Conversation with Mustapha Korbia: On Arab youth rejuvenating their identity through the arts

Conversation with Mustapha Korbia: On Arab youth rejuvenating their identity through the arts
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival chair Mustapha Korbia speaks to The New Arab about why the arts are crucial for Arab diaspora youth to fully understand their identity.
5 min read
11 July, 2019
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival takes place every year [LAAF]
For more than 20 years, the Liverpool Arab Arts festival has been flaunting art, music, film and drama from across the Middle East and North and East Africa.

People from all faiths, genders and races come together to learn about a new culture and to check out Arab talent. They're shown forms of arts that they hardly knew even existed in the region, breaking stereotypes enforced upon Arabs by both non-Arabs and Arabs themselves.

"It's sad how not many Arabs really know their culture," Mustapha Koriba, chair of the LAAF told The New Arab.

Mustapha is of Algerian descent and has been involved with the LAAF for six years after being introduced to the organisation by Business in the Arts last year when his predecessor and founding member Taher Qassim stepped down on the 20th anniversary of LAAF.

Every year, LAAF deliver outstanding work, promising to beat the last as it gets more recognition not just across the Liverpool Arab diaspora and arts scene, but across the world.

"I came on the board because I was very impressed by the standard and diversity of the work, so I thought I'd come and join," he said.

"Absolutely every year it gets better and it's amazing to see people across all ages coming to participate and show off their art."

Safe space

The atmosphere in LAAF events are light and creative, allowing creatives and art enthusiasts to find themselves in the work of others, through a safe space. Realising that they connect with a certain form of art, the calm and judgement free environment allows for people to take a step back and be vulnerable with themselves and fellow attendees.

Hundreds of conversations sparked from just elements that the hundreds of art forms being showcased in the festival. Some discussed the form of art being presented itself, whilst others reflected on their cultural identity. Deeper conversations that led to the core of human nature and even people feeling okay with discussing their personal lives to bring deeper levels of meaning to the arts that surround them.

"Everything we're seeing is because we have a small team of passionate people who punch way above their weight," Mustapha said.

"Not only do they work passionately, but they do so in such high spirits that the energy of the festival itself reflects their passion."

'Arts liberates youngers'

For Mustapha, the arts are essential for all Arabs, but especially those in diaspora communities who for many reasons have lost track of the richness behind their culture.

"What people forget about me is that I am not an artist," Mustapha explained.

"But I believe that arts are needed for everyone, including younger generation diaspora Arabs to explore who they are and what it means to be a part of the beautiful community in which they were born."

He explained the older generation link arts with their heritage. Famous filmmakers such as Yousef Chahine, who is being honoured in this year's film festival with a series of film screenings, are people the older generation grew up with.

Such talent is lost on many of the younger generation, whom Mustapha fears are losing touch with their background because they too become susceptible to stereotypes that depict Arabs in a negative light in the mainstream media.

"Because of the way Arabs are portrayed in the media, many Arab children see their identity as a burden, stopping them from really exploring what riches their culture truly has to offer," Mustapha said.

"Once they see their culture through arts, they become rejuvenated and see themselves and their heritage from a whole new light."

For Mustapha, he's seen this in his own family.

"My wife is English and my children are half Algerian. I have a daughter who goes to Algeria by herself on her own accord after learning about how rich and creative our culture is. She doesn't see Algeria as a land her father came from, but she loves it because of its people, history and everything else that it has to offer."

Despite an emphasis on helping youngers understand their culture, people across all ages attended LAAF, from babies to elderly.

"I can confirm this because the youngest person I spotted in the audience was my one-year-old grandchild," Mustapha laughed.

Parents will accept

One crucial issue young Arabs who have a growing love for the arts is choosing arts as a career path, or even a hobby is often viewed as a waste of time among their parents.

Because of a paradoxical cultural stigma that pressures youth to forge conventional and perceived respectable career paths such as medicine, engineering and law, many young Arabs are discouraged to take up creative hobbies that are seen to distract them from pursuing such high-status jobs – or even stop them altogether as they forge their own career paths.

"It is a problem, but we must remember that these stigmas arise from fear," Mustapha said.

"Parents want to see their children do well, but some can't imagine their child doing well beyond the scope of what they believe is successful."

Mustapha urged for youth to persist even if their parents are resisting their path.

"The truth is, parents want to see their children happy. Once the child finds themselves in their art, the parental tension will naturally melt away," he urged.

"After all, we say it's within Arab culture for children to become doctors and lawyers, but some of the world's greatest poets were Arab and their poems were about wine and women. There really is more to our culture to what meets the eye."

The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival is on between 5-14 July 2019