Xerjoff Magazine

“Looking for Oum Kulthum” – Oum Kulthum, Immortal Myth


She was called "The Mother of Arabs", "The Star of the East", "The Nightingale of the Nile", or simply "Il Sit" that is "The Lady".

She had the musicality of Ella Fitzgerald and Eleanor Roosevelt’s magnetic appeal, and during her concerts she bewitched the crowds, literally hypnotized by her songs mainly dedicated to loving themes, but also to patriotism, nature and religion. When she passed away in 1975, at her funeral in Cairo the streets were invaded by more than 4 million people. A real event that clarifies the importance of the phenomenon. We are talking about the great Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum, a cult figure for the whole Arabic world, to whom the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat recently dedicated a movie entitled “Looking for Oum Kulthum” presented at the 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival. “Thanks to her talent – says the author of the film- Oum has contributed like nobody else to the cultural evolution of the Arabic world. She was the most important Middle Eastern artist of the twentieth century and I could not resist the curiosity of understanding how she was able to achieve this goal.” The film, which would be a mistake to define as a banal biography, focuses on the figure of Mitra, an ambitious artist who decides to realize her dream: direct a film based on her heroine, Oum Kulthum. Featuring a slow, sometimes dreamlike rhythm and a narration based on the succession of several episodes, the film has very few dialogues, a choice that Shirin Neshat justifies with these words: “My art is visual so, as much as possible, I chose to tell this story without words that I replaced, as I am used to do, with images”.

Above: Shots from “Looking for Oum Kulthum” movie by Shirin Neshat.