Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times

  • Scott, Rachel (CoPI)
  • Mneimneh, Rania (CoPI)
  • Zogheib, Zalia (Ghazaleh) (CoPI)

Project: Other

Project Details


Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times, art exhibition and public programme, is a collaboration between Dr Rachel Scott, the AHRC/OWRI project Language Acts and Worldmaking, the P21 Gallery, and artists, curators, and community organisations. The project is inspired by the global journeys of Kalila wa Dimna, an ancient collection of moral fables across time and place, language, religion and culture.

Known in Arabic as Kalila wa Dimna, the fables have a long and complex global history. Over the centuries they have been translated into more than 40 languages and read and re-interpreted almost continuously by different audiences. Kalila wa Dimna uses storytelling to understand the world and other people, revealing the messy complexity of life, the multiplicity of perspectives and voices that comprise it, and the fact that there exists not one world or truth, but many, and unequal at that.

Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times focuses on one chapter from the book called the ‘Tale of the Four Friends’ – a story about looking beyond perceived differences and working together to overcome adversity and build a sense of community and home. In a live exhibition and events series taking place from 12 May to 11 June 2022 at the P21 Gallery, experienced and emerging artists and community arts organisations become hakawatis or ‘tellers of tales’ and reinterpret the ‘Tale of the Four Friends’ for contemporary audiences through their own unique perspectives, resulting in a collection of mixed-media works addressing both universal and highly personal issues – including identity, community, migration, and intercultural relations.

Kalila wa Dimna’s global transmission exemplifies how culture is not fixed or static but rather in perpetual motion and created through contact and exchange between different civilisations. Ancient Tales for Troubled Times sheds light on the undeniable influence of Eastern cultures and languages on Western societies. Using a decolonizing lens, our hakawatis question who gets to tell stories and therefore who benefits from their transformative and generative potential. The project also explores the important role that stories have played in people’s experiences of migration, in building new communities, and in experiencing the world through different languages.
By approaching storytelling through various artistic mediums, the project aims to widen access to and engagement with the arts within diverse and often marginalised communities while promoting cross-cultural understanding.
Short titleAncient Tales for Troubled Times
Effective start/end date11/05/2212/06/22


  • Kalila wa Dimna
  • medieval literature
  • fables
  • Arabic literature
  • contemporary visual arts