Monday, 9 September 2013

Guest post: "Art under siege", by Chaymaa Ramzy El Dessouky (Egypt)

There is a special type of Alexandrian woman: one that is determined, opinionated, confident, full of energy, ideas and dreams and has got an amazing working capacity. Chaymaa Ramzy is that type of Alexandrian. Given all these characteristics, she´s not a person who will step back when encountering difficulties or facing controversy. Among the various projects she´s involved in, one that has really captured her heart is Marsam 301, a project based in Bethlehem, Palestine, involving people from various arab countries and one whose headquarters she´s not able to set her eyes on. For the time being... mv

Street events (Photo: Marsam 301)

“I don't remember when exactly I read my first comic book, but I do remember exactly how liberated and subversive I felt as a result.”
― Edward W. Said, Palestine

How do we define ‘siege’? Is it a physical siege, or rather a psychological one? Are we able as simple people to overcome its boundaries? Is a siege a boundary? Or it is just a limitation to some lands and spaces that we should continuously dream to fly high over?
Questions that may have different answers, which each one of us can interpret according to his or her own situation, place or style of living.
Palestine: The people, the territory, the country and the Holy Land. The experience that everyone is looking forward to. Some of us can and many can’t. One can dream of the beauty of its alleys, the kindness of its people and enjoy the non-ending stories of its houses and streets.
When Monther Jawabreh, a prominent visual artist from Bethlehem, first started thinking about founding a new cultural space, “Marsam 301” (Studio 301), he did not think about promoting art in its traditional spaces, but in different ones, where one can be touched by a story, listen to a local dialect, hear life loudly in spaces like houses, schools, hospitals and maybe prisons.
Marsam 301 is an independent cultural space, located in the city of Bethlehem, Palestine. A place that stresses the empowerment of the Palestinian visual artist and the promotion of the Palestinian visual art in the Arab region and probably in the world! A vision shared with other artists, cultural managers and supporters from Palestine and other neighbour Arab countries.
The name “301” derives from the checkpoint Kabr Rahil (Rahil’s Tomb), which is located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. An Israeli checkpoint known as ‘Barrier 300’ (Stand/Stop for inspection) prevents the crossing of the Palestinians to and from Jerusalem.  Marsam 301 is 2 kilometers away from the checkpoint, right in the center of the city of Bethlehem. So Marsam 301 took this name in order to be the second barrier that will force the Palestinians to Stand/ Stop to see art. 301 is also the number of the building.
Marsam 301, the space (Photo: Marsam 301)
“Raiding houses, kidnapping people, bombing cafés” might sound dangerous! But when you hear it from the Marsam 301 team you understand their mission and eagerness to raid houses with Art, to kidnap people and keep them long in art galleries and to bomb all the cafés of the alley with colors. A vision that is derived from their social surrounding and their daily dialect, to transform the current social and political siege into a sense of happiness and appreciation of the arts.  A vision that would liberate minds and would raise awareness about a true relationship that should exist between the artist and his community.
Marsam 301´s three main programmes include at this stage the promotion of the Palestinian visual art and the capacity building of young Palestinian artists. Another important programme aims to bring arts to the streets and to the non-traditional spaces, even to create art in its non- traditional forms. Finally, an artistic residency hosts other artists who are willing to live the Palestinian art exchange experience, whether from the Arab region or from any part of the world.
Through these three programmes, Marsam 301 team wishes to play an important role in the Palestinian art scene by linking a large number of young emerging artists with other prominent and well based ones. Also, to build a new relationship between these two types of artists that might benefit at this stage from sharing experiences and debating certain topics. An idea that has been confirmed and appreciated by Tamam Al Akhal, a prominent Palestinian visual artist, during the team´s last meeting in Amman, Jordan. Al Akhal strongly shares Marsam 301´s vision and goals.
The team met recently in Amman, Jordan. (Photo: Marsam 301)
This extraordinary experience which, in my opinion (being proudly one of its founders, together with Iman Bachir from Lebanon and Ahed Izhiman from Palestine), will contribute to the Palestinian art scene greatly, with a rich impact on the people and the community. It will allow for access to the arts at any place and at any time. By providing an insight into the arts that reflect the reality of the country and expressing people’s views, opinions and emotions to the outer. An experience that places the artists in the heart of the society.
Marsam 301 will continue with its strategy to help develop the Palestinian community, hoping that, one day, people will draw their own freedom and will never stand or feel under siege!
To contact Marsam 301 please write to marsam301(at) or visit us on Facebook.

Chaymaa Ramzy El Dessouky is the Program Officer at the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) in Alexandria, Egypt; an International Fellow of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Washington DC; founding member of Marsam 301 in Bethlehem, Palestine. Born in Alexandria, she graduated from the Faculty of Commerce - Alexandria University with a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and Strategic Marketing. With her experience as a trainer, she provides strategic support to civil society organizations and emerging bodies in the Arab region, helping them to create strategies that enhance their capacity in marketing, advertising and strategic planning. She brings people together using her networking skills and wide circle of contacts within the Euromed region. Through her fellowship at the Kennedy Center, she wishes to focus on developing a marketing plan that will help engage the press and incorporate social media platforms to empower local events in Egypt. Chaymaa organizes the Alexandria ‘s Annual Intercultural Festival “Farah El Bahr” with the Anna Lindh Foundation. She is also involved in creating the strategic plan for Marsam 301 in Bethlehem, Palestine, being part of a regional team of people from different Arab countries.



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