Artists, musicians, and writers in any culture act as the national conscience, reflecting on a society’s good and bad points and challenging the status quo. Creative expression, with its capacity to move and persuade audiences, and to shape and reveal identities, both explains and affects Arab societies in ways that go beyond politics.
On March 6, the Saban Center at Brookings’ Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, hosted a panel discussion on contemporary creative expression and its impact on Arab society, with a conversation that ranged from the role of literature, poetry and music, to the relationship between art and state sponsorship, to the differences in creative expression from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.
The panelists included Basma El-Husseiny, founder and managing director of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy in Egypt, and consultant to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts’ Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World; Palestinian author, poet and playwright Suheir Hammad; Adila Laidi-Hanieh, cultural critic and former curator of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah; and Khaled Mattawa, Libyan poet and assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan. Nonresident senior fellow Cynthia P. Schneider, coordinator of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World’s Arts and Culture Initiative, offered introductory remarks and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Saban Center senior fellow and director of the Middle East Democracy and Development Project (MEDD), moderated the discussion. After the program, panelists took audience questions.