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Kalam Aflam: a Beacon of Inspiration for Emerging Artists

June 25, 2023
Photo credit: Kalam Aflam

Social media has become a driving force in promoting artists across the globe. Scrolling through Instagram, one can find myriad accounts showcasing young artists across the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), while shedding light on the cultural nuances that can be found within the artwork.

However, as the market becomes saturated, many emerging creatives fall through the cracks, whether due to a lack of network or a lack of visibility.

Kalam Aflam is a Paris-based association looking to give these Arab artists a chance by setting the stage for them to introduce themselves to the art world.

While the seeds of its conception were planted years ago, the initiative came to life this year in Paris on 4 May.

The launch event dubbed ‘Coming of Age’ took place in one of the French capital’s cultural staples, Point Éphémère. The riverside centre is a multidisciplinary space which hosts events and offers artists working spots.

Kalam Aflam was founded by Egyptian filmmaker Hayat Aljowaily, Palestinian Communications specialist, Abood Al Bakri, and Lebanese Art Director and Designer, Katja Kanaan.

The launch event featured a medley of artists with interactive art installations, short films, and performances to kick off the initiative.

A supportive community

“There’s a community aspect to it,” explains Aljowaily. “Part of the mission is creating a space where you can meet other artists and find collaborators who share similar values, or backgrounds, or references to you.”

Kalam Aflam’s mission is to create a supportive environment—one that will help propel the careers of emerging artists. It welcomes creatives that are still early on in their journey and gives them a boost by connecting them to a community and a network of like-minded individuals.

“The idea is that if you see someone else’s work that you’re interested in, you contact them and you work on a project together,” adds Aljowaily

Photo credit: Kalam Aflam

The sense of community Aljowaily sought to recreate with Kalam Aflam is the same one she felt when the inspiration for this project came about in March 2020.

Days before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Aljowaily was in New York. She had organised an event to fundraise for a short film, Happily Ever After, in which she was involved.

“We needed to find a creative way to make sure that we reached the target. Otherwise we would not have gotten any of the money donated,” says Aljowaily. “So, we decided to host an event where we leaned on our community and have people donate to the film.”

In an effort to support and encourage the film, the city’s Arab community joined in making the dream a reality. During the screening event, Egyptian rapper Felukah performed, and iconic Egyptian street food restaurant Zooba was a sponsor.

Decentralising Art

The internet has helped in the decentralisation of art by acting as a gateway for artists to share their work. However, the aspect of exhibiting art in a physical space, be it on the streets or at an art gallery, remains equally vital.

A physical venue allows for an interaction that goes beyond the visual element of art. It encourages admirers and creatives alike to connect beyond the confines of an Instagram page.

Aljowaily explains that it is not simply about artists’ identity as Arab or Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA), but about helping talented artists that are “young in their career” and helping them get exposure.

Photo credit: Kalam Aflam

“What is meant by being young is not necessarily age-wise but in terms of the stage at which you are at in your career.” says Aljowaily. “[That is because] there is a barrier of entry.”

Kalam Aflam is an opportunity for representation—for a community to come together to share work that mirrors or amplifies their own experiences.

“There is a deep need for a space like that,” explains Aljowaily. “somewhere where we could, as emerging Arab filmmakers, […] meet and talk and share our art and support each other.”

“The theme of the night [of the launch event in Paris] was ‘Coming of Age.’ To us, coming of age doesn’t only mean to become an adult, but to become, period,” concludes Aljowaily.

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