Nour Festival: Arabian nights in London

Now in its third year, London’s Nour Festival of Arab arts gives its diverse audience a fascinating perspective on the rich cultures of the Middle East and Africa

Built to house an English aristocrat’s fabulous collection of art, Leighton House Museum in London’s fashionable Kensington is a remarkable symbol of East meeting West. The Victorian artist and explorer, Lord Frederic Leighton, incorporated spectacular visions of the Orient including a golden dome, ceramic tiled walls and indoor fountain into his imaginative studio-home.

The culture-vulture, who loved to host evenings of art and music, would certainly have approved of the festivities going on at his palatial residence this season. Instead of the Victorian artists of his day the walls of Leighton House are hung with contemporary art. Arab spatial designer Dia Batal will be installing pieces from her Translations collection responding to the context of the space and building on Leighton’s own collection of objects from the Arab world. Also here, Nuclear Nuqta is the work of Muiz, an artist whose experimental visual language fuses classical Islamic art and philosophies with modern ones to reflect the complex, cultural semiotics and geopolitics of the modern Arab world.

The Nour Festival of Arts gives people in London the unique opportunity to become immersed in the rich world of contemporary arts and culture from across the Middle East and North Africa. It takes Leighton’s Eastern vision one step further and challenges established stereotypes of Arab culture opening hearts and minds to a plethora of talent from the spheres of fashion, literature, film, cookery, poetry, photography and music.

Major draws in Leighton House and other venues include Sona Jobarteh, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer and the world’s only female virtuoso Kora player working today; Kuwaiti-raised food writer Sarah Al Hamad exploring the traditions of Middle Eastern cuisine; and a slew of fascinating films. These include a showing of ‘Soul’ by Emirati director Fatima Abdallah, a conceptual short questioning the meaning of existence and ‘The Hardest Question’, where Jordanian director Ahmed Samara asks ‘What would you do if it was your last day on earth?’.

“Nour has rapidly developed into an internationally respected festival of contemporary culture from across the Middle East and North Africa,” comments Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which hosts the event.  “We are very proud that the festival has expanded to include some of the best-known cultural institutions in the UK and provide an increased global platform for emerging voices and international talent.”

From 1 October to 1 December 2012, the Nour Festival will be available at a number of atmospheric venues in London including the stately Victoria and Albert Museum, Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Leighton House Museum. With art, architecture, photography and music interacting with each other in a seemingly organic way, the initiative celebrates the cultural make up of Middle East and North Africa and glows with contemporary talent.