art of resistance, United Arab Emirates

Under The Splendor & Sparkle of The Gulf: Modern-day Slavery.

‘My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,’ said Tariq, a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.”

That is how Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice, Slaves of Hapiness Island,  begins. It was published in August last year. What happened in the meantime with migrant workers of Abu Dhabi and the grand museums they are building? Well, everything is pretty much the same. Poor living and working conditions for the workers is still modus operandi in the Gulf, while spectacular museums grow like mushrooms after rain (Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open in December this year).

slaves-molly-crabapple/image © Molly Crabapple/

Just this month, the United Arab Emirates has barred New York University professor Andrew Ross from entering the country after he published research about migrant workers and labor abuse in the Gulf State. Ross learned of the ban after arriving at the airport in New York, where he was set to board a flight to continue his research in the UAE. It has also emerged that a private investigator was hired to target him and a New York Times reporter, Ariel Kaminer, who wrote the expose on workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus facing harsh conditions. 

A freelance journalist based in the Emirates who collaborated on the article, Sean O’Driscoll, said in an interview that he was also summoned by the authorities several weeks after its publication and offered immunity from prosecution and high pay if he would agree to publish pro-government articles. O’Driscoll said he refused and was later expelled from the country.

Capture/Construction workers can live as many as 15 men to a room. Space is so scarce that a dozen men can share a space of barely 200 square feet. One of New York University’s labor values states that contractors should not house more than four people in a bedroom. © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times/

This was an important article – so important that it was not printed – the New York Times was not printed in the Emirates that day. It was the first time the New York Times was actually banned from circulation.

Gulf Labor, a coalition of of international artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, also did (and does) a lot of work to put pressure on the Guggenheim Museum because the Guggenheim is also building in Abu Dhabi.

In their 2014 report, main observations were that the wages on Saadiyat Island remain very low, all workers had paid recruitment fees, but the fees have not been reimbursed to them (many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to UAE  but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits), and there are no organized workers’ groups to speak to.

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/image – Gulf Labor facebook page/

There is a consistent pattern of fair labor standards violations and human rights abuses among the migrant workers in the UAE and also in Qatar, because it’s the same migrant-labor sponsorship system that brings workers from South Asia to these two countries. More than 80% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal.

All of those people bare the same burden – like Crabapple wrote – “in company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.”

nyc149070/image © Jonas Bendiksen, Far From Home – Guest Workers of the Gulf/

In the meantime, those who try to speak up against this outrageous treatment of workers, end up being banned from the country, or their articles are not being printed. How come this is (still) possible?

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For more on this story, I recommend the following articles/videos:

The Dark Side of Abu Dhabi Cultural Revolution, video by Guardian‘s Glenn Carrick

Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions, Ariel Kaminer & Sean O’Driscoll for The New York Times

Inside Story – The Plight of Qatar’s Migrant Workers by Al Jazeera English

United Arab Emirates: Trapped, Exploited, Abused, by Human Rights Watch

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art of resistance, Iraq, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

(Interview) Tamara Abdul Hadi: A different Middle East.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is an Iraqi-Canadian photojournalist whose work I’ve been following for a while now. Her projects are strong and on point,  dealing with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes. Through her work one can be constantly reminded how nothing is black and white, nothing is sealed in time and space – there’s a  lot of grey areas, but also a lot of colour to our world, and everything around us is fluid, ever changing. It is important to be reminded of that, especially when talking about the Middle East, the area often approached by oversimplification, constantly reduced to one (dark) image. It is like Suheir Hammad wrote in First writing since – „one more person assume they know me/ or that i represent a people/ or that a people represent an evil/ or that evil is as simple as a flag and words on a page/“.

It is never that simple. Here is the full interview I did with Tamara, discussing her project Picture an Arab man, self portrait workshops in Palestine, and first all female photo collective of the Middle East – Rawiya.

First of all – could you tell me – why photojournalism? When you finished your education, what was the motivation to pursue that as a career? Did you always know that is what you want to do?

I ended up pursuing photography shortly after getting my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I was specialized in graphic design at the time, but I was drawn to photography after I moved to Dubai and became fascinated by the city and its huge population of migrant workers. I started photographing them, wanting to share their stories, and thats pretty much where it started. At that point I started working at Reuters as a photographer and photo editor and then went on photographing news and features for the New York Times around the Middle East. Around that time, I started working on my own personal projects.

Zamisli arapskog muškarca, Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Another question would be – why Middle East?

That’s easy. It’s my home. Where I was born and where my family history lies.

 You are a founding member of Rawiya, first all female photo collective of the Middle East. How did that happen and what were the reactions of the public so far?

Me and the other Rawiyas had crossed paths in Beirut and decided to join forces and create a photo collective, believing that there is power in numbers and hoping to present an insiders view of our region. The reaction has been great so far, we especially appreciate receiving emails from young photographers in the region and plan to give workshops in the near future. Rawiya has so far exhibited in Europe, the US, Beirut, Lebanon, Kuwait and the UAE.

You’ve taught a one year intensive photography program for young Palestinian women with the UNRWA, at a vocational women’s college in Palestine. The aim of the project was not only to teach the women the skills of photography and editing, but also to empower them to do more. Can you tell me something about that experience?

It was a very important experience for me. The project’s aim was to encourage these young women to share the world around them, and tell stories visually. Many of these women came from conservative backgrounds so it was great to challenge them to go out and shoot pictures. I’m a big believer that photography, as with other arts and media, can be successfully utilized in engaging our youth and getting their voices heard.

zamisli arapskog muškarca , Tamara Abdul HadiPicture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 In your personal projects you set out to trigger social change and challenge stereotypes the Arab world faces. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what are the biggest stereotypes when it comes to Arabs and the outsiders perception of them?

There are so many misconceptions. All Arabs are Muslims. All women are oppressed. All men are the hyper masculine oppressors. There’s a side to the Arab world that gets SO much press, and that is what sticks in peoples heads. But there are people who want to know more and seek it out. If you look deeper, you will discover a region rich with diversity and culture.

 Your project, Picture an Arab Man, brings the viewer into a different relationship with stereotypes about Arab men – can you describe what were your main intentions with that project, and do you think you managed to carry them out?

My intention with Picture an Arab Man was to present the Arab Man in a more human way. When I started the project in 2008, I was sick of the generally misrepresentative portrayal of the Arab man, and wanted to bring about an alternative visual representation the contemporary Arab man.

 Do you believe that the project succeeded in encouraging Arab men to reflect on their own identity?

I hope so. I mean, with this project I presented a view, my view, of the Arab man. The father, brother, son, uncle, husband, friend. My father loves the project, so for me that is a success in and of itself.

Did your perception of Arab men change during the realization of that project and in which ways? 

I was moved by with their willingness to talk about their identities and masculinity, and of course their openness to be a part of this series. Every man that I photographed for the project believed in its message, and that, in essence, made the project worthwhile.

12Picture an Arab man, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 You also did a great project – Self portraits from inside Palestine. Journalists often deal with issues of presentation and representation, and people we see in the news almost never get a chance to choose how will they be seen, what moment will they be captured in, etc. Tell me something about the project and how you chose to approach these issues.

This specific project took place at Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, which people have called their home for decades. The residents of Amari and many other refugee camps are tirelessly photographed by outsiders. I thought, lets put the control in their hands. I wanted them to capture their own self portraits, and decide when to press button/shutter. It was an interactive exercise that promoted self expression, and really, community engagement. I usually focus this project on marginalized or underrepresented communities. I’ve since self portrait workshops with Syrian refugees in Amman, migrant workers in Dubai and youth in Kasserine, Tunisia.

A lot of your work is connected to Palestine and its people. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen and continue to see the new-old turmoil in Gaza. There is this perception these are the great escalations, and people seem to forget occupation itself is an escalation. What are your thoughts these days, when seeing the news, hearing the stories?

Palestinians are a resilient and beautiful people. There have been a lot of young photographers photographing the war and its aftermath in Gaza- and it is important to see it from a locals perspective.

Autoporteti iz Palestine, Tamara Abdul HadiSelf Portraits from inside Palestine, Tamara Abdul Hadi

 Do you have any special wishes and plans for the future projects?

Publishing Picture an Arab Man as a book is a big future project for me, as well as my own personal projects and photography workshops- like the self portraits series. I recently registered an arts organization- Fannan– which I am using as a platform for these workshops.

 

/ /all photos © Tamara Abdul Hadi//

 

For more on Tamara Abdul Hadi and her projects – visit her official website and Rawiya collective.

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates

Beyond the architectural text (Middle East).

The Damascene House is beyond the architectural text

The design of our homes…

Is based on an emotional foundation

For every house leans … on the hip of another

And every balcony…

Extends its hand to antoher facing it.

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Peter Gould is an Australian artist. In 2002, he began traveling around Middle East and was inspired by cities like Fes, Damascus, Istanbul and Mecca, with his work resulting in a great visual fusion of classical Islamic design elements with his vibrant, fresh graphic styles.

His photography is maybe best described by one of his curators:

Peter’s photography is as much about the spiritual as it is about the visual, offering no questions or answers but rather affording the viewer to simply being in that moment and that moment at first glance seems to curiously exist without time or consequence.”

010-Beirut-2Beirut.

015-MeccaMecca.

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029-IstanbulIstanbul.

033-DamascusDamascus.

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039-NizwaNizwa.

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043-AbuDhabiAbu Dhabi.

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/all photos © Peter Gould/

For more on Gould and his work, visit his official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, United Arab Emirates

Picture an Arab man.

Tamara Abdul Hadi is a Canadian – Iraqi photojournalist. She was raised in Canada, and after graduation went to live and work for Reuters in UAE. Later on she moved and lived and worked all over the Middle East. Her personal photography projects deal with social injustice and deconstructing stereotypes.  She also initiated and taught photography and art therapy workshops to women and children in marginalized communities in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.

One of her most famous projects is Picture an Arab man. She spent years travelling around the world photographing Arab men and collecting material for a forthcoming book. About the project, she says:

The conceptual aim of this portrait series is two-fold: Trying to uncover and break the stereotypes placed upon the Arab male, and providing an alternative visual representation of that identity. Secondly, it is a celebration of their sensual beauty, an unexplored aspect of the identity of the contemporary Arab man, on the cusp of change in a society that reveres an out-dated form of hyper-masculinity. 

I have photographed men in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, UAE , Palestine and Canada. They have been Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Sudanese, Emirati, Jordanian, and of mixed heritage. My plan is now to photograph men from the remaining countries of the Middle East to truly represent the diversity of the Arab region.

In these photographs the men are no longer portrayed as faceless members of a politicized group, a statistic on the evening news, and this project helps them as much as the viewers, to regain their personal identity as complex and unique individuals.

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daffy smallall photos ©  Tamara Abdul Hadi

For more on this project and Hadi’s other work, visit her official website.

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art of resistance, Kuwait, Qatar, travel, United Arab Emirates

Far From Home: Guest Workers of the Gulf.

Jonas Bendiksen is Norwegian photographer who likes working on stories that get left behind in the race for the daily headlines – journalistic orphans. Often, the most worthwhile and convincing images tend to lurk within the hidden, oblique stories that fly just below the radar.”

One of those journalistic orphans are the foreign workers in the arab Gulf oil states such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. Their situation, living and working conditions are still rarely examined, and that is what Bendiksen decided to do with his photo essay Far from home – Guest workers of the gulf.

Artist statement:

This story explores the world of guest workers in the arab Gulf oil states such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. While marketing itself as luxury playgrounds of tourism and business, close to 90% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal, and the workers often endure very difficult employment and living conditions. Many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to the middle east but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits. Oftentimes parents will leave their homes and children for a decade or more to try to build up savings for their family back home, putting a big strain on family relations. 

The World Bank estimates that the yearly sum of global remittances (the money being sent home by foreign guest workers) amounts to more than double all official foreign aid globally. 

Foreign guest workers therefore have a formidable economic impact, but often at a high personal cost.

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MM8083 Guest Workers - Philippines trip

MM8083 Guest Workers - Philippines tripall images © Jonas Bendiksen

For more on this photo essay, and more of Bendiksen’s other work – visit his Magnum profile, and his official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates

Meet five inspiring Arab fashion designers.

Author: Vera Illugadóttir/ Your Middle East

These designers have one thing in common – they all challenge conventional ideas about fashion in the Middle East.

Khaled al Qasimi

“There’s always this underlying influence of the UAE and Middle East in my design. The characters I design for are usually urban tribal warriors and nomadic explorers. The idea of dressing as art is part of our culture. The smoking of incense and the placement of the headdress – there’s a whole art to it,” Khaled al Qasimi told CNN.

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Fashion design is perhaps an usual career for a royal, but al Qasimi, the son of Sultan Mohamed al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, did not let that stop him. He studied literature and architecture in London before deciding to follow his dreams and go into fashion. He presented his first womenswear line in 2008, but has since found his niche in menswear. He presented the QASIMI HOMME collection in Paris in 2009 and has since built a loyal following.

Hatem Alakeel

“Rethinking the Saudi thobe is an awesome process for me because each time I am facing an ancient heritage from generations past. I believe that things must change in order to survive and the challenge is create a modern new look while retaining the elegant simplicity of the traditional thobe.”

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Saudi designer Hatem Alakeel dubs himself the “king of thobes”, and the stated mission of his brand Toby is to merge traditional Middle Eastern styles, like the thobe, the ankle-length robe worn by men in many Arab countries, with modern Western designs. Alakeel’s aim is allowing men to express their individuality and sense of fashion while still remaining faithful to the Gulf states’ culture and conventions. But his unique robes have even managed to attract attention and customers in the West, such as the rapper Snoop Dogg who bought a Toby thobe on a recent visit to Dubai.

Yasmine el Said

“At the end of the day, girls want to dress up. It’s what every girl in the world does. So I think the collection would be accepted by people here in Egypt, hopefully. But sometimes I feel like people won’t really get it. And I treat my clothes like my children. I’m very picky about how people use clothes,” Yasmine el Said told Manufactured Egos.

Création Yasmine EL SAID

Said studied at the prestigious fashion school ESMOD in Paris, returning home to Egypt to present her line -YASMINE- at 2012’s Cairo Fashion Festival. The collection’s edgy, bold looks created a stir at the festival, with Egyptian fashion bloggers describing Said as “probably the best thing to happen to Egypt’s fashion industry so far”. Her garments are highly exclusive, with only one or two copies manufactured of each design. Yasmine has said she hopes her unconventional garments will inspire Egypt’s women to “think differently”.

Salah Barka

“What I love about the revolution is that Tunisian artists are now emerging from everywhere! People have finally started to express themselves even more than they did before, they dare to showcase their work and this is fantastic!” Salah Barka said in an interview with Now Fashion.

Unlike many of Tunisia’s most famous fashion designers who are educated and work almost exclusively abroad, this up and coming designer has never left his homeland. You would not suspect it from looking at Barka’s cosmopolitan designs.

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The self-taught designer, who started out designing theatre costumes, takes inspiration for his colourful and playful garments equally from Tunisia’s rich cultural and historical heritage as well as the latest fashion on the streets and runways of London, Paris and New York.

Zhor Rais

“I truly want everyone to know about the Moroccan kaftan. I’ll pay the price to promote and market it abroad, and of course I’m happy when they sell, but it’s more important for me to be something of an ambassador for kaftans abroad,” Zhor Rais told The National.

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Moroccan designer Rais’s line of womenswear was lauded as one of the highlights of this year’s Muscat Fashion Week in Oman. The veteran designer first exhibited a collection in Oman twenty-five years ago, but her creativity shows no sign of stopping. Her extraordinarily colourful, patterned garments are inspired by traditional gowns of Moroccan women, the kaftan in particular.

Rais sets her sights high as her ideal demographic is not just the fashionable Moroccan woman — she dreams of making the kaftan an international phenomenon and has taken her work to fashion shows in Paris in pursuit of that goal.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, United Arab Emirates

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2014 finalists.

A month ago, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction announced the shortlist for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Ahmed Saadawi

Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi call it ‘the-what’s-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body. As well as following Frankenstein’s story, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows a number of connected characters, such as General Surur Majid of the Department of Investigation, who is responsible for pursuing the mysterious criminal and Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a young journalist who gets the chance to interview Frankenstein. Frankenstein in Baghdad offers a panoramic view of a city where people live in fear of the unknown, unable to act in solidarity, haunted by the unknown identity of the criminal who targets them all.

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A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me

Youssef Fadel

Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning, he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere – in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband: to the Kasbah of al-Glaoui in southern Morocco, where Aziz crouches in a prison cell, having lost hope of ever being found. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a fictional testament to the terrible period of Moroccan history known as ‘the years of cinders and lead’.

The Journeys of ‘Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya

Abdelrahim Lahbibi

A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of ‘Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress. Split into two, The Journeys of  ‘Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya follows both ’Abdi’s search for knowledge as well as the narrator’s attempts to edit his manuscript.

The Blue Elephant

Ahmed Mourad

After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget. Suddenly finding his friend’s fate in his hands, Yahya’s life is turned upside down, with one shocking turn of events following another. What begins as an attempt to find out the true mental condition of his friend becomes an enthralling journey to discover himself, or what is left of him.

No Knives in this City’s Kitchens

Khaled Khalifa

No Knives in this City’s Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams. Khaled Khalifa writes about everything which is taboo in Arab life, with a particular focus on Syria. No Knives in this City’s Kitchens is a novel about grief, fear and the death of humanity.

Tashari

Inaam Kachachi

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, ‘Tashari’, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions. Iraqis use it as a symbol of loss and being dispersed across the globe. As a way of combating the dispersal of his own family, one of the characters, Alexander, constructs a virtual graveyard online, where he buries the family dead and allots to each person scattered across the globe his/her own personal plot.

books1-741445Tashari

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with an intention to address the limited international availability of high quality Arab fiction. The initiative was based on a suggestion that a prize modelled on the successful Man Booker Prize would encourage recognition of high quality Arabic fiction, reward Arab writers and lead to increased international readership through translation.

So – go ahead and explore the world of Arabic fiction novels!

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