Philadelphia - Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage, organized by Kenza Aloui and Inès Weill-Rochant, is a festival featuring the work of Palestinian and Israeli artists.
Philadelphia – Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage, organized by Kenza Aloui and Inès Weill-Rochant, is a festival featuring the work of Palestinian and Israeli artists.
The event, which will be held at La Bellevilloise in Paris from May 24th-25th, invites participants into a “cultural space without borders”, allowing attendees to engage with Israel-Palestine through the art and projects of the people who live there while avoiding the paralyzing, repetitive political debates that often characterize discourse about the region.
“It’s about showing other approaches and perspectives that explain more deeply the issues that are important to the actual sociopolitical situation,” Inès says. “The idea is to propose a two-day virtual journey into Israel and Palestine… through the daily experiences of resident artists, we want to destabilize certain preconceived notions people in Paris have about the conflict.”
The two friends, who met as students at Sciences Po, have each lived, traveled or studied throughout Israel-Palestine and wanted to collaborate on a project that would present the region from a different perspective. Kenza, originally from Morocco, and Inès, a French national who was raised in Jerusalem, first conceived their idea on a hot day in Rabat, Morocco last June. “The idea of organizing a festival came up last summer, after going to the Gnawa festival in Essaouira. We had both finished our studies and decided to give ourselves the chance to do the project – it was this year or never,” Kenza says.
Many recent college graduates might have given up on their idea under pressure to choose a conventional career path, but Inès and Kenza viewed the risk as an opportunity. “We had many fears of course, because many people told us ‘don’t waste your time on that, there is no hope,’” the pair said. “You can imagine all the things we heard! But we had to try, because we had all of these great artistic projects and initiatives in mind that were not well known in Paris, and we believed in our project very much, as we’re a small team of two friends supporting each other in this big challenge.”
Though some might claim that the festival violates the principles of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the organizers see no contradiction between their project and support for the Palestinian cause. “Our festival is financially independent from Israeli governmental institutions. The Israeli artists we have invited are not ignoring the daily violations of international law against Palestinians…these artists are independent, like our festival,” they said.
“The invited artists are fully aware of the political situation, they are not disregarding it; some of them are dealing with it in their art in more or less obvious way, and are putting the “other” at the center of their messages. Other artists are addressing the political situation by adopting different approaches: imagining, resisting, questioning, representing, and sometimes dreaming. Others prefer to keep their distance from the political reality (without disregarding it) to show that they can be something other than the conflict… Finally, having a camel as a mascot, having a colorful message, and using a somewhat lighter tone, does not mean you should not take it seriously. It surely does not mean we are turning away from a serious situation – this is a thoughtful initiative.”
The festival also presented a unique learning opportunity for Kenza and Inès. “Working on the project is teaching us so many things, it is as if we were doing four jobs at once! We need to work on the budget, advertising, the website, the program and even on administrative issues! We became entrepreneurs without knowing it,” Inès says.
Gaining the support of the Bellevilloise, a premier historic venue for cultural events in Paris, proved to be the decisive moment at which their project became a reality. “This was very important because it is one of the oldest and most beautiful venues in Paris, and they believed in the project. Once you have the venue and artists who are willing to come to your festival, you can’t fear anything!” Kenza says.
The two organizers advise other young people with creative ideas to develop their projects with a clear vision of what the project will achieve. “I think that you can feel overwhelmed when you have naive expectations. For instance, if our goal was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two days with artists, of course we would feel hopeless,” Inès says. “We have moments of stress and doubt, but when we meet the artists, when we see that they support the festival, that they like our approach and they are coming to the event, we have already made a difference and achieved a small but meaningful change.
Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage is the first event of its kind to be held in Paris, and the organizers have left the festival’s end result intentionally open-ended. “We only know that it will be a great moment because the artists we have invited are brilliant, original and off-the-wall! The attendees will discover people, ideas, fears, hopes, and perspectives. They will be immersed in Israel-Palestine through stories, experiences, projects and initiatives that will explain much more than any book they would read or conference they would attend,” Kenza says. “That is why we called it a “pilgrimage”: you will not be able to leave without asking yourself questions you have never asked before.”
So far the organizers have funded Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage entirely through the crowdsourcing site KissKissBankBank, although they are looking for sponsors. To date, they have raised 94% of their initial funding goal through contributions from over 100 international donors, with just one month left to reach 5,000 Euros. Money raised will be used primarily to cover travel expenses for the artists, who will volunteer their time.
Kenza and Inès hope that their festival will one day make pilgrimages of its own: “we’d like to create a real cultural institution out of our festival, a nomadic, moving festival around the world,” they say. “And who knows – maybe next year we will take our festival right to your front door!”
For more information about Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage and to donate to the project, click here. Stay up to date on the festival via Facebook atwww.facebook.com/
This article is part of a series on young artists, creators and organizers pursuing unconventional paths. Read an interview with rapper Soultana here.
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