Culture Alert: July marked by festivals in the Middle East

Fairs and festivals in July — both large and small — dominate the Middle East, from Lebanon’s seven-decades-old Baalbeck International Festival to Egypt’s first Ras El Bar Book Fair.

All that jazz: The Istanbul Jazz Festival, which marks its 25th edition this year, opened June 26 with a tribute concert to the milestones of the Turkish jazz scene. The festival takes to the parks July 7-8 with free open-air events called “Jazz in the Parks” at its usual setting on the Asian side of the city, Fenerbahce Khalkedon and the Fenerbahce Park, as well as at Beylikduzu Life Valley Park, a new venue on the European side of the city.

The two biggies in this year’s festival are Australian singer-composer Nick Cave, and Robert Plant, British rock group Led Zeppelin’s legendary voice. Cave will perform July 10 at Kucukciftlik Park, and Plant will hold a concert at Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theater on the last day of the festival, July 17.

On Bacchus’ steps: Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival, which takes place between July 8-Aug. 17 at the historical city in the Bekaa Valley, pays homage to Oum Kalthoum this year. Oum Kalthoum, the unforgettable Egyptian diva, sang at Baalbeck in 1966, 1968 and 1970. Forty-eight years later, Egyptian singers Mai Farouk and Marwa Nagy will perform her songs July 20 on the steps of the Temple of Bacchus.

Other stars in the festival include Lebanese composer and songwriter Khaled Mouzanar, who will perform in the opening concert July 8, and the duo made up of pianist Elie Maalouf and vocalist Jahida Wehbe. They will take the stage Aug. 17 to present a mix of classic Arabic hits and original music, promising a fusion of jazz and tarab — an Arabic word to describe the emotional impact, or ecstasy, of music.

Lights and camera: In Jerusalem, July started with the Festival of Light, which celebrated its 10th edition. Between June 27-July 5, the picturesque, cobbled lanes of Jerusalem’s Old City were illuminated with modern light art installations created by local and international artists, with thousands of guests from all over Israel and abroad.

At the end of the month, the Jerusalem International Film Festival takes place with a star-studded list. It will open July 26 with “Unorthodox” by Israeli director Eliran Malka, a dramatization of the founding of the Shas Party in Jerusalem, starring Shuli Rand. More than 180 films from over 60 countries will be screened at the festival, where tough competition for awards in the feature and documentary categories is expected.

Bookworms: It’s not all days at the beach and nights at outdoor concerts — at least not in Egypt. The General Egyptian Book Organization, an autonomous corporation of the Ministry of Culture for printing, publishing and distribution, and organizers announced last month that it was going to organize mini book fairs at Ras El Bar and Port Said, two cities on the Mediterranean coast. The Ras El Bar Book Fair ends July 7, and the Port Said Fair dovetails it July 12. Both are first editions, and it remains to be seen whether the General Egyptian Book Organization, the organizers of the Cairo International Book Fair, can turn them into regular events.

Landscapes lost and found: At the Venice Architecture Biennale, which runs until the end of September, architects from the Middle East and beyond explored the concept of borders, migration and nationhood around the Biennale’s 2018 theme, “Freespace.” Two exhibitions in the Middle East, one in Cairo and another in Ramallah, have also taken up a similar theme of borders and nations.

In Egypt, Gypsum Gallery exhibits Turkish artist Gozde Ilkin, whose works are made out of repurposed domestic fabrics on which she draws, paints and stitches portraits and landscapes. In the “Found Landscape” series, IIkin questions the concept of personal geography and how one emotionally relates to being a foreigner in a foreign landscape. The exhibition will run until July 27.

In Palestine, “Subcontracted Nations” marks the opening of the new cultural center of A.M. Qattan Foundation in Ramallah; it’s a cube-shaped, environmentally friendly building described by Omar al-Qattan, the chairman of the foundation, as “a modest microcosm of urban public life.” Curated by Yazid Anani, the group shows of some 20 artists from the Middle East and Europe draws its title from subcontracting found in our world today ― whether it’s the subcontracting of health services or the privatization of public resources, including education. The exhibition, which started June 28, will run through September 20.

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