Iraq war refugees in Britain, new theatre play


This video from Britain says about itself:

Nabil Elouahabi and Rashid Razaq discuss their new play, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, with Juliette Foster on Arise News, 17 July 2014.

By Joe Gill in Britain:

The power of nightmares

Tuesday 5th August 2014

Nabil Elouahabi tells JOE GILL how he came to produce and star in a new play about an Iraqi refugee in Britain

Nabil Elouahabi took the opening night bow at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week to loud applause for a play that he not only stars in but nurtured from an idea to its realisation.

Written by Evening Standard journalist Rashid Razaq and directed by Nicholas Kent, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes tells the story of an Iraqi refugee who comes to Britain and changes his name to that of the famous Mexican writer in a semi-comical attempt to disguise his Arab origins and forget the horrors of Iraq.

Told in a fragmented narrative, it’s a funny, sad and moving drama in which Carlos (born Salim) meets a rich Englishwoman called Lydia (Caroline Langrishe) while working as a waiter. He marries her but ultimately cannot escape his past — he left a wife and daughter in war-torn Baghdad.

The play opens with Carlos handcuffed to a hotel bed during a dirty weekend with Lydia — a sharp and witty two-hander in which a sex game morphs into an English history test for the would-be British citizen.

By the end we are taken full circle as the story jumps between 2006 and 2011, each scene introduced with a video speech from western political leaders, including Bush, Blair and Cameron, reminding us of the doublespeak used to justify the Iraq war.

Ultimately we see the impact of political deception in the tragedy of Carlos’s life but rather than a mere victim, his eccentricities, struggles with the language — captured brilliantly in the script and Elouahabi’s performance — and naive dreams of becoming a true Englishman keep the piece grounded at the human level.

We believe wholeheartedly that Elouahabi is Carlos/Salim — an innocent everyman caught up in brutal geopolitics.

Elouahabi is best known for his TV and film work — playing Tariq in East Enders, with parts in 24, Zero Dark Thirty and two Michael Winterbottom films — but recently he has been searching for more interesting roles than the two-dimensional terrorists he was being offered.

“I was becoming very frustrated with the parts that were available and the prism through which we see Arabs,” he says.

“I am lucky in that I do work, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a frustration that the roles you are doing are peripherals, always seen as an addition. I wanted to completely change the theatrical lens and make them the centrepiece.”

Ultimately this led to him producing The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, the seeds of which were born when he read a collection of short stories by Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim back in 2009.

“I’d been working with Nick Kent at the Tricycle and I was fortunate enough to be part of a trilogy of plays called The Great Game: Afghanistan. Then Nick retired and I thought he’d be an interesting person to take this piece to because it had a political dimension to it and I knew that was his brand.”

Elouahabi asked Kent if he would consider directing a play based on the Blasim story. “One of the strengths of Nicholas Kent’s direction is his ability to hang the piece on a political frame without it being didactic — it’s always through the personal. It’s about his wife, his daughter, about the human in all of us.”

Kent was moved by the story of displacement and assimilation. Next Elouahabi asked Razaq, whose work he had seen and liked, to write a script on spec. Kent was impressed with Razaq’s draft script. Two years and 20 drafts later, the play took to the stage.

“It’s the first time I’ve put on the producer’s hat,” says Elouahabi.

“For me it’s about creating the right alliance, getting the right people to do the right jobs and letting them get on with it.”

The play opened with Iraq once again in the headlines. “We’ve just recently had this surge in sectarian violence in Iraq with Isis coming through, forcing Shias and Sunnis to divorce, so this is absolutely topical right now.”

Elouahabi has recently made headlines for talking about the paucity of good roles for Arab and black actors in British drama. “For me it’s about enriching the theatrical landscape as opposed to making it exclusive,” he says.

“We all benefit from sharing stories with different people in them. There is a fear that ‘oh no, that’s a story with Arabs in it,’ but actually if the stories and characters are on the front foot, everything else is irrelevant. It’s all about the writers and the people at the top believing those stories are going to be watched.

“I’m not on a political mission, but simply from an audience perspective, why just have fish and chips? It’s like food, now we like hummus – let’s put more food on the table. Right now it’s just a bit samey samey.”

Runs until August 16. Box office (020) 7503-1646.

Against glorification of World War I in London tonight


This video from England is called No Glory – Remembering World War One in Music and Poetry – St James’s Church, London – 25.10.13.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Anti-war events mark WWI centenary

Monday 4th August 2014

ANTI-WAR events will take place across the country today to counter 100th anniversary celebrations of Britain’s entry into WWI.

Britain’s recent record of foreign wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan, its commitment to Nato expansion and support for Israeli aggression make it essential that there is a strong anti-war message on the day, says Stop The War.

The campaign group is organising a No Glory — No More War rally in Parliament Square this evening from 6.30pm aimed at countering Prime Minister David Cameron’s “celebration” and “glorification” of the WWI centenary.

Speakers and performers at the event include actors Samuel West and Kika Markham.

Jeremy Corbyn MP will read Keir Hardie’s anti-war speech of 1914 and writer AL Kennedy will read Carol Ann Duffy’s Last Post in honour of Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier from the WWI trenches, who said until the day he died in 2009 that war was “legalised mass murder.”

Wreaths will be laid at bus stations and garages across London today in memory of the transport workers who died in the 1914-18 war.

Report of the London rally: here.

Miffy the rabbit, no new books


This video is called Miffy‘s birthday (official Miffy video).

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Miffy retired in 2011

Update: Wednesday, July 30 2014, 09:09

Dick Bruna has stopped drawing. The Miffy book he published in 2011 is the last one. The Dick Bruna House says the 86-year-old artist wants to slow down, because of his age.

The first book about Miffy was in 1955, and so the last one was in 2011. They were issued all over the world. The rights will not pass on to someone else, like happened with Spike and Suzy by Willy Vandersteen.

RTV Utrecht reported that Bruna‘s workshop will be transferred to the Dick Bruna House in Utrecht. Next year Miffy will play a prominent role at the start of the Tour de France in Utrecht.

Dutch seventeenth century painting and foreign authors


This video is called Art Museum Mauritshuis (The Hague, the Netherlands), part 1.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The Golden Age of Dutch art has inspired writers from Marcel Proust to Donna Tartt

Just as Tracy Chevalier pilfered Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Proust purloined the artist’s ‘View of Delft‘, so Donna Tartt appropriated Fabritius’s ‘The Goldfinch’ – set to be Booker-longlisted this week – as her inspiration. But what is it about the Golden Age of Dutch art that so enthrals novelists? Boyd Tonkin travels to the Mauritshuis museum, home to these three masterpieces and many more, to see for himself.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Blessed are the latecomers. By a couple of days, I missed the official press unveiling of the restored Mauritshuis, the treasure-crammed “jewel-box” of an art museum in The Hague that houses the Dutch royal picture collection. So, after the media crowd had left but before the gallery opened its doors to the public, I was allowed to sit in Room 15 for as long as I liked, almost alone. Outside, around the town lake and beside the 17th-century courts and mansions of the seat of the Netherlands government, orange-clad cafés geared up for another Holland World Cup game. Inside, in room after masterpiece-crammed room, time stopped – and the paintings began to whisper their tantalising stories.

On one wall, between Gerard ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter and Hunting for Lice, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring forever turns an enigmatic gaze on the spectator. Across the room, the same artist’s View of Delft captures for all eternity his home city in 1660 or 1661, bathed in fitful sunshine after a passing shower. Next door in Room 14, re-positioned between windows in honour of its new-found celebrity, hangs The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the Delft-based pupil of Rembrandt and perhaps a teacher of Vermeer.

I was more fortunate than Tracy Chevalier. Although the novelist had kept a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring on her wall since the age of 19, she only caught her in the flesh here at a Vermeer exhibition in the mid-1990s. “These are paintings that need a calm empty room to be appreciated in,” she later said. “You were lucky if you had three seconds in front of a painting before you were shoved out of the way by another visitor.” Even so, that brief encounter incubated the bestseller that, after its release its 1999, helped to make this ever-elusive canvas one of the best known of all Dutch paintings.

The “girl” had starred in fiction at least once before. In Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency (1987), a stalled writer travels to the Mauritshuis to see her – only to find that she has moved to a temporary show abroad.

As for Fabritius’s quizzical bird, it entered the fiction charts – via Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – thanks to a sojourn in New York. Tartt’s novel turns on the (imaginary) theft of the picture after a terrorist bombing at the Met, and pivots its reflections of art and life around the secrets of this gnomic painting. It has already won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – and now it looks like a strong contender for the Man Booker Prize longlist, due on Wednesday in the first year of eligibility for American works.

Yet no tale spun around the masterworks of the Mauritshuis can match in literary gravitas the fictional afterlife of Vermeer’s View of Delft. For Marcel Proust, who saw it first in the Hague in 1902, and again in 1921 when it visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris, this cityscape of buildings irradiated by an ever-changing light was simply “the most beautiful painting in the world”. Across the epic length of his A la recherche du temps perdu, it recurs as a touchstone and talisman of art’s perfection – and art’s mystery.

'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp', one of the fine Mauritshuis Rembrandts, inspired the novelist Nina Siegal (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Remarkably, for a gallery that displays only 260 works, the contribution of the Mauritshuis to literature does not end there. The American writer Nina Siegal has just published a novel prompted by The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp – the youthful masterpiece of 1632 found in the Hague’s dazzling cluster of first-rate Rembrandts. And downstairs, Holbein’s portraits of Jane Seymour and of the cruelly handsome Robert Cheseman, Henry VIII’s master falconer, plunge the imaginative viewer straight into the milieu of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

This inspirational gallery has re-opened after a two-year, €30m refit. A new underground foyer connects the neat waterside palace – built around 1640 for the former governor of Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, and home of the Dutch royal collection since 1822 – to an Art Deco building across the street converted to host shows, events and a library. But the “jewel-box” ambience remains – even embellished with a state-of the-art lift that hoists you from the subterranean entrance-hall to just inside the old front door.

Director Emilie Gordenker walks me around rooms renovated with a vigilant care for period fittings and materials. “It’s the perfect size as it is,” she says. “We didn’t want to turn it into a big museum.” (The royal collection numbers some 800 works, many on show nearby at the Prince William V Gallery.) She believes the focused but secretive masterpieces of the Golden Age invite, and reward, repeat visits. “You see more and more in them; they benefit from close attention.”

Save for The Goldfinch’s new prominence, the star attractions of the Mauritshuis have not been fenced off in any VIP enclosure. “People said, ‘Don’t you want to put the Girl with a Pearl Earring on her own?’ No: you see her surrounded by the very high quality of the other paintings.”

Does Dr Gordenker, who curated Dutch and Flemish art at the National Gallery of Scotland, before coming here in 2008, have any personal favourite? “It’s like asking a mother about her favourite children!” In her guide to highlights of the Mauritshuis, though, she does write that if “forced to choose”, it would be View of Delft.

'View of Delft' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660-1661 (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Writers of fiction have woven yarns around the lives of artists, real or imaginary, since as early as 1831, when Balzac re-invented the young Poussin in The Unknown Masterpiece. From Somerset Maugham channelling Gauguin in The Moon and Sixpence to Irving Stone’s semi-documentary heroics in Lust for Life (Van Gogh) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), the results have spanned the sublime and the faintly ridiculous. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera appear in Barbara Kingsolver’s Orange Prize-winning The Lacuna. Orhan Pamuk‘s My Name is Red, with its richly tinted evocations of Ottoman court painting in the 16th century, shows that the genre can adapt to fit a variety of frames.

At the Mauritshuis, the proximity of so many story-spinning canvases prompts a different sort of question about the traffic between prose and picture. Here, the broad sweep of the bio-novel takes second place to the ellipses and enigmas of individual works. For all the heavyweight scholarship devoted to symbolism and allegory in paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, the mystery of these frozen moments continues to haunt viewer and story-teller alike. True, Chevalier’s novel does in its oblique way, via the voice of the maid Griet, observe the life of Vermeer and his household in Delft; more importantly, it captures, scene by scene and gesture by gesture, the episodes, emotions and secrets hinted at by that outlandish jewel glinting at the servant’s (if she is a servant) ear.

The paintings from this place and time seem to serve as uniquely combustible firelighters of narrative. As Chevalier has said about the Girl’s almost startled sideways glance, “It’s the kind of expression you can interpret in different ways depending on your mood.” The writer, she has argued, may stretch the passing glimpse into a plot and colour in the vacant temporal background: “A painting is about a moment, a book is about a sweep of time – be it 100 years or a day or an hour, it is still about what changes between the beginning and the end of the story.”

The biographical canvas of Carel Fabritius is nearly as blank as the plain rough-cast wall behind his finch. To Donna Tartt, this picture tells a story not about the artist but about art itself. Its thick brushstrokes both make and break the illusion of reality, allowing us to experience both the subject and the artist’s technique in the same moment. As her bereaved young hero Theo puts it, “you see the mark, the paint for the paint, but also the living bird”. Fabritius’s artwork functions both as “the thing and not the thing”, a sacred sign of that “slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint but also feather and bone”. So the bird sings the magic of creation.

In Tartt’s book, the meaning of the painting entwines with the death of Theo’s mother and his long journey though grief. In Dutch Golden Age art as a whole, the vivid snapshots of life are often pregnant with an awareness of mortality. With their skulls and maggots, their blown roses and rotting fruits, these paintings swarm with every sort of memento mori to recall the transience of our days – and our loves. And the novelist, perhaps unlike the painter, can not only hint at but also describe the story’s end.

In The Captive, the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust’s obsessional admiration for View of Delft reaches its climax. The writer Bergotte has long wanted to revisit not only Vermeer’s painting but one small corner of it, “a little patch of yellow wall” which “was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself”. Critics and biographers argue over the fragment Proust had in mind; yellow patches lie on both sides of Vermeer’s Rotterdam Gate.

Already sick, Bergotte hauls himself (as Proust did in 1921) to the Jeu de Paume, where he sees the Vermeer – then dies, of a stroke. In his final revelation, “the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall” comes to stand not only for the sublimity of the greatest art but the purpose of life itself. It appears to the dying Bergotte like a coded signal from a better world, “based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again”.

The yellow wall – or, perhaps, the meaning of life – is in Room 15 of the Mauritshuis. The girl with a pearl looks straight at it. Next door, a goldfinch chirrups silently and unfathomably on its perch. A few metres away, seven medical students crowd around Dr Tulp’s pallid cadaver, each pointy-bearded face bristling with ambitious life. Three centuries and more ago, every one of those lives ended with one more chalk-white corpse.

Even though I had the chance to wander through an almost-silent gallery, the stories stacked inside the Mauritshuis could deafen you; the seam of fictional transformation from Proust to Chevalier, Tartt and Siegal is far from exhausted. Among the plentiful great Rembrandts in this gallery, you will find his haunting Two Moors from 1661: a pair of Africans, one defiant, the other subdued, the spectrum of feeling on their faces seeming to express the span of experience available to alien newcomers in the Holland of the Golden Age. Who will write their story?

The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery (mauritshuis.nl), Plein 29, 2511 CS The Hague, is open daily until 1 November, then Tuesday to Sunday.

After a triumphant tour of Japan, then the United States and ending in Italy, the Girl with a Pearl Earring has returned home to the Mauritshuis royal picture gallery in The Hague. For ever. The museum, which reopened last month after two years’ renovation work, will no longer allow Vermeer’s masterpiece out. Officially the Mona Lisa of the North has been gated in order to please visitors to the Mauritshuis who only want to see that painting. Its fame has steadily increased since Tracy Chevalier published her novel in 1999 followed in 2004 by the film by Peter Webber starring Scarlett Johansson. Anyone wanting to see the portrait will have make the trip to the Dutch city: here.

British disabled poet Mark Burnhope interviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

27 November 2011

Mark Burnhope reads ‘The Well and the Ceiling Rose’, ‘The Snowboy’ and ‘Shinglehenge’ (from The Snowboy).

By Jody Powell in Britain:

A Christian outsider, maybe-Quaker, physically disabled and queer

Thursday 17th July 2017

32-YEAR-OLD MARK BURNHOPE is a poet, editor and disability activist whose new book Species is his first full verse collection. Here he tells Jody Porter all about what impels him to write

What are your religious/political beliefs and how have they affected your poetry in the past and now in this book?

I’m a Christian outsider, maybe-Quaker, physically disabled and queer.

My religions are poetry, contemplation, social action and disability rights. I’m agnostic about the nature of “God” but her presence will always permeate my work and identity as “other,” even in contexts where I’m told I belong.

My chapbooks, The Snowboy and Lever Arch, dealt with religious disenfranchisement in their own ways. Species explores otherness as “natural/unnatural,” so people occupy the same space as animals, birds and monsters.

My politics are just my self, primarily filtered through disability/queerness.

I’m on the left but recoil from its tendency to exclude disenfranchised people in spite of its purported ethos of inclusion.

Recent examples include Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) having their wheelchair-using speakers turned away from the recent large London protest on the basis that it was their responsibility to pay for access to the stage, and not the event organisers — the People’s Assembly, who were quick to apologise and hopefully take steps to improving the situation for the future.

Then there was the discomfort I felt when certain people sharing pictures of DPAC protesters at Westminster Abbey fighting to keep the Independent Living Fund infantilised us, joked about us as defenceless, ultimately harmless and no genuine threat to government. Too often, that’s the able-bodied left for you.

I’m on the left because that’s where I find myself. But all this time, disabled people themselves have been leading a grass-roots, self-advocating charge against welfare reform and it saddens me when that’s co-opted by a non-disabled majority left that considers us only an optional piece of a larger puzzle — the “bigger fish to fry” syndrome — then depicts our efforts as quaint have-a-go attempts to join in.

I appreciate the sentiment behind a phrase like “solidarity with disabled people” but we’ve never spoken of “solidarity with able-bodied people,” we just call them the left.

I wish we received the same treatment but I find myself having to watch the action from the periphery too often.

What’s the significance of the collection’s title Species and the Darwin quote at the front of the book?

The book’s first epigraph, from theologian Francis Turretin in the 17th century, says that the law given to Moses “is usually distinguished into three species: moral… ceremonial… and civil.”

The book of Exodus contains the “clobber passages” which Christianity has used to oppress queer people alongside lesser-known verses which designate women, disabled people and others as “abominations.”

It’s not just gay people. The continual reinforcement of these prejudices in our day and age is due, in part, to this arbitrary and textually unsupported division of the law into three “species.”

The Darwin quote — “We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence” — relates to natural selection, that the strongest survive and the weakest conveniently die out for the continuation of “the whole.”

Species includes a sequence about the Atos-sponsored London Paralympics 2012, the government systemic ableism of eugenics-inflected propaganda and the dismantlement of the welfare state under the guise of “reform.”

The Darwin quote is a joke, meant to lead the reader into the book with a wry smile. I used the quote because it made me laugh. We have to laugh, or we’d cry.

What are abnominals?

The abnominal is a form invented by Scottish poet Andrew Philip, described in his second collection The North End Of The Possible: “The abnominal is a form I have developed using only the letters of the dedicatee’s name, each of which must appear at least once per stanza.

“The poem, which is 20 lines long, should begin and end by addressing the dedicatee in some way. The title must also be an anagram of their name.”

This allowed me to directly address relevant personalities: David Cameron, David Attenborough, Maurice Sendak and a few more.

Who in contemporary poetry do you admire?

Many mainstream magazines exclude disenfranchised writers and the writing modes central to their practice. In those spaces, everything tends to just melt into a generalised “best-of-British poetry.”

Yet if a poet’s work is inclusive, intersectional and concerned with representing disenfranchised writers, I’m probably going to read it.

On that list are radical feminist and disability/crip work and poetries of race, colour and queerdom.

One group that’s given me more confidence in writing my own bodily experience is the disability or “crip” poetics movement in America.

Mike Northern, Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Fiona Black and all the poets collected in Wordgathering online, along with the Beauty Is A Verb anthology and feminist works breaking down the barriers, are writing my revolution.

Species is published by Nine Arches Press at £8.99.