In March 2017, 12 Iraqi-Minnesotan immigrants and refugees came together under the direction of theater artists Taous Claire Khazem and Dylan Fresco to create an original and innovative theater performance based on their personal stories as a part of our Iraqi Voices project. They continued an extensive creative process for eight weeks, learning ensemble work and participating in storytelling and theater exercises. Rehearsals for the show began in July, with a staged reading version of Birds Sing Differently Here on stage at Dreamland Arts in August.
The diverse intergenerational cast included nine Iraqi Voices participants (Nada Alabbasi, Ali Alshammaa, Hannaa Al-Azzawi, Mazin Chilab, Abdullah Flaija, Adel Naji, Dhifaf Sarhan, Ahmed Al Shaikhli and Bahaa Al Shaikhli) and four professional actors (Ashawnti Ford, Dylan Fresco, Aamera Siddiqui and Mohammed Yabdri).
Each of the three nights were sold out! The premiere of Birds Sing Differently Here will be at the Guthrie in October.
Official premiere of Birds Sing Differently Here as part of the theater’s Level 9 Series, all tickets for productions in the Dowling Studio are $9. To purchase, call the Box Office 612.377.2224 or toll-free 877.44.STAGE or visit here.
DATE: October 27, 28, 29
TIME: 7:30pm and 1:00pm
LOCATION: Guthrie Theater, Dowling Studio
It is our pleasure to announce that October 27-29, IARP will partner with the Guthrie Theater to present Birds Sing Differently Here. In conjunction with the performance, audiences will be able to engage with the work from IARP’s Iraqi Voices program, a collaborative art lab that gives Iraqi immigrants and refugees in Minnesota a platform to share their stories through bookmaking, documentary filmmaking and visual art.
Birds Sing Differently Here is a theater piece based on the true stories of 12 Iraqi-Minnesotan refugees and immigrants, directed by Taous Claire Khazem and created by Dylan Fresco, Taous Claire Khazem and Iraqi Voices program participants. Birds Sing Differently Here weaves together tales of sweetness, sorrow, grief and discovery. Inventively performed in both English and Arabic, participants come together with a cast of professional actors to tell “the story of a thousand olive pits and seven thousand praises, tokens of love and a chilling escape from the desert of death.”
The Iraqi Voices participants and ensemble include: Nada Alabbasi, Sumaya Ameen, Ali Alshammaa, Hannaa Al-Azzawi, Abdullah Flaija, Salwa Mohialdeen, Adel Naji, Arwa Naji, Dhifaf Sarhan, Mazin Chilab, Ahmed Al Shaikhli, Bahaa Al Shaikhli, Rawan Al Shaikhli, with Mohammed Yabdri, Dylan Fresco, Aamera Siddiqui and Ashawnti Ford.
This May, we had the honor of participating in the Festival of Nations for the third consecutive year. The Festival of Nations, which has been held annually for over 80 years, inspires individuals “to discover more about our wonderful world and embrace its rich cultural diversity.” This rich diversity was celebrated with 35 cafes, over 40 international bazaars, over 100 music and dance performances, and the cultural booths.
This year’s theme was Rites and Rituals, and the Iraqi cultural booth chose to showcase wedding traditions from around Iraq. With the help of an amazing group of volunteers from the Iraqi community, our booth had many traditional elements of an Iraqi wedding. On display, there was a beautiful wedding dress, candles to bring passion and energy to the couple, a tray of seven white objects, such as sugar, symbolizing purity, a Qur’an so the couple may receive God’s blessing, and a mirror to bring light and brightness to the couple’s future. The scene was set with lights, lanterns, cushions, and curtains, as well Iraqi music. On Saturday, Iraqi volunteers and friends gathered to dance the traditional chobi for visitors.
We had a lot of fun stamping passports, writing visitors’ names in Arabic, and celebrating the traditions of Iraq. We would like to give a special thank you to all of the volunteers who made this possible by decorating the booth and interacting with the visitors to ensure everyone had a fun and educational experience. We hope to see everyone there next year!
Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project is proud to announce that our newest Iraqi Voices documentary, Our Iraq, will soon be featured at Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF). This local festival is hosted by the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society.
If you would like to attend this event, tickets are on sale at mspfilm.org. The film will be screened April 15th at 11:40 am at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.
The short documentary was written and directed by Iraqi refugees in Minnesota as part of a collaborative art lab called Iraqi Voices. Our Iraq dismantles caricatures of Iraqis and Muslims in the United States: an Iraqi-American sculptor rebuilds what extremists have destroyed, Muslims pray at a Catholic church in Minneapolis, refugees own a St. Paul neighborhood grocery, and a public school administrator becomes the first Muslim woman to win an election in Minnesota.
Our Iraq was also screened at the Vail Film Festival on March 31st. The Vail Film Festival, in Colorado, is celebrating its 14th year and will be honoring Golden Globe nominee Julie Deply as well as Emmy nominee Christina Ricci. More information about this festival can be found at http://www.vailfilmfestival.com.
I’m from a country at war
I am from a country that’s bleeding
A country of anger
A country of martyrs,
I’m from a country once called Mesopotamia
I’m from the land of black gold
I’m from the richest land on the earth
I’m from the land of sunshine on a golden desert
I’m from there
But I’m not there
I had beautiful dreams
I had friends, brothers, sisters, sweet parents and pink hopes…
I had green gardens, tall palms and olive trees
I had a warm winter
I was born on land before the crossing of swords on the body
Turned into a banquet table
Before Bush and Blair turned our rivers into blood
Then they donate us millions of tents instead of roofs for our houses
The rain has died in my homeland..
They left graves in the green grass in our fields
Only cacti remain laughing in the barren desert
The sun has become ashamed behind the clouds
Where is God ?
Has even God became a refugee in His land ?!
Where is our ancient law?!
Even this been stolen?!
I crossed the seas of death
Waves of grief have led me here
To the land of my usurpers in an old and narrow shelter
The victim cannot judge its executioner
I now speak in two languages, but I have forgotten in which one I used to dream
I have learned all the words to take
the lexicon apart for one noun’s sake,
The compound I must make:
No choice I came here
but I’m not here
You are a refugee and
Your choice is not your choice
Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi poet, academic and defender of Human Rights and has lived in Britain since 2012. She is a member of the Union of Iraqi Writers and was one of the first delegates to the US for the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. She is an activist with Leicester Civil Rights Movement: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/malka-al-haddad and has presented her academic paper Political Changes and their Impact on Iraqi Women at LSE in 2015 https://brismes2015.wordpress.com/panel-5d-politics-gender-and-nostalgia-in-contemporary-iraq/
Thank you to EVERYONE for making the premiere of OUR IRAQ a success!
OUR IRAQ is the 14th film in the Iraqi Voices series. A team of 10 local Iraqis created this film with Nathan Fisher and IARP. OUR IRAQ begins with a sweeping overview of thousands of years of ethnic and religious coexistence in the cradle of civilization. The film then dismantles caricatures of Iraqis and Muslims in the United States — an Iraqi-American sculptor rebuilds what extremists have destroyed, Muslims pray at a Catholic church in Minneapolis, refugees own a St. Paul neighborhood grocery, and a public school administrator becomes the first Muslim woman to win an election in Minnesota.
This event was organized in collaboration with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It is part of their year-long series of public programming, “Global Minnesota: Immigrants Past and Present”, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Join us for the premiere of a documentary film written and directed by Twin-Cities based Iraqi refugees and Iraqi-Americans, followed by a discussion with Joseph Farag, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture (UMN), and filmmakers. Reception to follow.
Iraqi Voices is a collaborative arts lab which gives Twin Cities-based Iraqis an artistic platform to share their stories. The new half-hour documentary in the Iraqi Voices series dismantles caricatures of Iraqis and Muslims in the United States ”” Muslims pray at a Catholic church in Minneapolis, refugees own a St. Paul neighborhood grocery, and a public school administrator becomes the first Muslim woman to win an election in Minnesota. The films are photographed and edited by Nathan Fisher and produced by the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project.
This event is organized in collaboration with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It is part of their year-long series of public programming, “Global Minnesota: Immigrants Past and Present”ť, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Event is free, suggested donation $10
October 29th, at 2:00pm
F.K. Weyerhaeuser Auditorium
75 5th St, St Paul, MN 55102
Iraqi Voices is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
This event is co-sponsored by the The Advocates for Human Rights.
Excited as ever to be a part of this year’s Mizna Arab Film Festival!
Iraqi Shorts and Iraqi Voices at the Mizna Arab Film Festival on October 1 @ 1:00pm. The 2015 films will be screened as well as a sneak peak of our 2016 film. Q&A with filmmakers after screening. Come out and show your support for Iraqi filmmakers!
Learn more here.
Soon after listening to an NPR radio interview with National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) founder Zuhal Sultan, I found an e-mail in my inbox. A local Minneapolis resident, connected to Luthiers Without Borders, was interested in donating bows and some strings to the Youth Orchestra, if we could arrange it.
The organization I work for, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project, is a non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation that has affected Iraqi families, society, and culture. We work toward our mission of reconciliation through the arts, education, cultural and professional exchange, and support for peacemakers in Iraq.
After many weeks of trying to find the right person to contact through Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail leads, I finally got a hold of Majd Al-Azzawi, Chairperson and Project Manager of NYOI.
He told me a little more about the orchestra and of its hopeful beginnings and current struggles to stay functioning in the current climate of Iraq.
The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is the brainchild of Zuhal Sultan, a young pianist from Baghdad who founded the orchestra in 2009 when she was just 17 years old. She now lives in Scotland and is studying law. The orchestra is comprised of 45 musicians from different parts of Iraq who have to audition each year. The orchestra has performed concerts in Iraq, Germany, Scotland, and England. In 2013, NYOI became a registered NGO in Iraq. However, starting that same year they faced cancelled concerts in the US and France due to visa denials after the rise of ISIS in many cities across Iraq. They have been unable to leave the country for concerts since.
Currently, in addition to a 4-week workshop for musicians and annual concerts, NYOI plans to hold music workshops for children in schools and orphanages in Basra.
Despite the talent and dedication of the young musicians, many do not have the funds for instruments and NYOI is struggling to provide the necessary instruments and parts to these musicians due to lack of funding.
In addition to bows, Majd let me know that the orchestra was in need of the following:
- Sets of strings for violin, viola and cello
- Rosin for the same instruments
- Bow hair
- Reeds for oboe, bassoon and clarinet
- Pads for the woodwinds
- Oils and slide creams for brasses
- Full-size violins
If you can provide any of the above or would like more information, please contact IARP Deputy Director Jessica Belt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 763-710-0427. Any additional donations will be given to NYOI to support programming. You can send a check or donate at reconciliationproject.org/2012/donate/. If donating online, please send an email noting the donation amount and purpose. All donations are tax deductible.
Learn more about NYOI at: www.facebook.com/NYO.IRAQ/
Learn more about IARP at: www.reconciliationproject.org/
Listen to the original NPR piece here: http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/09/28/443214847/-we-need-to-be-human-zuhal-sultan-on-starting-the-iraqi-youth-orchestra
On December 7th 2015, 140 community members came to Macalester College’s Ruth Stricker Dayton Student Center to view three new films in our Iraqi Voices series.
The films highlight the anti-corruption protests and demands for basic services occurring weekly in cities across Iraq, along with the dangers that middle-class Iraqi professionals continue to face as they attempt to rebuild their country. The directors included video footage of thousands marching in both Najaf and Baghdad each Friday, displaying a passion for justice and the yearning to reclaim Iraq for its people.
The directors and filmmakers answered questions both on the panel discussion following the films and afterwards at an informal reception. The Iraqi filmmakers gave audience members perspectives and facts we do not get from our American media.
Students, older activists, workers, parents and young children, Iraqis and a variety of other Minnesotans came to hear the culmination of Iraqi Voices III, the third year of documentary filmmaking by local Iraqis under the mentorship of Nathan Fisher, professional documentary filmmaker. These documentary shorts will be available on our website soon.
Films from Iraqi Voices I and II are online here.
Opportunities to support the development of the Iraqi Voices Program:
If you attended the premiere event, we would love your feedback to help improve the Iraqi Voices events in the future. Please click here to participate in a quick online feedback survey.
If you are interested in viewing the 2015 videos online and providing feedback for evaluation purposes, please contact email@example.com