By Dan Gorman
Day two at the ‘Towards a Literary Exchange and Translation Strategy for the Euro-Mediterranean Region’ conference began with five short presentations, all on different topics and with different outlooks, but a central point weaved its way through the various discussions: Artists and cultural practitioners need to work together, get active on an international level and make sure our voices are heard. This does not mean that artists and cultural practitioners are somehow a separate group from the rest of society, but rather that arts are intrinsic to human life, and as such need to be represented and supported.
Luca Bergamo from Culture Action Europe set the bar high with a discussion of arts and sustainability, kicking off with the proclamation ‘we don’t want any more human beings on planet Earth’. A statement I would tend to agree with. His presentation then went on to include William Blake imagery and discussion of how ‘we urgently need stories to bring a new narrative of our future to life’. You can see an interview with Luca here: http://vimeo.com/63392539
Following this was Basma El Husseiny, director of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy, who gave an excellent overview of their work on cultural policy in a number of countries in the Arab world and the challenges they’ve faced as cultural practitioners in Egypt, both before, during and following the revolutions there (if indeed we can say that any of the revolutions are yet completed). Basma described how she got engaged in the world of cultural policy as a way to challenge the state monopoly on culture, a monopoly in the Syria case well described well by Cécile Boëx. Basma went on to outline the five key needs of those working in the cultural sector in the Arab world as she sees it, as follows:
- Freedom of Expression
- Awareness of Sector (both in terms of public awareness and internal awareness of each other)
In order to achieve these we need to work together: collaboration and cooperation is key. You can see an interview with Basma here: http://vimeo.com/63392899
To see more on Al Mawred Al Thaqafy’s work on Cultural Policies see here: http://www.mawred.org/en/services/cultural-policies
Tsveta Andreeva from the European Cultural Foundation, in the third keynote presentation, went on to pose the question ‘what is our vision of Europe’s cultural presence in the world? Is it Van Gogh and Raphael, or something more collaborative and current?’ She argued for the need for a coalition of independent producers across Europe to lobby the EU and ensure visibility and representation. There is a need for cultural producers to admit that our work is political and that culture is intrinsically linked to values such as freedom of expression and human rights.
These three panelists were followed by presentations from Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, and Karsten Xuereb from the Valetta 2018 Foundation. Alexandra began by highlighting the ‘Across’ in ‘Literature Across Frontiers’ with the point that literature is always mediated, there are always borders to cross in accessing literature. She then went on to sum up Literature Across Frontiers current work, flagging up a number of online resources, including:
Finally, Karsten Xuereb gave an overview of the vision of the V18 project. There was a lot to this, but to me what stuck out is the concept of working to make Valetta a ‘great city’, looking towards a possible future rather than a nostalgic past. Of course the definition of what a ‘great city’ is is subjective, however given the location of Malta, an outward looking project should be seen as key, as was highlighted during the Q&A following Karsten’s presentation. There was much discussion of the proposed hub for translation and literary exchange, a potential project which has been central to discussions at each of the Literature Across Frontiers strategy consultation workshops in this series, and which I will explore further in the next blog.
Today’s discussions highlighted to me the intrinsic political nature of the arts. All art needs to be seen in context, however that context must not overshadow the work, or provide lazy stereotypes and clichés. The debates today also highlighted the need for artists and cultural practitioners not to feel that they are in competition with one another, something which is easy to feel in the face of scarce resources. We need to build networks, work collaboratively, and speak up.
Dan Gorman is the director of Firefly International and coordinates Reel Festivals, a project which focuses on dialogue through arts events. He is Literature Across Frontiers’ guest blogger in Valletta this weekend.