Song for a Small Guest
for Alan Kurdi
From the Album, LOVE, and my recital, A Night of Infinite Resignation, performed on April 9, 2017.
Performed by William George, and Corey Hamm on piano for Art Song Lab 2016 at the Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver BC.
Poetry by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
This past winter someone shared this wonderful event called Art Song Lab. It pairs composers and poets to create an art song together, with everyone coming to Vancouver for workshops and the premiere. It turned out to be one of the most magical experiences of my life. I was paired with Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, who eventually became one of my favorite poets alive, and also a dear friend.
Song for a Small Guest came out of several conversations about post 9/11 racism, and what it’s like being a Middle Eastern person in the United States. This project came to us and was less of a product of our skills as artists and more of a message which we were fated to share.
Song for a Small Guest opens many conversations about who the piece is for. I still cannot answer it, but I know it’s not for white people, although it might be a good source of trying to understand their privilege. It’s not for any person of color because the issue must be firmly Middle Eastern, although this can be a great source of community building. This piece is not for my fellow Middle Eastern brethren, even though it may be a source of healing, as it was for me. The only person this piece may be for is Alan Kurdi, the boy with the red shoes, a victim of white sensationalism, whose photo was shared across the internet in a frenzy because somehow white people are ok with looking at the dead body of a beautiful brown boy. I hope that with this piece, it will help his soul rest.
It seems as though we are in the midst of a cultural shift where social issues are entering privileged spaces (the classical music world in this case) with more intensity than before. There were many songs that were social justice related at Art Song Lab and the people were dedicated to creating a safe space. In Vancouver, where the festival took place, I found myself in a loving and supportive community right away, something I have to work really hard to find here in the US.
Yet, I also witnessed people reacting by refusing to listen to the voices of the oppressed. There is a strong desire to get away from an issue and stay neutral, especially in the art world. It is for that reason that white people will never understand this work.
White listener, it’s important to understand that we are angry, but a big reason why we are angry is that no one sees the love that is there among my own people. For my listeners who are people of color, I hope this piece will be a source of healing for you.
God bless Alan Kurdi and his family. May Allah look over him and support his loving family as they grieve and struggle to live in a world where they endure so much suffering. May God grant justice to those who have abused his name and bring comfort to those who grieve him.
In 2013, a study was published about mice. Researchers tortured mice as they were fed strawberries and studied their children. Not only did the original mice fear the smell of strawberries but their children and their children’s children did as well. Thus, we have confirmed the epigenetics of pain and that is where this story starts. Nebal has crafted this series of works to study radical trans-temporal queer pain.
Nebal asks his audience to answer questions that reach the core of what it means to be human; Where does pain come from? How are we to heal if we are historically and actively marginalized? When we meet Hasan and David, we are encapsulated by the way two men can suffer as they say goodbye. This moment, hundreds of years ago, mirrors the pain that Abdullah feels as he honors his lost son, Alan. Both moments echo the dichotomy of public versus private. Hasan and David’s secret relationship is hidden from their public lives; Abdullah, struggling with the appropriation of his son’s death on a Greek shoreline, takes a moment to grieve privately. These painful moments are tied together through Rabia al-Adawiyya whose soul in death, in Nebal’s words, shattered into a million pieces and lies within every queer body. I invite the audience to find the difference between suffering and love themselves and to take with them the interconnectedness of the world that Nebal has exemplified before them today.
Naomi Oster, Co-Director