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Manchester International Festival 2021 (July 1-18): Rashid Rana, Imtiaz Dharker, Zoe Iqbal, Abi Sampa, Akram Khan & Naaman Azhari: artists stepping up and back onto a platform…(preview)

Manchester International Festival 2021 (July 1-18): Rashid Rana, Imtiaz Dharker, Zoe Iqbal, Abi Sampa, Akram Khan & Naaman Azhari: artists stepping up and back onto a platform…(preview)

South Asian artists who feature at the festival talk to us about their work and what they’re looking forward to in a world beginning to recover from the pandemic…

IT IS ONE of the largest gatherings of artists in Britain this year with a galaxy of new work set to be unveiled for the first time and with participants from over 20 countries.
The Manchester International Festival (July 1-18) is a multi-arts festival that covers visual art, spoken word, music and many other art forms.
There are a mix of (free) events, both in person and digital – with much taking place around Cathedral Gardens where there are a host of amenities, live music and DJs.
There are also events around the construction site that is The Factory – a landmark cultural space that will be home to the festival in years to come.
Manchester International Festival (MIF21) is also one of the first major public events around the region as the country moves away from lockdown and to a post-pandemic situation.

Imtiaz Dharker (pictured below) is one of the country’s best-known poets and spoken word artists. She is part of ‘Poet Slash Artist’ – which is a multi-media type display all over the city that mixes visual art with poetry and also exhibits work by visual artists who work with poetry.

It is, as the festival itself describes, “an expansive exhibition of cultures, continents, languages and generations…The streets of Manchester will become the art gallery featuring specially commissioned new work.”

This initiative has been curated by Serpentine Galleries director Hans Ulrich Obrist and well-known poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay.

Poet Slash Artist – work here by (L-R): Tarek Lakrissi, Tracey Emin, Renee Gladman, Vivinene Griffin, Lubaina Himid
Pic : Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

Among the artists to contributing ‘Poet Slash Artist’ are Turner Art Prize winners Lubaina Himid and Tracey Emin, and one of Britain’s most exciting young playwrights, Inua Ellams. In all 25 artists are involved.

There will be an exhibition at Home (a multi-arts space in the city) of ‘Poet Slash Artist’ and it officially starts tomorrow (July 2) with ‘Catch a Fire’ – a day of spoken word and music curated by Cerys Matthews on Homeground – an open air stage by the arts complex. There’s also a film season featuring artists whose work mixes words and images. The exhibition at Home continues there will August 30.

Dharker told she was especially looking forward to sharing new work with MIF21 audiences.
She said: “In this year when the world held its breath, every sensation felt heightened, every touch and sound exaggerated.
“I walked about the streets for miles and the images I came across went into my miniature notebooks, sometimes as poems and sometimes as drawings: a woman in a window, a child sitting at a table under a naked bulb. Everyday things and unknown faces seemed loaded with meaning and an intense longing for contact. The ‘Poet Slash Artist’ project, with its interlocking images and words, feels perfectly timed to tap into this.
“It has been an uplifting experience to work with (Lemn) Sissay and Hans Ulrich Obrist and the whole inspiring team of people on this project.” (
See the list below for all the artists featured in ‘Poet Slash Artist

Another writer whose work is being showcased by MIF21 is Zoe Iqbal (pictured below), who is also an actress and most recently appeared in Yasmeen Khan’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, as well as TV series, ‘Ackley Bridge’ and ‘Alma’s Not Normal’.

Her work is part of ‘I Love You Too’ – which has been curated by South African artist Keman Wa Lehulere who was a MIF 2019 resident artist at Manchester’s network of libraries. ‘I Love You Too’ is a multifaceted artwork inspired by his time in the city.

He invited people to share their love stories – to people, places and even possessions.

Iqbal was one of 11 writers who then helped to compose these reflections and shape them into a book of love letters rooted in Manchester.

It’s hoped it will be the first in an international series and the book will be published during the festival. You can can see Wa Lehulere’s new sculpture at the Central Library’s Reading Room. It runs from Friday (tomorrow) through to Saturday next week (July 10).

Iqbal grew up in Stretford and is pleased and supportive of the way the festival has involved locals.

She told us: “Art and expression of art is for everyone no matter who you are.
“The best thing about being involved in ‘I Love You Too’ was connecting with strangers, and talking about something that means a lot to them.
“I was so impressed with how wise people are, and reflective. Common themes were how short life can be, and how much being there for each other is important, also things like wanting people to know how they feel about them. It was emotional sometimes. But always a blessing.

One of the most exciting voices to have emerged on the global stage is visual artist Rashid Rana and his latest work is an ambitious and bold re-imagining of possibilities around a concept he calls, ‘Eart’.

Connected to this, he has also created an anti-consumerist pop-up store which will operate as a fully functioning shop – just as any other similar retail outlet.

Amy Healey (left) and Alisha Moore in the shop as part of the art installation called ‘Eart’, by the artist Rashid Rana Pic: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

The shop will sell generic, locally sourced and unbranded produce in what MIF21 terms, a reframing of the “act of buying, turning capitalism and consumerism upside down”.

This shop has been conceived under the wider and all-embracing concept of ‘Eart’ – a creative practice that is about self-expression and is not simply confined to art or artistic expression, MIF21 says.

Rana believes ‘Eart’ can help to explain human activity whether it be social media or real estate development.

He explained this further to acv in an email.
The etymological roots for the word, ‘Eart’, lie in an archaic version of the word ‘art’ denoting a particular indicative of the word ‘be’.
“In this manifesto the proposed nomenclature seeks a confusion and layering of these associative and phonetic links between being, seeing and making.
“The (re)introduction of Eart attempts to name a phenomenon that may have existed without intent/claim, for perhaps as long as art and that may follow with deliberation from hereafter.
“In recognising the possibility of such intent, Eart thus outlines a sphere of (creative) practices that doesn’t begin from art. Rather, it suggests the presence of a larger domain that already encompasses all disciplines including art. As such, this manifesto is a paradoxical document, an attempt to identify the phenomenon of Eart and spark an open-ended discussion around its related idea, exhorting possibilities that it cannot know in advance.

Singer Abi Sampa (pictured below) is one of the main acts in X Salaam Festival, alongside acts Sona Jobarteh, and poet Muneera Williams. This part of the festival celebrates Islamic art and culture and is a one-off concert on Friday, July 14 at Central Hall in Manchester.

Sampa who has appeared on ‘The Voice’ is joined by her long-time collaborators and presents Orchestral Qawwali – a form of devotional singing popular in South Asia – but Sampa adds a western syncretic twist to the genre.

Really not to be missed! And with Jobarteh – the master of 21-stringed African kora, and Williams compering and performing poetry, it is a powerful triple bill…

Next year Manchester will host the Salaam Festival, a major celebration of arts inspired by Islamic thought and literature and arts.

Sampa told acv: “We’re very excited to be playing MIF X Salaam. Rushil, Amrit and I have been working on a host of new material that incorporates qawwali and western orchestral elements. This will be one of the first times these forms are being presented together in this way. We’re excited to see how it will be received!
“The three of us are really excited to just be playing again this summer! We haven’t really been able to see each other or play live for the better part of a year. To be able to work towards live shows, especially ones as culturally rich as this one, is a blessing.

Choreographer Akram Khan presents, ‘Breathless Puppets’ a piece of animation he has worked on, with Bafta-award winning animator Naaman Azhari as part of the ‘Postcards From Now’ series.

Akram Khan

Khan told MIF21 in a video launch in April that the piece was a response to covid, isolation and lockdown and about a friendship between two men.

MIF21 describes the story: “Forced apart in childhood by the expectations of their cultures and the disapproval of their fathers, two men with a passion for dance reconnect through the tragedy of the pandemic.”

This short animation film will be available on line and is part of ‘Postcards from Now’, in which a range of artists respond to themes thrown up by covid, the pandemic and isolation.

Among the others whose work will be available are Lola Arias; Lucinda Childs and La(Horde), Ibrahim Mahama and Angelique Kidjo whose work can be seen in September.

Big Ben Lying Down‘ with Political Books by Marta Minujin
Pic: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

Among the other attractions at MIF21 is a 40 metre plus sculpture of Big Ben made up of books, but with the iconic building on its side – ‘Big Ben Lying Down’ is by Argentinian artist Marta Minujin. You can see the exhibit in Piccadilly Gardens and you can also go inside and the 20,000 political books that helped to make it will be given away from July 16-18. Check MIF21 website for further details.

There are also two big concerts with pop star Damon Albarn and more recent sensation Arlo Parks singing in headline concerts during MIF21.

Artist Cephas Williams with ‘Portrait of Black Britain‘ Pic: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

There is also a free exhibition and installations in ‘Portrait of Black Britain’ at the Arndale Centre. Artist, photographer, speaker and activist Cephas Williams (creator/author of ‘56 Black Men’ and Black British Network) has posed the question: “What does it mean to be Black, living in the UK?’

Award winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Notes on Grief‘ transfers to the stage from July 5-17 at the Exchange Auditorium.

Cillian Murphy in ‘All of this unreal time

Also being released today (July 1) is the Cillian Murphy film, ‘All of this unreal time’ written by Max Porter and with music from Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins. The 45-minute film charts a possibly post-apocalyptic world, where a man asks urgent questions about himself and the environment… It is “immersive installation” presented in surround sound and is a MIF21 world premiere.

Poet Slash Artist – Anthony Anaxagorou; Gary Crosby’s Jazz Jamaica featuring Zara McFarlane; Imtiaz Dharker; Inua Ellams; Mike Garry & the Cassia String Quartet; Adam Horovitz; Murray Lachlan Young; Helen Mort; Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Experience; Young Identity: Nasima Bee, P A Bitez, Jova Guayaba, Isaiah Hull, Yorusalem Okbamichael.

‘I Love You Too’ – stories by the people of Manchester, writers: Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Dominic Berry, Sarah Butler, Cathy Crabb, Ali Gadema, Zoe Iqbal, Shamshad Khan, Jessica El Mal, Jardel Rodrigues, Keisha Thompson & Louise Wallwein.

Photo credits: All pictures courtesy of MIF21 (unless stated) – Imtiaz Dharker by Ayesha Darker (at Majorelle Gardens); Rashid Rana by artist: Zoe Iqbal, screenshot MIF21 introduction video; Abi Sampa provided by artist; Akram Khan, screenshot MIF21 video)


Manchester International Festival 2021, July 1-18:

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture