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The Ultimate Guide to FotoFest

The ultimate guide to FotoFest: 5 don't-miss events from Houston's international photo party

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FotoFest 2014 Biennial Gharem Path
Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia), Siraat (The Path), 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery, Dubai/London

With six weeks of programming and more than 100 participating gallery spaces, the 2014 FotoFest Biennial offers art fans an ocean of outings and events.

CultureMap has combed though this year's jam-packed schedule of exhibits, lectures, films and more for the best and brightest happenings. Here's a quick rundown of five must-see events to get you started.

Opening night party (Saturday, 7 p.m., Spring Street Studios)

Taking place at Spring Street Studios (and not the old FotoFest headquarters on Vine Street), the biennial opening night bash is a sight to behold. This free event — a wild blend of photography, music, artists, beer and food trucks — drew an estimated 4,000 revelers in 2012, a record for the arts organization.

This year, guests will get a chance to hear the eclectic jazz stylings of Kinan Azmeh, a Syrian clarinetist who has performed and recorded alongside some of the biggest names in music, including Yo-Yo Ma.

Conversation with Fred Baldwin & Wendy Watriss (Monday, 7 p.m., The Menil Collection)

After creating FotoFest more than 30 years ago, Houston photographers Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss are passing the torch to the organization's newly-appointed director Steve Evans. In their honor, the Menil Collection has curated a small survey of the couple's work titled In the Midst of Things, featuring vintage images from the Civil Rights Movement and a newly-built Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

At 7 p.m. on Monday, Baldwin and Watriss will discuss their early careers, the legacy of FotoFest and their future plans in front of an intimate crowd at the Menil.

FotoFest Fine Print Auction (March 24, 7 p.m., Doubletree HotelDowntown)

One of the highlights of every FotoFest Biennial, the fine print auction lures hundreds of collectors to the downtown Doubletree for a chance to acquire museum-quality pieces from current and past FotoFest artists. Funds from the auction support FotoFest's Literacy Through Photography education program as well as the organization's outreach efforts in more than 60 counties.

Arab world art conference and film series (March 29 and month of April, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will host a free day-long conference on contemporary art from the Middle East and North Africa. Speakers include FotoFest Biennial curators Karin Adrian von Roques and Wendy Watriss as well as Stephen Stapleton of UK arts initiative Edge of Arabia and acclaimed Palestinian photo artist Steve Sabella.

The MFAH continues its focus on the Arab world with an April film series that includes 2012's Academy Award-nominated Wadjda, the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.

Rice University seminar on "Arabophobia" (April 2, Rice University)

Sponsored by FotoFest along with Rice University's Humanities Research Center and Baker Institute for Public Policy, this unique seminar pairs scholars with artists from FotoFest's biennial exhibits to deconstruct the rise and continuing threat of anti-Arabism across the globe.

Speakers include Rice University Arab Studies professor Ussama Makdisi, noted Middle East historian Melani McAlister and Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah.

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