author

featured culturalist: libyan poet and author farrah fray 

part of the 4-part interview series for issue #5: "reclaiming empowerment"

Portrait of Farrah courtesy of the artist 

Portrait of Farrah courtesy of the artist 

Like many of the women in the arts that inspire me, I met Farrah online. Farrah is a Libyan author, poet and artist based in London. She recently published a poetry collection titled "The Scent of My Skin" that explores culture, displacement, feminism and what it means have grown up in Libya and London. Farrah is also an editor for Banat Collective and a contributor to Khabar Keslan, below is our interview with her: 

Hi Farrah! Tell us a little bit about yourself (the facts and the quirks!)

Hi! Well I’m a Libyan author and creative based in London. I’m 23 and I also study translation; a quirk, hmm- I really like cliches! In the sense of taking a cliche and rendering it to its absolute extreme to make a point about things; I’m a sucker for t shirts with “LOVE 4 EVER” and that kinda thing.

As an artist, writer, and poet, how does your heritage/identity influence your work?

Being Libyan influences my work so much! Even if what I’m writing isn’t quintessentially Libyan or about Libya, somehow it becomes about Libya and being a Libyan diaspora. My thoughts, feelings, and experiences are informed by my background and journey; your identity follows you wherever you go, so it’s definitely really present in my work.

Source: www.farrahfray.com

Source: www.farrahfray.com

In this issue, "reclaiming empowerment" is our inspiration. What does empowerment mean to you?

I guess empowerment means feeling brave enough to take on the things that scare you the most. I mean, for so long I didn’t even think that I should be writing about Libyan women, or displacement, or feminism; but reading other peoples’ work and journeys makes you feel empowered; it makes you feel like, yes, I can write about these things. The kind of fear I’m referring to isn’t just fear of criticism or censorship, but I suppose also the fear of breaking the glass ceiling, and doing the things you should; that kind of fear is often taught from a young age, and I think empowerment is about reclaiming your position in that power dynamic. Oppression often works because of fear so empowerment for me means overcoming both fear and oppression.

What are your sentiments about the current art scene in the Middle East? In your opinion, what are its strengths and what are its challenges?

The current arts scene in the Middle East is thriving, I’m besotted by it all really. I think the strengths include that it’s not just one genre of art that’s emerging, but that they’re all taking up this space, you see anything from installations to zines to short films. Another strength is that art in the Middle East, much like a lot of contemporary art doesn’t really rely on industry gatekeepers for validation, there’s so many wonderful platforms created by people who want their voices heard and don’t necessarily have a professional background in art. I think a big challenge for Middle Eastern art will be overcoming stereotypes from the West; as more and more of our art reaches western art circles, which is a great thing; I feel like it’s definitely a challenge with certain issues to be like; yes, these things do affect us and are part of our daily struggles, but don’t stereotype us as just one thing; or define us by that one experience. I also think over generalization is a big challenge; even within countries you get different subcultures and communities, creating art; and to generalize all art coming from different regions as “Middle Eastern” can be quite reductive.

"June and July" poem by Farrah Fray courtesy of the writer

"June and July" poem by Farrah Fray courtesy of the writer

In your opinion, how can we better empower artists and the creative sector in the region?

I think we can empower artists by continuing to create these platforms for meaningful discussion, but also holding different events and talks where you get to really see the people you’re influencing. I think so often it can feel like you’re in a black hole as a creative, so it’s definitely important to have those types of spaces!

What advice would you give aspiring artists in the region?

I’d say definitely give it your all; and remember that there are so many other people creating art, too. Whenever you feel apprehensive about creating something is to ask yourself “if not me, then who?” because no one else can do exactly what you want to do in precisely the way you want to do it. It might be the same concept but there’s no way it would be an identical reiteration; so do it. Your voice is unique and important.

What are your future plans?

I’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up this year, but I suppose generally, the plan is to be more versatile with my work and combine it with other disciplines such as translation, which I’m currently studying. Think installations and subtitles! I really want to show that poetry can be showcased in many different ways, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone.

"Rooftop" by visual artist Ahmed Drebika www.drebika.ca

"Rooftop" by visual artist Ahmed Drebika www.drebika.ca

For more about Farah and to follow her work you can find her on farrahfray.com or on instagram @farrahfray

on my shelf: salt houses by hala alyan

photo from sparknotes.com

photo from sparknotes.com

(This content was originally curated for my monthly newsletter follow the halo. sign up here.)

Written by Palestinian-American Hala Alyan, Salt Houses is a book about the Palestinian exodus in the years after the illegal formation of the state of Israel. The book focuses on the stories of the women in a Palestinian refugee family, and exposes the "intergenerational trauma" that is the result of mass displacement. Alyan writes based on experience, and in an interview with NPR interestingly shares: 

"When I wanted to get married, one of the things that I didn't really have the luxury of was asking my mother if I could wear her wedding dress, or asking my grandmother if I could wear her wedding dress. My grandmother lost hers when she moved to Kuwait. My mother lost hers in Kuwait after the invasion. They're lost in the rubble of time and movement and displacement. We don't have heirlooms." 

Personally, I can't relate more to this. As a Palestinian, I can't think of a more fitting way to explain the trauma of being 3rd generation displaced - that there are no heirlooms, no photographs to go back to, no love letters, no documentation of our personal histories. For more on Hala Alyan and Salt Houses click here