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Palestinians speak out: After the Last Sky

INTERVIEW. Israelis have a voice here, but Palestinians, not so much. Curators of "After the Last Sky" Anna-Esther Younes and Pary El-Qualqili aim to change that with their fest at Ballhaus Naunynstraße starting Sep 9.

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“Destroy”. Photo by Ricardo Esway

Anna-Esther Younes and Pary El-Qualqili invite Palestinians to take the stage at Ballhaus Naunynstraße.

The scope of After the Last Sky: A Festival in Berlin Transgressing Boundaries of Palestinian Life and Identity is as ambitious as the title. It’s a one-month programme of theatre and dance performances, films, concerts and talks highlighting contemporary international Palestinian artists and activists, with a visual art exhibition running alongside, all curated under four themes: “The Void”, “Aliens, Zombies and Ghosts”, “Exorcism” and “Iqra”.

How did this festival come to be?

Pary El-Qalqili: We wanted to have something new. In Germany, if you want to invite a Palestinian artist, the institution actually asks you to also invite an Israeli artist and put them in dialogue. We wanted to create a space where Palestinian artists can speak for themselves.

Anna-Esther Younes: As Edward Said said so wonderfully, “We are the victims of the victims.” In a country that so cherishes its own identity as a repenting nation and has supposedly done away with its own anti-Semitism, there is no way for Palestinians to speak.

Are you hoping the festival can change that?

PE: I think for young people, it can inspire them to see that there are Palestinian artists who are dealing with their own history and trying to find their own artistic forms to talk about it. For the older generation of Palestinians who came here in the 1960s, or the second wave of immigration in the 1980s, it will be a sign that there are people who are articulating their history in a way they never dared – or didn’t have the space to.

AY: The muzzle is off.

You’ve mentioned that the approach to the festival is “de-colonial, antiracist, and feminist”: how do you do this in practice?

AY: We’re trying to move away from stereotypes of any kind, about gender, nationality or sexuality. We don’t just have a panel for Arab Jews or “Palestinians from 48”; we don’t introduce people based on their identity as feminist or queer. We want to show a new Palestinian generation that it’s normal to be different. That’s who we are; you’re just one of us. So far it’s been primarily heterosexual men who’ve talked about the “liberation” of Palestine – and we are gonna do things a little bit differently.

Can you give an example of one artist who does things a little bit differently?

PE: There’s Leyya Mona Tawil, a choreographer and dancer. In Destroy, she will build a piece with dancers and then deconstruct the choreography, all in just one day. I think this idea also inspires us to think about Palestine.

After the Last Sky, Sep 9-Oct 9 | Ballhaus Naunynstr., Kreuzberg, full programme at www.ballhausnaunynstrasse.de