Hands shoot up, eager to have the microphone as an exciting discussion unfolds in the packed auditorium of the Amricani Cultural Center on November 13. It is the first day of the annual Nuqat conference, titled “The Missing Link: Practicing the Collective Approach” and already there is a contagious optimism in the air, with confident opinions being shared about the creative industries of the Middle East.
The morning began with a talk about the Arabic language – Suzanne Talhouk gave a dynamic presentation about the endangered status of Arabic in schools, media and culture and struck a chord with the audience. Throughout the conference, most bi-lingual speakers chose to present in Arabic and many audience members followed suit. The equal emphasis on expression in both English and Arabic made it a unique conference, loaded with a revolutionary spirit and innovative vision for the future – one can already see that the talks and conversations of Nuqat are going to lead to innovative new experiments in the bi-lingual cultural production of the Middle East.
“Come back to Kuwait and give back to your community. This is your home,” says audience member Djinane Al Suwayeh to after listening to a talk by Ali Khadra of Canvas Magazine, referring to the creative brain drain that occurs in the country when people leave to study abroad and don’t return. Whilst Khadra criticized Western media for its portrayal of Muslims and Arabs in his talk, he also noted that the Arab world seemed to have less interest in its own culture, pointing to the discrepancy in the number of sales that are made of Canvas, his magazine on Middle Eastern art in Europe and North America vs. a considerably lower number of sales in the Middle East.
For many audience members Alanoud Al Sharekh’s talk about Bedouins in Kuwait broke the very loaded silence about cultural identity in the Middle East. She discussed the elitism inherent in the way that Kuwait’s voting districts have been mapped, and the ways this disenfranchises Bedouin populations and identity. Seeing as the conference theme was about collectivity and collaboration, this was a very apt topic to discuss, and one that inspired many attendees to rethink their complicity in the tense politics of the region. Said Equait founder and audience member Faisal Al Fuhaid, “I have Bedouin blood in me … you don’t normally see people speak about Bedouins in a positive light and discuss their impact on the Arab world so it was really refreshing for me to see.”
Misconceptions and stereotypes about Saudi Arabia were also challenged by the likes of filmmaker Ahd Kamel, curators Aya Alireza and Raneem Farsi, creative collective Onquod and the endearing artist Ahmed Mater, all hailing from the Kingdom to discuss their efforts at opening new channels of creative communication between people through art, public interventions and film.
Creative Education and Art Therapy – Social initiatives
Finding avenues for people to express and heal their traumas was also a running message throughout the lecture program, showcasing Zaina Daccache’s drama therapy work in Lebanese prisons and Dr. Amar Behbehani presentation of balancing creativity and mental health. Education initiatives such as the Palestinian organization Campus in Camps and the Beirut-based Creative Space Beirut also shared their inspiration for institutionalizing their respective creative outlets for underprivileged youth. Both organizations spring forth from the belief that design is a universal right and is an essential part of raised standards of living, especially in communities with strained resources such as refugee camps.
Sharing design knowledge and creative expertise were the main tenets of the Nuqat workshops. The Sadu House was transformed into a buzzing hub, where participants were challenged to deconstruct and construct a number of concepts and objects. The first workshop in the Middle East on wearable technology was hosted by Fab Lab and led by Sarah Hermez (Lebanon), as was Jazeera Airways pioneering the way for a design workshop led by Mahmud and Massoud Hassani (Afghanistan). Said Wakim Zeidan, a Nuqat founder and key organizer, “the Nuqat workshops this year more than ever brought together design and the corporate world, achieving our aim of widening the Nuqat’s scope and ability to provide creative education to people in different industries including business and engineering.”
A high level of engagement was reached with the Nuqat sponsors including IKEA, whose workshop led by Younes Duret had a key end goal of supporting local designers by exhibiting their work at the IKEA location in Avenues Mall, as well as being a venue for scouting talent for designing a Middle Eastern line of products. Gatehouse Bank similarly followed through with their corporate social responsibility goals of empowering young entrepreneurs by supporting a workshop on design thinking led by Yara Al Adib. The spirit of Nuqat’s mission to avail opportunities for creative brainstorming, problem solving and execution was materialized and celebrated by workshop leaders and participants. Among the workshop results were IKEA bookshelves turned into a child’s first garden, done by 248am blogger Mark Makhoul.
Nuqat launched an exciting collaboration with 29Letters type design firm from Beirut this year, holding a bi-lingual type competition judged by an international jury of professional type designers. Though no first prizes were awarded, the initiation of what will be an annual competition holds exciting promise for the future of bi-lingual media and communication. Also launched this year at the Nuqat conference was Madeenah, a plaform dedicated to giving cultural tours of Kuwait, activating interest in archiving and experiencing the city for tourists and locals alike. They plan to carry out collective research studies and interactive online maps. Says one of the founders, Deema Alghunaim, “we want people to slow down and get out of their cars to see the city.”
Audience attendance was impressive, with turnout being about half local audiences and half international, with guests from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Canada. Guests hoping to come in from Syria had visa issues and weren’t able to make it, which leaves one with a gnawing sense that for true creative freedom to be achieved, politicians in the Middle East are the ones who would gain the most from attending Nuqat’s conference on collaboration.
What is perhaps most magical about Nuqat is the extent to which it models its own concepts. Inspired by the conference, Al Fuhaid began to “think about mainly getting out of my comfort zone and try to collaborate with people who come from a different background and have a different way of solving problems.” The Nuqat conference itself acted as the “The Missing Link,” helping participants to practice collaboration and bringing together creative practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds to share skills and make connections.