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Palmyra: ISIS-Wanton Destruction

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On 4 October, 2015 Maamun Abdulkarim, the Syrian Director General of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed that the 2000 year old Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra had been blown up by ISIS forces which control the city and the surrounding area.

He said “ It is now wanton destruction; their acts of vengeance are no longer ideologically driven because they are now blowing up buildings with no religious meaning.”

On 23 August, the temples of Baalshamien − Lord of the Heavens − and Bel, a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS (Daesh in Arabic). This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faith and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

Masmun Abdulkarim called upon the international community to find a way to save Palmyra. His cry comes from the heart as he is the nephew of the long-serving director of the archaeological sites of Palmyra, Dr Khaled al-Assad. On 18 August, Dr al-Assad had his neck cut and his body hung from a traffic light pole. The 83 year-old archaeologist had been held in seclusion (and probably tortured) for three weeks. In the public square of Palmyra an accusation was read out that he was the “director of pagan idols.”

From a distance, it is hard to know what elements within ISIS are responsible for these destructions and what are the motivations. ISIS has attracted fighters from a good number of countries, and it is impossible to know the nationalities within the chains of command. Many Syrians are proud of the vestiges of pre-Islamic civilizations, proof that the area was an important actor and in some ways a rival of Rome. Thus, it is not clear who wants to destroy works of art and cultural heritage. It is impossible to know at this stage if there are possibilities of rational discussion and good-faith negotiations with ISIS authorities to preserve cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.

Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires, and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is an aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. There is also a need to build an awareness and then action on the part of non-governmental organizations, especially those in consultative status with the United Nations as well a cultural institutions. One of the difficulties with appeals to the “international community” is that the international community has no street address, and so appeals are rarely delivered. Too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirming a position from a deeper level of awareness and a legal basis in world law.

The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future – a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the US secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President of the United States, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on 15 April 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “at no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contribution of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and the truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Rheims. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance – re built by human hope.”

The Roerich Peace Pact is the world-law basis for an expression of concern from the governments of what was the Pan-American Union (In 1948 it was reestablished as the Organization of American States). There is also the Hague Convention of May 1954 which was signed by a wider geographic range of States. The Roerich Peace Pact and the Hague Convention are rarely cited by governments. Therefore, leadership must come from non-governmental organizations and the cultural sector to work unitedly and creatively to prevent the wanton destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.

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Arts & Culture

Remembering legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Exactly in August 2009, legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created the Afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, and I had our first historical meeting in Paris, France. I had flown in from Shanghai, China, to meet with him for an informal encounter. Despite our heavy working schedules and limited time, the meeting lasted for about two hours. During the discussions, I asked him several questions about his professional musical career and life. In fact, he was extremely passionate and enthusiastic talking with me, and to remember him here are a few excerpts:

When did you begin your musical career and who are your favorite musicians?

My career started at the age of 20.  In fact, I was hired by Sir Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, “the Cool Cats” and was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. I also played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.

In 1964, I joined Fela’s ‘Koola Lobitos’ and stayed with Fela for 15 years. When I was learning to play I’d check out LPs and magazine tutorials by Gene Krupa, Art Blakey and Max Roach, Guy Warren was also an influence. Of course, I was also a fan of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Bernard Purdie.

I was asked to name my dream band to play with, and I chose: Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita on vocals, Bootsy Collins on bass, George Benson on guitar, Wayne Shorter on sax, Joe Zawinul on keys, Don Cherry on trumpet, and with a line-up like that I’d have to be the drummer!

What was the motivation behind your chose profession?

My parents were…not keen. Back then, musicians were more or less thought of as beggars, or worse. But I just put it in front of them. I was an electrical technician, but I wanted to make a change. My mother was never happy about it, but my father, who was an amateur musician, eventually agreed.

How is this profession influencing or shaping your own social life?

It has had a profound effect.  Our albums with Afrika 70 either provoked or described a series of increasingly brutal attacks by the Nigerian army and police. Fela and his immediate family bore the brunt of this long and shameful catalogue of assaults, trumped up charges and jailings, and I myself was jailed on one occasion.  With Fela it was like being at university, and you don’t run away from education. We learnt so much by not being cowards.

When I left Fela’s band that had a big effect on my life.  Lagos was too small for me and Fela. It was a small place, and I wanted room to take off without causing competition, I eventually chose Paris partly because the British immigration people were giving me difficulties, but also because African music was more happening then in Paris than in London, and my record company at the time was in France. It was the only place I felt I could exercise my knowledge. The only place to make a living. Being a musician, the line between work and social life is, often blurred doing what I do for a living is what I do for enjoyment.

There seems to be some truthfulness in your career. Which songs spiritually appeal most to you personally when on stage?

Absolutely, as a musician and an artist you have to be true to yourself. Different songs appeal to me more at different times and under different circumstances, it can depend on who you’re playing with, where you’re playing and how the audience respond to what you’re playing. Playing music is very spiritual but I won’t say that one thing I do is more spiritual than another as I try to invest all in everything that I do.

Of what importance are the messages you convey through your songs to our society, in your interpretation?

Afrobeat has always been about the struggle, then and now. Fela was right about everything, especially the messages in all his songs.  Everything he sang about is still happening. Nigeria’s not getting any better. It’s all misadministration and corruption, survival of the fittest. Lagos is a complete mother ****** of a place. These messages we send to the government, they never listen to them. The people wait for an effect, but there’s no effect. These guys do nothing. Afrobeat is rebellious music. We have to keep shouting.

Do you mind talking about your experiences (both positive and negative) in previous European tours?

Laughs! I don’t mind at all but this is a big question that I’m not sure how to answer.  The fact is that the good experiences overwhelmingly outweigh the bad, which is why I’m still out on tour at nearly 70 years old. As long as people want to come and see me play, I’ll play.

How do you usually visualize your audience during musical performances?

I am very pleased to have had the chance to play at many festivals abroad. The foreign people know all about social and political upheaval, so even though our cultures and heritage are completely different, they feel the power of Afrobeat and confirm my belief that music is the great healer in the world. It was a long musical trip, there is no way back but well worth it. You just don’t have to return, I have to move forward!

Many people think going into musical world is just to make quick money. What is your reaction to this?

Ha! Most musicians are struggling musicians only a small minority make serious money, musicians all around the world play for the love of it, to express themselves creatively and for the interaction with the audience. A lucky few might make millions but you can’t judge everyone else on that basis, lawyers, accountants, bankers, those guys make the serious money. Also, those motivated by money don’t make as good music, if your inspiration isn’t true, then it shines through in music.

Would you have opted out of stage if you were offered an alternative job? Not all, as I said earlier, I had job which I left in order to be a musician, that wa almost 50 years ago and I am still in it. I think I made the right decision.

If you could have lunch with anyone, real or fictional, alive or dead, who would it be and what is the first thing you would ask him or her?

It’s impossible to pick one single person, there are loved ones that would be great to see one more time, but musically the most obvious person would be Fela Kuti, and I’d ask him if he’s happy with what’s happened to the music that we created together.

What are your goals for the coming years?

I want to keep on doing what I do, improving and doing new things.  I’m very happy with my band and our new album, we can do great things together.  I’m very fortunate that I get the opportunities to work with all manner of artists doing different and interesting projects, long may it continue.

Music is my mission. I never get satisfied and I’m still learning from others. The musical world is very spiritual, and I don’t think there’s an end to it. The best legacy is your professional work and leaving an indelible mark on the minds of people.

Additional information: Agence France Press (AFP) wrote that Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, the pair created afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and Fuji music with American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.

Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent. Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ‘70, before parting ways after a mythic 26-year collaboration. Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.

Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music. He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians.

British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived.” Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018. Tony Allen died suddenly at the age of 79 in the Paris suburb Courbevoie, France.

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5th Anniversary Celebrations of Establishment of China Cultural Center in Pakistan

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April 20th 2020 marks its fifth anniversary celebration of China Cultural Center in Pakistan.  On this special day 5 years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Pakistan together with Pakistani former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif jointly unveiled China Cultural Center in Pakistan on 5 April 2015 at the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office in Islamabad. 

China Cultural Center in Pakistan officially launched and began its operation Islamabad of Pakistan ever since.

In order to fight the epidemic and convey confidence and determination to overcome the Covid-19, China Cultural Center in Pakistan has launched online celebrations on Facebook. Visiting China Online series of activities include five online photo exhibitions, “Our Silk Road”, “World Cultural Heritage in China”, “The Ancient Silk Road State of Kucha”, “Beautiful China”, “Celebrating in Harmony and Joy – Chinese Spring Festival Photo Exhibition” and documentary series  “Beautiful China”, “China Beyond Your Imagination”, and “One Belt One Road – People to People Connectivity”.

The establishment of the China Cultural Center in Pakistan is an important symbol of the further deepening of bilateral relations between China and Pakistan. Center’s aim and objective is to strengthen cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and Pakistan and enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the people of two countries. Since its establishment in Pakistan, China Cultural Center has actively organized various types of cultural activities i.e., cultural performances, visual arts exhibitions, film festivals, film shows, teaching, training, lectures, seminars and other different cultural activities.

China Cultural Center in Pakistan has organized 26 grand exhibitions in the past such as “China-Pakistan Friendship Photo Exhibition”, “Beautiful China Photo Exhibition”, “Belt and Road  in My Eyes, A Pakistani Students’ Poster Competition” attracting more than 20,000 visitors.  To celebrate Chinese New Year, more than 30 grand cultural performances such as the “70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China”, “65th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between China and Pakistan”, and “Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival” gala performance for more than 100000 audience. Training workshops such as Chinese Martial Arts, Chinese Culinary Art, and Chinese Paper Cutting attracted more than 3,000 people. China Cultural Center has participated in eighth and ninth Pakistan National Book Festival in Islamabad, Pakistan and displayed Chinese cultural elements by setting up booth attracting Pakistani people from different walks of life. President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi also visited China Cultural Center’s booth and highly praised the friendship between China and Pakistan. These two National Book Festivals attracted more than 500,000 people. 

With collaboration of different universities and educational institutions, China Cultural Center also held a series of “Happy Chinese New Year” activities, lectures on “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, “Belt and Road” and Chinese-Western Art Exchange” and other relevant topics to effectively provide interactional exchange between students and teachers of universities. The “China Film Festival and Film Conference” held in August 2019 opened a new chapter in the exchange and cooperation between film industry of China and Pakistan.

China Cultural Center in Pakistan will comprehensively utilize all the humanity resources in the future to showcase Chinese history, culture and stories, promote traditional and contemporary Chinese culture, tourism,  intangible culture and will continue to make relentless efforts for a new chapter of China-Pakistan friendship.

China-Pakialstan Dosti Zindabad!

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Even during COVID-19, art ‘brings us closer together than ever’

Newsroom

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With billions of people either in lockdown or on the front lines battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this first celebration of World Art Day is a timely reminder that “art has the power to unite and connect in times of crisis”, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Wednesday.

“Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made emphatically obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic”, Audrey Azoulay said in her message.

Throughout self-isolation, art has nonetheless been flourishing. Pointing to peformers tapping into their creativity to relay health guidelines and share messages of hope – as well as neighbours singing to each other on balconies, and concerts online – Ms. Azoulay maintained that creativity abounds. 

And the Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous masterpiece, the anniversary of whose birth, on 15 April, has been chosen for the World Day – has been revisited in a variety of ways, including images of her self-isolating in the Louvre Museum, or covering her enigmatic smile with a surgical mask. 

“This is how, despite the crisis, art is demonstrating its resilience today”, explained the UNESCO chief.

Paying tribute to the solidarity shown by artists and institutions at a time when “art  is suffering the full force of the effects of a global health, economic and social crisis”, she flagged that this time of confinement can also be “a period of openness to others and to culture, to strengthen the links between artistic creation and society”.

Through the hashtag #ShareCulture, UNESCO has invited everyone to communicate their love of art by sharing it broadly.

‘ResiliArt’ movement

The coronavirus pandemic has closed museums and cancelled concerts, plunging many cultural institutions into uncertainty and immediate financial loss while also threatening a long-term effect on the arts. 

As the world waits for the current measures to be lifted, vulnerable groups who are unable to get online, exacerbating a global digital divide, have even greater difficulty in gaining access. 

Keeping art alive requires the twofold approach of supporting cultural professionals and institutions, and promoting access to art for all, according to Ms. Azoulay. 

As these challenges require far-reaching cultural policies it will be necessary to “listen to the voices of the artistic world in their globality and diversity”, she stressed.

With the aim of affirming the resilience of art in during this difficult period and in preparing for the future, UNESCO has launched the “ResiliArt” movement, which, among other things, will consist of a series of global virtual debates with renowned artists and draw support for the cultural world throughout the crisis. 

And looking forward, guidelines will be drawn up on improving the protection of artists for future crises.

The UNESCO chief urged everyone to participate in “this strong impetus for culture” to prove that even in a period of personal distancing, “art brings us closer together than ever before”.

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