Clockwise from left: Avni Doshi, Annabel Kantaria and Simar Halwany. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is launching its 2021 season this weekend with literary-themed events, many with an art and design influence, at Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai.

The Friday-Saturday programme features live appearances, performances, tours, workshops, exhibitions and children’s activities, with many sessions free to attend. The events mark the first of three weekends, with the festival continuing at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City (February 4 to 6) and Alserkal Avenue (February 12 to 13).

Jameel Arts Centre will be kicking off the festival with a programme that includes emerging and established authors, poets and designers, with sessions in Arabic and English against the backdrop of Jameel Arts Centre’s sculpture park. Outdoor talks and panel discussions will be free, with online booking to reserve a space. Fees apply for workshops, which must be booked in advance at the festival’s website. Prospective visitors can explore the programme, register for free events and book tickets via the dedicated Jameel Arts Centre Festival webpage.

Limited seats

Due to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available, so early booking is recommended. Tickets will be required for each event, including free sessions, to ensure visitor number restrictions are adhered to. Many sessions will also be live-streamed for those who are unable to attend or miss out on tickets.

Literary-themed exhibitions
* Age of You is an exhibition about how technology is changing us, how we are changing society, and what it means to be an individual today. Curated by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist, this exhibition poses the question ‘What if the future is dictated by the unintended consequences of who you are?’. The exhibition previews a forthcoming book by Basar/Coupland/Obrist, The Extreme Self and includes over 70 visual contributors from the worlds of art, design, filmmaking, photography, performance and electronic music.
* Comics from across the Arab world, from the 1950s to the present day, will be on a display in an exhibition of David Hirsch’s acquisitions across his 34 years as a librarian and an avid collector, mapping out comic book, graphic novel and manga practices across the Arab world.

Organisers said the festival will be fully compliant with all Covid-19 prevention regulations and guidelines from the Dubai Health Authorities, including social distancing measures across all three venues and mandatory masks.

The schedule includes ‘Walking Talks’ by curator Shumon Basar through his co-curated exhibition ‘Age of You’, and librarian and collector David Hirsch, who will lead a discussion through the ‘Library Circles’ display of Arabic comic books, graphic novels and manga practices dating from 1956 to the present day. Curator-led tours of the Jameel Arts Centre will take place in Arabic and English throughout the weekend.

Festival programme

Taking to the amphitheatre stage will be the 2020 Booker-nominated novelist Avni Doshi, giving an insight into her influences and the extraordinary success of her debut novel, Burnt Sugar. Following her success with The Baghdad Clock, Shahad Al Rawi is back with a new book, Over the Republic Bridge, a story of love over three generations in Baghdad.

Also at Jameel Arts Centre will be Irma Boom, talking about her life and work, sharing the stage with the founder of Fikra Design Studio, Salem Al Qasimi. Described as ‘The Queen of Books’, Boom’s experimental approach in creating over 300 books resulted in her becoming the youngest recipient of the Gutenberg Prize.

Children’s workshops will include a session for children aged six to eight with Emirati author and illustrator Maitha Al Khayat, and an “art and mindfulness” workshop with Stephanie Robert and Jojo Chappell.

Ticket prices
Ticket prices for the main festival weekend at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City start at Dh60 for adult sessions, Dh40 for children’s sessions, and Dh100 for a digital pass to watch live-streamed sessions from home. A minimum of 10 top sessions will be streamed live.

Wordplay and art will be juggled in the workshop by poet Danabelle Gutierrez, who will show how to create a poem based on an artwork on display at Jameel Arts Centre. Artist and writer Simar Halwany will share the story of silent books and their rise to popularity. Also, Annabel Kantaria’s ‘Novel-Writing Trouble-Shooter Workshop’ looking at how to fix common blocks in structure, pacing, plot and character. There is also influencer and stylist Hafsa Lodi, author of Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, who will lead a masterclass to show how to take ideas and build a digital space.

Multidisciplinary designer and Arabic calligraphy artist Hussein Alazaat, the host of ‘The Beautiful Books Trove’, will be in conversation with Camil Karam of YaHala Studio Archive, tracing the history of 1970s progressive Arabic children’s publishing through the legacy of the combined artists, designers and writers, including the UAE’s Majed Magazine. To accompany the discussion, a selection of rare comics from the archives will be on display at Jameel Library from January 28 to 31.

Saturday evening will feature poetic inspiration from Dubai-based performers Shamma Al Bastaki, Sarah Almehairi and Arthur de Oliveira, and a discussion on the importance of small presses with indie publishers the JARA Collective, moderated by writer Saira Ansari from Sharjah Art Foundation.