Contested Territories – Sharaf DarZaid, Rosa Cisneros, Ülfet Sevdi + Q&A


This session presents perspectives that address the impact of political oppression on dancers and cultural organizations in Palestine, the development of a Romani dance archive – RomArchive Dance – discussing the role and contribution digital technologies make towards supporting and strengthening situated, local, or cultural knowledges and practices, and the experience of a Turkish artist’s immigration to Canada and how this experience reflected in her work and affected her sense of identity.


Sharaf DarZaid: “Dance under conditions of oppression in occupied Palestine”

As a Palestinian dancer and active worker in cultural organizations for the last 15 years, the presentation addresses the impact of political oppression on dancers and cultural organizations. I will share some examples of how political oppression directly violates human rights, deprived oppressed dancers and art managers of freedom, and develop. In addition of sharing how oppression has its indirect impact on dancers and cultural organizations.

On the other hand, I would show how dance and cultural organizations can be able to not only persevere but grow, develop, experiment, challenge, resist and rekindle dreams of freedom, justice, and peace. Under conditions of occupation, Palestinian dance has been largely viewed as yet another tool for political agitation against the oppressor or a politically-motivated exercise in reviving cultural roots, again in defiance of the will of the occupiers, who have consistently tried to confiscate or altogether suppress any expression of Arab-Palestinian cultural heritage.

I would share some examples on how artists and cultural organizations in Palestine are challenging external and internal oppression whether it is direct or indirect.

I believe that art, in general, is intertwined with and closely influenced by social, economic, political and intellectual factors and, therefore, that it can play an important, even indispensable, role in transforming human lives and ethically challenging conditions of injustice and oppression. Therefore, I am going to talk a bit about “Art for the Sake of Art” under conditions of oppression.

Finally, I would share some dance for El-Funoun addressing different topics.

Rosa Cisneros

Disinformation, especially that spread via digital platforms and media channels, has become a much discussed topic (Aiello and Parry, 2020). With such a backdrop, vulnerable communities, such as the Gypsy/Roma/Travellers (GRT) suffer online hate crimes and a dehumanization of the ethnic group is growing and counternarratives are a much needed tactic to diffuse tense realities. Considering the role and contribution digital technologies make towards supporting and strengthening situated, local, or cultural knowledges and practices, the RomArchive, an online digital Archive created by Roma, curated several sections ranging from social movements, historical timelines to photography and dance. The dance collection was informed throughout by the concept of self-representation along with the need to deconstruct and expose the myths and stereotypes associated with the Romani community. Carefully curated collections explored Romani dance at the local, national and international level. Questions of theory and practice guided the work of the RomArchive Dance curatorial team. This paper highlights how we challenged the hegemonic and ‘traditional’ ways archival materials are documented, collected, presented and curated and expand on the way bodily archives of the dancers/performers themselves were central to our documentation process. The RomArchive Dance section and its collections explored how certain voices are missing from the archives but also from ‘mainstream’ dance studies and allowed the choreographic experiences and works to reflect an embodied archive that can be shared with others and offer an entry point into a discussion around decolonising certain dance spaces.

References: Aiello, G. and Parry K., (2020) Visual Communication Understanding Images in Media Culture, London, UK. SAG

Ülfet Sevdi: “A Colonized Mind-Body and Its Reflection in Practice”

In this contribution, I want to share how I discovered my colonized body and mind, and discovered the way this was reflected in my work until that time. This realization started to take place soon after immigrating to Canada, where I suddenly became a ‘Woman “Middle-Eastern” Immigrant Artist’, with all what this status involves in terms of expectancies relative to discourse and aesthetics. My performance, Numbers Increase As We Count…, is the first big production I have put on stage in Montreal, Canada, since immigrating from Turkey in 2014. In the process of putting it together, I have worked in collaboration with different art institutions; I received funding from different funding institutions; the performance has included the work of varied artists from different artistic backgrounds (dance, circus, theatre); and it has been reviewed by different media.

In my contribution, I want to discuss some of the things I have learned indirectly from this creative process, and how the performance that I intended to do at first changed accordingly. For this purpose, I will start by discussing the colonization ‘from a distance’, the one that comes with the universalist-positivist-modernist ideology that inform the curriculum of art departments in Turkey (and probably of many different other countries in the Global South). I will then discuss what is expected from us when we move to the ‘center’ (from the ‘periphery’): which topics we are supposed to deal with, and how we should approach them. I will discuss these topics with the following questions in mind: How can we help decolonizing an imperialist mainstream discourse?; How are our aesthetic decisions informed by this discourse? And how can we avoid being complicit? Finally, and more importantly: How can we create performances to protest the framing of some tragic situations that the institutions, funding and artistic, and the media want us, in a way, to reassert?


Sharaf DarZaid is a Palestinian artist and art manager. DarZaid is a dancer, trainer and choreographer with El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe. Additionally, Sharaf has danced in various local and international professional dance productions and festivals. DarZaid train youth groups at Popular Art Centre (PAC) dance school, co-coaching “Training of Trainers” courses, giving Palestinian folkloric dance and contemporary dance workshops, and train youth dance groups in marginalized communities.

Sharaf started a new dance style “AfroDabke”, that becoming popular in Palestine, which is a mixture between Palestinian folkloric dance “Dabke” and Cameroonian African dance. Since 2014, Sharaf gives AfroDabke classes in Palestine.

Recently, Sharaf choreographed the Palestinian Jerusalema Dance Challenge Video “AfroDabke” that spread a lot: Sharaf DarZaid completed the International Baccalaureate in high school, and then went on to study at Birzeit University, graduating in 2009 with a B.A. in Business Administration.

In 2012, Sharaf graduated with an M.A. in Art Management from the Utrecht School of the Arts, Netherlands. In 2015, he published his book “Art Management in an Environment of Oppression.” Sharaf works with PAC, responsibilities include coordinating Palestine International Festival, the Dance School, among other projects.

Rosemary (Rosa) Kostic Cisneros is a researcher, dancer, choreographer, sociologist and curator who works at the Centre for Dance Research (Coventry University) and works closely with the RomArchive, European Hip Hop Studies Network and many NGOs.

Cisneros has developed the Romani Dance History course with the Barvalipe University run by ERIAC. She leads various EU-funded projects which aim to make education and arts accessible to vulnerable groups and ethnic minorities, and part of cultural heritage projects that bring dance, site and digital technologies together.

Her PhD is in Sociology with a focus on Roma women, intersectionality, dialogic feminism and communicative methodologies and was awarded Summa Cum Laude.

She has started her own production company, RosaSenCis Film Production Co., which worked on the Society for Dance Research Oral History Project and also ran the Dancing Bodies in Coventry project. Cisneros’ dance films have screened in the UK, US, Colombia, Mexico, Greece, Cyprus and Germany and her medium-length documentary won best documentary from the UK in 2016.

She has also managed major EU-Funded projects and local City of Culture Partnership projects and is organising Hip-Hop conversations looking .

She sits on academic Journals as an editorial assistant and those include the Journal for Embodied Practices, International Journal of Romani Studies and OneDance UK’s HOTFOOT Online magazine.


University Profile:

Ülfet Sevdi is a writer, theatre director, dramaturge, visual artist, and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner based in Montreal. She graduated from the Department of Fine Arts and Theatre at Mersin University, Turkey, in 2001. She is currently finishing a Research and Creation Master in the INDI program at Concordia University.

Her work deals with oral history and social narratives. Her approach is highly conceptual, experimental, and is theoretically grounded in the critical social sciences.

She was the co-founder and artistic director of nü.kolektif (2008-2014), an Istanbul-based collective of multidisciplinary artists involved in performances dealing with political topics. She continued this line of work with Thought Experiment Productions (2015-) since coming to Montreal, a production company she also co-founded and that she co-directs.

Her work has been presented in many cities in Turkey, many cities in Canada, in Denmark and in Brazil. Her last performance, Numbers Increase As We Count…, has been funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Montreal Council for the Arts, and the Cole Foundation and got unanimous praises from the art critics and media.