A large man standing on a darkly lit stage
HASH by Khashabi Theatre. Photo: Suzi Corker

"Thank you to the many audiences, artists, partner venues, collaborators and stakeholders who made his year’s Shubbak Festival such a success.

Figures are still coming in, but we know already that our live audiences in London exceeded 10,000 people, our online programme reached audiences of over 5,000, and It Ain’t Where You From (our commissioned film about the Hip Hop scene in the Gulf) reached 40,000 individuals on Facebook.

This has been a moving and often emotional festival. Shown in circumstances like never before, we had to comply to strict social distancing requirements at all our venues. What this led to was a number of beautiful moments of solidarity between audiences and artists. As I went from event to event, artists spoke again and again from the stage about how this was their first public performance in 18 months. Some spoke about how they were experiencing new and unheard-of levels of nervousness, and how they had noticed a sapping of confidence before their shows started. For audiences this was their first time in a theatre for over a year. However, this fragility quickly blew away and that communal spark of a live event was re-ignited. Some artists spoke about how validated they felt – and how the encounter with a live audience gave them a new sense of purpose.

I feel that one of the biggest successes of this year’s festival was simply that it took place, that it dared its claim to be present again. In spite of the restrictions, once again Shubbak sent both artists and audiences on new journeys of discovery: from Chelsea’s tranquil and iconic botanical garden, to the stark contrasts of the Whitechapel neighbourhood where historic lanes sit alongside high-rise blocks, from billboard sites in West London, to the concrete pathways of the Barbican, audiences experienced work in all corners of the city. 

And that sense of discovery was also shared by us as a team. So much of our online programme was delegated to trusted partners in the region. FADAA’s When The World Closed took us to new locations including Shababek Arts Centre in Gaza, Le 18 in Marrakesh and AlHosh Gallery in Doha. Even the Shubbak team did not know what to expect at each event. The floor was given over to our colleagues at FADAA and their local partners. Similarly, I had little idea who or what our group of young curators Young Shubbak would present in their inaugural exhibition Sawa, Sawa. For the first time I felt as much ‘an audience and a guest’ at the festival as I felt a presenter and curator.

We are now analysing and evaluating each aspect of the festival and I hope that the learning can be taken forward in future editions. August is wrap-up time, and in September I will be handing over to our brilliant new Joint CEOs Alia Alzougbi and Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso.

We will also be releasing more online events over the next weeks: new podcasts, new videos from The Synaptik and Felukah, the recording of Against Disappearance: Hidden Presences, as well as preparing new webinars. Hardly a moment to catch our breath.

Thank you to all of you who tuned into this year’s festival programme. We loved having you back. And I want to thank our wonderful team of producers and specialists. As a festival our team expands and contracts according to need and we have already had to give our farewells to this year’s a brilliant group of experts: Kevin, Jess, Ameerah, John, Valeria, Soumayya (who translated most of our events into BSL), Sam, Sarah, Anna  – and of course our small army of always-smiling volunteers.

The journey of this year’s festival was full of obstacles and challenges, but Shubbak Festival 2021 has now become a springboard for the future, brimming with fresh ideas having tested new ways of working.

Eckhard Thiemann | CEO and Artistic Director