Freedom of Voice – an Interview with Rasha Hilwi,
FLAXzine 5, July 7th, 2018 / Article by Maya Hanano
Rasha Hilwi is a freelance writer and cultural journalist. Her texts are published in major Arab newspapers, online media, and cultural platforms. Since she moved to Berlin, she started writing a weekly column for Deutsche Welle, an online Arabic website in Germany for the opinion section on women, gender, love and social affairs. She also writes on culture and art scenes and tells the stories of people and places in Al- Araby Al-Jadeed, Syria Untold, Fann Magazin, Romman Magazine, Vice Arabic, Raseef 22 and more.
Rasha Hilwi is a Palestinian born in Akka who decided to take a journey to find herself. First, she decided to go to Quds, Jerusalem, where she stayed one year before continuing her studies at the University of Haifa. She also had to stay in Ramallah for a year and a half. She was a shy girl that kept to herself and stayed in her own room. No questions asked. No criticism. Her father had always understood and encouraged her to find her true self in music and writing. As she became older, her need to communicate with other people grew. It was finally time for her to get out. She felt the need to actually write stories about people’s lives and histories, as she could not believe the injustice of the political situation in her homeland and in the world, in addition to the corruption that enveloped her society.
With her inspiration growing, she had the power of taking a pen and providing those who were weaker at times with the voice they needed to finally be heard. Even though Rasha was creative, intelligent and independent, she eventually got tired and felt that her voice was not being heard either. Her fear was hindering her, but never stopped her.
Unfortunately, she no longer felt inspired. Her father sadly became ill and passed away. “I have never felt more sad and down, but arriving to this level showed me that I still want to love people. I wanna love and wanna be loved (sic). Every person deserves to experience love.”
An opportunity in Germany came to her. She did not hesitate to relocate to the place that would finally permit her to be the person she had always been as a child, and to live in a city that fosters friendships with people from the Arab region. Happiness filled her heart, knowing that the stories of her people would finally be heard.
She had been right all along, and she had always set her mind on it: success. She took the opportunity and travelled to spread people’s words in search of her own happiness. One day, Rasha was drawn into a shop in Sonnenallee by the smell of Syrian food. She went in and allowed herself to taste the source of the delicious smell and talk to interesting people. She felt at home. She exposed her music by becoming a DJ. As DJ Hilwi, she plays music and songs from the Middle East, North Africa, West and South Asia and Eastern Europe. She considers DJing to be like storytelling or writing.
She is now a famous Arab journalist and one of the greatest DJs in bars, clubs and sometimes house parties. She feels empowered and has never been happier. Although she misses home, she knows that she has a mission to complete in her life.
Rasha’s guiding words:
“Sadness is easier than happiness. Love and happiness need strength. It’s our right as humans to love and be loved”
“Facing fear build strength. Face your fear, love, be honest and never quit on finding your happiness. You will always find a home for you somewhere.”
An interview with Farzad Fadai and Lea Connert of Hajusom in Hamburg
FLAXzine 4, May 31th, 2018 / Article by Lisa Mayerhöfer
Lisa (L): Please introduce yourselves.
Lea Connert (LC): My name is Lea, I have a background in directing and theatre studies, and I’ve been producing and managing Hajusom’s work for almost five years now. I’m a freelancer, so I work for other groups as well.
Farzad Fadai (FF): My name is Farzad, and I am currently studying social work. Before that I studied media technique. I currently hold a scholarship by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung. I have been a member of Hajusom for ten years now. At Hajusom we have many different groups, so five years ago I began to lead a group for the younger generation; it focuses on theatre and film, and I am now as well in charge of the kids group. There is also a hip hop dance group, a band and a gardening workshop.
LC: Farzad also takes care of the psychosocial counselling, in cooperation with another social worker and a psychotherapist.
FF: I forgot about that!
L: Please describe what Hajusom is.
FF: For me, Haujom is first of all something like family. We have so many members who don’t actively work there anymore, but when they come back, they are still part of Hajusom. This is also true for the active part of the participants – everybody feels like family around each other. And this is also why I have stayed for ten years. At first it was a hobby and now it is more about political issues, as well as me working there as a freelancer. So it’s all in one.
LC: Seen from the structural side – I am sorry, this is my job – Hajusom started as a theatre workshop for minor unaccompanied refugees, and the artistic directors who where asked to do this workshop just continued working after the first presentation. After they continued their work for about ten years, Hajusom first turned from a project into an association, and then into a transnational centre with many different branches. We have the ensemble work, we have the newcomer groups, we offer counselling and we also give workshops, and we are trying to figure out what the Hajusom method is and if we can transfer it to other groups or projects.
L: How would you describe the theatre scene in Germany to someone who just starts working here?
LC: You really have to imagine two worlds. There is the official Stadttheater (municipal theatre) scene, which is very well funded and has existed for about 300 years, and then there is the so-called “Freie Szene” (independent scene) that has only been existing for probably 50 years now. They don’t communicate a lot with each other, they are just starting to do that now. We are an independent theatre group so we are almost exclusively working in the Freie Szene. Which is growing very fast because a lot of people do not want to be associated with the Stadttheater anymore, because the structure behind them can be very rigid. The Freie Szene is a very open-minded and warm scene. Generally speaking, I think people really try to support each other. Solidarity as well as leftist ideas are important, and it is probably also a little less authoritarian. But this is just my experience; it might be that some people have made horrible experiences in the Freie Szene as well.
L: If someone arrives in Germany and she or he is an actor, actress or director, and they want to pick up their work by joining a group, can you simply approach them?
LC: Hard to tell. From my experience that usually doesn’t work.
FF: I would agree, but maybe some groups work like that by now.
LC: I think working in theatre mostly relies on personal connections. You really have to show up at events and talk to people and network, network, network. Because that is the part that is missing, if you did not already go to a theatre school in Germany. If you did, you would know a lot of people who you can call and ask if they want to do a project together. And if you don’t have that, you need really strong social skills and just talk to people and find out if you’re on the same page artistically speaking. Though, it is probably way easier if you are an actor or an actress to join an existing group.
L: And if some people got together and wanted to start an independent group, what would be the first steps?
LC: You might have to become some kind of formal group, which is a pretty bureaucratic process. It can be an association (Verein), it could be a GbR (Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts) – those are the easiest to organize legally. You might have to open an account at a bank before you can apply for any kind of funding. You also should develop a concept, like a play you want to do or an original play, you want to write or a totally different idea.
The easiest way to apply for funding is at the cultural institution of your city, like the Behörde für Kultur und Medien in Hamburg and Berlin or the Kulturreferat in Munich, or however it is called in your city. And it does help a lot to call them and ask any question that you might have. Ask them if somebody is working there who could read your concept. Or tell you how to draw up a budget.
There are a lot of different ways to do that and there are a lot of training opportunities in the Freie Szene for independent artists in regard to that. Maybe someone with more experience can help you and look over your budget. You have to think about so many things: Where are you going to rehearse? Where are you going to show it? Because most of the time you need a letter of intent from a theatre or some sort of theatre space which says that they will be able to host you. And really, try to find out if there is any kind of counselling for freelance artists, because usually there is.
L: Can you name any?
LC: I only know the one in Hamburg by name: the Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft. You can call them!
L: You already breached the topic, but to expand on it: where can you apply for funding?
LC: In probably every city there is some sort of cultural institute that you can apply at. You might be able to apply for federal funding as well, because I do not think you have to be a German citizen for that. You could also apply for federal funding at the Kulturstiftung des Bundes, but then you will have to have a producer who speaks German very well, because the rules for applying and the laws for accounting are federal laws, and if you don’t follow them, you will get fined.
There are a lot of private institutes as well who are willing to fund. There exists a foundation search engine for that: https://stiftungssuche.de/
L:Where can you find spaces to rehearse and play in cities?
FF: At Hajusom, we rent our own space. Once again, it’s all about networking and connections. Some official institutes offer spaces too. If you are enrolled in university for example.
L:So, it really seems to be a good idea to find out what the independent scene in your city is doing and go there and connect with people…
LC: In Hamburg and Berlin there are so-called Dachverbände for the independent theatre scenes: DfdK in Hamburg and LAFT in Berlin. They have search engines for rooms. You can also call them for funding, but I don’t know if there is any kind of organization like that in other cities as well. (Editorial note – there is: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundesverband_Freier_Theater)
L: Back to Hajusom – it feels like it is really important to you to not only acquire knowledge but to also pass it on. It is about the people coming after you.
FF: It is like that. In my opinion, it is about solidarity: if new people are coming and they really want to do art or theatre, we are open. Of course, it also always depends on capacities. But passing on knowledge is one of the most important things.
L:I find that very refreshing. Because maybe speaking for the arts in general, I feel like people are often hesitant to pass on knowledge or open gates for others.
LC: We use the term, ‘For each one, teach one.’ Like Farzad, who is now leading two groups. But then we also have artists like the two musicians who lead the music group who weren’t members of the ensemble, but we knew them and simply approached them. The idea is that we learn from each other we teach each other and new generations of teachers and trainers can grow from this idea.
L: If some of our readers are stationed in Hamburg, would it be a good idea to check out your program and approach you?
LC: Yes, we are especially open for interns or assistants, so if people are interested in doing that… What we don’t offer is space. But if you are interested in leading one of the groups, we can get to know each other and keep in touch and see if a space opens up – however, it’s a lot about trust and takes time.
L: What do you like about the German theatre scene?
LC: The scene is huge, a lot of people do theatre, even though not that many people watch it. But you can basically do whatever you like, if you can afford it. You don’t have to work with text, you can only work with movement and still call it theatre. You don’t have to write a script, you can just work with sound. You can work with actors or non-actors or dancers or young people or old people or animals or everything at the same time. At least that’s the case for the Freie Szene!
L: Can you give me an example of what you are working on right now?
FF: In the theatre and film group, we are deciding on a new name. So far it has been “Cosmic Supermovies.” The performance we are working on right now is about future cities and future solidary communities. We will show the piece at the New Hamburg Festival: SoliPolis in Hamburg in September, organized by the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg.
LC: And all the newcomer groups are involved in the festival as well, so the garden group and music group and so on will be showing something there as well. The ensemble is working on post-colonialism and the postcolonial history of Hamburg, as well as the experience of colonial oppression. The resulting piece will be shown at Kampnagel in Hamburg.
L: Anything left to say?
LC: It is all about personal relationships. Be nice to each other. Solidarity!
L: Thank you very much!
“A Better Man: A personal Documentary about Violence Against Women“
FLAXzine 3, April 30th, 2018 / Article by Zeina Kanawati
An interview with the film’s director, who survived domestic violence and made a documentary featuring her abusive partner.
Canadian director Attiya Khan raises the issue of domestic violence in her documentary, A Better Man(2018), without any beautification. In this film, she reveals the intimate details of her relationship with the boyfriend she had twenty years ago, when she was only eighteen years old. Steve was her first love, and he began abusing her while they lived together. He was one year older than her, and was also his first relationship.
Steve was physically and emotionally abusive towards Attiya on a daily basis throughout their two-year relationship. She was afraid to escape, and although they attended the same high school, no one helped her, despite the brutal signs of violence and bruises on her body.
Attiya managed to run away one day, after facing the fact that she might die if she stayed in the relationship.
Twenty years later, her body has healed, but she never recovered on the inside, and she feels the need to continue processing what happened, and why it happened to her. So, she decided to get in touch with Steve again to ask him: “Have you become a better man?”
The film revolves around Attiya and Steve, who agreed to be interviewed on camera to talk about what happened twenty years ago, in an unusual confrontation where he spoke up about many of his violent acts in detail.
Steve stands helpless in front of Attiya’s camera, and is unable to offer an apology. But he does have the courage to bear the full responsibility for his actions in the past, in order to help heal the psychological wounds deep inside.
I (ZK) recently conducted the below interview with Attiya Khan (AK).
ZK: It was remarkable that Steve had been given a place in the film to look like a good man, despite everything he did.
AK: That’s exactly what I wanted. Some people believe that those who practice violence against their partners in life are absolute evils, but the truth is that they are often good people who do bad things, and have no way of changing them. Steve was a smart and funny man, and he had his whole range of emotions, which anger and violence were some of them, and that’s what makes him a human being. I was also portraying myself the same way, with all different range of emotions, as I was sometimes angry, sad and weak. Other times, curious and even excited. I wanted us to look exactly as we are in real life. The ordinary people who have so many contradictions.
ZK: You managed to make me show empathy to someone who has been physically and psychologically abusive towards you; how did you achieve that?
AK: Actually, I completed the missing part in our societies, because usually we don’t ask the people who hurt us to come, talk, and take the responsibility for their actions. It’s what’s missing, because we’re not asking women: What do you really want after that person had hurt you, what do you need to heal and find justice? You would think many would say ‘I want him to go to prison,’ but the truth is when you ask them, all they want is for the violence to stop. As prison does not often provide a better solution, because after the man is out he will go back to his violent acts again. What he really needs is professional help to stop the violence. However, prison might be the only solution left in special cases.
ZK: Have you reached your inner recovery which you have been looking for over the past 20 years?
AK: It may seem surprising to you, but at the beginning of the project I told my family that I might have a severe bout of depression. I did not know how I could face that person again and go back to the same places where I experienced the worst conditions of my life. But, I have fully recovered, the nightmares are no longer visiting me, and I am no longer afraid. I was able to tell my story publicly, and make it a useful experience for both sides in this kind of bad relations.
ZK: It’s typical for women in such cases to be victimized by the society, which characterize them as the weaker part of the relationship, but you showed an exceptional strength, where he seemed weak and in need for help. But, to be honest, were you scared of facing him again?
AK: It was very scary, especially since today’s society avoids talking about these topics, and there are not many people you can trust to talk about such a situation. The construction of a modern society imposes limits of privacy that prevent a helping hand. I had always run away from my house full of wounds and no one came near me to help. People around me in school and neighbourhood had always noticed the effects of harassment, but they didn’t come close to help me. Everyone thought it was not so bad, and when I talked about it they asked me why I stayed in the relationship. They didn’t know how much fear the victim has in such cases, and no one goes to the abuser to ask him: Why are you choosing violence? How can we help you to stop? I think that if we do not open this side of the debate with the perpetrators of violence, we will never be able to solve the problem.
Director Attiya Khan continues her personal, lifelong healing process, and continues to help a lot of women. She urges everyone to recognize their right to obtain a better life, to face the injustice and leave all abusive relationships. “You have to learn that you can be a very happy person when you’re alone, you don’t need a man by your side if this man is hurting you in anyway,” Attiya said.
Zeina Kanawati- Prague
“Be an art teacher!”
FLAXzine 2, April 4th, 2018 / Article by Lanna Idriss
A plea for becoming an art teacher.
We all remember our school times, and we remember some of our teachers. There are many good, but also multiple bad memories. In general, teaching doesn’t have a great reputation as a career. But is this unsexy image of life as a teacher fair?
Watch this Facebook video by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, and let’s focus on Life Lesson Number 6:
This internationally well-received speech has something to say about teaching: ‘Be a teacher, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.’
I actually love teaching. Usually I teach Economics and Management classes, but I also host workshops on cultural management, and the experience you gain and share by interacting with students is amazing. These are the moments in life when you have the chance to really achieve something. When a student asks a question that you have never thought of yourself; when you begin a discussion, ignoring the content of the day’s schedule, just letting it flow. These moments open souls and minds. I remember a special moment when one of my university teachers spoke about Kafkas Verwandlungwith so much passion that I am smiling now, even 20 years later.
So, dear artists, musicians, dancers, actors – why not share the passion inside of you with others? If Tim Mitchin’s words do not inspire you, here is some information about your financial situation:
59% of fine artists and 56% of the writers cannot live solely through their art (according to a Morgenpost Article from 2014).
In Germany in 2017, 1,5 Billion EUR was spent on arts and culture. This is around 0,5% of the annual spending of the entire country – around 329 Billion in 2017. A lot of money, that’s the good news; the bad news is, this is not spent on artist fees. The majority goes to art education and institutions. So: a second reason to be an art teacher!
If this is still not enough to convince you, the number of job opportunities is much greater. How many job opportunities are there in cultural management: cultural science, cultural education, cultural work, cultural heritage, cultural philosophy, cultural journalism, culture & technology, etc.
So, be a sexy intellectual artist and be an art teacher; rejoice in what you’ve learned and spray it!
Reflections on Arts and education
FLAXzine 2, April 4th, 2018 / Article by Tanja Knaus
I work in the field of cultural education, engaging youth across Berlin in intercultural and political issues through artistic workshops in the mediums of film, installation, and performance. I work closely with youth centres, museums, schools and artistic institutions to share knowledge and help young people access artistic education. Currently, I´m also managing FLAX’s educational projects, running workshops on fundraising in the arts, writing grant applications and managing the organization’s funding streams. I was also part of the founding team of nomadicArt, a platform for empowering newcomers through cultural activities and knowledge exchange, based at the Zentrum fur Kunst und Urbanistik (ZK/U).
Professor Barend van Heusden from the University College Groningendeclares: ‘Cultural education consists of the capacity for reflection.’ Youth and young adults learn through cultural education – which can be journalism, history, or the arts – to reflect on their own culture, the cultures of others and culture in general. The arts play an especially important role in cultivating self-awareness, cultural self-consciousness, philosophy, and learning about civil engagement.
This article is a brief reflection on my experiences in the field, and unpacks some of the challenges and concerns I encounter working in these kids of open settings. ‘Open settings’ are educational formats that exist outside of the usual school system or university institution. Those formats are mostly workshops, which run for a week or two, are free of charge and in which it is not mandatory to participate. They are mostly offered by youth clubs, independent nonprofit organizations, museums or other institutions, some of them private or state-funded. People participate in these programs of their own free will, which makes it more difficult to encourage youth or young adults to take them seriously.
Additionally, most of these programs are dependent on various state funding received on a yearly basis. This means that the funding isn’t stable, and the organization is forced to raise money each year, often from a “new” source with a completely “new” project. This puts a lot of pressure on cultural educators to reinvent the programming each time. It also means that it is harder for smaller organizations (not-for-profits, mostly) to receive stable funding with which they can offer a specific course with the same participants over a longer period of time.
Theater X, a brilliant youth theatre space in Berlin, engages with diverse social groups, focusing specifically on young people with migration backgrounds. Their youth work is highly political and works to empower their participants. This year, Theater X is focusing on the theme “heimat,” collaborating and working with exchange programs in various countries in Africa and South America. Even though some of their groups and productions are not continuously funded, they refuse to stop these projects simply because they struggle to finance them. You can’t simply stop working with groups of young people who are vulnerable. They need the feeling of belonging. Of course, it is still very difficult for the teachers and institution to invest free labour, especially in the cultural education sector, whose work is already underpaid.
How can we overcome these kinds of challenges within our organizations and as individuals? What structures and support networks can be fostered between different organizations? I think we as individuals and organizations need to collaborate more to help each other form a sustainable balance in our work.
Women in the world of Arts: How can we crack it?
FLAXzine, March 2nd, 2018 / Article by Lanna Idriss
The title of the series of images by the German artist, Annegret Soltau, created in 1978, is: ‘Ich bedrückt,’ or, ‘Me depressed.’ The work suggests a psychological depth and spreads melancholia. The artist herself fades away. The transformation into a cocoon shows us a level of isolation and secession that challenges us as soon as we process the information that the art work was produced right after Annegret Soltau learned that she was pregnant.
In summer 2016 when Marina Abramovic said that having children would have been a disaster for her work, a massive discussion arose. As there are just a few female superstars in the art world –Abramovic being one of them – we should not be surprised that the responses were rough and judgmental. The conflict in society around whether women can obtain equality and be rewarded with the same opportunities for participation as men very much extends to the world of arts. Perhaps it is even more strongly felt than in other sectors. Why? The image of the women as the saint and/or the whore has been depicted nowhere as intensely – and obviously with the right set of skills – as in the art world.
In the same year, when asked about how raising children has affected her work, Diana al Hadid responded: “No, my work hasn’t changed, and you wouldn’t ask a man that question. […] No one presumes it’s going to change (a man’s) work – their work is their work and their private life is their private life.” The interesting thing is that this phrase could have been uttered by any other woman: a doctor, a teacher or a businesswoman. The fact that the same number of female artists rank in top positions in the German art world equals the percentage of female top managers of the 30 largest German companies – this needs to be cracked!
In her landmark essay written in 1972, Linada Nochlin asks, “Why have there been no great women artists?” It feels like there has been some change (though let us be cautious in our assumptions for hope).
In 2005, 32% of female museum directors were women. In 2015, in America, 42,6% were women. But in Germany, only 5% of the artists presented in the Modern Art Departments of the museums are female. Some better news comes from Documenta graphs that show a clear positive development
So what do to next? Keep going, there is improvement, but there is much work to be done, and activism is necessary! So, please: research, analyze, network, resist, act and change!
Those who are inspired to start now, have a look at the links below that are full of diverse information relating to the subject of the article:
Iphigenie, Tales of Women Waiting to be Told
FLAXzine, March 2nd, 2018 / Article by Zeina Kanawati
The Greek theater is revived again in Syrian Iphigenie, a play written by Mohammed Al-Attar and directed by Omar Abu Saada, presented by a group of Syrian women who arrived to Germany under varying circumstances.
Iphigenie, sacrificed by her father in the original play to please the gods, is embodied again in the sacrifices of Syrian women who let go of their former lives in the hope of a better future. But have they reached safety after passing from war to peace? Have the bonds between the past and the present been completely severed so these women can venture up new roads?
The stage is empty except for a chair. The women alternate, one by one, sitting on the chair and telling their stories under the light. They sit in an audition interview supervised by another Syrian woman who is videotaping the performances on the stage.
The camera’s eye represents society’s view of each of these young women, and the discomfort this gaze causes them. Sometimes, the actresses ask to stop filming, at which point reveal secrets about their inner feelings and thoughts.
The thin line between reality and representation disappears in a single story, where the viewer cannot distinguish between the real story of each actress and the representative scene. Each of them connects her personal experience directly to Iphigenie in the original play and her complex relationship with her father, who was forced to sacrifice her despite his love for her. This experience is reflected in the women’s relationship with their families and society back home, after having to make the impossible decision to leave their home country forever.
An Empty Stage Full of Stories The stories of the Syrian women are laying their weight on the empty stage, which embodies the new place that has not yet taken its final shape or identity. The women have not yet managed to separate from their home country, nor have they succeeded in fixing their roots in the new place. Each one of them has her own moment of sparkle while telling her story, particularly when creative memory awakens and the actresses start singing, dancing or doing what they were happy doing back home. However, choosing these actresses was not an easy task, and it took time and effort to train them, as none are professional actresses. But as a result, throughout the play, the text had space to change based on the real stories and experiences shared by the actresses. Their feelings and emotions became the centerpiece of each scene. Actress Diana Kaddah said that the performance was psychologically and emotionally taxing at the beginning, but she began to reconcile with her own feelings after performing it many times, and the experience became part of Diana’s emotional and psychological growth. The more she performed, the better she felt. “It’s a new step towards accepting the past and being be able to move forward,” she said. Why Now?
Iphigenie represents the final part of three plays undertaken by Mohammad Al Attar and Omar Abu Saada since 2013. They introduced Trojan women in Jordan, Antigone in Lebanon and finally, Iphigenie in Germany. Although it was a coincidence to have the plays performed in these locations, it’s very similar to the path of the diaspora, followed by displaced Syrians searching for stability and safety.
“We chose to tell the stories of the women who paid the biggest price since the beginning of the revolution in Syria. They had the greatest sacrifices. Their struggles were not limited to standing up to political power, but they challenged a patriarchal society. However, their stories are still not heard, and their presence in fighting the political and social authorities is still ignored,” Mohammad said.
The Syrian Memory Iphigenie explores Syrian collective memory, and the complex feelings encountered in the details of everyday life. The present collapses in the face of the abandoned memories, and a familiar song can trigger the painful emotions. Despite this, Syrian women prove their miraculous ability to stand up again every morning to complete the path and make it as smooth as possible, to give their lives meaning and their memories a new home.