The Festival of Arab Culture (or Arabfest) is a traditional cultural and educational event taking place every spring at various places across Pilsen and in Prague. Its program offers concerts, lectures by Czech and foreign experts, debates, dance performances, exhibitions, workshops, competitions, food tastings and much more – all tied to the culture of the Near East.
The main goal of Arabfest is to present the Arab world to the public in a different context than media ussualy does - not the blurred, biased view of a culture that has so much to offer!
The original aim of the main organiser was to hold a series of lectures that would liven up the student life of those studying the Near East. So at the beginning it was an event by students and for students. With the help of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at The University of West Bohemia and other supporters, the festival has grown into a diverse event for the general public. The visitors now have the chance to meet not only Czech and foreign Orientalists, but also Arab musicians, artists, journalists, or travellers. The festival is organized by students and graduates of the University of West Bohemia (many of whom are also members of ARABFEST, Inc.) in cooperation with the Madžlis association at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University.
The first season called Through the Path of Dates and Olive Trees led us to faraway lands and times. We were introduced to the methods of ancient Muslim physicians, we learned how the old Arab wisemen explained dreams and we found out what's hidden under the mysterious phrase “naqshbandia”.
A year later, the second season took place, it was called In the Tones of Lute and Rhebab. We learned how to play backgammon, we had a chance to dance in the rhythms of both traditional and modern Arabic music and filled our tummies with original Arabian sweets.
One year later the season entitled Footsteps in Saffron, focused on Spanish Andalusia. We followed the traces left by Arabs in our civilization and debated over the sciences of the Arab world. Also, we have organized a conference on archaeological discoveries in the Near East made by Czech experts.
The fourth season of the festival was called My House, Your House and invited us to explore an Arab house. We were bewitched by the beauty of spectacular architecture, experienced true Arab hospitality, and got to know the inhabitants’ habits and lifestyle.
The fifth season entitled Hand Me a Flute And Sing attempted to explore Arab culture from a different angle of the alternative art scene, Arab self-expression, and the relationship between tradition and modernity. The program focused also on Arab e-comics, street art, hiphop, punk and graffiti.
The sixth season focused on Woman. The visitors got a chance to meet Fatéma Chahid, Shadia Mansour, and Nawal Slemiah. There was also a unique project entitled Arabs Among Us that was based on cooperation between Czech high-school students and known people of Arab descent living in the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the festival has managed to enter into a close partnership with the Kingdom of Morocco embassy.
In the year 2016, we met at our Arabfest entitled TOGETHER. It stressed the importance of personal experience, joint effort and dialogue. The festival was commenced by a European premiere of a unique play Refugee Safari in a new festival centre Moving Station. The main programme featured a talk on migration and the refugee crisis and a screening of an international award winning time-lapse documentary A Syrian Love Story. The visitors also got a chance to meet director Moris Issa, musician Rashid Rahma or teacher Charif Bahbouh.
The eighth annual Arabfest built on the previous year’s topic and focused on #online communication and social media. Visitors debated the power of new media, which can be used to spread messages of revolution, but also of hatred. The festival also offered our traditional ArabFILMfest, Arab food, a Lebanese wine tasting and our popular Saturday Oriental markets. Last year’s festival attracted 2000 visitors both from the Czech Republic and from abroad, and more than 4000 people watched online streaming of festival events.
ARABFEST has now enjoyed nine successful seasons. The ninth year of ARABFEST invited its visitors to CITY. We were discovering the public space of the Middle East metropolises and their architecture. We learned how urban planning projects of the Gulf cities are formed and discussed the role and movement of women in the Middle East and beyond. Thanks to the huge support of Startovač (thank you!), we managed to organise the first ORIENTAL STREET FOOD MARKET in the Czech Republic. The traditional Grand Saturday Programme has become the most successful in the history of the festival – attended by 1,500 people. The festival was held in the city of Olomouc for the first time.
The subtitle FOOD added an extra flavour to the tenth anniversary of the festival as it thematically linked the entire program, including the international 2 day conference, where the food was examined from all angles and properly tasted. The ORIENTAL STREET FOOD MARKET delighted visitors not only in Pilsen but in Prague as well and culinary walks has become welcomed new addition to the programme. Visitors to Pilsen, Prague and Olomouc could learn about food “not being just on a plate” through lectures, gastronomic workshops and audiovisual performances of foreign guests Together with traditional wine tasting, film screenings and exhibition of ten years of ARABFEST, the festival programme was attended by almost 5500 people.