Tuesday, 5 February 2013

How would you say that in Derja?

'It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression. Accordingly it is to literature that we must look, particularly in its more concrete forms, namely in poetry and drama, if we hope to discover the inward thoughts of a generation.'
Alfred North Whitehead

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Recording Algerian memory?

I have just been to an exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms, London, called The Last of the Dictionary Men which presented in audio, video and photography the history of Yemeni sailors who came to South Shields (UK) at a time when the north of England's maritime industry was thriving and needed foreign hands to come and work.

These men ended up settling and staying in the UK. They attest to the birth of what is called here "Arab-British identity".

The exhibition is a project brought to fruition by film director Tina Gharavi and was structured in three parts:

Portraits from photographs taken and hand painted by the renown Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil.

A projection of Tina Gharavi's film King of South Shields which presents the Yemeni-British men who met Muhammad Ali (yup, THE Muhammad Ali) who came to the North East of England in 1977 and had his wedding blessed in South Shields at its Al-Azhar Mosque (the first purpose built mosque in Britain).

And an installation: old TV sets playing each of these men's stories, as they had been interviewed and recorded by Gharavi's team, the videos of which the audience could tune into individually with the headphones hooked by the tv column's side like the phone handles hanging in old style phone booths.

The title "The Last of the Dictionary Men" is what tempted me to go and I was curious, why dictionary men?  Tina explained to me that the title was a clin d'oeil, a wink to the Arabic script born in Yemen. What a beautiful thought and association to language and exile.

Where does Algeria fit in? Well, when will come the day when I/you/we'll walk in an exhibition room, a university (not a museum it would be too morbid) to go and listen to the recorded story of Algerian women and men who lived and live in Algeria, the generation of our grandparents who still remembers the independence (and its usurpation), those who survived the 90s.  But, hey, but not the stories of expats please, I find expats excruciating... except for Harragas whose stories are going to have to be faced at some point, and this telling has been begun already by Merzak Allouache ....

and Slimane Ouguenoune with Harraga UK ...

... and no doubt a few others.

The memory of a people is that of a collective. A people is a collective, plural and singular by definition.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Syrian Writer Nihad Sirees and the role of the writer as Historian

No, this post is not about Syria but it is about continuing the flagging, in a bite size fashion, of my burning question about History with a capital H in Algeria and how it is being told and written, bearing in mind that a succession of regimes in DZ since independence have been narrating by force and coercion a very slanted, if not purely fabricated historical narrative.

Who is safekeeping the real* memory of Algerians and Algeria? How can this History be kept alive, be told and accessed.  I believe that DZ writers (novelists, poets, that is 'fiction' not non-fiction) are playing that role.

So, as I was meeting one of Syria's great writers, Nihad Sirees, for the wonderful Arab Lit to talk about literature, I thought I'd ask about the role of the writer as a historian. Here it is.

*I know, what is real... but I think that largely by this term I mean 'factual' and most importantly, I mean investigative and investigated (these two forming the biggest problem of DZ journalism).