Art + Design

  • Coming together and taking ownership of the future: Amman Design Week

    Kalimat asked the organisers of Amman Design Week to tell our readers what to expect at the first ever edition of the event, taking place from the 1st to the 9th of September 2016.

    For nine days in September, Amman’s designers are coming together to take ownership of their city and their careers by taking part in creating the city’s first Amman Design Week (ADW). Over this period, ADW will bring together designers in three large-scale curated exhibitions that will introduce local and regional design to the world, and invite international designers to the city to exchange knowledge and skills through workshops, discussions, talks, and more. With over 40 participating spaces around the city, and over 100 events that engage over hundreds of designers, ADW promises to be a truly immersive experience in design.

    The co-directors of Amman Design Week, Rana Beiruti and Abeer Seikaly, have been working on designing a week that responds to the local needs of designers, and celebrates the city’s design culture and aesthetic. Following intensive research that engaged universities, schools, educators, designers, businesses, and cultural institutions across Amman and Jordan, ADW was designed as a holistic and integrated learning programme that runs all year and culminates in a week of exchange of ideas and inspirations.

    The selection of venues for Amman Design Week comes from a careful study of the demographics and geography of the city. The event, held in downtown Amman, takes over three public locations along what was once envisioned to be the “cultural corridor” of the city. Working closely with the Amman municipality, the ADW team embarked on a community-engaged research project in urban design to test the plausibility of this vision in this area. Through on-the ground experiments, and major renovation of neglected, under-maintained and abandoned venues, design week hopes to support the existing cultural institutions and revive the infrastructures of the area in order to pave the way for further cultural engagement in the future.

    The Hangar Exhibition

    Ras El Ain Hangar. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

    The Hangar Exhibition displays work done by local and regional designers. Designed and curated by architect Sahel Al Hiyari, the exhibition displays design concepts as well as products, furniture, graphics, and architectural installations. The exhibition, held at the old electricity Hangar in downtown Amman, introduces the public to the various ideas and concepts that define design in Jordan and in the Arab region – with applications ranging from home interiors, textiles, and ceramics, to industrial design for the fields of architecture, medicine, and even music. The exhibition seeks to show design as an instrument of cultural and social expression, as well as a means for problem solving and instigating positive change.

    Sahel Al Hiyari. Photo courtesy of Hussam Da'na

    While the Hangar Exhibition displays current work done by designers, the MakerSpace, held at the Jordan Museum, presents works-in-progress and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the process of designing and making. In this interactive environment, visitors can see work as it is being completed using digital fabrication technology, 3D printers, and other high-tech tools. The juxtaposition of the MakerSpace with the iconic artefacts on show at the Jordan Museum helps to narrate the evolution of innovation, from the very beginnings of manipulation of materials and tools to the latest inventions and modern resources for prototyping, manufacturing and making.

    The Crafts District

    The Crafts District by Dina Haddadin. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

    Another exhibition held during ADW is the Crafts District – a celebration of crafts and ‘craftivism’. One cannot speak about design in Jordan without speaking of craft, which represents the vernacular of design in the region, and is a means of carrying forward heritage and culture with its storytelling power. Threatened by mass production and the souvenir culture, traditional crafts have been misunderstood and stripped of their importance in the modern world. Crafts are used as a means for self-expression, and continue to empower communities around Jordan, particularly offering women a chance at economic independence and creative freedom. At the Crafts District exhibition, one can see work done by such communities in collaboration with designers, and experience traditional crafts and contemporary crafts. Through a series of pop-up shops, demonstration booths, design installations and a traditional food component, visitors can experience a holistic view of the link between cultural heritage and design. The exhibition will feature craftspeople from across the country, as well as the collaborations of disciplined designers and craftspeople, where an exchange of knowledge, technique, materials and skills is encouraged and nurtured.

    The Crafts District by Dina Haddadin. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

    The Crafts District, curated and designed by architect, artist, and designer Dina Haddadin, is held at an abandoned bus station in downtown Amman. Once envisioned to be the central bus station for Amman, the Raghadan Tourist Terminal has never been activated to fulfil its potential. Current plans aim to transform it into a terminal for local tourism where its avenues and shops create an experience of local traditions, culture, and heritage. The Crafts District hopes to be a demonstration of the unused potential of this space.

    The learning programme

    The ADW programme is filled with activities for that are free of charge and open to the public, appealing to designers –emerging and experienced professionals alike – non-designers, children and adults.

    A series of workshops that range from introductory level sessions for the general public to intensive learning experiences targeted at designers wishing to expand their horizons and hone their skills are part of the learning programme. These specialised workshops focus on capacity building and production, with the aim to encourage dialogue and exchange between designers and facilitators. Topics will address issues of design practice, process, theory, management, and technique.

    Children and young people can learn the basics of design thinking and making through workshops in crafts, as well as various hands-on activities focused on the exploration of different materials and tools. The Children’s Space at the Jordan Museum will host the Eurekers Little Space workshop that introduces children to circuits and robotics, and the basics of making with technology. It will also host workshops about sustainable design and environmental consciousness with Maiss Razem. The Car Makers workshop, also hosted by the Children’s Museum, invites children to tinker with daily objects to make cars and fuel them up with different energy sources such as solar, wind, and mechanical.

    {Kees Chic} mug coasters

    Hands-on workshops for children and adults include those held at the Crafts District, such as the papermaking workshop with the ladies from Iraq al Amir, and textile dying with the ladies from Safi Crafts. The Crafts District also presents workshops in jewellery making by Luma Qusus from Inamallumani, and a workshop on embroidery using recycled plastic bags held by Diana Al Rayyan, founder of {Kees Chic}.

    Paper bowls by Iraq Al Amir. Photo courtesy of Gutedort.

    Amman Design Week’s MakerSpace at the Jordan Museum will host workshops introducing 3D printing. Joined by experts from Third Reality, Mixed Dimensions (MXD3D), and Omniplan Autodesk, the workshops introduce the possibilities offered by digital fabrication technologies to facilitate prototyping and design processes.

    The workshop and talk series invite facilitators from the Netherlands who join Amman Design Week to introduce their experiences in social design and designing cultural heritage. Dutch designers from T+LOCAL, Studio Mieke Meijer, and Michiel Martens offer an opportunity for local designers to exchange with Dutch designers, and learn about cross-cultural differences in design process.

    Designing Contemporary Heritage workshop and talk by Studio Mieke Meijer

    The Amsterdam-based Irish designer Paul Hughes also joins Amman Design Week to introduce his concept of Ten Metres of Thinking, a unique visual-verbal performance where he explores leadership, innovation and communication to stimulate development. Targeted at creative industry start-ups, businesses, and individuals, Paul’s workshops, talk, and speed mentoring session offer designers a chance to hone their management skills.

    Design talks

    The Speaker Series is an introductory series that aims to connect with the general public, introducing local, regional and international designers’ work and ideas. Concepts of craftsmanship, design thinking, city-design solutions and conscious design are introduced, building awareness around the idea that design is all around us, and can inspire imagination for better living. This series will provide space for the general public to engage in new discourses about design.

    Heart Aid device by Sahar Madanat

    Talks by local designers will feature Sahar Madanat, a product designer who created Heart Aid, a patented technology with intuitive features allow anybody to help the victim within minutes of the attack and thus increase chances of survival from 5 per cent up to 70 per cent; the graphic design duo from Wajha (Ali Almasri and Hussein Alazaat) who have created a social initiative that renovates the facades of small shops around Amman, allowing them a chance to attract more customers and improve their businesses; and the graphic design duo from Eyen (Yousef Abedrabbo and Omar Al-Zo’bi) will also host a discussion with Beirut-based designer Liliane Abou Zeki about design built around creative problem solving and the relationship between graphic design and business practices.

    This talk series also invites Ahmad Humeid from Syntax design studio, who will discuss Design and Activism in the city, in reference to the first city bus map created for the city of Amman, in collaboration with a not-for-profit named Ma’an Nasel (We arrive together). Through his talk, he will discuss the social responsibility of a designer, and the challenges faced by the Syntax team in creating a bus map that simplifies a complex system of information through graphic design.

    Creative spaces all over Amman will be participating in the programme by hosting workshops in their own spaces. Design Institute Amman (DIA) will host several workshops by notable designers in their new space at Jabal Amman including the basics of furniture design and lighting design by Italian designer Filippo Protasoni, a workshop on illustration and graphic drawings by local designer Dina Fawakhiri, and the basics of jewellery design in a one-day intensive workshop by Carmella Pipicelli.

    International Collaborations

    Memory Matrix by Dr. Azra Akšamija

    Further to engagement with local educational institutions, Amman Design Week is also inviting collaborations with universities from the UK and USA.

    Through a collaboration with the British Council, Education UK presents a university fair during Amman Design Week, offering a chance for local students to learn about undergraduate and graduate design programmes in the UK, and meet with the decision makers to present their work and portfolios.

    Azra Azkamija, Associate Professor at the MIT Programme in Art, Culture and Technology, presents her work with the Memory Matrix, a project that investigates transcultural aesthetics, cultural mobility, and the way in which art and architecture can create a response to conflict and crisis. Her project has gathered participants from from Cairo, Boston, Ramallah and Amman, and will be presented at Amman Design Week’s MakerSpace.

    The Hangar Exhibition also carries exchanges with international institutions, and presents work such as the large-scale installation named ‘Enterlac’ done by Jordanian fashion designer Raya Kassisieh in collaboration with Nader Tehrani, Principal of NADAAA, a Boston-based architecture and urban design firm, and Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York.

    In support of the livelihood of rural women in Iraq Al Amir, Lina Kanafani, founder of Mint design gallery in London, invited designers Jenny Hier and Eva Schlechte of Studio Gutedort to hold a papermaking workshop at the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Association in May 2015. Working with this community of women, the workshop resulted in locally made paper doughs using local materials and little water resources, as well as textiles and dyes from local herbs, spices, and flowers.

    Cultural programme

    MADAFA curated by Arini and designed by Rasem Kamal and Saja Nashashibi. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

    Woven throughout the events of Amman Design Week is a carefully curated cultural programme and culinary experience. The food options available at the main nodes – the Hangar, the MakerSpace, and the Crafts District – were selected and developed in partnership with Namliyeh to represent a comprehensive and interlinked food and design experience. Furthermore, the MADAFA pavilions provide a gathering space for an immersive experience in urban cuisine, hospitality, and culture. Set within the winding pathway between Al Hussein Cultural Centre and Greater Amman Municipality, MADAFA is a social space and pavilion curated by Arini and designed by Basel based architect Rasem Kamal of Oppenheim Architects and Amman based architect Saja Nashashibi of Paradigm DH.

    City-wide programming

    Urban works in progress - pedestrian crossing. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

    Alongside the Amman Design Week programme are a group of 40 independent spaces around the city, including museums, galleries, educational institutions, shops, design studios, and more, are participating in their own space by hosting designers or design-related events, or simply inviting audiences to visit and tour their spaces.

    Of considerable note are the exhibitions held alongside Amman Design Week at galleries such as Darat al Funun – The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Nabad Art Gallery, TIRAZ, Wadi Finan Art Gallery, and Jacaranda, as well as the exhibitions held at the Zara Gallery by Design Ideas Lab, and the live wall installation that will be produced at books@café (Jabal Amman). Universities across Jordan, such as Petra University and the University of Applied Sciences are also sharing their student exhibitions this September.


  • Hayv Kahraman: On Journeys and Translations

    Text: Rania Jaber | Images: Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai

    A good way to think about journeys is through the idea of translation. Translation is the act of carrying something (whether it is tangible or intangible) from one place to a different context. It is also the necessary role enacted at certain junctures when an individual migrates between two or more cultures and languages. The absence of language and home that are brought about by displacement, conflict, war, and migration are conditions that haunt the work of Hayv Kahraman. It is the distance between the artist, her lost home, past recollections, languages, and places that are questioned through her artworks.

    Hayv Kahraman’s work evokes several journeys. The first involved fleeing Iraq to Sweden during the Gulf war in 1991. Up until then, she had attended an International school in Baghdad and spoke both English and Arabic. Both of her parents were linguists who taught at a university in Baghdad. Although Kahraman and her family left with the command of two languages, they encountered a third language in Sweden and found themselves as outsiders. The only way to belong was to become like everyone else and to metamorphose oneself into speaking like others. She felt colonised, being in a context where everyone around her looked different and belonged to one culture. She wanted to be part of something that was not yet a part of her. One method was to learn Swedish and imitate others’ accents, so as to sound like them and diminish the tangible separation felt between people. But how could she change her appearance? Her dark hair and features gave away the noticeable fact that she was from somewhere else. These are the complexities and particularities of identities that are worthy of being rebuked when one is young.

    Such memories inform the artist’s works and are composed of melancholic, humorous, and often heart-wrenching encounters and experiences. Her artwork helped her come to terms with herself and her past journeys. When Kahraman was studying graphic design in Florence at the age of 22, she was repetitively sketching a figure with dark hair and familiar features. The figure, influenced by the style of Renaissance painters, became a recurring and familiar character in Kahraman’s stories and renderings. Yes, she may be the artist herself, yet in the form of representation she is also a rendering all on her own accord. It was the artist’s way of coping with life incidents and creating a visual incarnation of her experiences, which represent an affinity with inner conflict and pain.

    During an interview, Kahraman led me through her creative process where much research and translation is involved. Kahraman often begins with an idea that is then propelled forward by intense research. She enters a project through layers of investigation. In an obsessive way, she digs through the material persistently, like an archaeologist attempting to uncover layers and years of thinking. She connects each concept to its visual form, sketches it, and an idea takes shape. In a way she restages her memories onto the material she is working with. Most often she works with linen that she stretches and covers with glue made from rabbit skin so as to maintain a sheen surface. The framing of the work is largely dependent on each project. For example, the series Waraq (2010) was structured in the shape of a deck of playing cards representing fourteen migrants, while Let the Guest be the Master (2013) was documented on replicas of blue prints of old Iraqi houses.

    Layer upon layer of experiences unfold on Kahraman’s canvas. She always knows exactly what she will paint before she has painted it. Each step is carefully calculated; there are few accidental mishaps on the canvas. Let The Guest be the Master (2013) was produced at a time when her father decided to sell the family house in Baghdad and all of a sudden she had no tangible place that she could call home. The loss of a home was akin to cutting her mother tongue, and losing her memories. She decided to archive her lost home by recreating it through this series. Each line became a trace of the walls in the house. She conducted extensive research about typical houses in Baghdad and recreated homes with courtyards, which still exist, while others have been demolished. The female presence in these houses formed a large part of each recreation. As a feminist strategy, it was the men who were absent from the architectural mappings of the houses.

    Fragments of House (2013) from the series Let the Guest be the Master, Oil on wood, 147.3 x 281.9cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    In all the variegated movements to numerous places: Iraq, Sweden, Italy, and the United States where she currently resides, Kahraman carried across her personal archive of memories. Some were still fresh while others had been crumpled and needed to be unfolded. All these memories were recreated and re-imagined in different contexts. The migrants in the Waraq (2010) series reflect a trajectory of deep pain for individuals who have been uprooted from a home, and had to recreate themselves in another place. It leaves the viewer dumbstruck and in deep pain to think about the desperate need of the character to amputate her own mother tongue, both physically and metaphorically. To cut one’s mother tongue does not signify it has been lost, yet the self has been fragmented. In my interview with the artist, Kahraman talked about how this leads people to lose part of who they are. Yet, for the migrant who cuts her tongue to form a slash from her past, the sliced tongue may return in another format. To cut is to create an incision between the past and to work with the loss, which results in an injury that will eventually heal.

    Migrant 3 (2009) from the series War-aq (2010), Oil on wooden panel, 177.8 x 114cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    Kahraman does not explicitly work with language. Yet, for the series How Iraqi are You? (2015) she was committed to not only revisiting her past memories, but also to re-learning her mother tongue of Arabic. The act of reliving moments and relearning what one had once learned is wrought by her autobiographical journey. In this series are experiences of almost forgetting a language she grew up hearing because it had to be replaced by another. Her own past, as well as Iraq’s history, were the propellers behind Kahraman’s research. The artist mends the severed tongue by re-learning Arabic. The works in How Iraqi Are You? (2015) were triggered by the artist’s own responsibility in transmitting the Arabic language to her daughter allowing Kahraman to perform as a translator and storyteller.

    In the work The Translator from the same series, Kahraman restages an incident when her mother – who was able to speak both Arabic and Swedish –was the translator between aid workers in Sweden and Iraqi refugees. A heated debate ensued during which a refugee turned to Hayv’s mother and asked her which side she is on. Taking sides is an all too familiar political dialogue that has been propagated by the so-called war on terror and largely instigated by hegemonic powers. Although this painting is an enactment of an incident that Kahraman clearly remembers, it is also posing an integral question into the role of the translator who is often requested to choose sides. What about a third diasporic option in which the translator transcends sides? In dealing with uprootedness, Kahraman adheres to decontextualised enactments, moving beyond sides, political motions, and places. Rather, her characters simply exist through the stories they tell and are far removed from context, yet highly politicised on their own.

    The Translator (2015) from the series How Iraqi Are You? (2015), Oil on linen, 249 x 193cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    In choosing to work with classical Arabic that has been recreated in the same style as the Maqamat al Hariri (The Assemblies of al-Hariri), she is reproducing a lost history. Every mention of these precious documents will inform spectators about historical resurrections and the necessary task of retrieval. They also provide a didactic understanding into artistic forms that have become obsolete. The Maqamat Al Hariri were a set of illuminated manuscripts from the 12th Century representing the Baghdad school of miniature painting. The artist was drawn to the expressive figures in these miniature paintings, which reflected daily life in Baghdad. The return to these narrative forms reveals the problematic of an unfinished history, interrupted by invasions, incursions, wars, colonisation, and migration.

    Detail of The Translator (2015) from the series How Iraqi Are You? (2015), Oil on linen, 249 x 193cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    For this series, texts and words were crucial in speaking about Iraq’s history and past. In wishing to transmit this history to her daughter it was imperative that language was also the necessary tool for transmission. Kahraman shifts between cultural worlds, political spheres, and languages. Yet, a language becomes hers and a mother tongue expands and stretches across continents. At times, there are meanings to certain words that are retained even as they are carried across into different contexts. One such play involves the word “gun” which is self-evident in English, while in Swedish it references a girl’s name and finally in Kurdish, the word means testicles. Kahraman studied calligraphy and restaged similar narratives. She considered each letter, stroke, and space framing for each word. She claims that the progression with writing each word is evident in her paintings, as the series became a language archive where she relearned how to write again.

    Her Name is Gun (2015) from the series How Iraqi Are You? (2015), Oil on linen, 244 x 185cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    How Iraqi Are You? was shown for the first time in New York at the Jack Shainman Gallery. It was an interesting reception where the artist decided not to provide translations for each painting. Viewers who did not know Arabic were unable to access the text, hence creating a division between insiders and outsiders in the same way that she was unable to access Swedish. It was her turn to be on the inside, rather than on the periphery.

    Yet, amid entering the narrative and observing from the margins, she creates a space that is inclusive. For those who were able to decipher the text, and for the audience members who were part of the Iraqi diaspora, many related to the narratives and provided their own for her to document. They remembered some of the well-known sayings she had used, some of the fables, and shared their own stories and memories with her evoking a shared history through the series of artworks.

    Detail of Her Name is Gun (2015) from the series How Iraqi Are You? (2015), Oil on linen, 244 x 185cm. Courtesy of the Artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

    Kahraman does not shy away from the potency of autobiography. Whether it is through narration or visual form, it is about her journeys and memories. The voice of the character is hers. The female figure is the artist’s conduit, yet they are both storytellers. Often, they are narrating the same story about migrants, mother tongues, cultural heritage, gender empowerment, alienation, and feeling out of place. Yet, through the artist’s journey, one realises that a feeling of belonging has to be created and the only way to do that is through the objects carried by agents in a diaspora; a condition that has been documented so extensively as an in-between space where one is constantly searching for the impossibility of place. Some have called it as a space occupying the best of both worlds. However, it remains to be determined. For now, it is a good strategy, at least one that accords a perpetual journey.


    Rania Jaber is a UK-based researcher interested in art, language, gender, and translation. She is currently working on a PhD thesis titled “Artists as Translators: Lebanese Women Artists in Diasporic Settings."

  • A quick Q&A with Mayúscula design studio

    Text: Danah Abdulla | Images courtesy of Rocio Martinavarro

    DA | Tell us about your studio – your beginnings, the meaning behind the name, the type of projects you take.

    RM | After years working with leading brand consultancies in Barcelona, New York and Amsterdam, I founded Mayúscula [in] 2011. Mayúscula means an uppercase letter in Spanish, [and] our name is an inspiring metaphor that expresses what we believe in and aim for – brands that stand out, strive for excellence, and make a positive impact in their environments. That being said, we are passionate about working with ambitious, perfectionists and challenge-loving clients who want to maximise their potential and innovate continuously. We help them make a difference by using creativity strategically, working on detecting and reinforcing their unique personality traits. The result is [that] they engage with their target audiences better and faster.

    We are a small team but work with an international network of both start-ups and multinationals. [Our approach] to branding and design is multidisciplinary: print, digital, verbal, environmental, and product identity. That means we develop integral branding programmes, communicating the brand's essence coherently through different touch points: a corporate wayfinding system, a packaging line, a digital app or a retail's interior design.

    DA | You’ve worked on a variety of projects outside of Barcelona. Are there big differences between clients in Spain and those based in other countries you’ve worked in?

    RM | We specialise in multilingual design projects for brands who want to go further – both metaphorically and literally. Most clients want to go global, but still [want to] integrate the local cultural nuances of their target markets. [So far], we’ve worked in about 12 languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Azeri, [and] Russian, sometimes using several of them at the same time. It's very challenging because some of these clients come from areas [where a] brand[ing] and design culture [is very limited], but those are the companies that need our help the most. They need to invest in branding to be competitive in Western countries where [most] brands are very sophisticated, and also be hyper-competitive to stand out as local leaders in their own markets. There's a lot to learn for some of them on production and implementation quality.

    Cultural differences become interesting anecdotes on a daily basis. For example, we had to consult a Feng Shui master for logo approval when working on a Chinese brand redesign, [and] integrate talismans in retail environments to attract fortune and good luck.

    DA | Mayúscula is based in Spain and you work on bilingual branding projects. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced dealing with Arabic rather than another Latin language?

    RM | Working on bilingual projects is far more complex than working in one language, as you [must work with] double the information but can't repeat the visual elements to communicate messages. Moreover, not all communication for bilingual clients needs to be bilingual at all times. Most clients [based in the Arab region] want their identities and communication to work in one language as well as [in] bilingual [form], which doubles or triples the work. It is especially difficult when working on brand architecture, as you must add sub-brands and department names, taglines, and also make them work in vertical and horizontal versions.

    Designing in some non-Latin alphabets is challenging not only because the alphabets are far more extensive, but because the resources available are limited. There's an immensely rich Arab and Chinese calligraphic heritage, but contemporary digital typography in those languages is still very limited in comparison. Also, when working in the Gulf region, you encounter Farsi and Urdu, [which] contain different ligatures and diacritics. We have a network of freelance professionals we can consult and collaborate with when special or difficult requests arise. Despite the language challenges, the projects we design must maintain graphic quality, convey the messages, be true to the client's strategy, and be lasting and innovative. Not [an] easy task!

    DA | How did the idea for the planner ‘A Good Plan’ come to you? How do you want people to use it, and why did you decide on the languages you’ve chosen?

    RM | Mayúscula needed to develop ways to maintain a healthy long-distance relationship with clients. These methods include tools to know the client better (obtaining better briefs), ways to facilitate his/her understanding of the branding process by talking to [them] in [their] own language, and a means to increase trust by being very transparent during the process. We already worked digitally with ‘A Good Plan’ tools, but wanted to take [it] a step further. [So] we put together a [physical] brand planner.

    The planner is arranged into four parts:

    1. Ideas (sketch pages)
    2. Planning
    3. Strategy
    4. Identity

    [It] cover[s] the [entire] branding process – from business goals to brand launch. In total, [it contains] 128 pages with more than 40 different strategic tools and templates for people to use with their brand example. It's a map to inspire brands to be different, innovative, intelligent, effective, and efficient. 'A Good Plan' has become much more than a notebook/[planner]. It's a platform to [encourage] creatives, entrepreneurs, strategists and business [people] in the creation and management of their brands. The possibilities of ‘A Good Plan’ are many, and we have already used it in workshops, lectures, branding projects and even masterclasses in [some] of the best design schools in Barcelona. It's also a great tool for teachers to use in branding, design and management courses. Regarding [the] languages chosen, Arabic and Chinese are spoken widely in emerging and some rapidly developing economies where creative boutique agencies are hard to find. The need for a more sophisticated branding culture is there, we just wanted to make it easier.


    ‘A Good Plan’ can be purchased on Mayúscula's website

    Danah Abdulla is the Founder, Creative Director and Editor of Kalimat Magazine. She is a Lecturer on the BA (Hons) Design Management and Cultures course at the London College of Communication, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London.

  • Deconstructing Hairy: the Myth of the Arab Male

    Text: Muriel N. Kahwagi | Photos: Tarek Moukaddem

    The author's father, Nabil Ibrahim Kahwagi, looking rad in 1979. Image courtesy of Muriel N. Kahwagi

    Among my father’s treasure-trove of old comic books, memorabilia, and photographs is a Polaroid shot of him from 1972 against the dramatic backdrop of the Beqaa valley, sporting a moustache and a white corduroy bell-bottom suit. With one hand on his waist and the other in his pocket, he’s looking straight into the camera lens through dark shades, a few stray chest hairs poking through his deep neckline jacket. That a willowy man could get away with such ornateness in 1970s Lebanon seems unlikely, but as the archive of Hashem el Madani’s Studio Shehrazade confirms, that picture was all but an oddity forty years ago. When I described my father’s photograph to Charbel Kamel, a drama therapy student at Paris Descartes University, the general sentiment was one of wonder and ambivalence as we agreed that, were it to be taken today, that picture would raise more than a handful of eyebrows. “For many people in my family – and for Lebanese society generally – a man needs to be hefty to be manly,” says Kamel. “I’ve always been quite slender, and, growing up – even now, sometimes – it’s been frowned upon.”

    “‘You need to eat so you can grow up and be a man,’” he burlesques his aunt’s taunting words. “My father, too, would try to get me to eat olives and asbeh nayyeh [raw meat] to encourage me to gain weight. I hate olives – they’re bitter! – and I was never a big fan of asbeh nayyeh. It’s as though your status as a man depended not only upon your weight and physique, but also on your diet. Certain foods, it turns out, are more masculine than others.”

    'Charbel' from the Stvdio El Sham series

    Standing at 5’10,” thick-bearded and bright-eyed, Kamel is an endearing mix of candidness and bashfulness. Comfortable as he seems in his own skin, he humbly admits that it wasn’t always so. “I was your typical ugly duckling as a teenager. Most teens are, I guess,” he jests. “I was constantly teased, not just because I was so skinny, but also because of my then-sprouting moustache. My face was quite pale, and my moustache so black and awkward in comparison, that my fifteen-year-old cousin at the time casually suggested threading it.”

    Kamel recounts these comical episodes with great humour and generosity of spirit, and doesn’t shy away from asking himself – and me, in the process – the “big,” if hackneyed, questions that crop up therein: What defines a man’s manliness and masculinity? Is it the kind of food he eats? How much he weighs? The clothes he wears? The length of his beard? Or his V-shaped torso? In other words, is masculinity something that manifests itself, be it directly or indirectly, in a man’s body?

    'Philip' from the Stvdio El Sham series

    Studio el Sham, a photographic project conceived by Lebanese photographer Tarek Moukaddem and Palestinian designer OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury, brings these questions into the spotlight in an attempt to explore the origins and social repercussions of assumed normative paradigms of masculinity in the Arab world. Currently a work in progress, the project seeks to challenge “the super-butch image of Arab maleness, especially the one framed by the ongoing colonialism, war, dispossession, and revolution.”

    Kamel walked into Studio el Sham on a whim. “I’d been a big fan of Tarek’s work for quite some time, and when he posted a call for models for this project a year and a half ago, I wanted to get involved right away.” “I didn’t really know what it was about back then,” he admits. “I can’t tell you that I was drawn to the project’s premise, and that’s why I decided to do it. I know that this is probably the answer you’d like to hear, but that’s not what happened, and that’s not why I did it.”

    'Abu Zuhair' from The Official Portrait series

    “In retrospect, though, I can put some of the pieces of the puzzle together, if you will, and in some ways, I am more aware of my subconscious motivations for wanting to get involved in something like this.” In his Studio el Sham photograph, Kamel looks both composed and unselfconscious. With a beanie over his head and a pair of round, metal-rimmed glasses over his eyes, he stands tall and graceful, carrying a sword in his two hands. Despite his being shirtless, there is nothing about his demeanour – nor about any of the other models’ – that inspires provocativeness.

    'Abu Saleh' from The Official Portrait series

    “My work with Tarek is usually unabashedly erotic, but always resists the stereotype of the pornographic,” explains Nasser-Khoury. “The challenge is to strip masculinity of the macho without emasculation. The lush sensuality of the photography is in itself a critique of the decadence these characters represent.”

    “Masculinity is something that is very personal to an individual,” he goes on to say. “I don’t think you can explore any of these concepts or ideas if you haven’t gone through them or experienced them yourself. But it’s also such an ambiguous word now, and we’re trying to disentangle it in terms of what it means and what it inspires when people hear [the word “masculinity”], so ultimately, it is not a fixed idea with a fixed meaning; it’s a positionality.”

    'Joe' from the Stvdio El Sham series

    For Moukaddem, however, Studio el Sham is “more of a game.” “I’m fascinated by these old Levantine studio images and their inherent performativity. You can take pictures with your phone very easily these days; it takes half a second,” he says. It is precisely this technologically-induced effortlessness that drove the pair to recreate a setting whereby people needed to make the extra effort, and engage in this kind of role-play. “So we put different kinds of clothes everywhere, and let them wear whatever they wanted,” he explains. “It was interesting for us to see how they wanted to represent themselves in this sort of setting.”

    “But people also tend to forget that this idea of what is masculine and what is not, or what a man should or shouldn’t look like, was essentially invented abroad,” Moukaddem adds. “It only started being part of [Arab] culture twenty or thirty years ago due to globalisation. In smaller, less cosmopolitan Lebanese towns and villages, a man’s masculinity is more contingent upon things like pride and power. It’s not about what he looks like, or the degree of intimacy he shares with another man.”


    Muriel N. Kahwagi is a writer based in Beirut. Her work has appeared in The Outpost, Rusted Radishes, and Moussem Journa(a)l. Together with James Brillantes, she founded Jizz&Jazz, a fictional music and podcast producing duo that parodies normative paradigms of conflict resolution in the Middle East. Currently, she is the head of communications at the Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum.

  • Art of Destruction – Culture and Heritage: an interview with Aseel Alyacoub

    Text: Taibah Albisher | Photos: Jean-Paul Gomez

    In a brilliant essay written by Timo Kaabi-Linke, titled “Geo-Coding Contemporary Art?”, Kaabi-Linke mentions how cultural terms in the arts are “used with unwritten question marks.” There has been a propensity, in art history, to classify and incorporate art into specific eras, styles, and movements. This tendency of selection and separation has always de-complicated the diversity and variety of artists and their works. However, in this day and age, and when countless intellectuals proclaim the epoch of ‘post-histoire,’ a fluid presentness with no time-lags nor period-breaks for temporal observations and categorisations, I find myself uncomfortable with geographic-based group exhibitions that continue to ripple across contemporary art institutions based on supra-regional, ever-so-diverse and controversial regions as the ‘Arab’ world. The failure of approaching the arts appropriately within this region allowed many important artistic voices to remain unheard.

    I chose to interview one of these important voices. An emerging artist from Kuwait, Aseel AlYacoub’s thesis show reflects her theoretical practice in which she digs up Kuwait’s own archaeology of knowledge. AlYacoub interrogates official history by challenging Kuwait’s taken-for-granted cultural and structural episteme. From AlYacoub’s contestatory video work questioning the reasoning behind the prohibition of filming in public spaces, to the microscopic stamp collection created through the destruction of a national artefact, AlYacoub’s socially engaged practice proves to be a crucial deconstructing and demystifying tool.

    TB | How did your piece Culture Fair come about?

    AA | I began collecting postage stamps that reflected the peak of Kuwait’s modernity era. Propaganda on postage stamps is of a more subdued and discreet nature than that exhibited by other media and it has been given surprisingly little attention. Yet the fact that the postage stamp was, and still is, widely circulated and that it does not have an obvious message enhances its peculiar effectiveness. So the stamp itself is ideal propaganda. It goes from hand to hand and town to town; it reaches the farthest corners and provinces of a country and even the farthest countries of the world. Therefore, it is a symbol of the nation from which the stamp is mailed, a vivid expression of that country’s culture and civilization and of its ideas and ideals.

    Culture Fair

    I dissected and reassembled Kuwaiti stamps dating from 1960 to 1991. By cutting, rearranging and pasting them over each other, I am in some way destroying the national artefact and recreating the image with my own narrative. They are then displayed on jutting stud planks (2x4 inch) that have been stained in a rich dark brown and a magnifying dome is placed on top of each stamp. The image is magnified, expanding the collages to turn them into meaningful objects. They transform into museum or cultural artefacts usually found in culture or world fairs. It’s interesting to view people approaching them, as from a distance the installation is quite minimal and the shadows are an important factor. However, upon closer inspection the viewer tends to be pleasantly surprised and is somehow more fascinated with the labour and precision rather than the narrative itself.

    TB | Can you give me an example of 'national artefacts'?

    AA | Another example in this case could be Kuwait’s older paper money.

    TB | Did Kuwait ever have a stamp as a national artefact?

    AA | They can be seen as national artefacts today as the older stamps are no longer in use. For example, I found older stamps that used Rupees as a currency rather than Kuwaiti Dinars.

    TB | Your collages are based on stamps that we had in the mid-twentieth century?

    AA | Yes, they are not scanned copies but the originals.

    TB | In a sense, creating your art through the destruction of another?

    AA | That’s an interesting question. Can we label stamps as a form of art? Probably not, especially today. I would say I am creating art out of existing patriotic and national images.

    TB | Can you talk to me about your piece Heritage Wall no. 6?

    AA | Heritage Wall no.6 is a simulacrum of Kuwait’s fort wall. That wall has been demolished and only the five gates remain.

    Heritage Wall no. 6

    TB | This one being…

    AA | This one being the sixth and [it] exists in the gallery space right now. When Kuwait ushered its transition towards modernity, a series of master plans transformed Kuwait’s physical and social environment. The plan called for the demolition of old Kuwait to pave the way for a new state capital. Today only five gates remain and have recently been revived as ‘monuments’ of a recent past. They are considered to be heritage sites albeit being surrounded by highways and infrastructure. They are placed on inaccessible islands and can only be seen through a moving vehicle, a stoplight, or across the street if you are walking. They lose their significance as they are quite removed from the public.

    TB | What does this wall signify?

    AA | This piece stands freely, at an angle, in the middle of a white box gallery space. The corner is broken off and the interior of the wall and frame are exposed. Parts of the wood are stained, just like the piece Culture Fair, and also jut out from the side of the structure. The 2x4 inch stud is used again. A two legged chair balances on the long side of the wall, balancing a ‘reserved’ plaque on its lap.

    TB | Can you elaborate on this?

    AA | The stained wood reflects on the cheap methods used to recreate or renovate heritage sites. It seems as though a lot of the means of preservation in Kuwait are not quite well thought through. In this piece, I’m questioning the renovations of the original heritage walls as you can also see in my other work Checkpoints. The broken edge is a motif for age and time, a fake memory of the original wall that was beginning to fall apart.

    TB | What kind of wood is this?

    AA | It’s a basic 2x4 stud plank used to build dry walls. You can see the structure from the right side of the wall and the deception of its sturdiness. I could have made the wall out of bricks or poured concrete, however I wanted to emphasise the theatrical imitation of places and objects. The exterior wood is sanded and stained in a rich dark brown and the interior is left in its raw form.

    TB | Luxurious.

    AA | Yes, the stained wood gives the feel of care and attention. However, it only appears that way from the outside.

    TB | So this broken chair, with only two front legs grounded on the floor, while the back is leaning on this blank wall, meaning the sort of blind faith...

    AA | It’s interesting that you see the blank wall [symbolising] blind faith. The chair’s weathered appearance, physical dysfunction, and dependence on the structure are a metaphor for social dependency. It is the idealism behind the national collective history. The reserved sign just pokes at its importance. This chair was inspired from my two works Embargo and Checkpoints. Although you don’t see them in the films, both security guards were using a white patio chair to guard their spaces. It’s an object that has an invisible recurring theme in my work.

    TB | What’s interesting is the cultural connotation of this ‘found object.’ When I look at this chair, I think of endless birthday and school parties. But much more, I think of it as a strong nostalgic feeder. However, this chair looks so foreign here in this gallery. It’s simply a broken chair. What does it remind you of?

    AA | سوق المباركية (souk al mubarakiya)

    TB | But to someone else…

    AA | Possibly birthday parties like you. [When I lived] in Brooklyn, close to a Puerto Rican neighbourhood, I saw them being used on the streets quite a lot. They’re also used in outdoor hookah bars in many countries.

    TB | And so محجوز (reserved) is on the one side, and then on the other side it's in English. Can you tell me the most memorable, radical or random questions that people have asked you, if you have any?

    AA | The only reason I presented Reserve in Arabic and English is because I’m showing this piece in New York. It’s challenging to present very specific works outside of the context in which these works originated from. I’m trying to expand access to the pieces, as many of the viewers attending will not know much about Kuwait. A visitor asked me where we were in this exhibition and I thought it was a philosophical question at first. But then I came to the realisation that he meant geographically because the images shown were foreign to him. Although the videos have Kuwaiti flags fluttering in the wind and the stamps are labelled with ‘The State of Kuwait,” it can be overwhelming to understand my work without a lecture on Kuwait’s history beforehand.

    TB | Of course not. We're a tiny country known for little other than oil and wealth.

    AA | I gave a talk about my work once and a member of the audience informed me that his perception of Kuwait was three things: monarchy, oil, and patriarchy. He was wondering why I wasn’t tackling gender issues.

    TB | Before we get into gender politics, I want to go back to those three issues. We are a monarchy, we definitely have oil, and it’s definitely a patriarchal society. But the way we [Kuwaitis] see it is different than others, because we don't consider ourselves victims. At least, I don't. I think there's a wider issue to tackle, but I feel as though traces of it are evident or are embedded within cultures and religions. Most mainstream media is concentrated on our region. So what I like to argue against is that I don't see myself as a victim. I find that most people that sort of exploit this whole victimhood to the wider public, garner attention and empathy. It’s just unethical and unfounded.

    AA | Some do exaggerate [victimisation] but to each their own.

    TB | It's hyperbolic, definitely. And I like the fact that you don't infuse that in your work or showcase that. I appreciate your approach and framework of questioning: 'Let's talk about wider issues, let's talk about nation, let's talk about identity. Let's not talk about the fact that I'm a woman and I'm subjugated. And let's not talk about the generalities, about Islam, the monarchy, or this extreme sort of oppression.' But do you feel like your work, or you yourself in your practice tackle gender? Is that a theme of your work?

    AA | It’s inevitable because I am a woman at the end of the day. I forget that sometimes and I am genuinely surprised when my work is addressed from the gender perspective rather than [its] original intention. In Embargo I can see how that is stronger as a gender power struggle than about the private vs. public or the local vs. the immigrant.

    TB | I want to talk about your video work Embargo (2014). Can you tell me about this work?

    AA | I wanted to document the transformation of Kuwait’s maritime shoreline. After visiting the Maritime Museum in Kuwait, I was fascinated by the way they displayed every object used when diving or sailing. There were old letters, record books, and photographs. The museum itself felt like you were walking on board an old dhow.

    TB | Kuwait has a Maritime Museum?

    AA | Yes it’s right next to the Museum of Modern Art, which was an old Kuwaiti school and is one of the few places in Kuwait that has been decently restored. I found out where the ports were and Marina Mall was one of the shores used for fishing and pearl diving. There are a couple of ports today that still have the old Kuwaiti dhows and you can hop on board and meet the fishermen. It’s a popular tourist spot. The rest have been transformed into public walk spaces and are usually in front of malls or clubs. They now host yachts and modern fishing boats. There are three other sites in the video so it’s not all in one port. However, the confrontation I received at Marina Mall altered the work completely.

    TB | Speaking of the confrontation, you had all these questions: ‘who is enforcing this? Why?' to which the security guard didn’t have answers, but nevertheless, he parroted strict social orders.

    AA | I think it’s always important for people to know the intent. I wasn’t going there to be confronted. I began censoring the video because of this confrontation. First, I censor[ed] the boats, then the buildings, and finally, everything apart from the sky and sea. To censor in Arabic is translated into raqabbah (to watch or oversee) rather than to access, edit, or suppress unacceptable material. Using censorship’s translatability, the film consists of three segments: the act of watching, being watched, and the ‘overseeing’ of the self. This progression is elicited by my interaction with the Egyptian security guard, a migrant worker who has his own restrictions to contend with.


    TB | The way in which you gradually blanket the view of the marina in Embargo highlights the subtle social censorship, particularly in public space.

    AA | Social censorship is content for my work. I want to highlight the frustrating elements that we have to contend with today, especially in Kuwait. Both public and the private spaces in Kuwait have limitations and there will be social consequences if you express yourself or take action [that is] out of line.

    TB | Likewise, when it comes to unwritten laws and the general state of affairs. It's true because I feel like for us – weirdly enough – a public space is more oppressive than a private one. How that conversation between you and the security guard, who was quick to stop you from filming, but once you asked him and questioned him, he just didn’t have the answers to it. It’s absurd– why can't you film? This is a public space. This ties back to an important theme we were discussing earlier: public vs. private spaces – this idea of self-control in public, controlling your actions and what you say, the subtle irony of the repressiveness in public spaces… Whereas here [Kuwait] there’s a totally different understanding of a public space. Going beyond social etiquette, public spaces are – contrary to popular belief – not enforced by the government or enforced by the authorities, it's actually enforced by people and our consequent culture and norms.

    AA| The structures I criticise are not necessarily the obvious ones i.e. a government force. Rather, I am poking at the social authority that is quite assertive in itself. I am more interested in the public’s idea on vandalising heritage sites or tearing up collectible national stamps.

    Towards the end of our interview, a fellow student walks by and asks Aseel about her sculptural piece, Sooner or Later. The piece is comprised of a 1950s Magnavox radio, a green shelf, an authentic orchard ladder, a leaking inflatable pool, two blue buckets, water, an electrical cord, power supply, and white noise. 

    Sooner or Later (left) and Culture Fair (right)

    AA | This is the most metaphorical piece I've ever done. Usually it's a little louder than this, and the noise fluctuates back and forth. It's a very, very subtle oppressive feeling, where you walk in and you're really annoyed but you get used to it. [It describes] how I feel when I'm in Kuwait, [and] how a lot of people [feel] when they're in Kuwait – [this idea of being] seduced by the affluence or this idea of the collective pool, 'We all belong here.' But there's a structural hierarchy that is very precarious. Although inviting, it seems easier to manage or tackle, it's actually not something that you would really want to do. So the obstacle is sort of testing your fight or flight mechanism. Once you leave the room, you feel a sense of relief, and you notice the noise and that soft oppression. That's how I feel whenever I leave Kuwait.

    Student | Is it because you feel oppressed from the government?

    AA | More than anything, I think it's the social structure. The idea of what you can and cannot do. In this piece the social hierarchy is proposed both in its formal figurative appearance and sensual experience.

    Student | So how does one define Kuwait? The body politic?

    AA | Kuwait is a nation like any other. It consists of a group of people that are associated with that particular territory. It is a patriotic nation and is adequately aware of its unity. It is a constitutional emirate with a semi-democratic system. The political system is a hybrid divided between an appointed government and an elected parliament. It is a handicapped democracy in my opinion.

    TB | Reverting this back to your artistic practice, it seems to me that you started with a framework for the show, then criteria and a mode of evaluating, and without the framework, your thesis show would be a hodgepodge of free forming ideas disengaged from any systematic, coherent analysis. Do you find that your ideas are paramount, and material secondary?

    AA | It really depends, but you’re right about this show. Although I made a lot more work over the two year MFA programme, I had to select works that could converse with each other. I wanted a looping obstacle course that brings you back to the same question. My ideas stem from research but the concept I present is as important as the finished product. My thesis was a study of nostalgia and I’m trying to use it as an instrument for critical thought rather than the longing for the past. This allowed me to investigate the invention and reinvention of heritage and tradition. I was, and still am, fascinated with the past and how it emerges into the present. But the most interesting part of this show will be the irony; I will have to demolish Heritage Wall no.6.


    Taibah Albisher is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Museum Studies at NYU and recently graduated from SELCS at UCL in Italian Studies.