Being an Arab, whether in the Middle East or in born and raised in West, is a Bless or Less? A burden or pride? something to be ashamed of source of ‘happiness’? Well the word ‘happy’ doesn’t really fit into the context… Do you carry the same ‘Arab’ identity no matter where you go & live? Is it labeled as a source of endless judgments by others (westerns or Arabs in West or back home) And is it necessary to live outside your country for whatever reason, to be considered as a second or third citizen (in some cases, resident or stranger no matter how many years you spent in the hosting country) As one can be in his hometown, born and live there, yet struggle to find his / her own identity…
The question is What is Arab identity?!
Two artists, visual Riffat Ahmed & performer Sarah El Hamed collaborate together to begin a journey of identity identification in their project ARA-B-LESS. ARA-B-LESS is an active collaboration initiated by a conversation between the two artists; it is about the representation of their identity as seen by themselves and the Other, as ‘Arab’ born women and having lived in the West, it will launch June 5 with a performance titled ‘Prelude’ at Galerie TALMART, Paris.
They are on a mission to go beyond conventional conversation by documenting and visualising it in multiple mediums. The final product of this project is the realization of a short satirical film which will bring their conversation beyond their physical sphere by entering into a hyper real space i.e. film scenes, depicted frames and popular culture references in challenging their representation within them or lack of place which are in need of reconstruction to be more identifiable with their reality.
This collaboration is a journey for both artists and will evolve in various stages. The first has begun by them both engaging in research, documenting references as well as interacting with other connections (i.e. to engage with third perspective) to assist them in developing and directing the conversation in a scalable and organic manner.
Is it necessary to live outside your country for whatever reason, to be considered as a second or third citizen (in some cases, resident or stranger no matter how many years you spent in the hosting country) As one can be in his hometown, born and live there, yet struggle to find his / her own identity… The question is What is Arab identity?!
Developing on their findings and conversation, they will design a series of performative works presented via multiple mediums i.e. sound, performance, text, video, photo etc which will allow them to synthesize and explore this in/between space they exist in through deconstructing or reconstructing fantasy spaces to a reality (or vice versa).
The film ARA-B-LESS? will be a video essay yet blurring the boundary of fiction and reality in animating their conversation in a satirical and whimsical manner yet with the artists using their selves as vessels to explore the identity of “Arab” as illustrated through the stereotypes they have been or are still conveyed through film, art, literature, etc. In doing this, both artists look to reveal this multidimensional space “in-between” (In / Between Space, as they call it) by deconstructing images present in the collective consciousness and replaying frames by adjusting the parameters that ‘they subtract or add.
Both artists and the roles they play will be ever changing in this project as with the nature of conversation perspectives shift from the role of viewer, subject and the critic.
“Ara-b-less” is a neologism born of a pun on the term “arabness” (Arabism). Two designs hints behind the title “ara-b-less” the first being “ara-BLESS” suggesting that Arab identity is a blessing -to “bless” / blessing-, the second is “arab-LESS” of “less”.
The question in this title is an exploration of the visual representations of Arab identity of the two artists who were born and have lived in Europe, raised by parents from Arab countries. They discuss their value and / or value lost through a visionary art project.
Prelude marks the launch of the ARA-B-LESS project in presenting the initiation of why this conversation began and the journey it is about to embark. It is a performance that will visualise and animate Riffy and Sarah’s conversation beyond conventional norms of simply chatting to visually highlight the notion of entering and leaving the frame of reality to a hyper real space they called the In/Between.
“Vacillating between “Ara-BLESS / Arab-LESS” value added or lost value, they discuss their understanding of identity in this In/between space as well as the meeting and colliding of words they use in realising their identity is not only in being but is perceived by the viewer.
They engage a conversation before this audience through different mediums: sound, image and role play to animate the duality of their roles as well as the confines and freedoms of where their imagination can take them. For more information: click here.
About the Artists
Riffat Ahmed is a visual artist and filmmaker based in London. He comes from a mixed heritage background of Arabic-Bahraini and Bangladesh and was born in Manchester yet travelled around the world from Singapore, Japan, Middle east, New York and Bangladesh before settling back in the UK.
Since graduating from Central Saint Martins school of art in BA (Hons) Fine Art (New Media) Riffat worked on various film projects to generate more production experience as a filmmaker. As well as range of roles and projects from directing music videos, art films, co-producing a feature film that was made entirely in a month, leading film workshops with Manifesta and the BFI, France & Algeria as well as edited video art works for Larissa Sansour, Oreet Ashery and Hassan Hajjaj. (source)
Sarah El Hamed is a French-Algerian Performance artist based in Paris, France. Her career began as a singer and theatre performer and has actively gone onto collaborate and build significant Euro-Maghrebi art network producing various cultural art projects in France, Algeria and U.K.
Her performances explore perceptions of reality, existentialist questions and spiritual quest through scenarios and characters she creates orchestrated in audience participatory setups blurring the boundaries of suspended reality. (source)