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An extraordinary journey from martial arts to choreography

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Mourad Merzouki 5 © Bojan Stoilkovski

Mourad Merzouki, Choreographer and Director, hails from the commune of Saint-Priest in France. He began by studying at the circus school and by practicing martial arts before becoming interested in hip-hop in the late 1980s.

I am Director of the National Choreography Center of Créteil and Val-de-Marne, Company Käfig.

I was first trained in martial arts and circus performance at the age of seven. Then I discovered hip-hop culture at the age of fifteen through several French artists and through the TV program HIP HOP, which had a big impact on French teenagers at that time. That’s when I started gravitating towards dance and soon started experimenting with choreography. I worked with several French contemporary dance choreographers before starting my own company.

I created my first dance company in 1989 with Kader Attou, Eric Mezino and Chaouki Saïd. Then in 1996, I realized I wanted to start my own project – something that was more ‘personal’…and that was “Käfig” which means “cage” in Arabic and German. It is a piece about being locked up and references hip-hop which is often associated with being locked in a single style or specific representation. My whole artistic work since then has been about delivering dance from this ‘cage’ and pushing out boundaries by integrating and confronting other art forms. Since 1996, I created 27 shows that have toured world-wide. Our company has given over 2800 performances in 58 countries.

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FUSING DIVERSE ARTFORMS

At the very beginning, it was difficult to get rid of the image that hip-hop conveys. It is a dance form for young immigrants from the suburbs. But hip-hop was not always considered a form of dance and some people thought it would be a trend that would not last. Fighting this perception was hard but it also gave us the strength and motivation to prove that this dance has a firm place in the art scene.

I want to share my artistic work with people throughout the world and I am bringing it to Abu Dhabi through NYUAD. I think of dance as a universal language. My hope is that the audience will be surprised by the energy and poetry of hip-hop, and see that it is far from the clichés we often associate with it.

The main advice I would give to aspiring choreographers wanting to make his or her mark would be to keep an open mind about what surrounds you. Be curious, travel and meet people and always question yourself. You will get inspired when you confront what you think you know by looking at things through different points of view.

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Urdu Film on Youth Suicides Wins Critical Acclaim

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Philanthropist/ Film Producer Nighat Akbar Shah

A newly released Urdu film Darya Kay Iss Paar” (“This Bank of The River”) by US based producer Nighat Akbar Shah focuses on the alarming rate of suicide in her hometown of Chitral in North Pakistan.

Shah went home for a celebratory reunion three years ago to Chitral, when villagers’ cries announced to the family that her young female cousin had just jumped of a water levee to her death. Two months later, in an unrelated incident, another cousin shot himself. As this goes to press, over a dozen people have committed suicide in parts of Chitral, Hunza, and Gilgit.

The traumatic experience has led Shah, an impact investor and philanthropist, to produce Darya Kay Iss Paar, “This Bank of the River” about the famous river in her village where many suicides occur, and to raise awareness about the alarming rise of youth suicide in Pakistan and elsewhere. Her film company, Adur Productions, aims to address social issues in both Pakistan and the US, her adopted home, providing a bridge to her philanthropic work in both countries.

The short film has already won a bevy of international film awards and Shah is determined that its message be amplified as a social campaign to mobilize resources to spread awareness and address the issue head on.

“A heartbreaking set of circumstances create the perfect storm,” said Shah. “And what is especially troublesome is that over the past few years the problem has worsened with many young people, in the prime of their lives, choosing to commit suicide out of a sense of growing hopelessness.”

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Shah attributes the high suicide rate to the cultural norms around how young people and women should behave, to stress around academic achievement and to forced arranged marriages. The issues are compounded by extreme poverty and the lack of economic opportunity, as well as inadequate mental health services and poor family support. Societal taboos that prevent people from talking about issues that are seen as needing to be kept strictly within the family, and the sense of isolation and despondency is heightened by Northern Pakistan’s cold and gloomy mountainous landscape.

Darya Kay Iss Paar tells the story of a young girl’s feelings of growing depression; how the pressures she faces as a student get worse after marriage and, isolated with no one to acknowledge her feelings, she decides to end her life. The film captures the breaking point and the tragic moment when the protagonist, Gull Zareen, plunges into the river. Many young girls leap into the fast-flowing river as a final resort to end their troubles while others hung themselves from ceilings or consume pills or pesticides to end their lives.

“Every year approximately 1 million people die worldwide due to suicide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO),” said Shah. “Pakistan, despite rising literacy rates, is no exception, but because of the persisting social taboos it has been difficult to rationally discuss, much less treat, the issue,” she said.

“My film is a humble effort to raise this issue at national and international levels. My hope is that it will escalate a much-needed debate about depression and mental illness, and trigger action for those in need of help.”

She added, “I see Adur Productions as focusing on projects that contribute to our social impact efforts, enabling us to create awareness and to foster partnerships that will solve real problems.”

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Over the years Shah, working through her family business Shah Holdings in Tennessee, has donated resources and conducted programs in Chitral, including subsidizing education, providing high-tech equipment to schools and hospitals, building a student hostel, and distributing Covid-19 care packages to residents of remote mountain areas. She is currently in the process of establishing a business startup incubator targeting disadvantaged youth and women.

Darya Kay Iss Paar was directed by Shoaib Sultan, and stars Hibba Aziz in the lead role. The film trailer can be viewed on https://youtu.be/qH7h4Jdrs9c. The original soundtrack is available at https://youtu.be/kg96iammvUc

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What an expat learned about art from UAE

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People relaxing in rest area inside Art Basel Miami Beach-20141204-00239

When you come back to your own country after living eight years in the UAE, you bring some new habits related to what you had been doing overseas.

People relaxing in rest area inside Art Basel Miami Beach-20141204-00239

I’ve been visiting museums since childhood when my mother would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History or the Museum of Modern Art. Living in New York, we had easy access to them. But I never went to a big art show until I was in the UAE.
It was there that I began attending the annual art shows – Art Abu Dhabi and Art Dubai – and regularly visiting galleries in Al Quoz and Downtown Dubai. The exciting news about the development of Saadiyat Island, the Louvre, Guggenheim, and National Museums being developed brought art closer.
When I moved to Florida, I left behind major museums; however, I soon learned about the big annual event called Art Basel Miami. Since I had never heard of Art Basel, I did some research and learned that Art Basel began in 1970 when a group of European gallery owners decided to create an exhibition focusing on modern and contemporary art. It developed over the years into an annual must-attend event for art lovers and collectors.
As Miami grew from a beach resort often associated with narcotics – see Miami Vice and later Burn Notice – some art experts decided that Art Basel in June needed an equivalent six months later. So Art Basel Miami was born in 2002 and has been growing in size and importance ever since.
Two huge art fairs on two continents weren’t enough for the world’s art business. Art Basel Hong Kong was added in 2012, and since it takes place in March, it adds another date to the calendar for appreciating contemporary art.

Crowds at Art Basel Miami Beach-20141204-00237

I attended Art Basel Miami (ABM) for the first time in early December, six days of nonstop activities. It is located in the Miami Beach Convention Center, and for the 13th edition 267 galleries from 31 countries participated.
As I walked around the gallery booths, I saw several Picassos, including one that had sold for USD 10 million in 1968 and was back on the market. Four Chagall paintings were also available – one had already sold for USD 2 million.
Many interesting works by current painters and sculptors could be seen, none of them inexpensive. One gallery owner I spoke to said probably the least expensive works at ABM would cost USD 50,000.
Out of six days, I visited ABM only twice. The rest of the time was spent at the satellite expos that have grown up around ABM. They are less difficult for galleries to enter, contain newer and thus less expensive works, and can be found in huge tents in Miami Beach and various parts of Miami – Wynwood, the former industrial area; the Design District; Little Haiti; and more.
Most of the time I attended with Dr. Sharon Parker, the art historian whom I met in the UAE in 2005 when we began teaching at Zayed University, who is now living in Tucson, Arizona. As an expert on Iranian and Middle Eastern art, she pointed out that the region was barely visible in the main fair and the satellite exhibitions.
We found one gallery from Tehran featuring Iranian works and learned about another from Beirut. That was it. While Japan, China, and Korea were represented by a few galleries and works from those countries could be seen in galleries from New York and London, the Middle East has yet to discover ABM, and vice versa.

By Alma Kadragic

Note: This is a repost

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Korean film Parasite winner of first foreign language best picture Oscars

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Abu Dhabi: Korean film Parasite made history at the 2020 Oscars night by winning four awards — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.

It also became the first foreign-language film to win the Best Picture category. Director Bong Joon Ho has been massively appreciated for his supreme talent of film-making by the higher echelons in the film industry as well as the entire world of movie lovers.

The victory has been celebrated on social media especially from the South Korean community as well as the wider Asian community on an international stage.

Here are some reactions on Twitter about the history-changing film event.

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