“The way it currently stands, we as queer Arabs don’t have extensive (if any) documentation of our queer past and tend to refer to the West for reference and history,” explains Beirut born-and-raised photographer, filmmaker and editor-in-chief of Cold Cuts magazine, Mohamad Abdouni. Through both his commissioned and personal work, Mohamad is looking to change this fact, documenting the community he is apart of, and the culture it is beginning to thrive within.
Mohamad has “always been in love with print media and periodical publications,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I remember even at 11 and 12 years old, pre-internet and before eBay and the ease of e-commerce, I used to physically have my parents drive me to the only foreign publication importer in the country, to their actual warehouse, so I can find back copies of magazines that I loved.” Even at this age, he found himself drawn to the photo-based publications; “in that sense, I grew up with a love of admiring photographs and the way they’re laid out in print,” he adds.
As time went on, admiring this kind of work from afar was no longer enough and so Mohamad picked up a camera to make his own photographs and publish a magazine (“or several”) of his own. One such publication that caught our eye is Cold Cuts a periodical photo journal produced alongside art director Tala Safié and visual consultant Charles Nicola, it explores queer culture and the Middle East.
“Although the project didn’t initially start off as being a Queer publication, it quickly evolved into one while putting together the first issue,” Mohamad explains. “It is important to document this important time in Arab queer culture for future generations to come.” This documentation serves witness to this important time, as well as creating an ongoing archive of “the people, the happenings, the eventful and the every day of our community”.
When it comes to moving image, “I honestly fell into it by chance,” Mohamad says. Wanting to add music, spoken word and longer interactions with an audience to his existing photographic work, it seemed a natural progression. One such project began around six years ago: “To cut a long story short, someone I had never met before made a life-changing decision to move to Beirut and be with his family. That person also happened to be a New York drag queen with Lebanese origins who was brought up by his excessively Arab parents in sunny California.” That person turned out to be Charles – his now colleague at Cold Cuts – and the two developed an “incomparable bond”.
“Once your best friend’s a drag queen, it’s only natural to nurture a borderline-unhealthy relationship to drag culture, especially when you find yourself amidst the rise of a movement, documenting the birth of it day by day,” Mohamad recalls. Spending much of his time documenting Charle AKA Anya Kneez, Mohamad computed his footage of the “drag mother of Beirut” into a short documentary titled ANYA KNEEZ: A Queen in Beirut.
Mohamad’s most recent personal work has continued this much-needed documentation in an ongoing series of portraits from his home studio just outside of Beirut. Featuring subjects which are shaping Beirut’s highlight and queer scene, the portraits are other-worldly, making reference to work of Renaissance greats such as Caravaggio and Botticelli. In turn, the portraits recognise the importance of Mohamad’s sitters, capturing them forever as they exist in this momentous time.
Although, of course, aesthetically adept work, the draw of Mohamad’s images and films is in their significance. They tell overlooked and underrepresented stories which might otherwise not enter into the Western consciousness, while simultaneously elevating and normalising these narratives in the Middle East.
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