Today I went to an exhibition by the name of #ThePastIsNow at the Birmingham Museum & Arts Gallery with panel speakers such as Dr Morgan Dalphinis, micro-lectures, poetry, dance and conversations centred around the decolonisation of museums whose narratives glorify Empire and in doing so, erase the experiences of colonised people as well as whitewash the crimes committed by colonialists.
When do we reach a stage where people of colour are not used as ‘natural resources’ for projects that are continuously centred around whiteness, limited by frameworks that always revert back to bringing culture to the uncultured?
In the words of co-curator Sumaya Kassim, ‘Too often people of colour are rolled in to provide natural resources – our bodies and our “decolonial” thoughts – which are exploited, and then discarded. The human cost, the emotional labour, are seen as worthy sacrifices in the name of an exhibition which can be celebrated as a successful attempt by the museum at “inclusion” and “decolonising”, as a marker that it – and, indeed, Britain – is dealing with its past.’
Its so important that our stories are permanently embedded in all structures around us to counter the misrepresentation of our narratives in the bid to truly commit towards decolonisation.
Today we witnessed excellent work for this movement, well done to the co-curators- graphic designer, Abeera Kamran; artivist, Aliyah Hasinah; writer, Mariam Khan; cultural activist, Sara Myers; textile designer, Shaheen Kasmani, writer and researcher Sumaya Kassim.who made this happen.
WRITING WORKSHOP WITH PALESTINIAN PLAYWRIGHT AHMED MASOUD
On the 9th of June 2017, Outside The Frame Arts in collaboration with HOME arts centre, produced an event which brought acclaimed Palestinian playwright Ahmed Masoud to Manchester to deliver an exclusive writing workshop with participants. Having had the pleasure of engaging with his work through our initial project Platform For Palestinian Arts in 2016
( https://youtu.be/jbmxchDOBMg ) and realising the demand that exists for a much more diverse body of literature, we wanted to continue the work with our ethos in mind, platforming voices that are unheard in the mainstream and challenging the gatekeepers of knowledge. Too often minority voices are silenced, written for, spoken to or erased completely and the crucial need to decolonise, re-center and give agency back to individuals to narrate their own stories is just as pertinent now as it ever was.
So, funded and supported by Future Ventures Radical Arts Fund, Outside The Frame Arts arranged for the workshop to be held in the morning and was attended by 15 diverse participants from a variety of creative backgrounds. The workshop explored aspects of theatre writing including storytelling, plot devices and character building as well as giving participants an insight to the challenges faced by Ahmed Masoud’s writing as a person of colour in a world where the Palestinian narrative is so contested. Themes raised in the workshop included the representation of trauma, the silenced voice, comedy as a political tool and the nuances of our human condition.
Everyone was encouraged to share and the inclusive workshop was useful to the participants in terms of their creative development. Ahmed’s encouraging and positive manner provided a safe and comfortable space for learning and many were inspired by the diverse writing and technical tools he introduced them to.
‘The workshop was inspiring and helpful and it was great to meet and learn from different people.’
‘It gave me a chance to learn more about Palestine and what it means to struggle.’ The event has been fabulous, very interesting, fun, creative and a great opportunity to benefit from Ahmed’s experience which he has communicated in a generous and organized way.’
‘It was really helpful at this point in my life and work because I lack the confidence and strategies to begin writing. The exercises were really clear, helpful and very effective.’
‘I attended the workshop as I want to be a successful working writer and Outside The Frame Arts give high quality opportunities to develop writers.’
READING OF THE SHROUD MAKER written by AHMED MASOUD, DIRECTED BY RICHARD BEECHAM, PERFORMED BY KATHRYN HUNTER
The writing workshop was followed up the next day by a reading of Ahmed Masoud’s dark comedy ‘The Shroud Maker’ which charted the journey of a woman’s story of survival through modern history. This compelling satirical play was directed by Richard Beecham and performed by internationally renowned actress Kathryn Hunter whose portrayal of 80 year old Hajja Souad living on the besieged Gaza strip, was deeply moving.
The play delved deeply into the intimate life of ordinary Palestinians weaving a path through Palestine’s turbulent past and present. The staged reading successfully sold out with many being added to a waiting list. It drew in an extremely diverse audience of around 90 people, many of who were from a Black Asian & Minority ethnic background. Activists supporting the Palestinian cause were interested to see how politics and the arts are intrinsically connected. Many in the audience felt a sense of solidarity and a need to offer support since the event highlighted bringing minority voices to the forefront. Some who attended were artists curious to see new work. Overall the subject matter though universal, also explored the nuances of ‘ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstance’. The added bonus of the talented and well-known actor Kathryn Hunter also drew in a wider audience.
Inclusive and diverse audience engagement is vital to us at Outside The Frame Arts as often we have found through our engagement with the arts that theatre is inaccessible to many marginalised and underrepresented communities – largely being an arena consisting of and catering for the white middle class. This event represented how a real investment for change – a conscious step away from the status quo, can reshape and redefine the demographics of audience development, create a better understanding between people who would not normally engage with each other and enhance community spirit on a local and global level. It also encourages well-known establishments to reevaluate their outreach work and be open to welcoming diverse artists as skilled and talented contributors with distinct experience and knowledge, into the structures that make up the arts world.
The event closed with a Q&A session with Ahmed Masoud hosted by co-director of Outside The Frame Arts, Hafsah Aneela Bashir, opening up space for the audience to have an engaging and in-depth discussion with Ahmed spanning comedy, literature, his childhood, representation and moral responsibility through the arts.
Ahmed Masoud was extremely generous and warm, discussing the complexities of his experience as a Palestinian writer and the challenges he has faced with his work. He explained how he was unable to go to Palestine to attend a well-known literature festival he had been invited to speak at, yet his British friends crossed the border easily.
As a Palestinian man, we learnt that the restriction on his freedom and basic human rights informs how and why he chooses to write. He emphasised that for him, it was imperative to write. In this vein, as a writer fighting for survival, there is no choice but to put pen to paper. He garnered a positive response from the audience many of whom stated they wanted to learn more about the region, its culture and the rich canon of arts it has to offer.
‘A terrific production – wonderful and so moving to be able to see something here in Manchester that so vividly conveys the spirit of survival of ordinary people in Palestine.’
‘Fantastic and original work. I’d love to see more play readings and other work of this caliber.’
‘It was a great experience. The play was very heart-touching. Hunter was brilliant. Thanks for organizing and bringing Palestine spirit to Manchester’.
‘I find this more powerful than direct examples of war. Human experience and comedy worked really well. Well done to everyone involved in this production.’
What an amazing few months! ‘Come Closer – Memories of Partition’ project was one of the most gruelling but hugely satisfying projects both mentally and physically I have ever done.
A unique collaboration between The Royal Exchange, Manchester Museum, The Alama Iqbal Race Relations Centre and Greater Manchester BME Network, the project explored the 1947 Partition of India which divided the country under British colonialist rule.
A series of intensive workshops culminated into ten south Asian writers creating monologues to be showcased at The Royal Exchange, Manchester Museum and then throughout local community venues.
My piece ‘Spirits of Sunam’ was inspired by my amazing grandmother, Sarwari who was 17 at the time of partition. This year marks the 70 year anniversary of a hugely traumatic experience that changed their lives as they once knew it. This project allowed the silenced to be heard, giving agency to us as writers to decolonise and narrate those experiences in exactly the way they needed to be told.
And I learnt it all by heart! Anyone that knows me will be wise to what a mean feat that is! special thanks goes to the wonderful Nicole Morris who directed my piece, to the amazing cohort of actors and directors I spent time with and also to Grace & Lizzie who managed it all! Onwards and upwards!
These past six months have had me revisiting my grandmother’s experience of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. For anyone working with individuals who have suffered from unspeakable trauma, you’ll know how hard this task is and the immense sensitivity and care required to do so. ’70 years is a long time waiting to be heard’……
Come and watch myself and 9 other South Asian writers and spoken word artists commissioned by The Royal Exchange ( in a unique collaboration with Manchester Museum, The University Of Manchester, the Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and the Greater Manchester BME network), perform short monologues.
The new monologues will reveal the untold stories of the significance of Partition and the impact still felt today. You
can catch us between the 22nd and 26th of September.
Inspired by the material that has emerged from the Memories of Partition Oral History project at Manchester Museum, it promises to be a unique insight into a traumatic history by those who experienced it.
For more info, visit
‘Congratulations! You have been picked by our judges as a winner of PANDA’s writing competition!’, was a great opening line to an email I received today.
Apparently there were many strong entries and the judges felt that my piece, ‘Self’, had the most potential and showed creative excellence alongside ‘Chelsea’ by Paul Holliday and ‘Mother, Daughter, Stranger’ by Rose van Leyenhorst which I am looking forward to reading.
So, what’s next? PANDA’s first book will be published in October and we writers will be published alongside each other, in a book of wisdom about the arts, created by PANDA and its members. I feel very happy I must say!
So please watch this space – onwards & upwards! 🙂
Tonight I went to see the extremely moving lyrical story of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali at The Lowry, written & superbly performed by actor and director Amer Hlehel.
Directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi – author of ‘I am Yousuf & This is My Brother’ who some of you may recognise as the very first Palestinian author we explored for our ‘Platform For Palestinian Arts’ project last year, the play tells the story of Taha’s expulsion from his home in Galilee and the subsequent reality of war his family faces.
Themes of love, loss, trauma and survival were explored as in many narratives of displacememt but it was Amer Hlehel’s ability to take the audience through what I can only describe as a visceral experience that truly brought this writing to life.
I thoroughly recommend catching this in London, one of the highlights of which was hearing the recital of Taha Muhammed Ali’s beautiful poem at the end of the play called ‘Revenge’.
At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!
But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbours he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.
But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbours or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
by Taha Muhammad Ali