(Un)Masking Afro Arab Environmental Identities from the Nile River Basin to Palestine

Glean 2, Winter 2023

Essay by Michelle Mlati

The Forest and Desert School Revisited

In 2022, Michelle Mlati curated the group exhibition ‘The Forest and Desert School Revisited’ at Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi, Kenya. Inspired by the Forest and Desert School (Madrasat al-Ghaba wa al-Sahra), a literary movement that emerged in the 1960s, the exhibition explored themes of hybrid African and Arab identities and poetic entanglement with the landscape. In a personal essay, Mlati revisits the conceptual underpinnings of the show by zooming in on the individual practices of some of the participating artists.

How might artists imagine the poetics of the forest and desert, afforestation and desertification outside the limited imagination of ‘making the desert bloom’? What might blooming even mean for Arabness, Africanness and their hybrids as a lived or imagined experience beyond North-South divides, which are further reinforced in the nomenclature of ‘North Africa’ and ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’?

The Forest and Desert School and its 1930s Predecessors

The ‘Forest and Desert School’ ( (…)

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