A Reflection on Al-Bustan’s Panels on Visibility and Representation in the Arts from the Perspective of Film Student and Artist Peerce Carr

My name is Peerce Carr. I’m an artist and film major from Drexel University, and I am currently working at Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture for my CO-OP. I’m thankful for the community, family atmosphere, and inclusion that exists at Al-Bustan. Since day one, I’ve felt accepted and cared for at Al-Bustan and am really thankful for that. I’m focused on helping with civic work and videography for Al-Bustan and have always had a strong love and passion for film. Not to mention, I’ve always had a strong love and passion for inclusion within film and was fortunate enough to be a part of Al-Bustan’s panel discussions about film, theatre, and what representation means to SWANA artists featuring Screenwriter and Director Lena Elmeligy and Actor, Writer, and Advocate Martin Zebari. I was really happy to be able to prepare questions for these up and coming, extremely talented artists while also getting to learn from them within their panels.

Film Student and Artist Peerce Carr

One artist that really made an impact on me was Lena Elmeligy; due to her relatability for me personally as an artist who’s passionate about storytelling. Similar to my own experiences with America’s education system, In one Al-Bustan panel discussion, she spoke about how she felt disconnected from her college due to its lack of diversity and the feeling that those around her couldn’t relate to Lena’s personal experiences at all. She explained how due to those factors, it led to her wanting to learn about her own roots and putting her personal experiences into her own art. As Al-Bustan’s discussion went on, Lena also spoke about her struggle to find representation within film, her current goals with film, and the importance of maintaining community when creating art. Another great point she made was after one audience member asked her, “What do you hope to see in the future of film/media? For future generations who will watch your films, and for future directors/actors?.” Lena replied that she hopes to see the way films, writers, actors, etc. are recruited change and hopes to see the way money is distributed throughout the film industry change; which I completely agree with and also hope to see. One more point I really appreciated was what she said about the importance of staying true to her identity and community, instead of Hollywood’s expectations, and making sure to keep her art authentic; She explained, instead of writing a script with the intent of being picked up and funded by a film studio, she focuses on writing a story for herself and others (such as the SWANA community) that relate to her. She says she hopes to continue inspiring filmmakers, artists, and people who relate to her to remain true to themselves and write films that express their own identities instead of trying to fit into the white-washed industry that is Hollywood and the film industry. In addition, she emphasized the importance of patterning with artists who relate to you within your community when being BiPOC, LGBTQ, SWANA, etc. 

Peerce Carr in his film domain.

Another panel discussion I really liked was featuring Martin Zebari, NAXO, and Sarah Trad, each artist spoke about their identities (such as LGTBTQ and SWana) and personal backgrounds in relation to their art. They spoke about the importance of keeping their art authentic when it comes to their own personal experiences while also helping to represent diverse voices and how art has become a safe space for each artist. Furthermore, each artist spoke on how they relate when it comes to their interests in textiles, the effects of quarantine on their art, and defining what authenticity or “nakedness” in art is. Each artist spoke about how art has been a safe space to express their feelings, identities, etc. in a world that has rarely ever prioritized their voices. As the discussion went on each artist started speaking about Queerness and SWANA representation in relation to its recent usage in mainstream culture. An audience member asked the artists “As queer culture steadily absorbs into mainstream culture, do people feel a call to challenge/redefine queerness in their artwork?.” In response, each artist spoke of their own personal challenges when it comes to ensuring their art is authentic before (as Martin put it) bearing the weight of representing an entire culture, community, or group of people. In addition, Martin spoke about the difficulties of being an actor during quarantine and how it inspired him to write his own play, called Layalina, a play that centers Queer and SWANA voices. 

Overall, I really enjoyed helping with each discussion panel along with watching each for Al-Bustan. I’m really excited for my future at Al-Bustan when it comes to civic work and videography for them; and I couldn’t be happier about choosing them for my CO-OP. 

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