Working with the Arts team at The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Nour Steering Committee plays a key role in the development and realisation of the festival. But who are the members of the steering committee? What are their interests? And why are they motivated by Nour?
Today, we speak with Aser El Saqqa, a long-standing member of the Nour Steering Committee and founder of Arts Canteen.
You are originally from Palestine. How would you explain Palestinian creative traditions to someone who is new to the country?
To be born in Palestine means carrying and reinterpreting ancient social traditions and values that we grew up with. The importance of cultural resistance is deeply rooted in our popular culture and the arts.
There has been huge growth in the cultural infrastructure in Palestine over the last 30 years. This has had a significant effect on me, as I also worked in the cultural sector in Palestine for a few years, building up the capacity of local artists, galleries and festivals. When I came to London, I wanted not only to continue this work with diaspora communities, but also to bring our cultural traditions and contemporary practices to new audiences. This is part of a wider project of making visible the contribution of the Arab communities to the rich cultural life of London and the UK overall – conveying a sense of pride and community among and between us all.
You are the founder of Arts Canteen. Can you tell us more about this organisation?
Arts Canteen was founded in 2010 as a non-fixed space. Our achievements are informed by a grassroots approach of creating a network of supporters who are vital in the success of the programme. This network has been built up over the past few years and now includes a range of diaspora Arab communities in the UK, non-Arab communities who follow the arts scene in London and includes those of all ages.
Arts Canteen events have become a hub where connections are made. These connections have been undertaken through social media platforms, community and arts events across London, where ticket prices for events ensure that high quality programmes are accessible to the widest possible audience through collaborative partnerships with universities, music venues, museums, festivals and NGOs.
Favourite performing arts venue in London?
My favourite venue would be Union Chapel, Islington, well known for live music events and voted London’s best live music venue. Incidentally, it was the venue for Arts Canteen’s first gig in 2011.
I also like Rich Mix. It offers live music, film, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and a huge range of creative and diverse activities for local communities.
Name the last gig you attended.
Orange Blossom band (France-Egypt), a really interesting and powerful project with electric whirlpools, electronic storms and featuring Hend Ahmed, the Egyptian singer who is influenced by ethnic and traditional Nubian music.
Last book read?
A Son of the Road by Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf.
Favourite contemporary gallery/museum?
Tate Modern is one of my favourites. It covers a broad range of painters from the 19th-century including impressionists, to modern day pop art as well as film media, video art, photography and sculpture. Also, the building is as interesting as the art itself!
What particular event/artist excites you most at this year’s Nour Festival of Arts? Why?
I would go for Hindi Zahra. She is a self-taught, multi-instrumentalist from a Moroccan mother and a French father. I like her occasional Berber whispers, and am looking forward to hearing some of the songs from her new album “Homeland” described as soulful, “surreal bluesy” and humanist.
Aser El Saqqa is curator, founder and director of Arts Canteen, an arts organisation which shines a spotlight on art from the Arab world. This interview was conducted by Lisa Pollman, freelance writer who connects Asian and Middle Eastern artists to the world.