The British Council hosted an “ARC.HIVE day” to launch two publications on Arab performance. The publications will contain new texts commissioned by researchers from Palestine, Egypt and other places in the Arab world.
The ARC.HIVE of Contemporary Arab Performing Arts is a project initiated and run by HaRaKa; a platform for dance and movement research and studies that was established in Cairo in 2006. According to HaRaKa, ARC.HIVE is the result of seven years of research on the “condition of creating contemporary performances in the Arabic speaking region, the challenges from discourse or market perspectives, and the theoretical infrastructure of the dissemination of knowledge on performance from the region.”
The project aims to establish three units – Cairo for the Middle East; Cologne, Germany for Europe; and New York, USA for North America – which will be connected by an active portal and a programme of projects and activities. The project describes itself as “both an ‘ARC’ of knowledge, and a ‘HIVE’ that generates new work; the project situates itself between theory and practice, production and policy, the past and the present.”
Ismail Baher, an Egyptian researcher who wrote a text for one of the upcoming publications and gave a presentation on the text, said his research was concerned with propaganda and aesthetics. “I wanted to compare and contrast different examples of propaganda and performance, like El Watan El Akbar or Teslam El Ayadi. First off, a proper definition of propaganda was problematic but at the end, I concluded that something like Teslam El Ayadi, for instance, is not an example of state propaganda,” he said.
Baher said he was interested in references and collective memory: “When I say ‘national song’, it will evoke certain images and I am interested in who gets to control these images that later on become references for entire generations. In Egypt, most platforms of performance are owned or controlled by the government, so the state has control over what is shown and therefore over what people will remember.”
Baher added that one of the biggest problems facing discourse on Arab performance was the inaccessibility to the archives of institutions like the Opera House or Maspero. “Not even the artists that are involved with the institutions are allowed access to the archives, let alone the wider public. ARC.HIVE aims to counter this by trying to make similar material available so it can enter international discourse on performance,” he said.
The publications will launch in February of 2014.