U.S. festival spotlights Arab arts and humanity

Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:36am EST
 
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 800 Arab artists from 22 countries will appear in Washington in the largest ever presentation of Arab arts in the United States, a three-week event that coincides with President Barack Obama's attempt to build better relations with the Muslim world.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began planning the "Arabesque" festival years ago. Its events are not tied to the U.S. government in any way, but the timing turned out to be inspired, said show curator Alicia Adams.

"It's fortuitous that it's happening at this time when we are trying to change the way that we do things and our relationships with this region of the world," she said.

"We certainly want to call attention to the arts and artists that are from this region of the world, but also to the beauty and humanity that exist in that part of the world -- and to debunk some of the stereotypes."

The festival, which runs from February 23 through March 15, will include performances in music, dance, and theater, as well as exhibitions and installations. One exhibit showcases more than 40 elaborate and colorful wedding dresses and the silver and gold jewelry and headdresses that go with them.

Presented in cooperation with the League of Arab States, the $10 million festival seeks to illuminate the diversity of a region that stretches from the Arabian Gulf to North Africa and was a cradle of human civilization.

The festival will include many free performances, poetry readings, films and exhibits, as well as low ticket prices for other shows.

Artists include well-known musicians like Lebanon's Marcel Khalife, an all-male Moroccan contemporary dance company, dervishes from Syria and Alaa El Kashef, a Grammy-award winning sound engineer who has captured the sounds of the bustling streets of Cairo.   Continued...

 
<p>Malouma, a Mauritanian vocalist who blends western style music with traditional Moorish influences from her native North African country, is seen in this undated handout photograph. More than 800 Arab artists from 22 countries will appear in Washington in the largest ever presentation of Arab arts in the United States, a three-week event that coincides with President Barack Obama's attempt to build better relations with the Muslim world. REUTERS/The Kennedy Center/Handout</p>