Manaf Halbouni, originally from Syria and living and working in Dresden, was our resident artist in Huntly in Spring 2017. Manaf looked at the question of What if the Arab world had colonised Europe rather than the other way round?
At a time where Europe and its nation states are under question What If? dealt with an alternative history timeline of colonialism in the Middle East. Most of the countries in that area today were formed by British and French agreements through the Sykes-Picot Agreement which, in 1916 divided the Middle East into the countries we know now: Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, ... are some of those who fell into that agreement. Manaf turned this history round, fictionalising a world where the Ottoman Empire and United States of Arabia split Europe instead.
Manaf created a theatrical play depicting a secret meeting between representatives, discussing the splitting of Europe. Manaf wanted us to explore our history, thinking about how colonialism provoked wars, conflicts and the consequent migrations to Europe. Working with recently resettled Syrian new Scots from Aberdeenshire, and local Huntly folk, Manaf invited the community to come and watch the play, and also film it on their own digital devices, contributing to a film from multiple perspectives.
The films were first screened at the Understanding the Middle East film screening and symposium at The Huntly Hotel in June 2017 and shown again in July at the Goethe Institut, Glasgow and Edinburgh Art Festival. The events brought together artists, academics, professionals and local people and created a time to discuss and appreciate many aspects of the Middle East.