Umm Mu’Taz, poem by Nizar Qabbani
Performed by Maha Essid
This poem by Syrian poet, writer and diplomat Nizar Qabbani (1923–1998) has been described as both an elegy for his mother and a nostalgic expression of love for the Arab cities of Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Baghdad, Khartoum, Kuwait, Algeria, and Abu Dhabi. Essid’s performance highlights the enduring power of spoken words to create vivid images of loss.
One of the earliest and most dynamic forms of expression across the Middle East and North Africa is the oral recitation of poetry. The exhibition From Visionaries to Vloggers: media revolutions in the Middle East (spring 2020) introduces audiences to a range of poets, from seventh century mu’allaqa poets to more recent famed socially active poets including Nizar Qabbani (Syria), Bayram Al Tunisi (Egypt), and Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish.
The exhibition’s discussions consider how poetry and performance can fulfil social functions, such as sharing in the beauty of language, as well as assembling people to witness protest.
Many media platforms can be used to spread messages of awareness and drive change, but voice is most powerful because there is no mediation between speaker and audience. Recited poetry can therefore be a call to action and a powerful tool for freedom of expression.
This and other poetry performances available in Explore Content featured in From Visionaries to Vloggers, and all were performed by students. You can also access the exhibition’s animations on poetry and storytelling in the region in Explore Content.