EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2018/19
Dynamic Maghribi Jewish-Muslim Interaction across the Performing Arts (1920-2020)
5-7 December 2018, Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cambridge (http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/27895)
Co-conveners: Dr Sami Everett (University of Cambridge), Dr Arthur Asseraf (University of Cambridge), Dr Rebekah Vince (University of Warwick)
This conference explored Jewish-Muslim dynamic interactions in performance art across North Africa (the Maghrib) and France since 1920. We brought together a research network of early career and more senior scholars researching and producing artistic representations across the genres of music, theatre, film, comedy, and art, to discuss how these relate to Maghribi Jewish-Muslim interaction, collaboration, and dialogue on both sides of the Mediterranean. Papers included interdisciplinary research on early twentieth century Jewish-Muslim theatre troupes and orchestras across the Maghrib, Israeli Moroccan nostalgia, and how North African Jews and Muslims have influenced the French stand-up comedy scene. Emphasis was placed on artistic cooperation, creative representation, intergenerational transmission, and dynamic interaction between Jews and Muslims on both sides of the Mediterranean. By discussing these themes, the conference challenged polarised narratives surrounding Jewish-Muslim relations in the Maghrib and France which tend to focus either on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia or on nostalgia and utopianism. While acknowledging the historical and contemporary tensions between Jews and Muslims, the material that we explored focused on transcultural creative production, taking a historical view of dynamic interaction between Jews and Muslims both sides of the Mediterranean. The event examined (co-)production and (inter-)acting, as well as influence from elsewhere, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, in Jewish and Muslim performance cultures across the Maghrib and France. We are grateful to the European Association for Jewish Studies, the Centre for Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities and the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), and the Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) – Cambridge collaboration scheme for their support and funding.
The aim of the event was to investigate how Maghribi Jewish-Muslim artistic and cultural production represents or is under-girded by creative coexistence and dynamic interaction between Jews and Muslims in both the Maghrib and France.
=>This was achieved by discussing a series of pre-circulated work-in-progress papers and cultural artefacts (film and music extracts, images, and text including, for example, fieldwork notes or archival photos), which formed the basis for in-depth and knowledgeable conversation around the theme of dynamic Maghribi Jewish-Muslim interactions on both sides of the Mediterranean.
The time period covered the promise of French emancipation to its indigenous subjects; nation-building in the Maghrib; decolonization and end of empire; the Cold War and its end; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the rise of the right in France. Together the network scholars explored the ways in which this relationship plays out within production and performance, paying particular attention to shifting conceptions over time about sameness and difference.
=> During the conference this was achieved by addressing in particular the Nahda (Arab renaissance) of the 1920/30s and the significant structural change in the context of the Maghrib surrounding questions of what a North African nation-state might look like that occurred during that period. During that time and space, artists were creating narratives of pluralism. We went on to look at the 1960s and the period of decolonisation in which we found at times a postcolonial absence of Jewish cultural life in the Maghrib, particularly in Algeria. In cinema and in cartoons for examples there was no physical Jewish presence even though many Jews remained. We also discussed the question of rupture and whether or not this was immediate upon independence and a subterranean Judeo-Muslim cultural vestige/continuity which was not fully revived until the 1990s when there was a re-emergence within a religious framing, partly due to the convergence of Islam and politics in North Africa i.e. the increased necessity to show openness towards religious pluralism. This led to a discussion on revivalism abstracted from a lived experience in North Africa (exiles and third-generation re-appropriation), intergenerational post-nostalgia and return to North Africa among a generation who never lived there, resulting in cultural production continuing to the present day.
The event seeks to interrogate the degree of perception-change produced by such performance through addressing the question: What potential do such narratives, their spaces of production and performance, and the relations that generate and maintain them, hold for societal change?
Over the last two decades, scholarship of relations between North African Jews and Muslims, both during and after the colonial period, has side-lined cultural connections. Scholars have offered analyses of structural political connections and differences in relation to rights and racism (see Attias, Katz, Stein), but performance culture such as music has only figured in the background or has been approached from within the anthropology subfield of ethnomusicology (Langlois, Swedenburg). However, recently, some scholars and filmmakers have begun to highlight the centrality of performance culture as underpinning lived connections between Maghrebi Jews and Muslims (Glasser, Hachkar, Safinez). Building on and broadening out this scholarship, the proposed event considered the dialogical impact of performance spaces chronologically and artistically. The performative artworks that the event investigated have challenged and continue to challenge Jewish and Muslim stereotypes, in spite of the ongoing tensions across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, which are negotiated by the artists in creative and provocative ways.
=> The detailed and meaningful discussions during the conference acknowledged and interrogated moments of colonial and religious rupture as well as continuity, the significance of subterranean cultural work of mediation and transmission surrounding memories of Jewish life in the Maghrib. As a group we also explored the potential of performative artwork to challenge stereotypes by exaggerating these to the point of ridicule and from that self-derision offering cathartic dialogic alternatives.
As scholars of Jewish-Muslim interaction in North Africa, we proposed to build on European connections, in particular between Cambridge and Paris by means of a cross-disciplinary approach. The majority UK-France focused network that we sought to establish combines creative and analytical insights by identifying the limits and potential of representation and collaboration in breaking cultural taboos, exercising freedom of speech, and promoting cross-cultural exchange.
=> Through this conference, we established a network of scholars from emerging ERCs to more senior figures from not only France and the UK, but also from the US and Canada, Algeria and Morocco including participants from the social sciences, history, literature, anthropology, music, and modern languages. The strength of this network has the potential for significant written output and establishing a large-scale inter-disciplinary and international project.
Overview and Threads
Keynote 1: Valérie Zenatti (independent author), ‘La mémoire trouée [Perforated Memory]’
The conference began with an autobiographical keynote by Valérie Zenatti. She was introduced to the public by Dr Sami Everett including in her capacity as author, screenwriter, and translator of the late Aharon Appelfeld (from Hebrew into French). The event was open to the public as well as to conference participants and academics from the University of Cambridge.
Born to Algerian and Tunisian Jewish parents, Valérie Zenatti grew up in France where her encounter with the Holocaust was mediated through the American television series Holocaust (1975) and later through the writings of Ukrainian-Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld, whose translator she was to become. Her affiliative relationship with Aharon Appelfeld is recounted in her (auto)biographical novella Mensonges [Lies] (2011) which preceded her prize-winning novel Jacob, Jacob (2015), an exploration of Jewish life in Algeria during the Second World War and decolonisation. Both these texts, alongside Une bouteille à la mer de Gaza [A Bottle in the Gaza Sea] (2005) and its film adaptation (watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mL8p6FKCPzQ), featured in her conversational keynote, which addressed issues of memory and forgetting, filiation and affiliation, erasure and reconstitution. Questions and ensuing discussion revolved around the (im)possibility of return, the absence of Muslims in some accounts of Jewish life in the Maghrib, and dialogic approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Session 1: Popular Music
Chaired by Ruth Davis, University of Cambridge, this session explored Jewish-Muslim dynamic interaction in Maghribi popular music, from concert halls in the interwar Maghrib (Chris Silver, McGill University) to narratives of peaceful religious coexistence in Moroccan patriotic rap (Cristina Moreno Almeida, King’s College London). Listen to Casa Mdinti here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNJhJOKqM8Y&feature=youtu.be. These presentations prompted discussion around the construction of the nation and engaging in politics with a capital or lower-case “p”.
Session 2: Staging and Performance
Chaired by Arthur Asseraf, University of Cambridge, this session included a presentation by Mourad Yelles, INALCO, on theatre as meeting point between Algerian Jews and Muslims with a particular focus on the Jewish actress Marie Soussan. Listen to Marcha Djazairia here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ju1EmrbywU&feature=youtu.be. This led to a discussion on similar values among Jewish and Muslim families, and a shift in focus from a socio-cultural analysis to a political and aesthetic one. The session also included a presentation by Adi Bharat, University of Manchester, on how the conflictual model of Jewish-Muslim relations in France is challenged through stand-up comedy, taking the comedy duo Younes and Bambi (‘l’Arabe et le Juif’ [the Arab and the Jew]). This raised questions about exaggeration to the point of ridicule and reinforced the general consensus at the conference that interactions is a more useful concept than relations when speaking about Jewish-Muslim performance art in terms of influence and collaboration.
Session 3: Cinematic Representation
Chaired by Rebekah Vince, University of Warwick, the discussion in this session revolved around cinematic, musical, and linguistic depictions of Jewish-Muslim relations in both Morocco and Israel. Presentations were given by Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, Idemec/Université d’Aix Marseille, on forbidden memory and political song in Kamal Hachkar’s mediatory films, and by Chana Morgenstern, University of Cambridge, on decolonising Hebrew through Arabic in the film adaptation of Almog Behar’s prize-winning short story “I’m one of the Jews”. This led to a debate on whether or not Palestine/Israel can ever be excluded when speaking about Maghribi Jews in the contemporary moment, even in analysing Jewish-Muslim interactions in North Africa before the foundation of the State of Israel.
Keynote 2: Jonathan Glasser, Associate Professor of Anthropology, William & Mary, ‘Maghrebi-Jewish Musical Intimacy’
This keynote began with an analysis of how music seems to challenge discourses of antagonism that emphasize Muslim-Jewish conflict and posit Jews as pariahs in North African society. Yet a closer look revealed that Muslim-Jewish interactions via music and surrounding debates were nevertheless marked by tropes of rivalry, marginality, and ambivalence. Jonathan Glasser focused on the case of Algeria to account for the centripetal forces of these tropes and to provide a rich alternative for understanding Muslim-Jewish dynamic interactions in the Maghrib and its diaspora. He also posited the possibility of a particular Jewish aesthetics of Andalusi music born of the hermeticism of community living prior to the twentieth century. A certain accent, musical structure and even ways of playing might underpin this but these ‘Jewish’ musical modes have been adopted and even appropriated by Muslim music players(chioukh) also.
Session 4: Comedy and Satire
Chaired by Warda Hadjab, EHESS, this session looked at absent depictions of Jewish heritage and Muslim-Jewish relations in Algerian caricatures and graphic novels from 1967 through the 1980s (Elizabeth Perego, Shepherd University), and creative co-existence in the work of street artist “Combo” (Nadia Kiwan, University of Aberdeen). See http://www.combo-streetart.com/. These presentations were a springboard into discussion about whether we are dealing with total rupture or lingering traces when addressing the immediate post-independence period: Chris Silver suggested we might talk about ruptured continuity. We also addressed the question of gender (“Is street art male?”) and the extent to which displaying religious symbols in public space acts as a provocation in secular France. Continuing with concepts of satire and comedy, we considered how malaise is dealt with via the medium of humour, how assumptions are deconstructions, and how anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are challenged through performative artwork.
In the concluding comments, the question was again raised, this time by Arthur Asseraf, University of Cambridge, as to the breakdown, rupture, and absence of the immediate post-independence moment. Often when looking for interactions, our attention is drawn to the interwar period or more recent examples but not so much to the period of the independences or following that. Chris Silver suggested that there was a possibly nostalgic need to fill this absence. The Christian question was also raised: Christians are often depicted as the dominant power yet, in the Arab world at least, Christians have a distinctive (minority) identity. Seth Anziska, UCL, noticed how the conference was working against the lachrymose view of history and this led to a discussion on whether or not we were engaging in “grieving cosmopolitanism” and the potential (creative or otherwise) of this concept, which need not be a negative one. Sami Everett was of the opinion that while this may also be the case Maghribi Jews of latter generations had every right to re-engage with a cultural legacy and heritage which was often simply not passed down to them. Jonathan Glasser suggested that co-resistance was a useful way of looking at performative collaboration and co-creative artwork. Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, University of Cambridge, brought up the myth of “the last Jew” and the phenomenon of contemporary Muslims self-identifying with a suppressed past, notably in relation to Judeo-Berber identity within the Arabo-Muslim context of the Maghrib. Miléna Kartowski-Aïach spoke of the subterranean work and the role of mediators in the transmission of cultural memory, which is beginning to bear fruit in changing perceptions and opening a space for interfaith dialogue.
- Multilingualism (localised variants of Arabic in Maghrib/Mashriq and Judeo-Arabic, question of accent, French, Hebrew, Yiddish), translation
- The role of humour in depicting Muslim-Jewish interactions and satire as catharsis
- Absence/presence of Jews in the Maghrib as manifested in performance art
- Influence, aesthetics, and performance relating to Jewish-Muslim interactions
- Memory and amnesia of Jewish life in the Maghrib as depicted in (or left out of) performative artwork
- Challenging stereotypes and assumptions through performative collaboration
Questions that emerged included:
- How to look at the specificities of cultural interactions within temporal and geographical context
- How to talk about the Maghrib in relation to Israel/Palestine without diminishing the importance of local interactions historically and in the present day
Planned outcomes and outputs
Participants submitted 3,000-word work-in-progress papers prior to the event, where these were discussed. These work-in-progress papers will form the basis of 6,000-word chapters to be collected in a volume commissioned by Liverpool University Press for publication in their Francophone Postcolonial Studies series in 2020, co-edited by Sami Everett and Rebekah Vince with an afterword by Valérie Zenatti.
Given the level of interest in the workshop and the desire to participate we are considering a journal special issue as a second written output.
Actual final conference Programme
Dynamic Maghribi Jewish-Muslim Interaction across the Performing Arts (1920-2020)
5 December 2018 – 7 December 2018
The Beves Room, King’s College, University of Cambridge
|Day 1 – Wednesday 5 December|
|18.45 – 19.45||Keynote
(This event is open to all and will be taking place in the Winstanley Lecture Hall, Trinity College)
|Day 2 – Thursday 6 December|
|9.15 – 9.45||Registration|
|9.45 – 10.00||Welcome and Opening|
|10.00 – 11.15||Session 1: Popular Music
Chair: Ruth Davis (University of Cambridge)
Chris Silver (McGill University)
‘“In a complete fusion of all of the native social classes”: Popular Music and the Production of the Nation in the Interwar Maghrib’
Cristina Moreno Almeida (King’s College London)
‘“Are we all brothers?” Breaking down narratives of peaceful religious co-existence in Moroccan patriotic rap’
|11.15 – 11.30||Break|
|11.30 – 12.45||Session 2: Staging and Performance (bi-lingual session: English/French)
Chair: Arthur Asseraf (University of Cambridge)
Hadj Miliani (CRASC) and Mourad Yelles (INALCO)
‘Theatre as Meeting Point Between Algerian Jews and Muslims’
Adi Bharat (University of Manchester)
‘Shalom alikoum! Challenging the conflictual model of Jewish-Muslim relations in France through stand-up comedy’
|12.45 – 14.30||Lunch|
|14.30 – 16.00||Session 3: Cinematic Representation (bi-lingual session: English/French)
Chair: Rebekah Vince (University of Warwick)
Miléna Kartowski-Aïach (Idemec / Université d’Aix Marseille)
‘Rediscovering the Lost Voice: Forbidden Memory and Political Song as a Bridge Between Morocco and Israel’
Jamal Bahmad (University of Exeter)
‘In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Aliyah and Transnational Memory in Moroccan Cinema’
Chana Morgenstern (University of Cambridge)
‘Decolonising Hebrew Through Arabic: Almog Behar and the Spectre of Languages in Israel/Palestine’
|16.00 – 16.45||Break|
|16.45 – 18.00||Keynote
Jonathan Glasser (College of William & Mary)
(This event is open to all and will be taking place in the Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road)
|Day 3 – Friday 7 December|
|9.45 – 10.00||Arrival and Coffee|
|10.00 – 11.15||Session 4: Comedy and Satire
Chair: Warda Hadjab (EHESS)
Elizabeth Perego (Shepherd University)
‘Drawing Blanks: Absent Depictions of Jewish Heritage and Muslim-Jewish Relations in Algerian Caricatures and Bandes Dessinées, 1967 through the 1980s’
Nadia Kiwan (University of Aberdeen)
‘Kidnapping Culture: Transcultural Complexity and Creative Co-existence in the Work of Street Artist “Combo”’
|11.15 – 11.45||Final Discussion|
Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS), the Institute of Modern Languages Research, Université PSL, and the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of History.