Vol. 2 | We Place Ourselves | Leyya Mona Tawil

We Place Ourselves

Leyya Mona Tawil


The social choreography of Arab experimentalism.
Accumulations for The Martyr – a score for performance,
visual and literary transmission. 

DANCE ELIXIR, Day of the Innocents [Enter the Martyr]. Photo by Ricardo Esway, courtesy of Leyya Mona Tawil.

We place ourselves in space: The Work, The Workers, The Warriors, The War.


We were always awake.

We own our narrative.

We own our references.

Context changes hands so easily. I try to grab hold.


Photo by Nurah Faraha


“When things are so hard to see, to discern, at times like ours full of ruptures, we don’t know anymore what is content from what is context. In my case I consciously decided to study context as content, and to go full heartedly for investing into recreating contexts.”

Adham Hafez. Artist, Curator, Scholar.
Director of HaRaKa Platform.


re-narration is constant.

Qubais Reed Ghazala invents circuit-bending.  Jehan Mullin conjures titles for fires.



I forgo legibility.

Resolve is personal.

We operate independently.

We tether for perspective.

Individualism does not erase our cultural belonging.


Sam Shalabi reminds us that validation is a trap.
Julius Masri, Night Raids, anger, commodity, satire.
Donia Jarrar cuts water with her own absolutions.
Mona Gamil teaches us the benefits of becoming a SAP [Safe Art Practices].


Photo by Doug Coombe


“The Arab avant garde is made up of those who work to create something new, on the fringe or experimental in nature, while bringing their Arab experience to bear. I think the many ways that our art is based upon our identity, or lack thereof, manifests itself as Arab regardless of how subtle or overt the incorporation.”


Mike Khoury. Musician, Composer, Researcher.
Director of Detroit music label Entropy Stereo Recordings.



Blood cannot be disassociated from action.

We stand in ancestral and political perspective. A future self springs from this well.

We whisper community secrets.

I put my ear to the ground, and listen for my cohorts.

We find each other.


Autobiography of a Warrior
Photo by Fiestaban Photography


“We are working to break the historical narrative. To decolonize our work.”


Rosario Lionudakis: Artist, Writer, Educator.
Director of Zari Le’on Dance Theater.


Mark Gergis releases the album I Remember Syria in 2004.
Porest releases the album Tourrorists! in 2006.
Sham Palace.

AANM, DIWAN, a lighthouse.
Laila and Leila and Layla, alef leyla…

The Brothers are Unconnected.
Cherif El Masri destroys Cairo.



Reference irreverence.
Fuck your version.
Our resilience is cultural.
There is power in our discord.
Post-national gives way to improvisation.
Experimentation is not negation.
Nostalgia is the enemy.

The Brothers are Unconnected.
Cherif El Masri destroys Cairo.


Day of the innocents [enter The Martyr] Photo by Ricardo Esway Photography, courtesy of the artist

“I set out to write an article about the Arab Avant Garde, and in the process sorted through an ocean of divergent and convergent ideologies from my community. I abandoned the attempt to capture the Arab Avant Garde and instead turned inward to define my own practices. I associate my words and the work of my comrades in order to offer a glimpse.

I place myself in space.

Let me be explicit – this is not a singular statement on behalf of Arab experimentalists. I humbly attempt to make visible the ways in which we relate ourselves to our worlds. How we act, interact and transform. Shapeshifters.

The Martyr is the container; I choose my archetypes, I forgo legibility. The Martyr is a score that is still landing; it will ultimately be interpreted for performance, visual and literary transmission.
It begins with absolution.”

Leyya Mona Tawil. Artist, Researcher, Performer.
Director of DANCE ELIXIR and TAC: Temescal Arts Center.



I have constructed this choreography by assuming things.

The accumulation is personal; I reference years of conversation and participation.

I thank you: Mike Khoury, Rosario Lionudakis, Adham Hafez, Jehan Mullin, Brian Rogers, Mark Gergis, Donia Jarrar, Richard Bishop, Osama Shalabi, Laila Shereen Sakr, Leila Oum Kulthoum Tayeb, Layla Farhan, Maysoun Freij, Julius Masri, Dominic Cramp, Mike Guarino, Katherine Toukhy, Marwa Helal, Ramsey Ameen, Mona Gamil, Cherif El Masri, Qubais Reed Gazaleh and Devon Akmon.