By Salman Siddiqui/Staff Reporter
Storytelling is an art form that is fast disappearing from the Arab world. But there is a woman who is on a mission to save it from extinction.
Abeer Soliman, a published author and storyteller from Egypt, is in Doha to perform in a series of performances planned for the Swiss week that will commemorate the opening of the Swiss embassy in Qatar tomorrow.
In an interview with Gulf Times, Soliman says oral story telling is a dying art form which she is trying her best to revive in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world.
“It used to be very a popular art form in the Arab world. The Hakawati, the Arabic word for the storyteller, would sit in a café, sip tea and tell amazing stories to people belonging to any age or colour.”
However, because of modern technologies, there are not any Hakawatis around anymore.
She insisted that storytelling was still relevant in this modern age because she believed it could help revive human contact that was becoming non-existent from people’s lives because of ‘takeover’ of mobile phones, Internet and
“My aim in life is to bring that human contact back into the people’s lives through
Abeer Soliman is in demand. In her native Cairo, Egypt, she frequently performs her craft to audiences of all ages. Al Jazeera too recently aired a feature story on her as a storyteller and her thoughts on the Egyptian Arab Spring. She is most famous for her rendition of Shaharazad’s: A Thousand and One Nights.
Speaking about her fascination about the popular tale, Soliman said: “I admire Shaharazad a lot. She’s an intelligent and smart woman, who is telling stories just not for the fun of it, but because she wants to save the life of women from the power of Shaheryar, who was bent upon killing one woman every night.”
Speaking of the revolution, she said she did many performances that had political messages, some of which were again based on A Thousand and One Nights. “After the old regime stepped down, I wrote a story about a city in which the ruler gets killed and the question before the people was how they would choose a new leader, given that they don’t know how to make that choice.”
She said that the feedback from the people has always been encouraging.
Soliman is also a published author and her book Diary of a Single Lady was a bestseller in Egypt. For her short story My Name is Fatemah, a frank discussion of provocative religious issues and the status of women in upper Egypt, she was awarded an international prize for young writers. She is also a respected columnist in some of Egypt’s largest newspapers and is an avid photographer.
About her inspirations in writing books, she said: “Life is more surprising than fiction and imagination. An artist is just like a sponge in life, absorbing everything, digesting inside and producing art. So that’s how I produce stories by writing or performing them.” Her next book is set in India, which she intends to release by the end of this year.
However, it’s not always easy as an artist to put the message across to adults, who sometimes refuse to budge from their preconceived notions.
“There was a time when I was really frustrated because you can’t really change people. So later I decided to work with children, tell them stories and hoping they will choose better for themselves in the future.”
Abeer Soliman has translated Heidi, the famous story by Swiss writer Peter Stamm, in Arabic.
Adventures of Heidi to be staged at QNT today
The Adventures of Heidi, a traditional Swiss tale performed in Arabic, will be staged today at Qatar National Theatre (QNT) to mark the opening of the official Swiss embassy in Qatar.
The event is the outcome of a joint co-operation of the Ministry of Culture Arts and Heritage and the Swiss embassy in Doha. There will be also a joint Arab-European musical concert “The Bridges of the Desert” at QNT on Thursday evening with the participation of a select group of Arab and international musicians.