Festival News

How do you truly immerse the audience in a story? How do you tell the horrifying story of people buried in Syrian gardens?  That’s exactly what award-winning creator, Tania El Khoury has achieved with ‘Gardens Speak’ which premiers in Ireland as part of Belfast International Arts Festival.

The interactive sound installation portrays the oral histories of the people buried in Syrian gardens.  Gardens have been the resting place of many who adorned the streets during the Syrian uprising. Narrated by the friends and family of the deceased, the participating audience, glimpse into ten stories which can no longer be told by those who lived them.

Ten participants are literally immersed physically and emotionally in the life and death of 10 ordinary people.  The experience begins in a dark antechamber. Participants remove socks and shoes and enter the cemetery. They then lie down and listen to the voices from beyond the grave.

It may sound bizarre, but the The New York Times’ Charles Isherwoods described it as ‘A stark, moving theatre piece by Tania El Khoury, brings us into painful intimacy with the human cost of the war.’ “The experience was extraordinary, and emotionally wrenching.”  The Guardian review agreed, “Gardens Speak gives the silenced back their voices and provides a gravestone for those whose burial place often has to remain unmarked”.

World-wide acclaim has continued this week as ‘Garden’s Speak’ has been announced as winner of the 2017 ANTI Festival International Prize for Live Art, in Kuopio, Finland.

El Khoury is an arab-performance maker. Her work consistently confronts western perceptions and narratives of the Arab world, particularly in relation to women.   Khoury has a fascination with oral history and storytelling.  Explaining Garden’s Speak she says,

“Audiences quite literally have to dirty their hands to uncover the story and to make an effort to uncover the truth. I like the idea of putting your ear to the ground and hearing the stories that normally go unrecorded and unheard.  These burials are often an act of resistance. Funerals in Syria often lead to more deaths: there have been incidents of the shelling of cemeteries while funerals are taking place, and in some instances before the burial can take place the families are asked to sign documents exonerating the Assad regime of their loved one’s death.”

 “I hope that by telling these stories it will remind us that it is human beings involved. During big historic events, it’s the small voices, the individual human voices that get lost. They are the history below, the histories that seldom get told.”

Gardens Speak runs from the 11th to the 22nd October in 12-13 Shaftesbury Square.

Booking tickets for this performance is essential. Bookings can be made online at belfastinternationalartsfestiv al.com, by calling 028 90892707 or in person at the box office in The MAC .  Follow Belfast International Arts Festival on Facebook and twitter @BelfastFestival for all the latest news.