Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Motorbiking in Qatar

I chose to study the motor biking subculture in depth for this assignment. The reason that they are defined as a subculture is that they share the same values and interests. My interest in this subculture had grown since I had more time to look into this subculture and focus on other elements such as interviewing the motorbike riders. The places that I interviewed the motorbike riders were limited because most of them gathered in the same place. I interviewed a couple in Katara, and one by West Bay. Took photographs of the motorbikes and the motorbike riders themselves. I interviewed four motorbike riders. However, I had to have my brother with me the whole time because as a female in this society, people can look at me negatively. This addresses the gender issue in Doha, how a woman is perceived in this society. A woman cannot simply approach motorbike riders alone, they might think she is making advances at them, which they consider as “flirting” and that is considered to be unacceptable for a woman to do. It was a great experience for me because I got to see the two point of views of the people towards motorbiking. The younger generation and the older generation had completely opposite thoughts on motorbikes. Mostly the older generation saw it as being deviant and the younger generation thought it was kind of “cool.”

motorbikeslast from Sara Al-Darwish on Vimeo.

Female Participation in Equestrianism

This short video shows an insight of what equestrianism means to the Qatari culture and the subculture of female riders. Female horse riders are challenging the societal gender norms in Qatar by conforming to their culture and traditions, yet at the same time, 're-fashioning' what it means to be a woman. 
We should also keep in mind that, treatment of women in Islam has changed according to the patriarchal system and solely because male scholars have interpreted most texts.  This video examines how women have accommodated their role in society and still manage to take part of equestrianism. 

Mahdiyeh from Mahdiyeh on Vimeo.

Monday, December 10, 2012

L.O.T - Rap group in Qatar.

This short video explores the work of a semester long subculture study. I am a fan of Hip Hop and chose to study the rap music scene in Qatar, more precisely a rap crew called L.O.T, which stands for Leaf of Trust. It is composed of 4 young rappers from Egypt and Sudan, and their Qatari Manager.
These young rappers aim to guide society into a better and more optimistic understanding of life. They aim to do so through their music and lyrics. I studied L.O.T by observing them and interviewing them in their own surroundings, which include the home studio they record in and the Student Center in Qatar Foundation. I was very welcomed into their "circle of trust" and got to know them all on a more personal level. This video shows what I have collected from my field work, so sit back enjoy, listen, and watch rap stardom getting raised in this tough and closed minded society.

Final Video: Gym Rats in Qatar

This video explores the emerging Gym Rats and bodybuilder subculture in Doha, Qatar. It features several segments taken from in-depth interviews with different members of the subculture: Saoud, Omar, Mai, Muzammil and Coach Raymond. Interviews and filming took part in the span of a week at different gyms in Qatar including the Al Massa gym, the Recreation Center gym and the Student Center Gym. The focus is primarily on what it means to go to the gym, why people are so obsessed with the gym and why it is such a large part of their life, what they eat and what they do at the gym, and the issue of authenticity and steroids. This video serves as a parallel to my final paper that focuses on the question of how gym rats establish themselves as legitimate members of the Gym Rat subculture in terms of performance practices and authenticity.

Gym Subculture from Caitlin Sewell on Vimeo.

Final Project: The Mother Punchers

This semester we were instructed to observe a subculture in Qatar. The subculture I observed were a group of metal heads; people who have a passion for metal music. The metal heads proved to be a subculture because they stood out and apart from the larger culture in Qatar. Also, they have sets of ideals, beliefs and practices that differ from the dominant culture. The subculture consisted of seven members. However, in the multimedia project I focused on one of the members and his activities. The subculture I studied meet up to “jam” once a week. They’re often seen as deviant by the larger culture so they’ve created a free space to hang out and unwind. I observed, took field notes, attended jamming sessions and interviewed members of the subculture. For my final project I focused on how the subculture resist the culture in Qatar. They resist through playing music, writing songs, dress and alienation. They subculture are aware that some people associate them with being devil worshipers and/or troublemakers. Do to the clash between their way of living and the conservative culture in Qatar the subculture feel shunned out. Although the project took me out of my comfort zone I’m fortunate to have interacted with such a great group of people who have taught me a lot.

J pop in Qatar

Through out the semester in my Youth Culture in The Middle East class, we were asked to locate a subculture. In a country as small as Qatar, one would be surprised to find subcultures such as the one I made the clip below about. They are a group of girls who are dedicated to their interest in Japanese manga, anime, Japanese Drama and music! As a result they study Japanese in order to understand what their favorite characters or singers are saying. Through their consumption of Japanese pop and their studies of the Language at Qatar Easter Language Center, the girls adapt Japanese style and manners. I hope this video that was shot at the center and at Dana’s house, one of the subculture members, would give you an idea about how the subculture is.
Try to enjoy it!

Subculture Project: Women's Cricket Team

This video is about the Qatar National Women's Cricket team. For the project, we studied the interactions, the performance practices and the cultural resistance of this small group of female Cricket players in Doha. The video was shot at the Qatar Cricket Association's (QCA) Cricket ground, that is located in the Industrial Area in Qatar. We attended a practice session and a championship game to collect our material for this particular video. We focus on the various different performance practices such as the dressing, the language and styles etc and we also look closely at the means of cultural resistance. i.e. form, medium, interpretation and the activity. It's interesting to see how the styles and actions of the team in some ways really unique to themselves and the interactions that they have despite their varied backgrounds are really interesting to watch. Also note the relationships that exist within the team and the interaction between the coaches and players in the video. Hope you enjoy it!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Heavy Metal in Pakistan - Final Class Project

Heavy Metal in Pakistan - Final Project from Hassan Asif on Vimeo.

This video features three of the active underground heavy metal acts in Pakistan: Dionysus (Lahore, Death/Doom Metal), Takatak (Lahore, Groove Metal) and BlackHour (Islamabad, Thrash Metal). The video includes small extracts from the in-depth interviews conducted over a period of one year. In addition to these three bands various other heavy metal performers and online bloggers were interviewed to give this study a well-rounded approach. I also attended various performances and jam sessions of these bands. This research aims at studying how heavy metal is re-contextualized in Pakistan as a genre and as a social phenomenon. The analysis that is conducted in the written paper shows that, heavy metal music in Pakistan is essentially elitist in character and these musicians adopt/prefer this genre over other available options primarily because of its foreign-ness. These performers treat heavy metal as a labor of love, with no possible economic, or even cultural gains. The distinctly non-local nature of this kind of music allows the Pakistani youth, both performers as well as the audience, a means to craft and perform temporary alternate identities in the highly polarized Pakistani culture. In case of heavy metal, “foreign-ness” first restricts the access to the genre to a particular social class on the one hand, and re-contextualizes and transforms it during reproduction in an alien land on the other hand.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mighty Jokerz

During the Doha Tribecca Film Festival, we came across a group of very talented B-Boys. After talking to them some more, we realized their lifestyle really defines what a subculture is. Check out our video below to learn more about the B-boys and B-girls that make up the Mighty Jokerz:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Qatari Weddings

For this active blog, I chose to write about a traditional Qatari wedding I attended this weekend. The wedding was especially interesting because it had elements of tradition, but also introduced new concepts and broke through some cultural barriers.

Usually, Qatari weddings are segregated events. The males celebrate with the groom and his family in a “Majlis,” where they enjoy a variety of traditional dishes, desserts and endless supplies of tea and coffee. The males also preform a traditional dance with the swords, known as “Al 3ardah” to mark the marital celebration.

On the other hand, the females celebrate in a fancy hotel ballroom where they enjoy showing off their soiree dresses, taste in jewelry and beauty skills. Usually, the girls arrive wearing the traditional “abaya”, but once they are past the security check point and their smart phones are confiscated, they head to the nearest washroom to touch-up themselves and put away the abaya to reveal what’s underneath.

In the ballroom, one can expect to see catwalk of all the latest designer dresses and trends. Young girls, dolled up, gather with their girlfriends and strut their stuff. Meanwhile, older women are seated with their friends to enjoy some time together. This is every girl’s time to shine! Many mothers take this opportunity to scan the available bachelorettes for their sons, and the girls know it!

An array of beautiful, carefully selected flowers line the dance floor stage and
“Kosha” where the bride and groom will later be seated.

Another common trend seen in weddings is the presence of a male singer, who performs live, but is located in different room in the hotel. He sings traditional and new wedding songs that are simultaneously broadcasted into the ballroom. The girls take to the dance floor and perform.

One can argue, that weddings are the perfect opportunity for girls to demonstrate resistance through performance. They utilize this an opportunity to show their love for fashion and beauty. This is what one of the young girls attending the wedding had to say, “Weddings have become a fashion statement. Literally, girls will go all out and splurge so much to look good on this one night because they know everyone is watching and judging.” This is a perfect example of a situation where the performance takes place behind closed doors.

The wedding last weekend was different because the bride and groom entered the ballroom together and the groom stayed in the female-populated room for more than an hour. Although women are warned that a man is about to enter and do cover up, it was shocking that the groom stayed for that long. Also, a male band entered the ballroom and sang “Zafeh” songs to the bride. Some older women took to the stage and danced with them, while others showered them with 1 Qatari Riyal bills to request songs.

This scenario is not common in Qatari weddings, but with globalization and the modernization of the state, more and more girls are stepping out of their shell and trying to deviate from the parent culture.

Since the study of subcultures is usually dominated by men, making it difficult to find analysis on female interaction. This can be portrayed in the example of the wedding because all action takes place behind closed doors. Women tend to be more cautious in public, whereas they feel comfortable showing off their styles and dance moves in private spaces. Also, Ken Gelder argues that females are usually on the consumer end of the spectrum, and that can be seen in how they have created their own subcultures by adopting those that are more common and mainstream in the rest of the world, but not in theirs.

For obvious reasons, I couldn't take my phone or camera in to take pictures and therefore do not have any original photos to share.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Qatar 2022: A form of cultural resistance?

Well, I apologize in advance if the title is misleading, so let me clarify what I actually mean by the title itself. By cultural resistance, I intend cultural resistance to the stagnant situation of the Middle-East; where no major world sporting event has taken place in the last few decades (with the exception of the Doha Asian Games 2006). In this post, I'm going to analyze the move to organize the FIFA World Cup in 2022 in Qatar using the various means of cultural resistance.

Looking at the history of middle-eastern countries, particularly that of GCC countries, one can observe that there haven't been any major world sporting events in the past. Qatar has been the front runner when it comes to bidding for the organization of such events. The Doha Asian Games in 2006 was perhaps the largest sporting event organized in the GCC till date. Why has there been a lack of such events in the past in this region? Maybe it's just that the countries were not ready for it from the infrastructure point of view. Or maybe, the countries weren't ready for it culturally?

In terms of infrastructure, there are a few cities that are equipped with great facilities. For instance, Dubai has always been the leading city when it comes to the development of buildings and stadiums etc.

                                          File photo of Dubai City in 2011

 Saudi Arabia has some of the largest football stadiums in the area and spends huge amounts yearly on their local club leagues. In my view, it's always been the cultural aspect. There have always been doubts about the strong cultural exchange that happens in such world class events and the locals were worried about the morals and values that exist in the traditional Islamic society in the GCC. In the past, we have seen various Football world cups being held around the globe. It is a huge spectacle that consists of not just Football, but also a lot of forms of entertainment, recreation and travelling are associated with it.

Qatar, I believe is attempting to resist to this cultural resistance that all other neighboring countries put up. It takes a lot of courage and ambition to bid to organize a FIFA World Cup and Qatar has done a great job by  accomplishing this. As we discussed earlier this week in the Duncombe reading, cultural resistance has 4 major means: Content, Form, Interpretation and Activity.

In terms of content, Qatar's bidding committee spent a lot of time and money focusing on the importance of organizing the event. The various presentations that were organized can be seen as the content of this cultural resistance. Along with it, the various proposals, documents etc. can all be categorized as the content.

Qatar 2022 Bid CEO, Hassan Al-Thawadi delivering a keynote at an event

 In terms of form, the medium of communication is really important to note. The various advertisement campaigns and television ads etc. are examples of forms of cultural resistance to the otherwise bland and to some extent conservative culture. Interpretation is where all the controversy kicks in. Different people all over the world interpret signs and symbols differently. Some people were really worried about the associated culture shock in the form of excessive alcohol consumption during the world cup and indecent dressing styles.

                              Sweden's soccer fans drink beer and sing at the Euro 2012 fan zone in Kiev
Sweden's soccer fans drink beer and sing at the Euro 2012 fan zone in Kiev

Others were concerned about how Qatar's values would be overshadowed by the western styles and values. However, it is through their activities that the bidding committee was able to successfully manage kinds of views on this issue. The bidding committee ensured the citizens that this growth would be really beneficial and that the event would be organized keeping in mind the cultural preferences of Qatar as well. From a sociological perspective, this balance between cultural preferences of the locals and the visitors is what Qatar will have to work on in the coming years.

We also touched on the importance of politics in culture and it's important to note here that the Bid for the 2022 World Cup was supported strongly by the political heads of the state.


The final presentations were attended by the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Shiekh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and we also witnessed the presentation being delivered by Her Highness Shiekha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Misned.

The below video shows the celebrations that erupted at Carnegie Mellon University's Qatar campus after the announcement was made.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The (Blind?) Glorification Behind Modernization

My parents and I have always had an interesting relationship to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, I love and cherish them greatly. However, when it comes to seeing eye-to-eye on certain matters, a clashing does occur. I have never wondered or gave the topic a second thought until Phil Cohen’s ‘Subcultural Conflict and Working-class Community’ was assigned as a reading for class last week.

In order to explore some tensions behind parent and youth cultures I decided to visit my mother’s old house. Forty years ago, my mother lived, with her family, in Musheireb - as did many of the locals in Qatar. It was where a strong community once lived. Regardless of the poor state the inhabitants of the area had a strong bond. I’ve noticed that many of my father’s friends, including my dad, are able to speak Persian and Indian. This is because most children that lived in that close community played outside and bonded on a day-to-day level.

While exploring the area of Musheireb with my mother I can sense the personal attachment she has for the area, even though she hasn’t lived there for twenty-five years.
Around twenty-five years ago the locals began to move out of the area. “Gradual depopulation” was evident at the time. The government bought some of the houses to concentrate on “building new estates.” An example of this would be the expansion and reconstruction of Souq Wagif.

Modernization has its advantages of course; redevelopment brought more opportunities and bettered the “material conditions” of many. However, a clash between parent culture and youth culture is somewhat present. Traditions of the past seem to no longer or rarely exist. When my parents speak of their childhood there is less emphasis on material consumption and more on how strong their community was. The different lifestyles that their children have and the one they had years ago differ to a great extent. It is only natural that parents worry about the BBM lifestyle and the vast changes that seem to swirl around them. The ideology of spectacular consumption and the traditional ideology of production seem to clash. There is a great emphasis on consuming products, especially with some of the youth culture. Also, there seems to be less interest in producing as opposed to consuming. Some of the youth culture in Qatar seem to have “weaken links” in relations to “historical and parent culture.” However, some events taking place in Qatar seem to try to reconnect youth to traditions of the past. For example, on Tuesday November 13th, I attended a Dhow event that took place in Katara. It showcased the traditions of the past and had mini stalls that show how pearl diving was and fishing was conducted. The event could be trying to reconnect and educate youth about past times and also give the parent culture a trip down memory lane.

It leaves me to wonder how things will be in twenty-five years. The thought is almost haunting.

Hijabizing Graffiti

In this week's class, we discussed about cultural resistance and used Banksy's example to showcase cultural resistance. For this particular blog post, I will be analyzing the work of another graffiti artist, Princess Hijab, from the perspective of culture resistance.

So, who is Princess Hijab? Some refer her as the muslim sister version of Banksy while others claim her to be the founder of hijabism movement. Princess Hijab is an anonymous 20-year-old guerilla street artist based in Paris, who began her “noble cause” of attempting to hijabise advertisements in 2006. She does this by using spray paint and a black marker to cover women’s faces and bodies in ads, or by pasting “hijab” over models displayed in posters and billboards in the streets of Paris. However, it is unknown whether she wears a hijab or if she is even a Muslim.

Her profile page on Art Review states that, "Princess Hijab explores notions of space and possible types of representation, contrasting the normative representations of the public sphere with her personal iconoclastic approach […] She is known for her subversive work within the public space and for her “diy” and “grrl” attitude." She had initially started her work as a way of resisting the mainstream and sexist consumerist culture. In other words, the advertising culture is the dominant/ parent culture and the hijabized graffiti art is the subculture. Many people have also associated her art as way of expressing against the hijab ban in France. However, in one of her rare online interviews, she mentions," My work is nothing to do with the veil ban in France. I’ve repeatedly stated: No, that is not my message, neither in the form, nor in the content of my stuff. I started working in 2005 [before the ban was imposed] on top of that.The content of my art is more directly related to our archetypes, to the collective unconsciousness, our intimate reactions, to the closed space of the Metro and the street."

Cultural resistance comprises of 4 forms - content, form, interpretation and activity. The content of the message is aimed to attract people’s attention to what usually is unnoticeable For example, by drawing niqab on billboard models, Princess Hijab has attracted the world’s attention to the wall. Secondly, for this case, street art is the means (the medium) for culture resistance. According to her," Street art is how I build my universe, giving form to my imaginary representations. Paris - the city, the identities, fashion and society- it offers me nearly inexhaustible inspiration. It nourishes my urban expression". The interpretation part is related to the society and how they interpret the modern mainstream and consumerist culture. Activity refers to the art of graffiti, in this case, the black spray paint symbolizing the veil on poster models that attracts the attention towards those ads.

At the beginning, her art received negative reactions in the public. But now, however, Prince Hijab's guerrilla street art has gained widespread popularity and has been featured at several art exhibitions, including one in Norway recently.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cheb Khaled and Pitbull: Rai and the World

Cheb Khaled’s latest studio album, C’est la vie, was released in September this year. The album features signature Khaled songs such as Wili Wili that are slow and catchy, reminiscent of hits like Aicha and also songs like Hiya Hiya which are upbeat dance tracks similar to previous chart toppers, Didi Didi.
Most of the songs on the album consist of the quarter-tone notes (Langlois pg.265). These are a rather rare feature in Rai music considering the element of fusion with Western instrumentation. The use of the derbukka (goblet drum) is also prominent in some of the songs on the album.
Khaled has followed the trend of merging the local and global and ‘East’ and ‘West’ (Langlois, pg. 259) in this album. This sort of musical style is not new in the Rai musical scene where previous experiments by artists like Cheb Mami and Sting have proved to be very successful in the form of hits like Desert Rose. This particular type of collaborative art between the different regions has elevated the status of the Rai music scene in the ‘World Music’ business. Khaled’s song Hiya Hiya in this new album, is in line with the tradition mentioned above. The song features Pitbull, who is a hip name in the world dance music scene. Pitbull’s musical affiliations and marketing strategies are interesting to note here because he uses various alcoholic beverages as elements of product placement in his videos. The implications of this kind of collaboration with an international artist like Pitbull on Rai music will be an interesting subject to study. Previously collaborations between the Rai music producers and the ‘West’ have also been seen as having certain political connotations. An example is Rachid Taha’s song Barra Barra that was featured in Ridley Scott’s film, Black Hawk Down (Swedenburg pg. 183). Critics comment that this application has relevance to the political contexts of that time, that is, the Iraq war. These kinds of examples are recalled as the ‘cultural resistance’ feature notably present in the original Rai music forms. The joint production with Pitbull can also be regarded as a return to the roots of the Rai music that goes with its association with spaces such as nightclubs (Langlois pg. 260). However, such premature conclusions are inadequate, as a confluence of forces such as globalization, glocalization and cultural hybridity are at work here. This album presents a unique situation in terms of the merging of East with the West. But this phenomenon is not entirely new as pointed out above. It is a definite recommendation for those who want to get a sense of the typical Rai dance tunes sprinkled with English verses sung by Pitbull at different points, leading the music to be relevant across different cultures.

Musheireb Heart of Doha

For this active blog post I decided to revisit an area of Doha that I had not been to in a while, and to check on its development. In our sophomore year as journalism students we were stationed in the area of Musheireb and reported on the different issues that the community was facing.
Before I delve into a more sociological analysis of the Musheireb community, I will touch briefly on the history of the area. The Musheireb area is located behind Souq Waqif, close to the Al Kout Fort, which was built in 1917. It is part of the area that made up the founding city of Al-Bida and is the area where Al Kahraba Street is located (the first street in Qatar to have electricity and be fully lit). As this area was the beginning of the capital city, it had many traditional buildings and families that had built their lives around the fishing and pearling industry. After the discovery of oil, the economy flourished and the capital shifted across the corniche and adopted a more modern approach. Many of the more historical buildings and neighbourhoods were forgotten or destroyed to make way for more aesthetic buildings to celebrate the country’s new found wealth. Some argue that this destruction of what appears to be the original capital city of the country is why there is not a strong sense of history.
The reason I wanted to discuss the issue of Musheireb, and actually went there to see how it has changed, is that it relates to readings discussed in class such as that of Phil Cohen’s reflections on subcultural conflicts and the working-class community, and also readings relating to cultural and political resistance. After the Qatari families moved out of Al-Bida and Musheireb, it became inhabited mainly by south-Asian bachelors who live and work in the area doing blue-collar jobs. This created an interesting mixture of culture, as it is such a close community full of different types of small shops, ethnic restaurants and some very strange houses. Walking down the streets it felt more like being in a remote town in Nepal or India, than it did being in one of the richest countries in the world. Some of the houses from the olden days are still intact and some of the architecture is refreshingly different. However, the reason our journalism class was even reporting there in the first place was due to Msheireb Properties, a company that has taken a large portion of the community, and is in the process of changing it into a ‘luxury community’ with townhouses, designer shops, restaurants and other living spaces and using various communications strategies to make their goals known. Their aim is to “bring people back to their roots – to make Doha unique and rediscover a sense of community and togetherness”.
Although I commend the passion of those who wish to transform the country into a thriving hub of modernity, our readings on the transformation of East London made me think of the repercussions of such a change. We can examine this from the point of view that after the influx of wealth into the country, the older generation was more reluctant to move from their homes but the younger generation was eager to create and express a difference from their parent culture and yet still maintain an identity with them. This can be seen as the youth of that generation buying into the consumer culture, moving out into larger houses and more spread out areas, buying landcruisers and all things luxurious, while still maintaining the traditions of their forefathers, some even holding onto the seafarer habits. While this isn’t necessarily a subculture, it is still evident as a split from the parent culture and the issues between this new culture and the parent culture most likely caused a weakening of historical and cultural continuity. This conflict of tradition versus modernity came from the end of a particular community and the emergence of new communities all around Doha including a new south-Asian community in the abandoned areas.
Now, the south-Asian community is being forced to leave the majority of the community and move to places such as Barwa Village, far away from the city, their customers and their friends. This relates back to the reading as it is mentions that the improvement of material conditions can destroy the functions of the communal space and destroy traditional patterns of socialization. I returned to the areas where we used to report and found that the majority of the shops, with shopkeepers we knew and people who we spoke to, are now cornered off for construction. An entire section of the community and part of the Kahraba Street (Panasonic Square) has been demolished and turned into a massive building site. More and more shops were closed and I couldn’t find a single shopkeeper that I knew. Most of the people I approached didn’t want to talk about it as when we were reporting, the issue was relatively new, but now with the looming presence of such a huge organization, I am sure that nobody wanted to speak a word of resistance. This alludes to the reading about cultural and political resistance. The power in this situation lays with the government who make choices on what gets built where, in this case, although the working class has created a comfortable existence in their own corner of society, they have no citizenship rights and their sponsors get the final say, so they have no chance of resisting or revolting against the decisions that impact them.
It is clear that in this on-going quest for modernity and to somehow create a history through “finding a new essence of Qatari architectural tradition”, the urban regeneration has, in this case, broken many community and family ties.

Monday, November 12, 2012

From Art to Politics!

Politics or art? This art work was sprayed by Banksy on the apartheid wall in Palestine. Banksy is a street artist. Street artists use different mediums to show their art in the streets. Banksy’s real identity is anonymous. Yesterday, I watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which is a documentary about street art and Banksy. What does the whole movement of street art mean? And why is significant?

The narrator stated, “Street art was poised to become the biggest counter cultural movement since punk.” While the film is supposed to be about Banksy, it ended up being about the person who was planning to make the film. He calls himself Space Invader. He started by taking videos of the street artists. Later, he becomes part of the street art subculture. A subculture is a group of people who share a style, language, type of music, activities and beliefs. He becomes involved in their activities and later performs street art himself. But, what do Space Invader and the street artists have in common?

Space Invader makes his living through selling used clothes. He would buy them cheap and see people paying lots of money to buy a piece from him because it would have a designer name. The street artists are opposed to consumerism and the hegemonic ideology of the people, which prevent them from seeing the things going on around them. The concept of hegemony refers to the way people perceive some things as common sense. Hegemonic ideas are ideas that most of the people believe and see as being the common sense ways to think or behave. The hegemonic ideology of most of people is to consume products and to understand the world in the way it is shown through media. As a shopkeeper, Space Invader has understood how consumerism is stupid. People were paying a lot of money just because of the brand’s name. Street artists and Space Invader share the same belief about consumerism.

Through street art they perform a type of cultural resistance. Stephen Duncombe perceives cultural resistance as “culture that is used, consciously or unconsciously, effectively or not, to resist and/or change the dominant political, economic and/or social structure.” The definition can be seen visually through street art.

(Screenshot from the film)

The sculpture above was made by Banksy. It is a resistance against the social hegemonic idea of respecting a national symbol that does not mean anything. Banksy uses the street art culture to change the way people perceive symbols. Whether Banksy was conscious about the message he is sending or not, and whether his art would be affective or not, doesn’t matter. Either ways, it is considered cultural resistance.

There are four means of cultural resistance, content, form, interpretation and activity. The content of the message is to attract people’s attention to what they are not seeing or noticing about the worlds around them. For example, by drawing on the apartheid wall in Palestine, Banksy attracted the world’s attention to the wall. The form is concerned with the medium of the message. Street art was always in streets and many people did not understand its purpose. The form is a typical street wall, but it took a step forward by appearing in the film. The different mean allowed the street message to be clearer. The interpretation part is related to the society and how they interpret the art. Before I watched the documentary, I interpreted street art as something beautiful, which is ruining public property. Activity is not only the performance of street art, but also the meaning behind it. When they are drawing on public property they are attracting attention to what people are not seeing. An example of this is the street art on street ads. It reflects the street artists’ belief about being opposed to consumerism.

(Screenshot from the film)

Banksy had an art exhibition in Los Angeles. He brought an elephant that was colored with the same colors of the wallpaper. In the documentary the narrator says that the purpose of the camouflage elephant was to show “how easy it is to ignore the things right in front of us.” Then he continues talking about how the people in media saw “what’s right in front of them.” The reporter in the next shot was talking about animals’ rights.
In the Youth Culture in The Middle East class, we discussed how today’s culture could be tomorrow’s commercial object. This is what is happening with the street art culture. The street art found its way to art auctions, where people were doing what the art itself was opposed to; consuming art in the form of a “commodity.” Spending lots of money just because this artist made this piece of art. Banksy himself comments on this issue saying, “It is not about the money.”

I’m a fan of art that appreciates beauty. I understand and relate to Banksy and the street artist’s resistance. I was an art student, and I didn’t like the way people try to tell others how to see art. It is like a project under construction to spread a hegemonic idea of what art should be. It aim is to teach people to ignore the beautiful art in front of them because it doesn’t follow certain rules. It also encourages consumerism and seeing art as a commodity and doing it to please people. Street artists do art because they like it and they have a message behind it. This is why they never reveal their real identities. For them it’s about the art and the message, and not the fame or the money.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Al MuQanaa' - Qatar's Man in the Mask!

In the streets of Doha, I came across Ahmed Mohammad Al Jaber. He is also known in Arabic by his alias, Al Muqanna'. As we grew up in Qatar, the sight of his cars and motorbikes always drew our attention outside of our portable video games, and we'd peek from our cars to take a look at this enigma. During my sophomore year, I filmed a short documentary about him, but for this blog I met up with him and found he was exactly as I had last seen him!

Al MuQanaa' posing with one his motorbikes!

Al MuQanaa’ earned his name after participating in a car race, many years ago in Qatar, wearing a “batman” shaped face mask. Since then he has been known as the “man in the mask.” He spends his days in his Majlis, which was granted to him as a gift from the Emir. In a secret parking, he also keeps his treasured cars, each which he uniquely hand-designed and pampers every day. He has three cars and a few motorbikes.
Al Muqanaa' talking about his cars

Al Muqanaa’ is a perfect example of subculture in Qatar. His creativity has encouraged more people to follow in his footsteps and design cars to entertain pedestrians. “I like that there are other people who appreciate the art of cars,” he said about the people who have taken the initiative to decorate their cars like his.
Everyday at sunset, summer or winter, fall or spring, Al MuQanna takes one of his “rides” out and drives along the popular streets of Doha. He blasts his favorite Iraqi tunes on maximum volume, rolls down the windows and embarks on his journey. Al MuQanaa’ is known for his distinct look, long hair and a fu Manchu mustache. According to Ken Gelder, a subculture is composed to two symbolic subsystems, the plastic form, and the infrastructural form. Al MuQuanna’ has a distinct sense of style and he listens to a certain genre of music. These elements constitute the “plastic” subsystems. Moreover, he has developed a ritual of going out at sunset or any special occasion, such as Eid or National Day to celebrate. “The Emir used to let his children ride in my car when they were kids,” he said. Also, clearly, he is resistant to innovation because he has maintained the exact same style and look for decades.
Al MuQanaa’ belongs to a subset of society, that is distinguished by unique aspects of its clothing, style and "performance practice". Most subcultures have a unique practice of performing their “art.” In the case of Al MuQanna, it is taking his cars to the street and driving around. “Nothing makes me happier than to see the children smiling from their cars, and the people look at me in disbelief, but I know they enjoy it.” Although in many cases, the subcultural performances take place behind closed doors, he takes it out into the public! The purpose of his art is to remind everyone about how Qatar is is safe and welcoming and break barriers between foreigners and locals through entertainment!

2 of his cars in the "secret parking"

New car he plans to decorate soon.

He aimed to remind everyone of how safe and welcoming Qatar is through art! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

If I play video games does it mean that I am part of a subculture?

For this blog post, I decided to explore whether or not playing video games means we are part of the video gamer subculture?
I decided to look into the video gamers that I know and see in NU-Q.
A lot of my friends at NU-Q play video games, not at a regular level though, their love and commitment to video games reaches such a high level, that they buy all types of games ranging from "Mario cart games" to "Assassin Creed" on all types of gaming technologies such as PS3, Game Cube, PC, Wii etc...

 NU-Q students even created a club called Just Play to share their love of games with the rest of the student body.

In sociology, subculture is defined as a smaller group within a larger group that can be differentiated by some unique aspects of its behavior, such as clothing styles, linguistic usage, beliefs and values. A lot of the gamers I know wear clothes that have games characters drawn on them, such as Mario, Zelda, and even Pokemon.
Although their commitment to games is large, it is not as large as the vampire gamers that we studied in class, where they would actually re-act the game, and talk and actually change their looks to fit their favorite game.

A performance is the execution or accomplishment of work, acts or feats, and it is an action or proceeding of an unusual or spectacular kind. Practice is the actual application or use of an idea, concept, belief or method. It was quite a performance to see them play and get so into the game, one would even get afraid and stress out if they are close to "death", close to loosing the round. 

I believe the actions of the video gamers I hanged around with, are defined by the concept of dramaturgy. They get so into the game that they yell, and even get pissed if they loose, and when playing with one of the students, she kept wanting rematches until she redeemed herself.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Qatari Families losing Its Ties

Qatar has changed over the past couple of years. It changed in terms of its traditions and the development of the country. Some might argue that this change is positive and some might argue that its not. However, if we look at the family links of Qatar today and Qatar 60 years back, the change is quite vast. In the olden days of Qatar, all Qatari family members lived close by, they all lived in the same street, and their houses were stuck to each other. In cohen’s reading, he mentions that the modernization had resulted in the separation of family ties in East England. This also happened in Qatar, the families are not as close as they were. You rarely find families in Qatar that live next to each other or are in the same area. There are some today, in compounds but they usually separate when they get married. This is a generational conflict, because the way the older generation was raised is different than how people of today are raised due to the family ties. Personally, I have some cousins that I barely know. However, my parents for example their cousins are very close to them, they all lived next to each other, and were 24/7 with each other. This issue also causes the weakening of historical and cultural continuity. This is because it disperses the family ties in the Qatari culture and the parent culture itself. For example, one of the people I interviewed in Khretiyat area, said that because of the new highway and the modernization of Qatar, her family had to disperse. She now has family near Villagio, Landmark and Al-Khor. Another Qatari female said that she feels like she is not close to her family the way her parents are towards her grandparents. She talks about how she was not raised around her family and cousins the way her parents and grandparents lived. She showed me some pictures, of how different their lives were. You can tell that its very diverse now because when i went around West Bay, there were Qatari families living with Western neighbours. This never really would've happened years back. You can tell the difference of the people from the neighbourhood how its being more dispersed and different than how it was before. From Past knowledge, it is clear that subcultures are formed in reaction to social or economic or political changes. In this case, Qatar’s development and modernization has broken family ties
. We can use Cohen’s argument that the modernization has resulted in the loss of family relations.

Let’s Play the Subculture Game

Souq waqif in Doha, Qatar, is one of the most common places residents go to enjoy traditional food, ranging from Syrian, Italian, Iranian and Lebanese, and to enjoy a good shisha in one of the numerous cafes and restaurants.Souq waqif is a main attraction for tourists because of its “authentic” architecture, souvenir shops and the random stands where people sell handcrafted ornaments or homemade food. The people who work in the stands dress in traditional clothing and focus at the activity they have to engage in.
In front of Damasca, a man dresses in Indian attire sells jewelry, and makes bracelets in front of you if you want a particular design. He is dressed in a specific clothing style and he has particular way of talking, as he knows terms that are specific to the jewelry-making community, but is this man part of a subculture?
In sociology, subculture is defined as a smaller group within the larger society that can be differentiated by some unique aspects of its behavior, such as clothing styles, linguistic usage or beliefs and values. To answer my previous question, no, just because the man dresses and speaks in a different way, does not make him part of a subculture, but he does engage in a performance of some sort. If I were to consider a group of professional jewelry makers in Qatar who have designs that have demonic symbols on them, then that would be a subculture. That would be because they would be going against the parent culture of religion, and because subcultures are always in some way non-conforming or dissenting.
A performance is the execution or accomplishment of work, acts or feats, and it is an action or proceeding of an unusual or spectacular type. The people who work at the different booths at Souq Waqif are all part of a performance, but their actions could be better defined by the concept of dramaturgy. The front stage consists of them selling traditional clothes, food or ornaments and perhaps making them in front of their audience, as they are dressed in traditional clothing and speak about their craft very specifically. Back stage however, there is all their suppliers and business partners who actually equip them with the finished products.