Culture from the Middle East in Denmark

September 2006 -

Mega size photos covering Denmark reflect changes in identities all over the wider Middle East, and show the complexity of cultural expressions in the region.
Every third year the Danish Centre for Culture and Development organises a huge cultural festival focused on a specific region in the world. This year the festival reflects changes in space and identities, and presents dreams and visions from younger generations in the wider Middle East. It is all about how modernity meets tradition - East meets West. The festival also mirrors the immigrants living in Denmark and creates links to civil society in the region.

But how to present the essence of culture from Morocco to Iran? The Iraqi singer and electronica musician Aida Nadeem states: "I don’t like to represent the Middle East or feminists in general - just myself." The younger generations are pushing for changes at all levels in the region, and move forth and back. "The minorities in the Sunni-Muslim Arab world are we, who escaped: Muslims in the West and a minority in the Arab World," Egyptian journalist Mona Elthahawi says.


Converging Territories, photo: Lalla Assia Essaydi

Many are disillusioned about their parents failure to make changes. They fight with the authorities and find their way e.g. through blogs on the internet. "But while the young generation fighting for labour rights is jailed, because they organise demonstrations in Syria, they escape due to the modern media in Egypt. They are super heroes in Egypt, but treators in Syria," she says. Many go to the West, but find a hidden labour market and racism, and then return to countries with no rights - and also no self-criticism. "Criticizing the US is important, but self-criticism is healthy, we need more of it," says Mona Elthahawi.

The festival faces explosive questions. Cultural issues are often economic questions about real differences. Besides, cultural expressions often have political goals. The organisers keep stressing, that it is a cultural festival, but can culture avoid being political - especially coming from the Middle East?

Amazing cultural events are definitely going to colour Denmark until late September: charismatic Kurdish songs, Sufi dance and Lebanese puppet theatre organised by Copenhagen International Theatre, besides conferences, events and exhibitions, in which 450 artists, media and cultural personalities from the region participate. The festival is doomed to success, despite Muhammad-cartoons and the Lebanon war. Or maybe because of it.