CULTURUNNERS opens lines of communication between communities in the Middle East and the United States

CULTURUNNERS opens lines of communication between communities in the Middle East and the United States

Cut Cultures, a cross-cultural artistic expedition launched by Edge of Arabia in partnership with Art Jameel, celebrates the completion of the first year of its groundbreaking three-year road trip across the United States. Bringing together artists from the Middle East and local communities throughout America, to date, CULTURUNNERS has traveled over 12,000 miles and passed through 24 states across America. Along the way, CULTURUNNERS has hosted dozens of community events and spontaneous encounters in search of interconnected histories and common concerns across arguably the most contested ideological border of our time.

In September 2014, CULTURUNNERS set out from The Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas in a 34ft 1999 Gulf Stream RV. Over the course of the following year, over 50 artists and curators from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Morocco and the United States participated inCULTURUNNERS talks, workshops and exhibitions at partner institutions across the country.

CULTURUNNERS first stop was at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, followed by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC where Saudi artist Sarah Abu Abdullah and Edge of Arabia co-founder, Stephen Stapleton,participated in a passionate discussion about the (Soft) Power of Arts in a Changing Middle East.

In October 2014 CULTURUNNERS arrived at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge MA, where Azra Akšamija, Associate Professor at MIT’s program in Art, Culture & Technology, and Edge of Arabia hosted a weeklong gathering of international artists and scientists to discuss alternative lines of communication between the Middle East and United States. Participants included artists Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia), Arwa Al Naemi (Saudi Arabia), and Lara Baladi (Egypt), as well as Smithsonian Institute curator Carol Huh.

While at MIT, the CULTURUNNERS RV was transformed into a mobile artists’ studio and broadcast vehicle ready for its first stop in 2015 – The Armory Show in New York.

CULTURUNNERS participation at The Armory Show, New York’s leading contemporary and modern art fair, featured 16 artists using custom-built technologies to map, archive, and amplify stories and voices from the MENAM (Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean) section of the fair and related communities across New York. Artists made use of the CULTURUNNERS’ RV’s new state-of-the-art digital studio to start broadcasting artists’ ‘Dispatches’ viaCULTURUNNERS’ new interactive website.

Highlights included: performances by Darvish Fakhr (Iran), who used a customised, motorized longboard (long skateboard) / Persian Carpet to travel through the fair dressed as a traditional Dervish. The week also marked the launch of CULTURUNNERS broadcast channel with a performance and short film exploring Little Syria and featuring artist-in-residence at the Queens Museum, Brian Zegeer (United States). The film was directed by Jeddah-based filmmaker, Husam Al Sayed (Saudi Arabia), and with an original score by Dubai-based composer and founding member of Analog Room, SALAR (Iran). Both Sayed and SALAR were recipients of Art Jameel’s first residency program with The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts.

After further events in New York at Columbia University and Williamsburg, CULTURUNNERS headed west into the heartland of America, with artists including Yazan Khalili (Palestine), Anne Senstad (Norway) and John Mireles(United States).

Khalili directed the RV to US towns in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana named Palestine. Khalili has long been intrigued by what the name of an ancient place suggests to the New World and how this name is being preserved in contemporary American politics. Senstad meanwhile, set out to learn Arabic and Farsi calligraphy on board the shaky RV. Guided remotely by a Master Calligrapher based in Tehran, Senstad used the project as way to connect encounters with ordinary people in the US with this art form from the Islamic world.

In July 2015, CULTURUNNERS presented a weeklong community program in Detroit, featuring exhibitions, talks and performances organized by New York-based Iranian curators, Lila Nazemian and Ava Ansari. CULTURUNNERS invited artists, Peyman Shafieezadeh (Iran), traveling to the U.S. for the first time, and Sara Ouhaddou (Morrocco) to produce new bodies of site-specific work which were exhibited at Redbull House of Arts and installed on the RV and streets in Downtown Detroit.

Next to join CULTURUNNERS was Bahrain-based Saudi artist, Faisal Samra, who travelled across six states from Chicago, IL to Denver, CO. In August 2015, Samra was joined by U.S. artist Matthew Mazzotta, for a special collaboration that culminated in a community event at the The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska.  At the heart of Samra’s journey was a series of encounters with artists and activists of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota. Based at the site of the battle of Wounded Knee, Samra worked with Lakota singer, Leon Grass and his family to explore common concerns facing tribal communities in North America and Southern Arabia.

Iraqi brother artists Sami and Halim Al Karim met CULTURUNNERS in Denver before the RV headed west to meet with Sara Ouhaddou in San Diego. The journey culminated in a community celebration and outdoor exhibition in Logan Heights, San Diego, featuring large-scale photographs from John Mireles’ Neighbors project (which he began in Detroit) and an installation inside the RV by Sara Ouhaddou. Ouhaddou, in the US for the first time as part of Art Jameel’s residency program at ISCP in New York, exhibited a specially commissioned textile made in collaboration with Moroccan artisans.

In January 2016, CULTURUNNERS will embark on the second phase of its on-going grassroots tour, inviting selected artists, writers and cultural practitioners to take part in an expanded East / West cultural expedition. From Makkah to Minnesota, Damascus to Detroit, CULTURUNNERS has identified 10 pioneering artists that will be joining the tour during its second year.

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