Mohamad Abdouni records the untold stories of trans women living in Beirut
The creative’s new book, Treat Me Like Your Mother: Neglected Trans* Histories From Beirut’s Forgotten Past, is a long-overdue documentation of trans history.
- Ayla Angelos
- 11 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
“Professionally, the last three years feel like a bit of a blur, I don’t think I’ve had time to properly process or enjoy any of it,” says Mohamad Abdouni of the moments since we last spoke. After launching his Cold Cuts publication – a periodical photo journal that explores queer culture in the southwest Asian and North African region – the photographer, filmmaker and artist has gone on to have works exhibited in several museums and galleries, most notably at Foam Museum in Amsterdam and the Institute of Islamic Cultures.
What’s more, the creative relocated to Istanbul following the Beirut protests of October 2019, “a move that ushered in beautiful new relationships and creative collaborations,” he adds. He proceeded to work on two new issues of Cold Cuts, which are set to be released in March and September this year. He’s also directed films, campaigns and editorials for the likes of Burberry, Gucci and Puma. Meanwhile, his work has been published in books, including New Queer Photography: Focus on the Margins and KIDZ 2020. Not to mention a cover shoot for Safar’s Power issue, for which he photographed a pro-athlete named Öykü Başar. “Oh, and I’ve been teaching at university as well, which I still find a bit of an oxymoron given my experience with academia in the art sector.” To say he’s been keeping busy would be an understatement.
Despite being “happily” at ease with all of his recent accomplishments, the past year has also provided a few hurdles for him and other Lebanese people alike. He says that the state of matters in the country, both politically and economically, has “rendered everything unimportant”. He adds: “The continuous decline of the state and the country’s economy, not to mention the catastrophic explosion of 4 August, has been constantly putting things into perspective in terms of what really is important at the end of the day.”
Mohamad is a visual chronicler through and through. “I tell stories, or I try to at least,” he says. “It sounds pretty generic, but everything does somehow inspire me, and I try to surround myself with people and things that do.” Besides the more politically charged and activist nature of his work, there are smaller inspirations, too, that tend to bring life to his process. This includes buying “useless trinkets” from markets over the weekend, “that just collect dust on my shelves,” he says. He’s also the owner of many old magazine clippings from 1998, which sit on his walls “going all the way back to my bedroom at my parents’ house.” He adds: “Come to think about it, I might be a little obsessive. I surround myself with things I love to look at; it makes me happy and inherently provides a steady flow of inspiration.”
This obsessiveness transfers to his working day. The artist says he tends to spend an “unhealthy” amount of time in his studio, working a lot more than he’d often like to but allowing himself the odd day off here and there. “I feel out of place because I’m not working,” he says, describing when he does finally take a break. “It’s a vicious cycle but I think that in itself is my creative process.”
Perhaps this is why Mohamad has such a firm grasp on storytelling, as he has a desire and need to direct his lens at those who are often overlooked – capturing queer communities and giving a necessary voice to those who need it most, often in places with high levels of discrimination. His most recent book, Treat Me Like Your Mother: Neglected Trans* Histories From Beirut’s Forgotten Past, released with Cold Cuts, navigates these topics. A collection of stories, archival images and studio portraits, the book records the untold stories of 11 trans women living in Beirut, rewriting the queer history of a war-torn and complex city.
Each of Mohamad’s subjects is between their late 30s and 50s. In focusing on a woman of a certain age, he hopes to demonstrate the levels at which they’ve been forced to the outskirts of society, “pushed to the shadows,” as Mohamad writes. “It’s a project that’s very dear to my heart, and thanks to Helem Lebanon, the Arab Image Foundation, Station Beirut, and Mophradat, this long-overdue documentation of our trans history as a Lebanese queer community will be available in September of this year.”
Treat Me Like Your Mother: Neglected Trans* Histories From Beirut’s Forgotten Past is available to pre-order and you can head to this link to help raise funds for the printing costs.
Mohamad Abdouni: Dolly from Treat Me Like Your Mother, 2019 (Copyright © Mohamad Abdouni, 2019)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.