It’s strange to respond to a brief you’ve written yourself. A brief you’ve already imagined a few possible outcomes while developing. So when approaching the brief in an effort to appropriately respond to it, how do you dissociate from the process? I’m the target audience, but only a speck in the dust in comparison to the sample size.
Anyway, enough of that. Let’s review the brief. It was wildly painful to develop, so this next step won’t be any easier:
How can virtual safe spaces be utilized to validate the lived experiences of Arab womxn in the diaspora?
Being femme-presenting and Arab in the diaspora is difficult. We’re teetering on the edge of acceptance from our community and our host communities alike. Our feminist plight is wildly misunderstood by one and flat-out denied by the other. However, in the age of the internet, the ability to form our communities lies at our fingertips. This project will explore the potential to develop virtual safe spaces for Arab womxn in the diaspora to validate our lived experiences and acknowledge our unique identities.
Qualitative data on real-life experiences in the form of interviews
Quantitative data on social media usage in the context of community building
Survey to assess feedback on potential ideas pertaining the subject matter
Auto-ethnographic reflections and personal explorations
An exploration in slow and purposeful virtual community building exercises tailored to a global audience of Arab womxn in the diaspora.
An online safe space or a guide on how to build one or integrate yourself into one. The research to be conducted for this project will help determine the outcome that is the best fit for this particular audience.
In an effort not to box myself within the constraints of preconceived outcome ideas, I’ve decided to loosely base the next steps on important keywords extracted from the concept and the context presented in week 1’s research.
Divas and Idols – In the context of feminist discourse pertaining to Arab womxn over the past 100 years or so, popular female figures have been a driving force in the journey of our liberation and freedom of expression. Classical singers like Oum Kalthoum and Fayrouz were not just singers; they were larger-than-life role models and national symbols. They are recognizable through their silhouettes, their stage outfits, and no part of their aesthetic was fixated on a gender representation, but rather how their existence was symbolic for the pan-Arab vision of that time.
Pop-star Punks – The idea of rebellion in music might spur up images of the Ramones, vulgarity, and an aggressive style of DIY fashion. In the Middle East, the late 90s was a time of musical rebellion that was far from the Western aesthetic expected from these anti-social attitudes. Artists like Haifa Wehbe, Ruby, and Nancy Ajram went against the social grain to present a visual and audial barrage of soft, sensual, and overtly sexual media to the chagrin of the region’s conservative mindset. It wasn’t the music that attracted their fans, but rather their boldness to represent their sexuality in a world where that was unheard of for Arab women.
Royal Regal – When Queen Rania of Jordan, once considered a commoner, married into the Royal Family of the Kingdom, onlookers were absolutely enamored by her media presence. Her elegant demure and wonderful taste in fashion was only a few of the reasons why the nation, and beyond, fell in love with her. She also become a strong advocate for health, education, community empowerment, youth, and cross-cultural dialogue. (Wikipedia, 2021) She became a figure to look up to, to strive to, and even dress like.
The Last Egyptian Dancers – Today, the world of Belly Dancing is dominated by Russian and European artists, and while their energy and technique is exciting, it lacks the flair that the Egyptian greats once presented on screen. Originally, the practice, a competitive one, might have also been under public scrutiny when mistaken for inciting sexual intentions, but the greats have maintained that it was intended to evoke a sacred feeling and pure enjoyment of this authentic Egyptian art form. (el-Sharkawy, 2020) Fifi Abdou and Samia Gamal, amongst many others, evolved their careers into acting as well, but their moves still dazzle many Arab women and girls, a practice we enjoy in the privacy of our own homes.
Political Personas – From Laila Khaled to Noura Erakat, there is no shortage of bold, passionate Palestinian women fighting for the liberation of their nation and the freedom of their people. Today, the stance against adversity has no one spokesperson, but rather a slurry of voices that fight back intelligently. The presence of their personas is revered beyond any of their personal lives.
*** For this project, I’ve decided to go in the direction of divas and idols, an aesthetic that might be understood by Arab women wherever they may be, who they are, and what they believe. The essence of nostalgia here assists in making an emotional connection with the audience.
The direction for the outcome that I’ll be experimenting with for this project will take the form of an online community or safe space. In a TedTalk by Jayne Leung on the good or bad of social media, she explains that the way we build communities is no longer constrained by distance or proximity. What was once impossible is now our everyday life. (TEDxTongChongSt, 2020)
“The way we build communities is no longer constrained by distance or proximity. What was once impossible is now our everyday life.”
Virtual space spaces can take many forms: they can be one-sided as a newsletter, or interactive, like a Facebook group. They can be hosted in forums or Reddit boards, or even on private Instagram pages or TikTok accounts. They’re all sparked by a few fearless leaders who will invite their peers who in turn can invite others.
The aim is to properly guide virtual community leaders on how to create this safe space, how to manage it, and any other necessary precautions.
When looking at inspiration for how a guide to starting a community can be developed, I looked at Aman Space, an inclusive artistic community formed to allow its members the freedom for gender expression without alienation or preconceived judgment. Their presence online, which is the main source for their discovery, is gentle and mysterious, safeguarding the identities of those involved in the community.
Some important points must be considered when developing guidelines for potential community leaders, so as to keep it as flexible and adaptable as possible. These are the key points that will be addressed in the guide:
- Who is this community intended for? Your group is (and should be) intended for all Arab women (including trans and intersex women) and non-binary people.
- What is the community about? Your group may specify a language for its community communications, especially if it is pertaining to a city, country, or region.
- In order to keep your communities open and welcoming, all members must adhere to detailed guidelines that should be outlined. Please read and respect them!
With all of this in mind, I will begin with the visual design aspect of this community-building exercise:
The typefaces chosen for the project are Zaatar, created by Boharat Cairo and Hey Porter!. It is a dynamic Arabic typeface abstracted from a mixture of Arabic Ruq’ah and Nastaliq and invokes an impression of retro-futuristic, a perfect contemporary to the hand-drawn text of early album covers. The secondary typeface, Cairo, offers a clean and easy-to-read bilingual solution to the hyper-stylized header.
The selection, derived from early album covers of great Arab divas, gives a nostalgic feel in combination with other visual elements in the overall design concept.
In this example, a banner that can be used as an online group header features bilingual markers: (1) the group title, a fixed one to be recognized globally. (2) a regional marker, indicating the group’s specific city, country, or region it is operating in. The banners are brought together with additional retro elements, like these vintage flower illustrations.
With this visual direction, a variety of solutions for guiding group leaders can now start to be developed.
el-Sharkawy, Y. (2020). Egyptian dancers call for protecting belly dance. [online] Al Monitor. Available at: https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2020/12/egypt-traditional-belly-dancing-campaign-intruders.html.
TEDxTongChongSt (2020). Are social media good or bad? See the future of virtual community | Jayne Leung | TEDxTongChongSt. [online] http://www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY1iNNabFRo [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021].
Wikipedia (2021). Queen Rania of Jordan. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Rania_of_Jordan.