A Syrian and an Emirati have got together to create the Berlin Cultural Majlis as a gathering place for Arab émigrés, Germans and others interested in Arab art and culture.
Zaitoun holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Davidson College, in North Carolina in the United States, and a master’s degree in public administration from Germany’s Zeppelin University. He currently works for a company specialising in project financing and development.
Al Qassemi, who holds a master’s in global banking and finance from Regent’s University London, is the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation. He is also a writer and commentator on Arab affairs, and has taught “Politics of Modern Middle Eastern Art” at numerous universities, including Bard College Berlin.
The two decided to create the Berlin Cultural Majlis in an endeavor to boost the Arab community’s artistic and cultural engagement in Germany. They plan to run weekly events in the majlis with artists, poets, filmmakers, and intellectuals from the Middle East. The Barjeel Art Foundation is funding the initiative.
The word “majlis” refers to an informal gathering space for conversations on various topics. The tradition, common in the Arab Gulf region, was inscribed in 2015 on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Zaitoun hopes the Berlin Cultural Majlis will boost Arab culture and art in Germany and in Berlin in particular.
The Berlin Cultural Majlis aims to boost the Arab community’s artistic and cultural engagement in Germany. It was founded by Hani Zaitoun, a Syrian who resides in Berlin, and Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation.
The idea is to give Arab artists based in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe a platform to communicate with the local Arab community and a place for those interested in Arab art and culture to get to know each other. It also aims to give other interested visitors a chance to learn about Arab art and culture.
Zaitoun told Al-Fanar Media that his studies in the United States had convinced him of the need to form groups to empower Arab communities abroad, culturally and professionally. “We chose Berlin because Germany embraces millions of Arabs and Muslims,” he said, “and because Berlin is well-known for its cultural and ethnic diversity.”
Al Qassemi and Zaitoun hope the majlis will spark a series of lively discussions of contemporary Arab art through exhibitions and loans of art work to leading international institutions and forums.
Al Qassemi said that the Arab presence in the west had increased dramatically over the past two decades and that there was now much more Arab art exhibited in western cities.
The Berlin majlis has already hosted several events, including discussions with Rula Khoury, a Palestinian scholar who talked about Palestinian art inside the “Green Line”, the border that once separated Israel from the Palestinian territories controlled by Jordan and Egypt, and Ziad Dalloul, a Paris-based Syrian artist who talked about his 50-year artistic career.
“We chose Berlin because Germany embraces millions of Arabs and Muslims and because Berlin is well-known for its cultural and ethnic diversity.”Hani Zaitoun, a founder of the Berlin Cultural Majlis
Al Qassemi told Al-Fanar Media that the Berlin Cultural Majlis was an extension of the idea of the majlis he established in the United States five years ago. Called “The Cultural Majlis”, it has toured New York, Washington and Boston, introducing people to Arab culture and art.
More than 400 people registered for activities of the Berlin majlis in its first month through the Oyoun Cultural Centre’s website. They came from other German cities and neighbouring countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, Zaitoun said.
Khaled Rajab, an Arab who lives in Berlin, said the sessions had stimulated discussions among hundreds of attendees about Arab art and culture.
“We need these events to keep going and to be copied in other German cities for the large numbers of Arabs residents in the country,” Rajab told Al-Fanar Media. “The most important aspect of these sessions is the freedom of discussions and the diversity of topics and speakers.”
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