Closing off borders is a huge problem, says Charles Dickens' descendent Lucinda Hawksley

She was joined by Daniel L Newman and Karim Hauser to discuss the influence of East over rest of the world at Emirates Airline Literature Festival 2022


Somya Mehta

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Published: Fri 4 Feb 2022, 10:13 PM

Last updated: Mon 7 Feb 2022, 4:28 PM

Daniel L Newman, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley and Karim Hauser came together for a panel discussion hosted on day 2 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, on February 4, to map out the pivotal influence the East has had on the rest of the world, whether through material goods, trade or cultural forces like art, literature and food ­­– and why globalisation strengthens human connection.

In a country like the UAE’s, globalisation also forms the backbone of the thriving economy, with immigrants from across the world calling the country their home.

The Expo 2020 Dubai also acts as a natural extension of the country’s ethos to facilitate cultural exchange, in a way that solves prejudices and encourages a back and forth of valuable ideas, say the panellists at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2022.

The panellists outlined key historic events like The Orientalist Art Movement and The Great Exhibition of 1851 as key forces of the cultural exchange between the East and West.

“The Great Exhibition is what led to the Expo that’s now currently in Dubai and all the other exhibitions. It set off regular art exhibitions, which would include home furnishings, things like Ottoman rugs, wallpapers influenced by Islamic design. Moorish architecture became hugely popular in Britain," said Hawksley, who’s a descendent of Charles Dickens and a renowned author known for her literary works like Dickens's Artistic Daughter Katey and Charles Dickens and His Circle.

“I’m wearing a 1920s dressing gown; this comes directly from that Victorian love of the peacock which was a great symbol of aestheticism that came from the East. It effected fashion, the way people decorated their homes, it also effected the food people ate. People would speak to travellers to know more about all the exotic things they had done,” added Hawksley.

Food being another key driver of cultural exchange between, Newman, who’s a chair of Arabic Studies at the University of Durham and an author, mentioned, “Many food items the West enjoys wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the Arab influence. Sugar was imported into Europe by the Arabs."

This panel discussion, moderated by writer Rehan Khan, an avid observer of history and cross-cultural connections, also included Hauser, the head of international relations at Spain’s Casa Árabe, who spoke about the history of Arab presence in the Americas.

As the world seems to be getting smaller, there’s also a greater need to invest in the flow of culture and knowledge across borders, to move towards becoming a more inclusive and open-minded society, the panellists argued. “It’s worrying that things are becoming extremely insular and the pandemic isn’t helping at all. I personally am not a fan of Brexit. I think closing off borders is a huge problem," said Hawksley.

"Due to the pandemic people have been forced, even more so, to stay within their circle and be selfish. I do believe very strongly that those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it,” she added.

And that's why, events such such as these become instrumental to change, the British author added. “Whenever you look back in history, change usually comes not from politicians but from the creative areas. So, artists, writers, thinkers, they might be ignored in their own time but 20 years later their words are finally recognised.”

The only way to solve prejudices is to find how things really happened, stressed Newman. "We have everything in place in order to enhance, improve and facilitate the cultural exchange but at the same time, there also seems to be a retrenchment going on and we cannot ignore that. It appears to be a movement that seems to be manifesting itself in different countries, in different ways.”

“But in the long term, I’m very hopeful that the human condition and openness will prevail,” said Newman.

Lucinda Dickens Hawksley will also be seen in another session at the festival titles Miss Havisham’s Wedding taking place on Monday, February 7.

The Emirates LitFest, taking place at Hilton Dubai, Habtoor City, will conclude on February 13.

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