An Autumn of the Arts: A Guide to the Best Art and Culture Events in the Middle East

Photo of Rebecca Jagoe
9 February 2017

With such a range of cultures and languages, as well as a variety of calendar systems, it can at times be difficult to find events and festivals taking place across the Middle East. To make things easier, we have rounded up some of the key arts and culture events taking place from Israel to Oman this autumn and winter.

© Iteemh / Wikimedia Commons

Music | Royal Opera House Muscat 2013 – 2014 Season

Oman: September 2013 – April 2014

Initially conceived in 2001, opened a decade later in 2011, the Royal Opera House in Muscat is an architecturally magnificent and culturally important arts venue that has already played host to an impressive array of opera companies, orchestras, ballet companies and performers from Oman and abroad. With the 2013 – 2014 Season kicking off in September, one of the highlights this year is a range of performances from dozens of groups including the Royal Oman Orchestra and the First Royal Group for Oriental Music and Folklore, all in celebration of Omani Women’s Day on October 8th. This year’s international offerings include La Traviata, by Italy’s Macerata Opera Festival; the Vienna State Ballet presenting three choreographies under the title ‘Masterpieces’; and a performance from the Afghan Youth Orchestra, the first orchestra to be founded in Afghanistan in 30 years, early next year.

Courtesy Art Week Amman

Art | Art Week Amman

Amman, Jordan: 5 – 15 September 2013

For a week in September, numerous galleries, art spaces and venues in Amman will be celebrating the art scene of Jordan for Art Week Amman (AWA). Organised by the Jordanian arts company ArtMedium, the event aims to promote the diverse contemporary art scene of Jordan. The numerous exhibitions include a headlining show at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, presenting contemporary art from Jordanian and international artists; Isolation Device at the Fine Arts Gardens including ten commissioned installations; and a solo show by Syrian artist Reem Yassouf. Along with the shows, there are numerous talks and workshops, and Art Journeys curated tours that take place throughout the week.

Raffi Tokatlian, Nest of Life, 2013, Iron & Glass Top, 75 x 200 cm | © Schizzo / Beirut Contemporary Art Fair

Art | Beirut Contemporary Art Fair

Beirut, Lebanon: 19- 22 September

Now in its fourth edition, the Beirut Contemporary Art Fair presents work from galleries and artists in the ME.NA.SA. regions; Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The popular event attracts both professional and amateur collectors alike, along with a wealth of art enthusiasts keen to see the latest offerings of this emerging art market. Further, the event is a vital platform for a number of artists to gain exposure and exhibit their works to an international audience, with the opportunity, as the organisers state, to ‘express themselves beyond the usual ideological barriers’. An important event on the art scene, the Beirut Contemporary Art Fair offers the chance to see some of the leading contemporary painting, installation, sculpture, photography and performance from the Middle East and beyond.

Courtesy Israeli Fringe Theatre Festival

Theatre | The Israeli Fringe Theatre Festival

Acre, Israel: 21 – 24 September 2013

Running annually since 1979, the Israeli Fringe Theatre Festival is the leading performing arts event of the country. Held in the Knight’s Halls of Acre during the intermediate days of Succoth (Chol Hamoed), it is a leading platform for contemporary and alternative theatre. Each year, the progressive programme includes a number of plays, street theatre and guest performance companies. The 2013 schedule includes Singing: Cabaret Israeli Multidisciplinary View, a pioneering blend of dance, theatre, puppetry and cabaret; Eyes, a theatrical journey based on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish that integrates Hebrew and Arabic narratives and languages; and a performance of Lorca’s Blood Wedding.

Actress Guida Nouri of Blind Intersections, BIFF 2012 | Courtesy BIFF

Film | Beirut International Film Festival

Beirut, Lebanon: 2 – 10 October 2013

Despite many interruptions due to the political uncertainty within Lebanon, the Beirut International Film Festival is running this autumn, becoming a platform for freedom of expression and human rights in the country. Accepting films from all across the world, the festival actively promotes young Lebanese filmmakers and their contributions to the event. The screenings will include Lebanese and international feature and documentary films, and shorts from the Middle Eastern and MENA regions (Middle East North Africa). Now in its thirteenth edition, the festival is a key event on the Lebanese cultural calendar.

Courtesy Baghdad International Film Festival

Film | Baghdad International Film Festival

Baghdad, Iraq: 6 – 10 October 2013

The Baghdad International Film Festival aims to promote a new form of cinema in Iraq that is based on freedom of speech and democracy, with contributions from auteurs worldwide. All genres, formats and lengths of film are screened, falling into six categories: Long Fiction, Short Drama, Documentaries, Arab Women Filmmakers, Human Rights Images, and New Horizons — the latter a celebration of cinema created by Iraqi filmmakers. Running since 2005, the event also hosts cinema from a guest country that is screened under the Panorama strand of the festival, and workshops, talks and panel discussions are held in and around the film showings.

Adel Abdessemed, L’âge d’or, gold plated brass, 2013 | © Arab Museum of Modern Art

Art | Adel Abdessemed: L’âge d’or at Arab Museum of Modern Art

Doha, Qatar: 6 October 2013 – 5 January 2014

This autumn, The Arab Museum of Modern Art, the leading contemporary art museum of Qatar, hosts a landmark exhibition from the Algerian-born artist Adel Abdessemed: L’âge d’or. The artist, who works across a variety of media — including sculpture, video, photography, performance and installation — has created a number of works specifically for the show, which build upon his complex and unique visual language, one that is impossible to summarise; swinging between nuanced subtlety and polemic statement. The show is titled after an eponymous sculpture that is one of the many new works, a bas-relief of gold plated brass depicting the artist’s four daughters; other pieces include a large-scale terracotta wall relief, Shams, that shows the unseen workers of the world, and La Chine est proche, a bicycle fashioned from camel bone.

Closing Ceremony 28th Tehran International Short Film Festival | Courtesy Tehran International Short Film Festival

Film | Tehran International Short Film Festival & Cinema Vérité: International Documentary Film Festival

Tehran, Iran: 24 – 30 October 2013 / 27 October – 2 November 2013

In autumn Tehran plays host to two international film festivals. Now in its 30th edition, the Tehran International Short Film Festival (TISFF) (24 – 30 October) is a hugely popular event that screens a number of shorts from both Iranian and international filmmakers. The event aims to foster and promote creativity among young and emerging filmmakers both in Iran and abroad, and encourage dialogue and an international exchange of ideas with a number of talks and workshops around the screenings. The Iran International Documentary Film Festival(27 October – 2 November), now in its seventh edition, is a juried event that aims to explore reality and truth through the medium of documentary film. Films shown are contributed from both Iranian auteurs and international filmmakers.

Doha Tribeca Film Festival 2012 Opening Night | Courtesy Doha Film Institute

Film | Ajyal Film Festival for the Young

Doha, Qatar: 26 – 30 November, 2013

The Doha Film Institute is a leading organisation in the Qatar Film Industry, dedicated to the support, promotion and appreciation of new film across the country, and previous co-organisers of the hugely successful Doha Tribeca Film Festival. Along with co-funding and providing grants for a number of Qatari filmmakers; providing a venue to screen new cinematic offerings; and hosting numerous events and workshops, the DFI has just added two new festivals to its schedule, the Ajyal Film Festival for the Young, this autumn, followed by the Qumra Film Festival a few months later in March 2014. The Ajyal Festival aims to bring generations together, with a programme that fosters creative interaction and spotlights many of the issues facing contemporary youth.

© Wayne McLean / Wikimedia Commons

Architecture | Open House Jerusalem

Jerusalem: 7 – 9 November 2013

For three days, around 100 landmark public buildings, monuments and private residences across Jerusalem — from the historic to the contemporary — throw open their doors to the public, allowing visitors to come and explore them all for free. The buildings selected to participate this year in Open House Jerusalem collectively tell the unique tale of Jerusalem’s architecture and history, with some sites dating back to the 19th century BC. The ancient urban city, that plays host to three religions, possesses a diverse topography and architecture, based on its long and contentious history, and the impact of being numerously subjected to the ravages of conquest. With many tours and activities supplementing the event, Open House Jerusalem should provide a rare and fascinating chance to learn the city’s complex architectural history.

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