Curator's Statement Haig Aivazian
Movie has the right to childrenSoft strategies of dissent and exercises in gentleness by young filmmakers from the Arabian Gulf. I don’t remember when my father had left us in Lebanon to go work in the Gulf. Crossing from East to West Beirut every day to go to work had become too dangerous and, like many other young men in those days, my father left his beloved behind to fulfill his role as the family’s provider in what was often referred to as “the desert”.
I do however remember very clearly my mother, myself and my sister boarding a large ship to Cyprus, in order to fly to Dubai from there. The year was 1989 (or 1990, I forget). It was on that ship that I recall one of my most memorable cinematic encounters: an erotic Kung-Fu film that some teenagers were watching. My mother was furious.
There were no cinemas in Dubai. Though there were many theatres screening Bollywood films, English and Arabic films were a rarity until the mid-nineties. Cinemas very quickly became social centres where youth, love and the sense of being in tune with an outside world were negotiated.
Even though I have spent significant portions of my life in Dubai, I somehow always associate the place with childhood, and also, though it was a rare luxury, cinema. In fact, one often talks about Dubai and the Gulf at large in terms of youth: a “young country”, a “young economy”, and especially a “young cultural scene”. This is of course when the Gulf is not being framed within the polar brackets of lack or excess.
In response to being asked to put together a program of independent films from this region, it therefore seemed fitting to theme it around childhood.
Most of the filmmakers selected – as well as filmmakers in the region generally – are themselves young and use the idiom of cinema and video in order to examine closely the societies and realities in which they live. The chosen cineastes do so with a layered, complex voice that allows for open-endedness and subtlety.
A large portion of the films use the allegedly innocent gaze of a child, which allows for a critical perspective that eludes detection. This is certainly the case of Erik Sandoval’s Sharq, where a group of boys venture out to the city in search for the perfect football, only to be lost in a maze of a large shopping mall. Others films are more direct in their approach and depict the hardships faced by the youth of the Gulf, so for instance in Saeed Salman al Murry’s Bint Maryam, while the plot follows the perspective of a child, the eloquence and poetry of the discourse cannot be dismissed as juvenile.
In many instances, the geographic setting of the story enables a distancing from the subject at hand. The desert is a frequent location in these films, small villages are often cast as microcosms which become metaphors of the larger world out there in the city, as in Laila Marafie’s Mama, or Amer al Ruwass’s Belooh.
Anggi Makki uses a similar strategy of displacement in Badri? only here, the microcosm is in an urban setting but closed off from the rest of the world, in a gathering of friends in the main protagonist’s basement.
Monira Al Qadiri veils her gender-bending choreography in the language of the mystical and absurd as she tackles the dynamics of the sexes in WaWailah (Oh Torment) while Mohamad Al Tamimi takes on issues of censorship with humor in his blitz animation PG+.
Independent cinema in the Gulf is confronted with daunting challenges, not least being censorship. However, filmmaking has provided a platform to address issues, in a voice that is young and perhaps still awkward, but one that is resolute, courageous and speaks softly.
Born in 1980 in Beirut, Lebanon, Aivazian holds a BFA from Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. In 2005, Aivazian returned to Dubai, his home since the early 1990s, and his subsequent work has explored the complexities that arise between the migration of bodies and that of consumer goods. His most recent work FUGERE (A Series of Olympiadic Moments) was commissioned by the 9th edition of the Sharjah Biennial.
Aivazian has had a 4 year curatorial association with Dubai's The Third Line gallery working on interdisciplinary exhibitions and themed film series. He has published articles and reviews in publications including Bidoun, adbusters and others. Aivazian is currently enrolled at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he is pursuing an MFA in Art Theory and Practice.