GDE740: Week 4 – Diasporic Bubbles

It’s been a wild ride these 4 weeks, and Diasporic Bubbles shaped up to be an entirely different outcome than the thoughts I originally had when going into this project. A big learning lesson for me was letting go of preconceived ideas without allowing myself the time to read and explore, play and ideate. I’m always in a rush, and it’s painfully obvious through my work, especially when I’ve procrastinated to the point where I force myself to rush through a project to meet a deadline.

Originally, the question I started exploring was “How can virtual safe spaces be utilized to validate the lived experiences of Arab womxn in the diaspora?”. Fatayaat al Shataat is an answer born from my personal struggles as an Arab woman living in the diaspora.

Attempting to translate these frustrations and desires through a project that requires collective engagement from a variety of communities puts the concept in a vulnerable place: How can a project built on personal lived experiences be applied to all Arab women living in the diaspora? Would it contribute to something healthy and productive? Can it live and thrive in a variety of versions globally? And most importantly: is it a responsible and sensitive enough response to a shared experience? It’s a personal project after all, and suiting it up to a savior of sorts is not an ideal approach.

The outcome for this concept evolved into a digital toolkit, to be used by community leaders as a guide for building their own virtual spaces to accommodate Arab women in the diaspora. It’s meant to be used in the context of specific geographical locations, like a city, a country, a region, or even more local, like a town district.

There were three important elements for me in this community-building exercise that I wanted to impose on all groups:

  • gender equality,
  • how to combat language/communication restrictions
  • and moderation guidelines.

However, that’s where the problem lies: imposing my personal views on many different groups does not guarantee a productive outcome. Unless potential participants or members personally seek out a community that holds these types of views, they might not be suitable for everyone, especially in terms of moderation guidelines. It’s a top-down approach, that also goes against my own ethics.

Another observation I had was the power of the collective in forming a creative statement against the frustrations of living in the diaspora. The collective mind can be a powerful force in pushing a shared ideology and validating experiences, but to help formulate that starts with collaboration and partnership, and not an individual’s idealistic approach to somehow fixing something with little to no insight on how it might affect others who are dragged into these half-baked ideas.

Feedback Sessions

Lyn, Mid-20s, Syrian/German living in Vienna

“I’m an introvert, and I tend to shy away from the Arab community in my city because I can hardly find like-minded people, especially women. However, I do feel the need for a community where I can speak about food, culture, history, and politics with Levantine/Arab women (no matter their gender id’s, sexual orientations, and religious views) and I think a platform/portal that can safely connect me to such a community would be very useful.

Social Media used to be an outlet to connect with our community, but unfortunately, all we see right now is polarisation, lack of privacy, sexual harassment (ah men), government-operated bots, and cyberbullying. I have noticed myself sharing less and less about my interests simply because I don’t want to get backlashed.

I know this is still a rough prototype as you mentioned, but as a note, I would make the background colors less vibrant to make the logo + menu label elements pop more. Also, I would keep accessibility in mind (Colors, Fonts, button sizes) it shows how much the toolkit is inclusive and takes women with visual/mobile disabilities into account.

I would use a platform that allows the formation of subgroups to allow each user to find people of similar interests easier.

Is it only intended to be an online community? Or can it evolve into an IRL community? (activities and gatherings, organised by the community leaders online to ensure safety)

Zenah, Early-30s, Palestinian/Jordan living in Toronto

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“I think it’s a great idea because there is an absolute nuance to the Arab woman experience in the diaspora and it’s definitely important to talk about it. I thought of something very similar when I did that Youtube video, which you may or may not have seen about my experience as a single Arab woman moving to a country on her own at a later age. Because even that has a nuance to it that is different from say, Arab women who went abroad for university, or moved after they got married. And I think the former category of women will grow.

All of this is to say that I definitely see the importance of such a platform where an expression of all of these different lived experiences has a space to live and breathe. I can see this being a forum where people share questions about their identity and get seen and heard for their lived experiences. I think a lot can benefit from it. A Facebook group could be a great starting point if you want to get it running before the website is 100% set, although the website also looks fantastic.

I love the roses visual. Very nostalgic + very cozy middle eastern blanket vibes while listening to Fayrouz in bed. I love it.

Regarding the name, I like it. I just feel like it might have a bit of a negative or a more painful connotation. Maybe Fatayat Almahjar would be a bit less intense linguistically? Diaspora could also be مهجر and I think it’s less intense than shatat. Especially that this targets a specific intersectional woman in the diaspora which can be a little bit more privileged. I am not sure how to articulate it in English, but in Arabic the impact of shatat is much more painful than mahjar. It’s something to consider. Let me know what you think.”

Petra, Early-30s, Lebanese living in Hamilton, ON

[Paraphrased from a video call]
“This project resonated with me because we are often self-alienating. It’s good to find other like-minded women in our community to connect with.

Do you have a proof of concept? It can start in one location, and then base the learners of the first one to develop a guide for future chapters. To keep the guidelines flexible, offer the original ones and then encourage future chapters to adjust them accordingly for their communities.

Regarding the logo, it should be recognizable to all people so they can easily read what it means; opt for a bilingual logo. Flowers can be the main feature, and the text is secondary. Give users of the toolkit the option to choose from various backgrounds, or add more customizable features.”

Further Reflections

A point that came up during a feedback session was the process in which the visual identity of the group was produced. The identity was produced with a global audience in mind, but I later learned was that my process to develop this identity was actually an autoethnographic approach to the exercise, showcasing elements that I myself perceived as markers of identity for Arab women globally. I feel this is the wrong approach to design, and perhaps a more democratic process can be introduced if this project were to be carried out in the real world.

In fact, these markers might be specific to my own lived experiences, as a Palestinian/Jordanian woman who has been exposed to this type of media. If I think back to the Gulf region or North Africa, a lot of these media figures might not be relevant at all. Other parts of the diaspora may not even look to female figures in Arab media at all as part of their identities, so the overall outcome may feel quite foreign to a lot of people. It’s no secret that I lack a discernible identity myself, and this is reflected in my creative work as well. It does not draw on familiarity and is oftentimes awkwardly perceived as foreign, from both sides.

All in all, I feel this project has been a failure, not quite redeemable in its current state and better left as an imaginary concept, not to be developed any further.

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