By Sam Burt
Now entering its fourth year, MACFEST is a celebration of Muslim art and culture that brings together faith and non-faith communities in Greater Manchester and beyond. As the festival’s founder, author and activist Qaisra Shahraz told me, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, tackling the harmful effects of isolation has always been her mission.
“People feel isolated. They need to connect and take their mind off the virus. These events can help to tackle depression, loneliness and isolation – being part of an uplifting discussion, enjoying a new cultural experience or seeing beautiful art works.”
To that end, the line-up features writers, photographers, actors, filmmakers and musicians ‘from Manchester to Uzbekistan.’ Debates, workshops and events will cover everything from history and politics to theatre and comedy.
While previous years have seen lavishly decorated marquees, this year’s festival will be mainly digital (events bookable here). Due to social distancing requirements, they have had to opt for more soloists over group performances in all fields.
In keeping with its hashtag #spreadhoneynothate, MACFEST has kept pace with conversations about race following the shooting of George Floyd. Several events are being held to honour the Black Lives Matter movement, including ‘Racism in Photography’ and ‘The Black Queens of Islam.’
This year’s longer duration will hopefully allow offline events to be held later in the year, including an Eid dinner in the Whitworth Art Gallery gardens. Meanwhile, the festival’s geographic reach has grown, with events hosted in schools, libraries and galleries in multiple UK cities, a special event in Azerbaijan and Ramadan events throughout the Muslim world.
For the art lovers out there, there are plenty of events to choose from. You can explore Islamic miniature paintings held in the John Rylands Library, learn about the history of colour in art or make your own Mughal floral artwork.
Qaisra insists that “Now more than ever, we have to bring communities together and lift our spirits.” On that, I am sure we can all agree.
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