exhibition review: habibi funk at d3

source: kickstarter

source: kickstarter

When I first heard of Habibi Funk a year or so ago, I was intrigued. I wanted to know everything behind the brilliant project that re-releases underground music from the Arab world. Luckily for Dubai residents like myself, you can now get an insider view of the project at East Wing Gallery. Habibi Funk is a label headed by Berlin-based DJ Jannis Stuertz who is on a mission to re-compile and release Arab music that never really had its time in the limelight.

I headed to East Wing last week to check out Habibi Funk's first exhibition which will be rolling out across the world this year. I spent a relatively long time going through the stories, photos, records, and old clippings absorbing the journey of Habibi Funk from its early days in Morrocco to where it is now, re-releasing priceless records from across the region. The exhibition was not only perfectly intimate but truly reminiscent of the beautiful time creatives had in the pan-Arab era. The exhibit includes underground music from Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt with interactive displays for sampling records and music videos. 

I know the word underground seems a bit too "westernized" to use in today's Arab cultural context but I feel the word is genuinely reflective of the era. Habibi Funk complies old records that is pretty much unheard of - music from 20th-century Arab bands that rarely made it to the timeless ranks of Umm Kulthom and Abdel Haleem. Basically, the underdogs of the Middle Eastern music scene of the last century, a real underground scene that doesn't apply to the alternative scene of today's Arab fusion. The exhibit made me wonder to what extent today's alternative scene is truly groundbreaking... 

In any case, I highly recommend the exhibition. I met Jannis on his last day in Dubai whilst wandering around the gallery, and I can only say that his passion is infectious and admirable. I asked Jannis how he managed to stay motivated while looking for remnants of the artists he was going after, seeing as it took him years of searching to find the music of Faddoul, a funk artist from 1980s Morocco inspired by the soulful sounds of James Brown. He told me that he never gave up on finding the story, especially since Arab communities are so interconnected, and he knew that eventually, he would find something. Jannis found the family house of Faddoul in Casablanca in 2014, where his three-year search had simultaneously ended the search for Faddoul and began the journey of Habibi Funk. 

With the noise of the Art Season in Dubai this month, Habibi Funk was a breath of fresh air. I especially enjoyed the interactive aspects of the exhibition which is sometimes difficult to find in the premature landscape of arts and culture in our region. I recommend this exhibit for lovers of North Africa, music and those interested in alternative storytelling. 

The Habibi Funk exhibition is on at East Wing Gallery in Dubai Design District until May 2018. More info here. To know more about Habibi Funk you can follow them on instagram  @habibifunk or 



rama ghanem: this month's featured culturalist

I interviewed my sister, Rama, about her most recent projected titled "Girls in Conversation" a photo-journal about what it means to be a woman of color living far away from home, and the feeling of loss that comes with it, amplified by heirlooms left behind. 

Hi Rama! Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a mixed media artist based in London, where I study, and Dubai, where I grew up. I make work about a lot of things - but mostly about feminism and Arab women, Western Pop Culture, transnational identity, and sometimes about my own lived experiences. I often work with various media including photography, time-based work, installation and net art. 

And tell us a little bit about your project

This project was a series of unstructured interviews with women of colour who come from a diaspora background, with questions around their home(s), identity, material items passed down to them as heirlooms, what they might pass down themselves, memory, and creative output. Photographs were taken during and after the interview process.

To what extent does being part of a diaspora group influence how you see the world and in turn your art?

It absolutely influences how I see the world because diaspora is more than physical displacement. There’s a mental disorientation that comes with that shift in environment. Diasporic individuals experience what is called a double consciousness, a term used to describe that fragmented sense of who you are. Sometimes your identity can become a matter of choice and other times (due to inequality) some of us have no choice but to conform to one thing or another. What I find compelling about looking into those layers of identity is seeing what unifies individuals from different diaspora backgrounds, but also the dissimilarities between them. It's interesting to think about how our condition changes in relation to the spaces we occupy and move through, in that sense also, the diaspora are very fluid and alive.  What was beautiful about each of those interviews was the vast difference in cultural experience but also how each of them expressed an attachment and sentimentality to their belongings, which I imagine is particular to people who are familiar with loss.

 It was quite a personal and intimate project. there’s an unstated trust there, when you’re taking pictures of somebody. There’s a vulnerability on my end as the photographer too, because it is my gaze that is imposed on somebody else, and so in a way it becomes about who I am as well. I stopped taking things at face value and recognized that everything is delicately connected to everything else in like for example how the things that belong to you shape your sense of belonging to something else. 

Why photography?

It wasn’t always my choice of medium in much of my previous work but when it came to looking inward and probing around this idea of holding something dear, photographs that you could touch made a lot of sense. I think I’ve actually always had a fascination with freezing a moment in time. As someone who came from a displaced family old photographs were my window into what life could have been like for me if I had grown up closer to my roots. It can be such a potent medium, but I don’t think it’s the aesthetic potential of it that pulled me. Though we’re bombarded with so many images every day, and that oversaturation of beautifully curated content from social media and advertising etc makes it difficult to create something really eye catching because we have almost seen it all. I decided to follow a different approach and to look past the composite aesthetic and try to just give you the person behind it. I don’t think it’s about the images really.

What’s next for you?

I think I’m going to venture further into photography or film. I’m not the type of person who plans my projects in advance, it is always the case for me that I reflect on my daily experiences and am able to express an idea inspired by that experience when it happens.

You can follow Rama's work on instagram here @itsactuallyrama