Brave New World: Imagining a Carbon-Free Future on the Island of Failaka

On November 21, the Paris Center, in partnership with the Department of Theatre and the Department of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at Barnard College, will present a conversation with leading Arab playwright and theatre director Sulayman Al Bassam. Al Bassam will discuss his innovative, multidisciplinary new project called "The Post-Petroleum Society."

Joelle Theubet
November 19, 2019

Al Bassam will link his adaptation of ancient texts -- The Lament for the Destruction of Ur and the Medea myth -- to the modern Arab context with his experience of building an interdisciplinary center for the new creation on Failaka, a depopulated, historically rich island in the Persian Gulf. He will examine themes of civilizational transience and explore models of cultural production that challenge the status quo of carbon dependency and resource extraction, introducing what he is calling "The Post-Petroleum Society."

Founded in collaboration with creative director Natasha Freedman, the Post-Petroleum Society project brings together artists, scientists, researchers, architects, urbanists, and various cultural and academic institutions to envisage a world beyond oil and other exploitative practices, using the tiny island of Failaka off the coast of Kuwait as a springboard.  The experience with Failaka will serve as example to develop an archipelago of “islands,” sites of creation that rise up, where artistic production is wed to the local surroundings.

Columbia Global Centers | Paris is looking for Columbia researchers—faculty and students—to invest in and help develop this project as thought leaders and creative collaborators. 

Beginning with the island of Failaka, this project will provide field work opportunities for students, responding to the imperatives formulated by Columbia’s new Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement. Failaka offers uncharted intellectual terrain for doctoral work and advanced research in a variety of disciplines: Middle Eastern Studies, Architecture, Anthropology, History, Archaeology, Botany, Urbanism, and Geography, to name only a few. Columbia’s unparalleled faculty and students, with their rigor and vision, can work intimately with creators involved with FIKAR (Failaka Instute for Knowledge and Arts Research, founded by Al Bassam) to produce innovative, multifaceted propositions.

Through Columbia’s Global Centers, the knowledge produced can be scaled to other mainland/island geographies and contribute to theoretical understandings of the consequences of late-stage capitalism, acutely felt by island communities and nations.  This synergy would lead to new practices, concerted action, and paradigm shifts that would allow us to transition our behavior, grow hope, and invent proposals as we are facing—or, for some islanders, already wading in—this emergency.


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