The Markaz Closes Up Shop Definitively

the old storefront on W. Pico Blvd. The physical space is closed but watch for our renaissance If the pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything, it is that nationalities and borders are meaningless. The coronavirus cares neither for our religion nor the color of our skin and can kill almost indiscriminately, such that most of us, around the world, have been living in the same shared reality these last many weeks, trying to keep ourselves and our families safe. I have spent many waking hours pondering what lies ahead, as I'm sure you have. Our future is uncertain, but we must face it together. For now...we must face at once our demise and our rebirth. We made history when on Saturday, June 23, 2001, we presented our first public program as the Levantine Cultural Center. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, arts critic Don Heckman noted that the center was intended to be “a new paradigm for Middle Eastern cultures and coexistence.” His review, titled "Middle Eastern Program Puts Focus on Inclusiveness," revealed our plans to open "a performance space, art gallery, conference room, workshops, bookstore, cafe and office space" for cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. It was to be the first of its kind in the western United States.   Continue reading

Testimonials on the Closing of The Markaz

art from the "Local Not Local" exhibit curated by Maece Seirafi and Pouya Jahanshahi   Some of the many letters we have received upon the announcement of our demise Although I relocated the gallery 5 years ago to Seattle, I've appreciated keeping tabs on the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz in your newsletters over the years. So sorry to hear of its imminent closing at month's end, but certainly understand as laid out in your latest emailer. If there's anything I've learned in my years in the art business — worthwhile work, important work, especially in the cultural arts is never considered mainstream, cutting edge, popular or trend setting. But it is a voice nevertheless that needs to be spoken, heard, and shared, especially as so demonstrated in these times more than ever. I'm deeply saddened to hear The Markaz will cease to exist in the physical structure but its voice was heard and shared well beyond your programs. Thus, important conversations that were impressionable will continue to be shared in the hearts of all who were fortunate to have crossed paths with you and your honorable organization. I remember with great fondness our collaborations both at The Markaz and offsite at my gallery including insightful conversations by the coming together of visual artists from a variety of background perspectives — Muslim, Jewish, American. Thank you for the opportunity and kindness extended for sharing in this type of dialogue. Be well and strong, look forward to when our paths cross again. —Warm regards, Eleana Del Rio, Koplin Del Rio Gallery  Continue reading

Arabic language and Arab authors

Where would we be without language, without books? In a time when many of us are asking ourselves whether we've reached peak intelligence, knowing how truly far away we are from transcendence, language itself is the final frontier between evolution and barbarism. Thankfully, writers remind us of what we have in common, and how we might unite against the darker forces constantly working to drive us apart. We invite you to support these authors by reading their work and discussing it with your friends: In Al Jadid, the essential magazine for Arabic culture and language in English, founded in Los Angeles as a print magazine decades ago by the irreverent and irreplaceable Elie Chalala, the editor himself asks: Can Arabic Language ‘Translate’ into the Modern World? The Arabic language has always been a source of pride for a majority of Arab intellectuals. Yet, traditional celebrations of the language have been politicized at the expense of organizing professional conferences to address the challenges that have been facing the Arabic language, especially its failure to keep up with the technological revolution. With the global recognition of the Arabic language comes the persistent question: why is Arabic struggling to hold its own among native speakers, with the lack of fluency blatant in radio broadcasts, newspapers, and television? Read the complete article here. In the Los Angeles Review of Books Jordan Elgrably, the cofounder of The Markaz (Levantine Cultural Center, 2001), reviews the work of two younger Arab authors as each explores the Zeitgeist for Arabs in the USA after the events of 9/11. Septemberland, How to Find Your Way in a Post-9/11 Dystopian World TO BE A STRANGER in your own land is alienating enough, but to be a stranger among your own people? That vexing question is at the heart of two books — one a Bildungsroman, the other a memoir — by Arab authors whose narratives might be best described as the misadventures of the insider-outsider. Read the complete article here. Also in the Los Angeles Review of Books, author Tom Zoellner, senior politics editor at LARB, travels to Beirut to interview Joumana Haddad. A certified firebrand, Haddad, who says she's a third wave feminist, was the former longtime cultural editor at Beirut's An-Nahar newspaper. She is the author of the provocative I Killed Scheherazade, Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman and its sequel, Superman is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men and Other Disastrous Inventions. More recently she published the novel The Seamstress' Daughter. Doomed to Survive, But Not Live: An Interview with Joumana Haddad JOUMANA HADDAD announced a full-scale revolt against traditional notions of Arab femininity with her 2010 essay collection, I Killed Scheherazade, referring to the titular crafty storyteller of The Arabian Nights. She also spared no critique of Middle Eastern men — of all religions — for what she believed were patriarchal and backward attitudes toward sex and marriage. Read the complete interview here. Also during his trip to Beirut, LARB's Tom Zoellner managed to interview the storied Arab-language novelist and public intellectual Elias Khoury, author of the now-classic novel of the Nakba, Gate of the Sun. A longtime journalist and editor, Khoury has authored more than a dozen novels, plays and works of criticism. For several years he taught at NYU and other American universities, before returning to his native Lebanon.  What Is Good in Man is Love: An Interview with Elias Khoury Read the complete interview here. 

Debut Books by Young Arab Authors Tackle Post 9/11 Identities

TO BE A STRANGER in your own land is alienating enough, but to be a stranger among your own people? That vexing question is at the heart of two books — one a Bildungsroman, the other a memoir — by Arab authors whose narratives might be best described as the misadventures of the insider-outsider. In Rayyan Al-Shawaf’s coming-of-age novel When All Else Fails, his protagonist Hunayn is an immigrant college student in Orlando, Florida, facing the fallout of 9/11.  When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History by Massoud Hayoun is a memoir and an intimate narrative of two Jewish Arab families woven together by time and circumstance as they emigrate from Morocco and Tunisia to Egypt, Palestine, France, and the United States, looking for a place to call home.  read in the Los Angeles Review of Books

The Tunisian Woman Who Wouldn't Stop Speaking Her Mind

Medusa TN is the kind of Tunisian who has a lot on her mind, and doesn't mind sharing it with the world, wherever, whenever. In North Africa often the apple doesn’t fall from the tree—while it’s not unusual for the son of a policeman, a teacher or a factory worker to follow in his father’s footsteps, if you’re a young woman, that’s another matter—you’re more likely to do your studies and get married; family life will come before career. You certainly don't barge through the door with a song or a rap. And yet it just so happens that dancer and rapper Boutheina El Alouadi is the daughter and the niece of rappers. At age 10 she found herself breakdancing at the mosque—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading

DC Welcomes New Cultural Institute for Yemen with Oct. 25th Concert

Many of us have been shocked by the destruction rained down on Yemen that has affected in particular the children of Yemen. The United Nations suggests that Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen has caused one of the worst humanitarian disasters on record. And just a few days ago, the Guardian reported that at least 712 religious sites and 206 ancient archeological sites have been affected or destroyed since the Yemen war broke out in 2015. Now,  a new cultural center in the nation’s capital announces its arrival with a concert designed to celebrate Yemeni heritage.  The Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts (YCIHA) announces its launch on Oct. 25, 2019, when it presents “Vibrations from Yemen: Traditional and New Sounds” featuring renowned artists Ravid Kahalani of Yemen Blues and oud master Ahmed Al-Shaiba. The event, hosted at the Eaton Workshop, will feature traditional Yemeni beats and highlight modern eclectic interpretations of Yemeni chants and instruments. The evening proposes an interfaith performance dedicated to peace featuring Kahalani, an artist of Yemeni Jewish descent who blends western African and funk beats, performing alongside Al-Shaiba, a self-taught Yemen-born artist based in New York. The program aims to introduce distinct ancient and urban Yemeni sounds to the west and is an instrument of musical preservation of Yemen’s culture, which is actively under threat. YCIHA is proud to present an interfaith event committed to peace and to sharing a collective heritage that transcends nationality or religious identity.  What: Vibrations of Yemen: Traditional and New SoundsWhat: Interfaith concert launching the Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the ArtsWhen: Fri, Oct. 25, 2019, 7-9 pmWhere: Eaton Workshop at the Eaton Hotel,1201 K St NW, Washington, DC 20005Tickets: $30-$40, Tickets can be found here or on our website, info 703-982-0339 Facebook: Continue reading

Palestine in a Dish

  how cuisine and culture collide to preserve a people’s history Jordan Elgrably   Wafa Shami is a Palestinian who was born in Ramallah and came to the States as a young grad student. We first met many years ago in Los Angeles when she was the director of the Middle East Education Project, run out of the American Friends Service Committee’s Los Angeles bureau, downtown. At the time I was the co-director of Open Tent Middle East Coalition and Wafa’s group frequently was part of our citywide coalition to build understanding among diverse cultural and religious communities who wanted to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with peace and justice. Later, Wafa moved north to San Jose, where she began blogging Palestinian recipes. Continue reading

Welcome the Stranger

Reimagining Heroes Past and Present By: Micaela Amateau Amato   My family speaks seven languages because we have lived in communities that are enlivened by many ethnicities and races simultaneously, in places such as Smyrna, Salonika, Rhodes, Fez, New York, Puerto Rico. On the islands of Rhodes and New York we have conversed through a mixture of Spanish, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, Hebrew, and Arabic. We are Sephardim and Mizrahim (Iberian Arab Jews.) This sensibility emerges in my studio as a composite of sculpture, painting, photography—a confluence instinctively mirroring my hybrid ancestral history. We “welcome the stranger.” Continue reading

Inaugural Bustany-Kasem Friendship Forum Dissects the Dangers of Saudi Extremism

By Tony Litwinko On December 21st “Ending Saudi Extremism” was the subject of the inaugural Bustany-Kasem Friendship Forum, held in partnership with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and The Markaz at the Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood. Special guest Terence Ward, the American documentarian, writer and consultant, presented his latest book, The Wahhabi Code: How the Saudis Spread Extremism Globally. His interlocutor was Ani Zonneveld, the founder of Muslims for Progressive Values and a key player in the new Alliance of Inclusive Muslims. (See video here.) Continue reading

Demonizing Iran Only Strengthens the Regime While Punishing its People

President Jimmy Carter addresses the American people on the Iran hostage crisis, 1979 Opinion by L.Y. On the 40th anniversary of Iran's revolution, an Iranian-born American attorney argues for the Iranian people, but against Iran's regime and U.S. anti-Iran sanctions   The people of Iran have been suffering under crippling sanctions for nearly 40 years and yet the deeply entrenched clerical establishment has only strengthened over time. The Trump Administration has now unilaterally backed out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) international nuclear agreement with Iran, citing "disastrous flaws." They have also imposed the toughest sanctions on Iran to date. The first set of Trump sanctions took effect on August 8, 2017, restricting Iran's purchase of US currency, trade in gold, precious metals and sale of Iranian auto parts, commercial passenger air crafts and related parts and service. Continue reading