The Mosaic Rooms is one of the most exciting venues in London. A five-minute walk from Earls Court tube station, the exhibitions and events that take place at the venue are a must for anyone with an interest in Middle Eastern culture. We took the opportunity to speak to Omar Al-Qattan, who is Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the A.M. Qattan Foundation – the charity that run The Mosaic Rooms, and has been with the venue from the beginning..
How did the Mosaic Rooms get started?
We are one of the projects of a British charity called the AM Qattan Foundation, which is about 15 years old. It’s part of a family with a view to supporting cultural and education development in Palestine and the Arab world. We started the culture and arts programme in 1999 – it was the first one of its kind that was independent and not government funded. We run projects such as a children’s cultural centre, library and theatre in the Gaza strip. We also have a centre for educational research and development to improve the standard of teaching in Palestinian schools.
The idea then came of having a foothold in London, in which we could bring the artists and writers that we had come across in Palestine and elsewhere to London, but also to really offer an alternative, non-commercial platform for ideas, for new thinking and for innovation. We wanted to propose to the London and UK public a different vision of the Arab world. We wanted to do this in a non-political sense, not that we don’t do political things, but in a sense that we wanted some independence, so that people felt free to come and propose ideas to us; new visions, new thoughts, new forms and new expression – an opportunity that they maybe didn’t have elsewhere in the UK.
Why is it important to have a venue like the Mosaic Rooms in London?
The relationship between the UK and the Arab world has been so terrible. It has been so fraught with violence and injustice, and I’m not just talking about Palestine, I’m talking about places such as Iraq and Egypt too. We needed a mixed institution, if you like, a hybrid institution, that proposes a different way of dealing with each other. As a cultural institution we couldn’t think of a better way of doing this than through cultural exchange, but of the highest quality. Things that we felt best represented new thinking and creative ideas from the region.
Tell us about the exhibitions inside the venue.
At the moment we have our first exhibition of 2012, which is A Tribute To Adonis, who is said to be the greatest living Arabic poet, but he’s also an artist. He’s 81 and it’s a very rare and fantastic thing to have over here.
Then, starting in April, we have an exhibition called Iraq – How, Where, For Whom? a joint project by the artists Hanaa’ Malallah and kennardphillips, which is focused on Iraq. It’s a very partial exhibition of work that asks what’s the point of free speech when no one listens? It’s actually about our ability or our inability to influence honesty through the democratic process, particularly foreign policy.
We have a residency programme as well, we have an apartment downstairs in which we display the work of guests from the Arab world who are doing cultural work here. We also have the same in Palestine, and we’ve had a lot of UK artists visiting there. The residency programme is also based on exchange; we work with institutions all over the world; India, Egypt or wherever we find a similar institution to ourselves. It’s a fantastic way, especially for younger artists, to work on current projects or exchange ideas and meet, or do research.
One of our main concerns is to stay away from high society culture, we’re much more interested in grass roots projects. We hope that people will see us as an introduction into this society and culture.
Can students get involved with the venue?
Yes, we have a lot of volunteers from people who are looking to do internships in the art world. We’d also love to see more students come to the lectures, which can be especially useful for anyone planning to do an exchange programme or any research on the region.
For up to date information on exhibitions and events you can visit The Mosaic Rooms’ website here.