
But while art and music fans are reveling in the sudden availability of art online, artists dependent on sales for income are not clear about more basic questions, like how they will pay their rent and what will become of their careers.
What is clear is that the sweep of cancellations of concerts, film festivals, and art fairs has decimated the Arab culture calendar for the spring, and probably into the summer.
Live Events Are Canceled or in Limbo
This is usually a busy time of year for art, with talks, art exhibitions, fairs and biennials taking place. Sharjah’s annual March Meeting, Jeddah’s first film festival and the Art Dubai fair were all cancelled, postponed or hastily reformatted as digital-only events as the scope of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear. It has yet to be confirmed whether Jordan’s Jerash cultural festival, the biggest event of its kind in the kingdom and regularly held in July, will go on this summer.
Book launches and author tours have also been cancelled owing to travel restrictions. This year’s run of Palfest, the Palestine Festival of Literature, cancelled, and Abu Dhabi’s International Book Fair, set for April 15 to 21, has been postponed, initially to the end of May.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
For the Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany, author of the best-selling book The Yacoubian Building and recipient of many awards, including the International Cavafy Award, it meant the postponement of a lecture and signing tour in Europe for his new book, The Dictatorship Syndrome. “It’s a setback,” he said, “but once things resolve themselves I’ll travel again. I’ve been using this time instead to focus on writing and continuing my work from home.”