Narratives for Europe

I have been working with the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) since August 2011 on this online project called “Narratives for Europe”. I have been most attracted by this project because I personally think there is a need to hear voices from different places, whether geographical, economical or sociological, and in different forms. I think this is what ECF’s Narratives platform is trying to achieve, with three main sections: Voices, Reading Room and Comics, and a space for EVERYONE to be able to comment and truly join the debate.

The website Narratives for Europe is now live. The first round of debates starts around Historical Taboos, with contributors Iryna Vidanava, Neel Mukherjee, David van Reybrouck, Chrissie Faniadis, Ece Temelkuran, Lina Ben Mhenni and Kinan Azmeh. The Reading Room offers a more academic reflexion on the importance and variety of possible narratives for Europe. And last but not least, there’s the Comics section that presents a “European hero” or anti-hero… OSVALD.

Have a look at the different voices and formats to share new narratives about Europe and don’t hesitate to participate, that’s why this project is there for!

Breakfast and Creativity

It’s in a very prestigious location that took place the first Parisian edition of the Creative Mornings series organized by Aleksandra Mandic Killy.

I must be honest, I had never heard of this event/concept. I was simply checking the Paris City Hall website for events to see during my stay here and saw the announcement for the “Paris Creative Mornings”, and it said “open to all but registration required”. I liked the openness of it so I did register and I did go at 8.30am, as did a huge “creative” crowd.

The event was opened by Deputy Mayor of Paris Mr Christophe Girard, supporter of this very first Parisian edition, “we’re a bit behind though” he says rightly as Paris comes after about 20 cities that are having these monthly creative breakfasts, some like New York where it first started in 2009. “I’m here to welcome you at your City Hall” says Mr Girard “whether you’re Parisian or not, this is your space.” I did feel welcome, and isn’t culture there to get rid of all these frontiers anyway.

There are of course still way too many borders in culture and unfortunately, these are not just about geography. The speaker of this first creative morning, Marion Hislen, is one great example of these innovative people who work beyond these frontiers. Marion Hislen is the founder of the cultural organization Fetart, initiator of the festival Circulation(s) aiming to showcase emerging talent from across Europe in the heart of Paris. The festival took place for a month until 25 March 2012.

Marion Hislen was asked by the organizers to tell a personal story so she started from the very beginning: her childhood and youth in an artistic family of architects, musicians, theatre costume makers… She was herself sent to dance school at an early age. “My mother said ‘my daughter will be a dancer’” says Hislen. Then at 18, she started to work as an “employee”, the very first one in that creative family. “‘I’m going to the office’ were words never pronounced before me in our family.”

Arriving at 30, Hislen decides to leave it all and work in the cultural field. She studies Art Sociology, Bourdieu theory, then starts with organizing a Chinese contemporary exhibition in Paris. The collector she was working with had a wonderful photography collection. Following this experience, a few financial troubles come her way and she gets back to the private sector for a little while, but always with photography somewhere in her mind and close to her heart. “If I want to do this, I told myself, I need to work at it” explains Hislen, “so I created a foundation to support young photographers.” That’s when she founds the association Fetart. The first exhibition is organized in 2005, and until 2012 they’ve organized 43 exhibitions of photography.

“In France there’s not that much opportunity for photographers outside the press” says Hislen, “galleries prefer to work with professional artists who can produce more, they also won’t always take the risk to exhibit emerging artists. As for the fairs are linked to the galleries.” So concretely, Fetart organizes open calls at the European level to gather as much work as possible and through a jury, select the photographers. The very first step is selecting 8 photographs out of the 350 images usually presented, then they work on the formats, “many photographers want big formats but we also like to work with smaller formats” she says. Then the focus is on the paper (glossy, mat…), the framing and finally asking the artists to talk about their work, “which isn’t always easy. Sometimes you don’t have a lot to say but you need to be able to tell the story of your photo series” says Hislen, which is also why Fetart thinks it is part of their work to support artists in presenting themselves. And one major role as a foundation is to get audiences: professionals and the general public. “Relationships can be built but sometimes it takes really long, say two years, to get work following up the expo” she adds.

Next to the exhibitions, Fetart also organizes feedback sessions, the “Lectures de portfolios”: the photographers present their portfolio to professionals and can receive a wide variety of feedback. “There is no good photography” says Hislen, “we can all have completely different views on an image.”

As for the business model of Fetart, they have 50 euros in cash and work with many volunteers and partner organizations. “Everything is free for the photographer. We’re all in the exchange, we don’t have a space. So we don’t really earn money and exhibitions are hosted by partners” explains Hislen. For one of the exhibitions they’ve even completely rehabilitated a space with their own means and help from friends. This way of working also allows a warmer and more friendlier experience according to Hislen, including for the visitor: “When you enter one of our exhibitions, you can feel home and in a warm atmosphere, unlike in many galleries. That is because we build the whole space ourselves. We ask friends to help out, all on a voluntary basis. It creates links! Our festival also creates links you would normally never be able to have in Paris, like having a beer with the curator photography of the Musee du Jeu de Paume.”

So far they have seen very good results with photographers receiving important prizes. In 60% of the cases an exhibition at Fetart gives active contacts to the photographer. Showcasing works is therefore really important. But in order to gain credibility as a foundation, they needed an annual event and therefore become a bit more institutionalized. This is how the Festival Circulation(s) has started. For the first edition, they have looked during one year for a place to host the festival and the Mairie de Paris has supported the foundation which hosted the 2012 edition of the festival at the Parc de Bagatelle in Paris.

A very inspiring talk that was followed by an informal gathering around coffee. Whether you like “networking” or just listening, you will definitely gain something from spending a short hour every month learning about what other people are doing. It is also refreshing that the event is cross-sectorial and you can hear about a photography project, then maybe future sessions will present designers, advertisers, developers, sculptors, or artistans to speak about how they work in the very wide and rich creative sector. I personally wouldn’t have known about the festival Circulation(s) and Fetart if I hadn’t come to this Creative Mornings session.

Looking on the web for more information about other Creative Mornings, I found out one was about to start in Utrecht with a first session on 30 March 2012. I think all cities need such events as it is always helpful to hear from other professionals, especially from a personal point of view. It is encouraging to see that many people around the world are trying to make things happen, all with their own means. And as Cory Doctorow says (he signed this in my edition of Makers): “Get excited + Make things!”

MEYDAN | la place

I am extremely happy today. MEYDAN | la place, the anthology of contemporary Turkish authors I have been working on for months (and even longer) is finally published and available online in different e-formats: PDF, ePub, online streaming… thanks to the wonderful publisher Publie Net. It has been a great adventure and it is even more exciting because… it’s only the beginning. I have prepared a summary in English on the website of MEYDAN | la place, but since it is a French speaking project, most info and the eBook are in French. However, there are pictures of the Marmaray metro line project of Istanbul accompanying the texts, and four of the authors who have read a paragraph of their work in the original language. So if you feel like listening to Turkish and looking at interesting pictures, you can buy the eBook from Publie Net, iTunes, Amazon (kindle) and more online eBook stores.

Poems and Languages on the Move

As part of the TRANSPOESIE project organized by EUNIC in Brussels, I have translated Emily Ballou’s poem I Lizard to French. It is now on display in the Brussels metro and on the TRANSPOESIE website. EUNIC has hosted an event last Monday as part of the European Day of Languages, which I attended and enjoyed very much. You can read the blog post I have written about the event on the Scottish Poetry Library’s blog.

Emily Ballou's Poem "I Lizard" in the Brussels metro, with the Dutch and French translations on the right.

Screenwriting, Children Books, Dance, Comics and Animation in London

Next week I’ll be in London for 4 days. It will be rather short but intensive, with visits to a few galleries to see exhibitions around Children Books, Comics and Animation, a dance performance and attend a screenwriting course. And in between, I will see some friends and enjoy the city as much as possible.

My journey will start with a visit to the Imperial War Museum where there is currently an exhibition (that I mentioned in a previous post) about Classic War Stories for Children.

(c) All rights reserved by Imperial War Museum

The exhibition entitled Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children presents life-size sets of children’s books, inviting the visitor to a journey through the world of these stories. After having immersed myself into war stories, I will spend the evening at Sadler’s Wells to see Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s latest piece TeZuKa. In this video on Sadler’s Wells website, he tells more about his exploration of Osamu Tezuka’s work, the internationally renown manga artist and animator, most of us would know through his famous Astro Boy. TeZuKa will also feature an original score from composer Nitin Sawhney.

The next day, I will start with the real purpose of my trip: a 2 day screenwriting course at the Scriptfactory. The course will focus on strengthening screenwriting skills and hopefully help me get on with my new screenwriting projects. It is one thing to have an idea, it is well another to sit down and put it into words, and in a more specialized way, for the screen. We will be 8 participants in total, so I expect it will be a course during which I will receive a lot of feedback, and will be happy to give some as well. I heard a lot of positive things about the Scriptfactory, and I will be able to share my own views after the course.

Watch Me Move: The Animation Show at the Barbican, London

And because I will take full advantage of my stay in London, I will definitely try to go and see Watch Me Move: The Animation Show at the Barbican Art Gallery. The exhibition traces the history of animation over 150 years. A wide range of artists are represented in the exhibition, from Francis Alys, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, to Marjane Satrapi, or studios like Pixar, Disnay or Ghibli. I’m lucky to catch it as the exhibition runs until 11 September. But I am missing the London International Animation Festival. One cannot be everywhere.

And last but not least, having missed Shaun Tan in Edinburgh and then in London, I will be able at least to see his work at the Illustration Cupboard. The exhibition, entitled Shaun Tan – The Bird King and other artwork, is the first major exhibition of Tan in Britain.

I will definitely have a lot to report back on in the couple of weeks to come. Until then, I will leave you with a picture of the most wonderful signing I have ever received from an author: I had the chance to catch a talk at the PEN World Voices Festival with Shaun Tan, Neil Gaiman and Marieken Jongman, in New York City in 2009, and had my book Tales from Outer Suburbia signed by Shaun Tan. He had a pot of red ink on the table, put his finger in the ink and make two finger print signs in the book, transforming them into flowers. Isn’t this the most beautiful way to sign a book?

Comics & Conflicts

You may be surprised to read that the Imperial War Museum of London is hosting a conference about comics next week, especially if you have never read works by comic artists such as Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman or Keiji Nakazawa, to name just a few. This Comics & Conflicts conference is organized in the frame of a literary festival accompanying the museum’s new exhibition Once Upon a Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children (on until 30 October and which I will most certainly see during my next visit to London and write about it here), and will explore the ways in which comics around the world represent and articulate the experience and impact of war and conflict.

I remember having read Joe Sacco’s Palestine with enormous difficulty, so strong and heavy was the depiction of the Palestinian conflict. Yet, it is among the most powerful works I’ve ever experienced about this very subject. The late Edward Said wrote an introduction to Palestine, here’s a fragment:

“A political and aesthetic work of extraordinary originality, quite unlike any other in the long, often turgid and hopelessly twisted debates that had occupied Palestinians, Israelis, and their respective supporters… With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”

The conference will also show the documentary Comic Books Go to War -which includes interviews with Joe Sacco, exploring the journalistic, aesthetic and political implications of reporting war through comics.

Speakers will include David Collier who, in his work Chimo, depicts his decision to re-enlist in the Canadian army at 40; Francesca Cassavetti who has republished her mother’s wartime diary as a comic; Garth Ennis who depicts the 1980s Irish conflict in his strip Troubled Souls; and of course, the one and only Paul Gravett, Comica Festival director, who will chair a few sessions and is one of the organizers. You can read the complete program on the Comica Festival website.

Going back again to the importance of telling stories from my previous post, whether it is through novels, short stories, films, painting or comics… What makes these narratives most powerful is their authenticity and the fact that their authors, most of the time, take their personal experience of the war or conflict in question to the reader. And comics most especially, has a very particular way of telling certain stories that no other medium has.

I’d like to end this post by showing one example of a comic book from Turkey. I don’t believe this comic book has ever been translated into English or any other languages, however Nazim Hikmet‘s work is available in a wide number of languages. This story entitled Kuvayi Milliye, is a long poem written by Nazim Hikmet between 1939 and 1941 about the Turkish War of Independence. But this comic book version of Kuvayi Milliye illustrated by cartoonist and comic book artist Nuri Kurtcebe is not an adaptation. The text is word for word Nazim Hikmet’s. What Kurtcebe did here, and which I find most interesting, is that instead of trying to translate the long poem into a visual narrative, he used the already existing images generated by the poem to put them on paper. Just like Oguz Aral explains in his introduction to the work: “He committed himself to the war and to its epic” (Leman Yayincilik, 2001).

I hope to share more about Turkish comics on this blog in the coming months following a study/research tour to Istanbul I am planning to make later in November. In the meantime, if you happen to be in London next week, do visit the Comics & Conflicts conference and feel free to leave your links to blogs and other accounts of the event in the comment section.

The importance of telling stories: a visit to the Literary Museum in The Hague

There is a wonderful museum inside the Royal Library in The Hague… The Literary Museum (Letterkundig Museum), which I visited for the first time yesterday. The museum reopened in 2010 after a few years renovation and it is now a really nice place to visit for all literature but also art and history lovers, as the collection presents manuscripts (originals and facsimiles) and artefacts from a wide range of famous Dutch and Flemish writers, artists and historical figures such as Hadewijch, Erasmus, Multatuli, Godfried Bomans, Anne Frank, Van Gogh, Hugo Claus and a lot more…

Not everything is translated to English in the exhibition, but even if you don’t understand Dutch, you will be able to follow the overal exhibition which is called Het Pantheon: 100 Authors, 1000 Years of Literature. As the name indicates, this permanent exhibition presents the Pantheon of Dutch and Flemish writers from the Middle Ages to today (a complete list of the writers can be found here – in Dutch).

Being able to see facsimile letters from Van Gogh to his brother -including some beautiful drawings, or an excerpt from Anne Frank’s diary is of course impressive but I would like to focus on two writers I learned about in this exhibition and whose works had had an impact on their times: J.J. Cremer and Anna Blaman.

Fabriekskinderen by J.J. Cremer

J.J. Cremer, Fabriekskinderen, Facsimile (Private collection)

Jacobus Jan Cremer (1827-1880) was a painter and a writer (some of his work is exhibited at the Rijksmuseum). Cremer is also known for his social engagement, one example of which is his literary account of children workers in Fabriekskinderen (Factory Kids). In this work Cremer describes how three kids from Leiden earn money for their family instead of their unemployed father. Saartje, the daughter, dies from fever because of her work. The book ends with an appeal to King Willem III.

Thanks to this book, a law “het Kinderwetje van Van Houter” has passed in 1874 that would abolish children younger than 12 years old to work at factories (it was however allowed to work on land).

Eenzaam avontuur Anna Blaman


Eenzaam avontuur, Anna Blaman

Anna Blaman (born Johanna Petronella Vrugt, 1905-1960) was an openly gay writer. Her name Blaman is an abbreviation for “Ben Liever Als MAN” (which can be translated as “would rather be a MAN”). Her novel Eenzaam avontuur (Lonely Adventure, at my knowledge it hasn’t been translated to English) has been trialled. Although the book has been praised for Blaman’s psychological insight and the great composition of the work, it has been criticized for the openly gay erotic passages. The book has been tagged by Christian press as “Verboden Lectuur” (Forbidden reading) or “Tegennatuurlijke Liefde” (Love against nature), which is not surprising, but even the Volkskrant has considered the book “Dirty”; “Een Vies Geval”. Today, Blaman is an acclaimed author; celebrations were held for her anniversaries and a literary prize also bears her name.

These two authors and their works seemed important to me as they remind us that we shouldn’t take our current rights for granted. Unfortunately, there are still far too many countries where children work in factories or on agricultural lands (this is the case in the USA where immigrant kids from Latin America have to work, see documentary film The Harvest, about agricultural child labor in America), and I won’t even start on gay rights across the world.

I think that the Letterkundig Museum is doing a pretty good job in keeping these works alive and reminding us readers, writers and creators of all sorts, of the importance of sharing ideas and telling stories.