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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Festival for New York, That Muslim City

THE hookahs looked like exotic animals lurking in Hookahnuts, a shop for gifts and food in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In various shades of red, blue and green, these water pipes, used to smoke flavored tobacco, were the most vivid sign of the shop’s Middle Eastern culture, presented among an eye-catching array that included intricate wooden trays, imported chocolates and delicate cups and saucers for Arabic coffee.

The Muslim Voices festival, which continues through June 14, will showcase the works of artists from countries like India and Indonesia, Egypt and Morocco. At a cost of $2.5 million and with participation from some of the major arts organizations in the city, the festival has everything from Arabic hip-hop to the Sardono Dance Theater, created by the Indonesian dancer and choreographer Sardono Kusumo, and will feature more than 100 artists, some local, some from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Not all are Muslim, but their work is rooted in places that have been influenced by Islam or where it is the predominant religion.

The three festival sponsors — the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Asia Society and the Center for Dialogues at New York University — hope to foster a greater understanding of Muslim culture at a time of tension and misunderstanding between Western and Islamic societies. The idea for the festival was set in motion several years ago with a conversation between Karen Brooks Hopkins, the president of the academy, and Mustapha Tlili, the director of the Center for Dialogues. (It comes at the same time as President Obama’s major speech to the Muslim world, on Thursday.)


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