U.Va. Symposium to Feature Art Bringing Together Jewish, Islamic Worlds

February 21, 2013

Jewish and Muslim musicians, performers and poets have a long history of shared culture and collaboration, according to organizers of an upcoming University of Virginia symposium exploring those interactions.

Common Ground: Dialogue Between Jewish and Islamic Worlds Through Art” runs March 3 and 4, and features both academic presentations and arts events such as a one-man dramatic performance by the son of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim, a reading by a Palestinian-American poet and a concert of Central Asian classical folk music and dance by New York-based ensemble Shashmaqam, which features Jewish and Muslim performers.

The event is free and open to the public, and a full schedule and description of the performers is available on its website.

“The premise of the symposium was to explore from different angles the idea of cultural dialogue between Jews and Muslims historically through art, such as spoken word, music and theater,” said associate professor Joel Rubin, director of musical performance in the College of Arts & SciencesMcIntire Department of Music and a member of the Jewish Studies faculty. “Usually when people think of Muslims and Jews, they think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other things like that. But there is also a history of cultural interactions that dates back practically to the birth of Islam.”

On March 3 at 1 p.m. in the Observatory Hill Forum, Ibrahim Miari, the son of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother, will present his humorous, semi-autobiographical one-man show.

At 3 p.m. in the same location, ethnomusicologist Benjamin Brinner, chair of the Department of Music at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “Playing Across a Divide: Israeli-Palestinian Musical Encounters,” will present the symposium’s keynote address.

That evening, Shashmaqam will perform Central Asian classical and folk music and dance. The group, comprised of Jewish performers, will be joined by Muslim colleagues. The Central Asian region has been home to musical traditions that include both Jews and Muslims, Rubin said.

“This style of music originated in areas like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where Jews and Muslims have lived side-by-side for hundreds of years,” Rubin said. “It’s based on ancient Persian traditions and instruments, but as often as not the performers were Jews.”

On March 4 at 9 a.m. in the Newcomb Hall Gallery, professors Razia Sultanova of the University of Cambridge and Evan Rapport of The New School will participate in a panel discussion on Central Asian music moderated by Shawn Lyons, assistant professor in U.Va.’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures.

The day also features a lecture by Benny Ziffer, author and editor of the cultural section of Israeli newspaper Ha’artez, as well as a reading by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

The symposium is sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, the McIntire Department of Music and the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, with the support of the McIntire Department of Art and the Department of English. It’s made possible by an award from the Page-Barbour Interdisciplinary Scholarly Initiative.

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Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications