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Beirut is a battle-scarred city that has survived military invasions and civil war. Currently it struggles with a Muslim and Christian divide, the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has Isis looming over their country’s northern border. Still, Beirut is considered the cultural hub of the Middle East. Reverberating with the sounds of musicians, performers and activists as well as hosting one of the best nightlife scenes in the world, Beirut is an enigma. The city’s resiliency is in large part defined by artists and activists who help to carve out a distinct culture in spite of the surrounding chaos. In this episode we follow one Canadian ex- pat and four local artists - a writer, a rapper, a graffiti artist and a male belly dancer who use their art to express their struggles, their hopes and their vision for the future of the city.
With a war raging just hours away, Kiev is a city on the divide between Russia and Europe. It has a government that ignores its citizens and responds to demonstrators with violent measures. Now Kiev is where art stands as a form of protest in the face of war and corruption and artists and activists are spearheading the fight to claim Ukrainian cultural identity. In this episode we follow a Canadian journalist and three artists; an award-winning poet, a rock musician who creates a satirical animation series and an artist-activist, who mounts a provoking contemporary art performance - all of who are determine to create a new narrative for their city.
In the past 5 years, Athens has suffered painful blows to its economy, society and culture. But amidst the chaos and confusion from the financial meltdown, artists from all corners of the city are gathering to protect, redefine and preserve Athenian culture and identity through the power of their art. In this episode we see a Canadian ex-pat and 3 artists; a philosophical graffiti artist making his next social commentary mural, a photographer covering the ongoing protests and an electro-pop band inspired by traditional Greek music – each, in their own way, are fighting to counteract the bleak outlook of their urban landscape.
In 2010 Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed between 200,000 to 300,000 people. In the aftermath of the earthquake, hundreds of NGOs from around the world moved in to help Haiti rebuild. Five years later citizens are tired of the way foreign media continues to only focus on their hardship and misery. The artists of Port-au-Prince seek to reflect a culture that isn’t marred by suffering, but one that elevates the Haitian spirit and creates hope for a stronger community. In this episode we follow four artists; a Raboday singer, a rapper, a photographer and a Canadian DJ. They are a handful of the many artists who are united in their efforts to capture and portray the beauty of their beloved city.
Twenty years ago Medellin was considered the most dangerous and violent city in the world. Known as the capital of cocaine trafficking, the city was also the home of one of the most notorious drug lords in criminal history. As well, Medellin was the epicenter of a violent war between urban guerilléros and paramilitary. In recent years, in defiance of the street wars, a group of creative entrepreneurs, artists and visionary city planners banded together to give birth to a cultural and urban renaissance. In this episode we following a passionate urban planner, a photographer-artist-drummer, a rapper-turned-agroarte and a Medellin born Canadian filmmaker; all who are helping to bringing peace, innovation and stability which is turn has made Medellin currently one of the safest cities in South America.
Moscow is a city where dissidents live in fear. After emerging from a decade of post-Soviet economic and political turmoil, the country, under Putin’s rule, is a place where authorities have tightened control over the media and stifled the opposition. The government maintains a narrative that insists on the country’s unique power in contrast with the rest of Europe. In 2011, thousands of protestors gathered in Moscow to protest electoral fraud – it was the biggest show of protest since the fall of the USSR. Yet Russia’s environment of suppression infuses the underground art scene with a strong desire to challenge, subvert and disrupt the status quo. In this episode, we follow one Canadian photographer and four Moscow artists: Pussy Riot founder and member Masha Alekhina, an actionist – activist whose work is a reaction to the prevailing status quo, a duo of quiet protestors/poets undertaking a “silent revolution,” and a performance artist who takes his colourful imaginative pieces to the streets. All are rebellious, using the prevailing tension to create art that extends beyond the government’s heavy hand of repression. Some have even put their freedom at stake to tell their stories.
Lagos, the largest city in Africa and an economic powerhouse, is characterized by extreme social inequalities, frequent power cuts and a rapidly increasing population. In the rest of Nigeria, political upheavals, including the militant insurgency of Boko Haram and a drop in oil production in the country’s oil sector, are among some of the challenges facing the government of Mohammadu Buhari, elected in 2015. Lagos, and its exploding art scene, is where these realities are brought to the fore of people’s consciousness. In this episode, we follow a Canadian-Nigerian poet and three Lagos-based artists – a performance artist whose audacious spectacles take place on busy streets, a feminist visual artist with a focus on the narrative of women, and a musician reviving the city’s live music scene.
As one of the oldest cities in the world and of significance to followers of all three major religions, Jerusalem is constantly on edge. It is segregated into two distinct parts, East and West. In the streets, 18-year-old soldiers patrol the city with guns. Artists in both parts of the city are using art to find and fight for their own truth and bring about peace amid the regular eruptions of violence. In this episode, we follow a Canadian comedian who uses satire to provoke and challenge, a dancer who improvises performances in the streets, a visual artist whose work interrogates relations between people and the notion of land, a dance collective bridging the gap between the religious and secular worlds, and a female hip-hop artist who sings about political realities. In their unique ways, each one keeps hope alive by carving out a space for their art in the city.
Cuba is a multilayered, complex, culturally rich island, known primarily for the 1953 revolution of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The revolution, America’s subsequent trade embargo and the economic struggles that the island faced has had a notable impact on the kind of art that was created. Much of it was inspired by a sense of cohesion and unity, with Cuban artists promoting the belief that socialism would work. More recently, and in the context of renewed normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, a younger generation of artists are creating works that focus on individual survival. But they feel marooned on their island, forced to navigate challenges like basic access to internet, power outages and ongoing censorship. In this episode, we follow a multi-skilled maverick filmmaker, a choreographer who dances and teaches children, a DJ whose musical roots began in an extraordinary but under-resourced underground scene, and a Canadian nomadic hip-hop artist as they struggle to get their voices out and establish a connection with the rest of the world.
Manila, a giant Asian metropolis with traffic-laden roads, towering skyscrapers and sprawling informal settlements, has become a dangerous place. A new president, Duterte, was elected in June 2016, vowing to crack down on the drug trade. Since then, extrajudicial killings have led to the deaths of over 3500 people by vigilantes; his approach is reminiscent of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986. In this climate of terror, artists find ways to create and survive, at times adopting subtle artistic techniques to address the political realities facing the country. In this episode, we see a performance artist using alter egos to channel social concerns, a pole-dancer challenging mainstream taboos on women’s sexuality, a Canadian-Filipino painter and sculptor seeking to bridge identities, a renowned battle rapper with politically charged word rhymes, and a visual artist whose provocative work challenges notions of femininity. All are struggling to survive and to continue engaging with the residents of Manila as they face an increasingly uncertain future.
Mexico City, a massive, sprawling metropolis and home to over 21 million inhabitants, is the capital of a country that has become notorious for drug-related violence. The ‘drug war’ as it is widely known, officially launched in 2006, had initially the support of communities who were tired of gun battles, execution-style murders and police corruption.However, it has since spiralled into one of the world’s deadliest conflict after the Syrian war, with 200 000 people murdered since 2007, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence, a notable rise in human rights abuse, femicide and violence against women.So widespread and brutal is the violence that it has become almost commonplace, paralyzing the inhabitants of Mexico City into apathy. But a major turning point came about after the disappearance and killing of 43 trainee students. The city’s artists decided that enough was enough; it was time to break the climate of helplessness.In this episode, we follow one Canadian photographer and three Mexico City artists: a graphic artist who is part of a women’s art collective, plastering her message on the walls of the city’s streets, a group of performance artists denouncing femicide and violence against women and a sculptor whose oversized installations address the struggles of South American migrants.
Kenya is well known internationally for its sandy beaches and wide-open savannahs that attract foreign tourists every year. But behind the picture perfect postcard hides a bleak reality.In 2007 politically motivated ethnic violence spread across the country following a contested election, leaving over one thousand people dead. Theses ethnic tensions still persist today.The country’s current government, led by the son of Kenya’s first president, is said to be one of the most corrupt in its history, with the country reportedly losing a third of its state budget to corruption every year.In Nairobi, a city characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, some artists are fed up of the status quo and are using their art to break through the stagnation that characterizes a political class, which has hardly changed since 1963. This episode follows a Canadian filmmaker who has made Kenya her home, a political satirist whose caricatures, published in the daily newspaper, poke fun at the excesses of the government, a musician whose recently released single is a sharp indictment of corruption in the country, and a contemporary dancer with polio, determined to carve out a place for himself despite the absence of infrastructure and social support.
Indonesia, whose national motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or “Unity in Diversity,” is home to both the world’s largest Muslim majority as well as six additional religions. The country has had a difficult history under the 32-year dictatorship of General Suharto whose repressive and corrupt militarized rule led to the deaths of hundred thousand.Despite the repression, his government prioritized religious tolerance. His resignation in 1998 ushered in a new era with a more liberal socio-political environment, opening up spaces for different groups to organize. Conservative groups took advantage of this change and in recent years, a growing Islamist movement and a new wave of conservative populism are threatening the identity of Jakarta’s religious and ethnic diversity. The impact has been particularly grave on LGBTQ communities, secular groups, women, and other marginalized people.This episode features an Indonesian-Canadian visual artist whose sculptures address the problem of censorship, a singer whose music contains strong messages for gender equality, a Muslim stand-up comedian whose controversial performances urge people to engage in dialogue about taboos in Indonesia, and a transgender performance artist whose practice questions notions around religion and sexual identity and orientation. Each is daring to push the boundaries of their own craft, widening the space to tackle controversial subjects in a place where artists are becoming increasingly suppressed.
Chicago is a city that ranks as one of the richest and most productive in the United States, yet it has a deeply segregated urban landscape and a high murder rate. In its south and west sides, impoverished housing blocks sit beside affluent homes, universities and city stadiums. The year 2016 was the city’s most violent in over two decades with a record of 762 homicides, an increase of 58 per cent since 2015. The bulk of these shootings occurred in the south and west, areas that are predominantly poor and black, and whose murder rate is on par with some of the world’s most dangerous countries like Brazil and Venezuela.Residents and community leaders are despairing over the violence and its normalization as a routine part of life, while city officials have responded with more police officers and law enforcement strategies.But the city’s segregation has also birthed a diverse, politicized art scene. This episode will reveal characteristics of a US city which are not frequently seen and will feature some of Chicago’s most talented young artists: a rapper-activist whose politically charged poetry speaks directly to the people of his community, a visual artist who uses her work to build links between segregated communities, a queer performer whose complex identities create new perspectives of the city, and a footwork crew that is using dance to change stereotypical narratives about Chicago. Each in their own way is bringing hope to a place that has become synonymous with homicides and forging links between people amid the segregated landscape of the city.
Target killings, terrorist attacks and a skyrocketing crime rate: these are the words usually used to describe Pakistan’s megalopolis Karachi. And up until recently it was considered a lawless land, taken over by gangsters and terrorist groups like the Taliban who assassinated intellectuals and artists.One of the most significant target killings was the assassination of Sabeen Mahmuud, a feminist and intellectual who founded T2F, one of the few spaces dedicated to creation in Karachi. The case of her assassination remains unsolved.But two years later the Pakistani army is slowly regaining control of the situation and Karachi is living what can be considered a timid cultural renaissance. T2F (The 2nd Floor) is at the forefront of this movement.In this episode, we meet an illustrator who is carrying on Sabeen’s legacy, a self-taught street artist fearlessly working at night, a Pakistani-Canadian video and performance artist who keeps coming back in search of memories, and an underground rap crew addressing the social struggles of Lyari, the infamous slum of Karachi.These artists remain defiant in the face of a growing and dangerous fundamentalism taking root in their city.
Since the democratic election of the Law and Justice Party in 2015, Poland is divided between liberals and ultra-conservatives. The country is moving away from the orbit of Western Europe and returning to a past defined by family, church and home.In some instances, it is also moving towards a future that echoes elements of its dark history. Antisemitism on the rise and a wave of ultranationalism is sweeping the country.In response, artists in Warsaw are confronting the tide of right-wing nationalism, forcing the city’s residents to look in the mirror at this precarious period in time. In this episode,we encounter a singer-songwriter whose lyrics are sexually liberated and anti-religious, a performance artist using her body to challenge society’s discrimination of LGBTQ communities, and a Polish-Canadian theatre artist; in their unique ways, these artists are battling the aggressive nationalism that threatens to take over their city.
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