The head of the Iraq Short Film Festival Nizar Al-Rawi is known as a man of action who gets things done. So, it was little surprise that he has been instrumental in founding the Arabic Association for Cultural Exchange in Luxembourg. “We met several people from different cultural and professional backgrounds,” he explains. “We discussed how it is important to build cultural bridges between these two neighbours--the Arab world and Europe.”
The issue is even more pressing, he says, since Europe has received millions of Arab refugees over the past couple of years, and media coverage has mainly focused on war and security. “That makes the situation here in Europe more nervous, or less comfortable. We can achieve several goals, both culturally and socially.”
Luxembourgers of the calibre of Bob Krieps, the former first advisor at the ministry of culture, were immediately intrigued by the project. He helped found the association and now serves as its vice president. And support from the Mateneen programme of the Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte has allowed the association to employ a refugee on a part-time basis.
Al-Rawi is aiming high, and wants to focus on creating quality events. But the association also serves as a platform for Arab artists, many of whom say they do not always have easy access to European venues or festivals. “In this world you need trust, it’s not like business where you depend on a signature and bank statements. You have your word and the reputation of the artist,” says Al-Rawi.
The association members have good connections with some of the leading Arab artists in the world, including the likes of calligrapher Muthana Al-Obeidi, oud constructor and composer Wissam Joubran, architecture historian Dr Khaled Al-Sultany, and film critic and Arab section programmer at the Dubai Film Festival Irfan Rashid.
The association hosted its first event, a lecture by architect Ammar Khammash at Luca on “Nature as an architect” on 21 November. “Response has been very positive,” says association secretary general Renée Aakrann. “But we have to plan way ahead with some of the venues we want to partner with. Their schedules are already full.”
The association’s next events include a calligraphy exhibition and a film screening at the Cinémathèque.