Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) reveals 2018 festival theme and full programme of events

Posted on 12 June 2018
By Khyle Deen
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The UK’s biggest annual celebration of Arab culture encourages guests to ask themselves ‘What do I know?’ as it reveals its 20th anniversary festival theme.

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (LAAF) has revealed its packed programme of diverse events for the 2018 edition, which features The Shroud Maker, a dark new satire by Ahmed Masoud, a ground-breaking production of At Home in Gaza and London, where a mix of live-streaming and recorded video bring performers in Gaza and London together and the UK premiere of documentary film Science in Exile.

Also premiering at LAAF 2018 is new performance piece What Do I Know? Taking inspiration from the poetry of Liverpool/Yemeni spoken word poet Amina Atiq and starring acclaimed composer and singer/songwriter of Syrian Sephardi heritage, Ana Silvera, the performance looks at the effects of war in Yemen and provides the foundation for the theme of 20 th anniversary festival.

Challenging and hopeful, the theme encourages festival audiences to step away from the assumptions made around Arab life and explore its reality through the lived experience, expressed through diverse art forms of music, dance, visual art, theatre, film and spoken word.

Theatre & Spoken Word

Launching LAAF 2018’s theatre and spoken word programme is the premiere of What Do I Know? presented in collaboration with ice & fire theatre at the Philharmonic Music Room (Sunday 8 July), with a discussion with the cast and creative team after the show.

On Monday 9 July and Tuesday 10 July, Station House Opera and Artsadmin bring At Home in Gaza and London to LAAF. Funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), the performance follows the lives of people in two locations separated by great political, economic and physical divides and invites the audience to explore ideas of home and the hidden realities of life in two locations, 2,000 miles apart.

The Shroud Maker by Ahmed Masoud, starring Julia Tarnoky, will come to Unity Theatre on Saturday 14 July. The play shares the story of Hajja Souad – a character loosely based on a real-life person still living in Gaza today.

The play depicts how the 80-year old woman has survived decades of wars, deportation and oppression by making and selling shrouds for the dead, profiting from the continuous Israeli attacks.


A special double bill at The Box at Fact on Wednesday 11 July will feature the UK premiere of Science in Exile (PG), directed by Nicole Leghissa and It’s Only the Beginning (PG), directed by Chus López Vidal and Paula Rodríguez Sickert, followed by a post-screening discussion with Leghissa and López Vidal.

Science in Exile explores how recent violence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq has threatened the lives of four researchers, forcing them to suspend their work and flee their homelands. Challenging the common stereotypes of refugees from a war-ravaged region, Science in Exile finds women and men with years of training and experience struggling to find a safe haven in new lands. Documentary It’s Only the Beginning follows six Arab women filmmakers from different countries as they meet in Berlin in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”.

Invited by two mutual friends, the directors of the film, to screen their own work and get together, the film documents the women’s emotional reunion. As they journey through the streets of Berlin exchanging feelings about what they witnessed, they reflect on how both their lives and their work as filmmakers were impacted during this most convulsive period.

On Thursday 12 July, BBC Arabic Festival Film Evening will return to LAAF with the winner of the festival’s ‘Best Feature Documentary’ award, Those Who Remain, followed by a post-screening discussion at Picturehouse at FACT.

The feature-length documentary from distinguished director Eliane Raheb is set in Al Shambouk, one of the highest mountainous areas in Lebanon. Located in the Akkar heights, just few kilometres away from Syria, it is the homeland of 60-year-old Christian farmer, Haykal and the location of the farm and restaurant he has decided to build.

In the documentary Haykal deals with neighbouring quarries and the agricultural stagnation, in addition to the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on the political and economic situation, all while building his new home and defending his coexistence in Lebanon.

Visual Art

On Saturday 7 July British artist Rachel Gadsden will reveal her Unlimited International commission and collaboration with Palestinian artist Ali Saeid Ashour, It Was Paradise.

Located in London, Liverpool and the West Bank, and inspired by Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish’s poem ‘Under Siege’, the collaboration addresses global concerns about migration, the lingering flight of refugees, as well as the isolation of disabled and bereaved people.

The launch of the exhibition will be followed on Sunday 8 July by a conversation with Gadsden at Open Eye Gallery, where she will discuss the artworks, which have been inspired by the challenges and the beauty of the culturally rich Palestinian landscape.

LAAF will also welcome British Libyan artist and graphic novelist Asia Alfasi to the Bluecoat Artist Studio from Saturday 7 July to Wednesday 11 July, as the festival’s Artist in Residence.

Alfasi will showcase pieces inspired by her childhood in Libya and her visits to the country during and after the recent revolution as well as creating new works that provoke cross-cultural dialogue.

She invites visitors to join the conversation through a series of workshops on Saturday 7 July, as part of the Bluecoat’s festival family workshop event, and at drop-in sessions throughout her residency.

Bringing the experiences of refugees to LAAF, the Tented Dreams exhibition (Saturday 7 July – Friday 13 July), facilitated by Souriyat Across Borders, will feature a small selection of prints of the works of Syrian artist Mohammed Amari, who fled devastation of the civil war conflict in his country with few worldly possessions, including his watercolours.

His moving paintings will be showcased alongside original artworks by refugees from the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, with whom he has been working as a volunteer art teacher. The refugees have used the material from their old tents as their canvas, painting images that reflect their current situation, suffering and emotional turmoil, as well as their hopes, dreams and aspirations.


Showcasing the rich tapestry of Arab culture, LAAF will enthral audiences with performances by Brotha from Another Motha on Friday 13 July. The contemporary dance company will delight unsuspecting audiences with pop up performances of solo dance M. A. K. T. O. U. B and duo piece Shine My Blind Way at the Sugar House Steps in Liverpool ONE.

Born out of the Tunisian revolution, Brotha From Another Motha was founded as a way of providing a creative outlet for young Tunisians in the wake of the Arab Spring, but now includes members from across the globe.

The group champions dance and creativity as a means of freedom and expression that crosses borders.


Joining LAAF’s enhanced musical programme and a world-class line up that already includes internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi, Arab electronic hip-hop supergroup 47SOUL and trailblazing duo from the occupied Golan Heights, TootArd, is Bachar Zarkan with Hallaj of Hope.

In a special invite-only performance that will be live-streamed to the public on Thursday 5 July, Zarkan will pay homage to the divine poetry of the Sufi mystics and thinkers such as Ibn Arabi, Ibn Al-Faridh, and Al-Hallaj, and extends their rich legacy to the work of contemporary poet and literary icon Mahmoud Darwish.

Presented in partnership with MARSM, funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England and supported by Liverpool City Council Festival Enhancement Funding, Zarkan combines Syrian and Egyptian musical heritage, along with styles such as the Iraqi maqam, carrying an innovative expressivity and bringing a remarkable distinction to an already astonishing musical culture.

On Friday 6 July, 47Soul and TootArd will also be joined by DJ Jacques Malchance, while on Saturday 7 July Emel Mathlouthi will be joined by “The Moroccan Digitalizer”, U-Cef, for a special DJ set.

Extending the festival outside of the city, LAAF in Partnership with Arts Canteen will present Simona Abdallah in ‘Heartbeat’ at The Courtyard in London, ahead of her appearance at LAAF’s much-loved family day at Sefton Park Palm House.

The impressive line-up of internationally acclaimed Arab music stars is part of LAAF’s enhanced musical programme for 2018, supported by Liverpool City Council Festival Enhancement Funding ( which has allowed an even more ambitious musical programme as the city celebrates a decade since its year as European Capital of Culture.

Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Events, Councillor Wendy Simon, said: “I’d like to congratulate the LAAF team on such an impressive and thought-provoking programme of events.

“So many genres are covered from visual art and dance right though to music and performance that audiences are spoilt for choice in ways in which they can learn about, appreciate and celebrate Arab culture.

“I’m sure this year’s events will be a huge success and I hope as many people as possible take part and make the most of this incredible annual festival.”

“Music, theatre, spoken word, film, visual art and family activities all feature in this year’s exciting festival, showcasing a full spectrum of engaging and enthralling Arab arts.

“We invite all people from all walks of life to join this year’s incredible range of artists to celebrate the vibrant and diverse Arab cultures and art forms and ask themselves in reflection, what do I know now about Arab life?”

Jane Beardsworth, Director North, Arts Council England, said: “Liverpool Arab Arts Festival has celebrated to Arabic culture for 20 years and I’m delighted that the Arts Council continues to support the festival as part of our 2018-22 National Portfolio.

Local communities and visitors are introduced to a wide range of arts and culture, including theatre, dance, music and visual arts, and I’m sure that this year’s programme will bring an even wider audience to the festival.”

For more information and more event details, on LAAF 2018, visit