MESA’s Middle Eastern bazaar strives for unity among cultures in a divided region

 The Middle Eastern Student Association shows off art and culture of their UConn students representing Arab, Persian, and South Asian culture. Guests enjoyed snacks, informative presentations, art, music, and dance in the Alumni Center Monday night. (The Daily Campus)

The Middle Eastern Student Association shows off art and culture of their UConn students representing Arab, Persian, and South Asian culture. Guests enjoyed snacks, informative presentations, art, music, and dance in the Alumni Center Monday night. (The Daily Campus)

On Monday evening the Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) turned the Alumni Center into a lively cultural bazaar, complete with music, dance and student artwork. The students in the club created poster boards to share their culture with attendees and many student artists were selling pieces inspired by the Middle East. The customs of Turkey, Jordan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan were all on display, as well as Kurdish, Jewish and Palestinian cultures.

The night at the bazaar was fun and entertaining for attendees. Sixth-semester biological sciences major Sahan Aziz wrote attendees’ names in Bengali at the Bangladesh table. At the Egypt table, fourth-semester political science and economics double major Nardeen El-guindy showed students a scarf that a belly dancer might wear to perform during a festival. Later in the evening, the club’s communication supervisor fourth-semester biology major Andrew Annabi led attendees in a dance of the dabke, an Arabian folk dance.

“I thought this was...an amazing turnout and I think it’s great that we’re kind of able to have this space to show cultural unity….We’re trying to unify all of these cultures, we’re trying to bring everyone together, especially in a climate where a lot of people are driven apart,” Annabi said of the success of the bazaar.

The bazaar is MESA’s first big event as an organization. The club began last spring to unify students of Middle Eastern cultures and to share these cultures with others.

“Basically the whole point of the organization is to be nonpolitical and nonreligious and really just to bring cultures together and spread awareness about it. We specifically chose to have this event because there is so much to exemplify about the Middle East and so many of the different regions and ethnicities in the area,” Susan Naseri, a fourth-semester double major in political science and human rights, said.

The student art for sale at the bazaar depicted many common Middle Eastern themes, including desert landscapes, wrought iron gates and even the characters of Middle Eastern languages.

“I think it’s definitely important because they are definitely sometimes an underrepresented and misunderstood community, so it’s good to emphasize their creativity and the beautiful aspects of the culture and the region, because it’s so diverse and it’s beautiful. So I wanted to take part in that…. I’m Indian myself so there’s definitely overlap in influence of their culture and our cultures together…. The artwork is incredible,” Ashna Gupta, an eighth semester economics major, said when asked about the importance of representing the Middle East in art. Her own two drawings, “Woman I” and “Woman II,” depict traditionally dressed women and were up for sale at the bazaar.

Another student artist, eighth-semester Shafi Khan, rendered a traditional desert scene in his painting “Nomads.” He also painted “Afghan Girl,” a recreation of the “Afghan Girl” portrait that graced the cover of “National Geographic” in June of 1985.

“She basically represents the struggle and the plight that refugees have to go through just to live, so I figured she was an important subject on the Middle Eastern theme because obviously there’s many tragedies that [have occurred there],” Khan said when asked about his choice of subject.

The club’s president, eighth-semester economics major Kassra Farahbakhshian, was very glad with the success of the bazaar and what this means for the club’s future.

“What this club means to me is unity and representation on campus. We received a lot of resistance in the creation of the club and having meetings and all that because people were saying, ‘Oh, you know it’s not going to work out because people aren’t going to get along’ but this is proving them wrong, in a sense, in the most polite way possible,” Farahbakhshian said.

“Our major plan is to be a cultural center down the line…. [Middle Eastern cultures] are so unique and we need our own way to express it,” Farahbakhshian said about future plans for MESA.


Stephanie Santillo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.