24 APR 2019 Article in Amsterdam newspaper Echo (p. 5)
07 JAN 2017 Article in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant
More about us
Contact us for the organization of screenings, debates, poetry readings, and the like.
Please see our blog for information on upcoming and past events.
Past events and screenings (see our blog for details):
– School for Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), U.K.;
– The University of Warwick, U.K.;
– Het Ketelhuis Cinema, Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
– The Dutch Society in the U.K.;
– The Dutch Royal Embassy, London, U.K.
– formed part of the exhibition The Better Side of Wings, Ort Gallery, Birmingham, U.K.
– formed part of musical event ‘Sounds of Somalia’, organized by Stichting Philomela, Jeruzalemkerk Amsterdam, The Netherlands
– used for students of the course Translation and Linguistic Landscapes, University of Cardiff, U.K. since October 2016, ongoing
Abdinasir Ahmed’s Dutch Community in the Midlands
Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’s Far From Mogadishu
How this project came into being, and some reflections
A colleague of mine organized a conference on literature of the Horn of Africa (click here for information) with a strong focus on the diaspora of that area of the world, and particularly on publications in English, Italian, and French. The Eurocentric perspective of the conference was expressed not only in linguistic and geographical terms (it was organized in Belgium [French] by Italian experts [Italian] while English is the international academic language) but also in historical terms, since these countries were former British and Italian colonies. When he mentioned this conference to me, I wondered about the Dutch diasporic literature from that particular part of the world. After some research, I discovered that, although there had been more attempts, three authors from the Horn of Africa had published in the Dutch language with a Dutch publisher. These were exclusively Somali people: Sayasin Hersi, Zeinab Yumale, and Yasmine Allas. This is at least partly explained by the fact that, compared to Ethiopians and Eritreans, there were and are many Somalis in the Netherlands, since it was one of the first countries to welcome Somali refugees after the beginning of the Somali Civil War in the beginning of the 1990s.
After talking to these three authors, it became clear to me that some of them had suffered something that I would describe as a loss of language since Dutch publishers – having to take into account a rather limited group of readers, since the Netherlands is a small country – expected of them to write in a language that the publishers considered to be the ‘correct Dutch language’. Any kind of ‘accent’, as, for instance, Lulu Wang has become famous for in the Dutch literary context, was considered to be un-Dutch. Some of the Somali-Dutch authors felt that they had had to give up some of their specific literary language (metaphors, poetic usages of specific words, etc). I wondered if similar problematic situations occurred in other European contexts.
After I moved to the UK, I therefore asked my friend Somali-Italian author Shirin Ramzanali Fazel if she could introduce me to people from the neighborhood of Small Heath, Birmingham. Together with the city of Leicester, Birmingham has the largest Somali community in the UK. She brought me in contact with Abdinasir Ahmed and his organization. Through him, we met many other people in the neighborhood of Small Heath.
The people I met in the Netherlands and in Birmingham had a lot of stories to tell about their experiences in Somalia, the Netherlands, England, and many of them having travelled through other (mostly European and African) countries as well, such as Kenya, Denmark, and Sweden. My aspiration was to have a conversation with them, closer to their strongly developed oral culture, which eventually led to a documentary project. I contacted Dennis Mulder and Anna van Winden as we had had a positive collaborative experience in making a short documentary after a documentary course at the Univerity of Amsterdam.
Artist and poet Ahmed Magare and I met each other at the writer’s workshop Writing Across Languages, which ultimately led to the project of Familiar Strangers. He decided to join the documentary project by introducing and concluding the documentary with his poem My Sleeping Queen.
For the detail-oriented viewer, Dennis and I are both visible in the documentary, and there is a mention of us being the only two White people in the neighborhood of Small Heath.* Abdi-Dani, at one point, takes over the camera and introduces his friends and neighborhood to the viewers himself. However, in the final edit, all of the filmmakers are more or less invisable, with the exception of Ahmed, who has produced the parts of the film in which he recites his own poem. The decision to exclude three of the four makers almost entirely from the documentary was difficult to make since this approach has proven to be unpopular in recent years, but we based it on the recognition of these stories as stories on their own. They were personal narrations of which we believed, together with the individals sharing them with us, that they needed to be told by the ones who had lived them. We do realize the potential Eurocentrism of the approach, in a way eliminating our subjective White selves while in most cases in the film we were holding the camera and we cut large parts of the final version of the documentary.
We experience this documentary project as a continuing conversation surrounding different imaginaries of identities and migration. Our intention is to continue collaborations in many other forms and contexts with Somalis and Somali communities, in England, in the Netherlands, and in other places in the future. This project seeks to trespass borders, first of all, in terms of traditional geographical (empire) borders, since all people involved traveled through Somalia, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and other countries, and speak various languages. Secondly, in terms of medium: the project started with a literature project, and includes music, poetry, and oral culture. We are working on several projects and ‘spin-offs’ that include music, debates, and poetry. It started years ago and hopefully will continue to live on for a long time.
* Lori L. Tharps argues in an article in the New York Times that, when referring to Black people, one should use a capital B, since we are not referring to a color, but to a culture. The same would consequentially count for White, which is why we chose to capitalize White when referring to the people, and not the color.
Lori L.Tharps, ‘The Case for Black With a Capital B’, in The New York Times, 19 November 2014.