Lunch with Arabic| MA Narrative Environments

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A Project by

Mariam A. AlGhamdi

LunchwArabic 2017

MA Narrative Environments Central Saint Martins June 2017 University of the Arts London

This book is intended to give an impression of Lunch with Arabic event by showcasing key elements of its design and process.

Mariam Abdulrahman AlGhamdi

“The evil that is on the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding� ALBERT CAMUS


‫نحن نقرأ لنبتعد عن نقطة الجهل‬ ‫ال لنصل إلى نقطة العلم‬ ‫عب ّاس محمود العقاد‬





AC K NOW L E D G M E N T ٤٣ ‫األعراف‬

ّ ّ َ َ ُ *‫وقالوا الحمدلله الذ ي هدانا لهذا ومما كنا لنهتدي لوال أن هدانا الله‬

The praise to Allah, who has guided us to this. We could not truly have been led aright if Allah had not guided us.

Thanks to everyone who helped this idea see the light. My father, my mother, my husband and my lovely sisters for their endless support. My great friends; without them I would be a different person. My tutors and instructors who were very patient in answering my questions. My mentor, who offered her time and experience to help me throughout this journey. My great collaborators who supported and worked hard to deliver this project at its best. Finally, special thanks for those who answered my questionnaires, attended the workshops and helped in facilitating the prototype event and the recent one. This could not be done without you.

INTRODUCTION Lunch with Arabic is an immersive sensory event employing the metaphor of dining to engage and alter Westerners’ perceptions of what the Arabic language and culture stand for. It is a one-hour experience at the Arab British Centre in London, aimed at Westerners who are non-Arabic speakers. During the event, participants are immersed in listening, reading and writing in Arabic, as well as eating Arabic food. The goal is to familiarise them with the forms, sounds, and sense of the language through this creative approach. The project does not aim to educate participants but rather to give them a sense of what the Arabic language sounds like and to familiarise them with the different forms it may take in an intimate way whereby a family story is narrated in a cosy environment.


Indeed, the first phase of the project started with educational aims: raising awareness of how important it is for Arabs living in London to use Arabic more and to tell its stories to their friends ‘in conversations with non-speakers. However, this approach reached a dead end due to the many other issues that the target audience felt were more urgent than language. The shift in the project focus happened through a deep understanding of why this lack of interest exists amongst Arabs in London and was made more profound through reading Kassair’s thoughts on the changes that Arabs can acknowledge. In his view, the changes that count for Arabs are the ones that count in Westerners’ eyes; it can only be brought with foreign assistance. (Kassair, 2013). It may, however, be collaborative but without

INTRODUCTION the appreciation of the other, it will still be meaningless. The question, how can Westerns be more engaged with the Arabic language, had to be answered through first understanding the context. Arabic is usually read in the context of politics or religion: it is difficult to find any presence of it outside these two. People’s understand is based on media coverage of Arab conflicts and issues. The events since the Arab spring in 2010 and the conflicts and the issue of Daesh have provided rich material for such stories that by default discuss fear, terror and barbaric events and stories of the Arab world without demonstrating, on the other side, their lifestyle.

This absence of the representation of the Arabic language, alongside the ongoing turmoil of political events in the Middle East and the recent changes in most of the policies of leading Western countries such as Trump’s immigration new policy and how it deals with the “others”. These have resulted in a significant gap between what’s real and what could be made up. Consequently, there are opportunities for people who lack the knowledge to take the lead in presenting the Arabic language and its sounds and form in relation to fear and terror. This book gives an idea of Lunch with Arabic by showcasing key elements of its design and process.



It is critical that Westerners gain more knowledge about the Arabic language and culture to defuse one of the major geopolitical tensions dividing the contemporary world, to counter-balance the fear often generated by Western media coverage of events in the Arab world and to gain a better insight into what Arabic is.


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RATIONALE CONCEPT Lunch with Arabic is an immersive sensory event employing the metaphor of dining to engage and alter Western perception of what Arabic language and culture stands for. It’s a one hour experience at the Arab British Centre in London, aimed at Westerners who are nonArabic speakers. The event’s main concern is to familiarise participants with the different sounds of Arabic which are both harsh and soft. However, to

deliver an overall impression of the language, its also asking them to read, write and speak few words related to what they listen to in order to build a stronger and more visual relationship to what Arabic language is. During this event, an audio performance was used. However, the script used is written as a play and the event is open for possible live performance in the future.

WHO? The perfect target for this project will be people with extreme views about what Arabic means or represents. However, I chose to work with the willing, those who are exposed and aware of what’s happening in the region and are interested in knowing more about it.

The target Audience for this experience are Westerners who are non-Arabic speakers with an interest in cultures generally. Educated people who often visit Art galleries and in between 26 and 50 years old. Getting in touch with my audience went through different channels of choosing my location first then working on Lunch with Arabic online appearance which will be explained later. 17

BEING ARAB AND DOING A PROJECT ABOUT THE ARABIC Reading Edward Said’s notes on Orientalism has affected my position on this project. Adjusting my position and trying to understand all parties involved took a great concern. Speaking Arabic had given me access to sources and related documents and facilitated gathering a better understanding of the two points of view: how Arabic is and how the nonspeaker might view it. I was aware throughout of the conflict I would potentially encounter as a result of being so attached to the subject, and so made sure to include other points of views, including my mentor, Rana Salam, my European


classmates and my friends overseas to ensure I discuss the subject objectively. Prototyping this event has also helped in adjusting my point of view of the project by allowing other non-Arabic speakers to be involved. The first interest came about through my observations of how Arabic is presented in London. I was overwhelmed by my visit to Edgware Road, which is known as “The Arab Street”, and how there are only minimum elements of what I understand as my culture: lots of food options and Shisha, as if Arab only exist to eat. Searching for other

cultural elements required more effort; they were not obvious, and I had to dig deeper to find them in other places. I talked to Arabs who had lived in London for more than 11 years and heard their views on the current situation. But in the end, I looked back at what Said had said: will there ever be a true representation of what culture is? Proposing my event as layered elements of Arabic came from this understanding. I cannot present the Arabic language as it is, yet I can give participants a sense of how it could be in a different context: a daily one that the media won’t cover.

“… The real issue is whether indeed there can be a true representation of anything, or whether any and all representations because they are representations, are embedded first in the language and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the representer. … [ ] Then we must be prepared to accept the fact that a representation is implicated, intertwined, embedded, interwoven with a great many things besides the “truth,” which is itself a representation (Said, 1978: 272) (Edward Said’S Orientalism And The Representation Of Oriental Women In George Orwell’S Burmese Days, p23)2








HOW IS IT DIFFERENT? Through out my research I found that most of the cultural projects that discuss Arabic focus on showing how beautiful the language visually appears. Calligraphy is a common medium to highlight this. However, I have not found almost any project that showcases the beauty of the Arabic sounds in an immersive experience. The timing of the project is also key in making it different, as the current changes in US and UK national and foreign security point target “The Others” no matter what these “others” mean. It is always strongly connected to matters in the Middle East and Arab culture in general.


The recent event was held at the Arab British Centre which is known for hosting exhibitions, talks and workshops related to Arab themes. It’s a non-political, non-religious place that has similar aims as my project, i.e. to familiarise Western public with Arabic. Choosing an Art gallery as a context of my event emphasises on my belief that Art galleries usually present a surface layer of what is Arab - only beautiful visuals. There are deeper layers to the beautiful calligraphic art pieces which I’m trying to communicate through my event.



Beside the Arab British Centre, I’m proposing the event at the Mosaic room, which shares a similar vision, that is, a more focused approach to showcasing Arab artists. And later this summer I’m also proposing to participate in the Shubbak festival which happens every two years to showcase Arabic culture and artists in the UK. This plan aims to give Lunch with Arabic a better exposer and to gain more success in spreading its message to a wider audience.




“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.� Bertolt Brecht


WHY DOES IT MATTER? The event touches on recent mainstream media’s influence about the Arabic language. People were asked to leave planes, step aside and keep quiet because speaking Arabic publicly makes people around them uncomfortable. It’s also highlighting the ignorance surrounding the Arabic language and although it’s very musical as it is based on visuals and sounds, it’s still perceived with fear. The project offers participants personal immersive time with Arabic where sounds, calligraphy and food is presented.



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Entering the room, the experience starts by going around reading the news on the outside layer of the fabrics. The stories covers recent events related to Arabic speakers in public spaces. Other stories speaks about Arabic calligraphy visuals and how its been treated.



Sitting around the table, “Ahlan wa Sahlan� or welcome. Introducing the host, participants, the aims of the event and what expectations they have and finally how the booklet in-front of them works.



Lights turn blue, the first audio performance plays and the participants are attracted to the Arabic vocals while looking at the booklet for hints and clues. These explaining the meaning of what they’re listening to.



Once the audio stops playing, a tuned down music is played and the first taste (Arabic coffee) is served. The host starts narrating an English short version of the story ending it with “Enjoy”, giving participants the sign to begin eating. After that, a vocal exercise is done where the relationship between participants and the language starts.

Next the first word, “Hozon” or sadness, is introduced with a reflection on why Arabic language is interesting to learn.



In yellow light, the second audio plays, and, just like the previous part, participants are looking into the next page for hints an clues. After the audio, music plays, the next story is told and the second taste is served (sweet dates with nuts). Next, the second word is introduced, “Haneen� or longing (printed on the curtains) with a reflection on how this word can make Arabic more interesting.



Third Audio plays, when it stops music plays and the third taste is served (Za’atar biscuits). A short English story is narrated by the host and then participants are asked to enjoy their taste. The word “Hobb” or love is introduced (printed on the curtains) with a reflection on how this word can make Arabic more interesting. 41


Here, the group is talking about love in Arabic as a reflection of why Arabic could be interesting to learn. The different meanings, expressions and levels that reflect the language strength points are illustrated.


The final audio plays, last taste is served with the English narration and music playing. This time participants share the dish with an emphasis on relationship development between them and Arabic. The last words “Amal� or hope is introduced alongside a reflection on how this makes Arabic special as a language.



Handing participants a stencil card with their names in Arabic. They are asked to sign on the back of the booklet an Albert Camus quote as an agreement that they will from now on put more effort in gaining more knowledge regarding Arabic.


The discussion is guided by participants tackling Arabic language and what they liked most about it. Raising questions of why, how and what we can do as individuals to get a balanced encounter of Arabic. Arabic coffee is served again and the other side of the booklet that has the stories and words they learned in the experience is explained.


Explaining different layers of the experience using a story matrix; a tool to analyse and design. Script, food, spatial and graphic elements come together to create an immersive sensory event.



CONTENT Creating the content for the experience took a lot of effort. Two workshops were held, one to generate the content concept and the other to write ideas for the script. Since the experience is focusing on the sounds of Arabic it was logical to choose the Alphabets rhythmic system as a reference. That was the starting point that worked as a guideline later for the script. The story talks about a travelling son who has been far away from home and is coming back to meet his mother after


battles of loss and suffering. The voice of the narration wave between individual and different conversations with layers of chosen emotions. Taking this further, I collaborated with a creative writer, Muneera, who had taken the outcomes of the workshops alongside my brief and guidelines and wrote the script for me. I later analysed this and changed some parts as the experience required. The diagram explains in more details how this works.






‫ ء‬،‫ أ‬،‫ ﻫـ‬،‫ ع‬،‫ ح‬،‫ غ‬،‫ ك‬،‫ ق‬،‫ ض‬،‫ ج‬،‫ ش‬،‫ي‬، ‫ ل‬،‫ ر‬،‫ ن‬،‫ ط‬،‫ د‬،‫ ت‬،‫ ص‬،‫ ز‬،‫ س‬،‫ ظ‬،‫ ذ‬،‫ ث‬،‫ ف‬،‫ ب‬،‫ م‬،‫و‬ Aa

Strong sounds that goes from the end of throat


Sounds in between that has different tones

Sounds that comes from tip of the mouth

First audio

Second audio

Third audio

Fourth audio

Harsh strong Arabic sounds with strong meanings

Harsh sounds of Arabic with soft meanings

Smooth sounds of Arabic with soft meanings

High harmony sounds of Arabic with soft meanings

The son character talking about his love life with sadness and anger

The narrator voice describing the lost and longing that the man feels thinking of home

A dialogue between the mother and her son (the man at the beginning of the story)

A poem of hope and ambitions, narrated by the son, addressing the future

Words that have combination of strong harsh letters and reflects strong meanings

Words that have combination of strong harsh letters but reflect soft meanings

Words with a combination of soft letters that reflects soft meanings

Words that ends with soft letters to create a high harmonical rhythm with soft meanings

‫ﻋﻴﻄﺒﻮل‬: Aytaboul ‫ ل‬،‫ ط‬،‫ ع‬: La, ta, a’a

‫ﺷﺎﻫﻘﺔ‬: Shaheqa ‫ ق‬،‫ ﻫـ‬،‫ ش‬: Sha, Ha, Qa

‫أوب‬: Aoub ‫ ب‬،‫ و‬: Wa, Ba

‫ﻫﻨﺎ‬: Hona ‫ا‬: Aa




The space after installing the design

Table details


Beside being inspired by Arab lifestyle, the table design considered the mobility of the design and how it could function in different gallery rooms. It can ideally host 8 people and maximum of 10.

Table details


50 CM 250 CM

The curtain design had two layers of Voile, a white semi-transparent fabric that gives a dramatic effects when lights go through it. The outside curtains has written stories from recent events about Arabic language highlighting the hustle around the subject. And the inner layer of curtains has words used in the event as part of the Narrative. When the experience starts, participants first go through the outside layer of stories, then once the experience starts, each word is introduced in a sequence parallel to the story.



The inner layer of the curtains has the Arabic words used in the experience with an ornamental pattern highlighting their visual form and structure.





Food played an essential part in the event as proven from the feedback. Designing food was inspired from traditional Arabic tastes that are common in the region. However, these recipes were twisted, modified and exaggerated to achieve the projected emotional arch. All the ingredients are taken from the Arabic kitchen and some of them were shipped as I couldn’t find them in London. Beside cooking, The presentation of how food is served was part of the visual design in order to get the aimed look and feel inspired by Arab contemporary theme.


Arabic Coffee

Sweetened Dates

Za’atar Biscuits


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LUNCH WITH ARABIC 01 These images document my prototype event taking place at the Holborn UAL Language Centre where I hosted Lunch with Arabic version 1. I had an overall of 7 participants all European; with different backgrounds, and who were incredibly helpful in giving me feedback for improvements.


So many things have changed between the two events, however, it was essential in understanding how to communicate better with the audience by testing and getting direct feedback.






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COLLABORATION Muneera AlZair, Creative writer Writing the script Kalemat writing club Generating content workshop Ira Ogay, Spatial and interior designer Building table, space design consultant, model making Rana Salam, Art director Papawee Sathawarawong, Interior Architect Mentor, General guidance on the project Building the first table

Nada Fallatah Carolina Sampaio, Product designer Proof reading, concept consultant Technical drawing, technical consultant Yazeed AlMashaan, Voice over manager Recording the audio performance Maryam AlRajeh, Amal AlZahrani, Graphic designers Story board illustration Graphic design students at UOD Visualising Arabic sound workshop participants Waleed AlGhamdi, Ira Ogay, Carolina Sampaio, Citra Oktaviana, Fatimah Khuzem Setting up the event, photography and video documentation





Below is the full translated version of the script for better understanding of the narrative created for this project. The scene is written with a possibility of having a physical performance in action. Act One. First scene: The son’s voice: a monologue told by a voice coming from afar: sharp, manly, filled with loneliness and sadness. Speaking to his estranged lover with affection for her and despise for what she has inflicted on him. His emotional state is unsettled, swinging between confusion and longing. Soon he will return home and seek solace in seeing his mother. He stands in front of a crowd mourning his state while speaking to an elusive figure at the same moment. He leans closer to his audience seeking reassurance. His act emphasizes the strong harsh sounds of words and phonetics unfamiliar to the English language. The scene ends with him extending his hands towards his mother, who sits between the audience, without looking straight at her, readying the atmosphere for the next scene.

Action: The son: Good morning… A morning of revival, oh perfectly fit, dazzling lady. I am in complete infatuation, will you listen to me? Last summer, in a neighborhood’s alley I visited for the first time, I met you, I fell for you. You were in the company of a dark headed, full woman, I mean… she who was with you. In that moment, infatuation streamed in my veins like blood, life moving inside me. You glared at me, as if looking at a worthless malicious creature whom you’ll never feel affection for. I greeted you, you avoided my words the way a graceful horse avoids an abject man. All that came to me while you passed was a deep desire to be loved by someone like you, a tall figured, enchanting woman. I, who wasted my life with an alluring, perfectly formed curvaceous woman, have I become quiescent when I surrendered to her?


Have I become pliable when I submitted to her? 88

Or when I followed you? Or when I felt your pulse? Or when I embraced her? Or am I unconsciously aware charging to you lightheaded? I come determined with chivalry and bold with pure intentions, to lay grounds or to build bridges? You care nothing for the questions that suffocate me. Shutting the door and me out, as I stand with my genuine love, and you with your deliberate carelessness. I am my own cynic; you know? As I write this letter I feel I am writing it to a woman illiterate on the alphabets of my love. I feel as if wild horses are taking me to an unknown place for I am the only one between those lines starved by love. It doesn’t matter, I made up my mind to endure this love until its demise. I know, you are but a passing, dry heatwave, and everything I have of you inside me will be washed off with a kiss on my mother’s hands. Now I leave, lost. Your heart as the lands here, as vast

as they are, cannot contain me, they refuse to contain me. Act two. The narrator’s voice- communes the story in relation to it with a neutral voice that leads to dialogue. The mother sits around the table, looking confused at first as if she’s in unexpected date with her son. The son roams around the room then gets closer to her, staring directly at her while the narrator tells the story. Action: The narrator: for a moment it feels like he’s getting back to a home he abandoned a hundred years ago… its land has become constructed with skyscrapers that block the sun away and cast a cold gloom upon the city, and he stands like a dwarf in its midst. The streets around him are packed with blustering noises he never experienced before, The clacking of steps, the deafening car horns all at the same time. It seemed as if calm , like him, has left the town a long time ago.


Where have you spent your days, away from my sight He looks around the streets, a feeling of estrangement, he knows nothing of the atmosphere around, he recognizes nothing, not the people, not the noise, he doesn’t understand the

temperament of the state, just like his own. He lifts his head up to the sky and catches sight of a full formed cloud ready to release rain soon. He let out a long sigh leaning and lending its feeling to it like an old man leaning on his cane for support, and then went on his way carrying his luggage. He was handsomely greeted at the door, winter crept in faintly at the door steps. He knows how his dearest mother takes rain as a fortunate sign at the beginning of winter, it’s winter and he’s here, he knows what it will mean to her. Few knocks on the door and his mum opened the door with haste and expectation, longing for him to get back to her… her smell, her embrace, her bread and coffee. A singing chorus by the mother and her son repeated with the audience: Ya lala la lly, lala la lly, ya lala la lly, lala la lly,


Where have you spent your days, away from my sight My heart lived sorrowfully, I swear… it lived in sorrow in your absence Act 3. The mother’s voice- touched by an overwhelming sensation for meeting her son after a long period of absence, her thoughts in between confusion and an urge to admonish her son for the way he left and the years he stayed away. She recalls the memories with a tenderness and forgiveness only a mother can bestow. The son’s voice- A voice full of regret, seeking forgiveness and empathy from his mother. It starts with a sense of plea then quickly shift to its childish ways, as if again he’s a child asking his mother her pardon and begging her affection. The mother and son sit across each other exchanging conversation, their looks pass between them and the audience. When speaking about memories both use

different voice tones, gestures and body-language to deliver and embody the meaning of things. -Upon singing the chorus, both mother and son try to attract the audience’s attention by repeating the final words of each verse-

The son: Oh mother, forgive me, God know I haven’t forgotten… can rain forget its clouds?

The narrator- Rigid with anguish and longing, she reached to him first and embraced him with warmth.

The narrator- His soul revived looking at his mother with happiness filling her eyes and shining through, through her eyes he can see his place in her heart. He continued…

The mother: You’re late, years late! Everything longs for you. The son: I come to you, filled with longing… will you cast your tender forgiveness on me? The mother: Since you’ve been gone, sleep has left me… you left as if fleeing a battle field and abandoned me, broken, bereaved. The narrator- Sadness over flooded him, he remembered verses from Nizar’s poetry and started reciting them to his mother.

The silvery fish… can it leave its water? The streaming river… can it abandon its flow and drift away?

The son: And I too, like Darwish, long for my mother’s bread, my mother’s coffee… so will you silence the restless chirping birds of my stomach? I want to see you bake, as I used to see you as child years ago, with your bare soft hands marked and wrinkled by the passing of years. Kneading the dough over and over, then rolling it in on the table’s top, stretching, rolling, stretching again then banging it against the bowl until it breathes, and I hear you whispering to it and giggle, watching you like a theatrical play is watched.


The dough becomes softer and yields under your hands after a few minutes. Amazed, I clap for you. The remaining flour flies off, escaping the hot oven and its flames and rest on your hair and clothes, I stretch my hand and puff it away. You laugh, my heart laughs, and every lip can’t but follow after. The mother: Do you know my boy? By the dawn, I knead and envision you laughing and clapping in-front of me, I deliberately scatter flour around so I can imagine you at any moment coming along and puffing it off me… I grind the coffee in the early morning in hope its scent would bring you back to me… in hope its taste will bring your voice to me from afar. I water the lemon and olive buds in hope one of them will grow big enough to hang on the fence and greet you as you come… in hope that the doves will repay my supplying them water by delivering you my letters of affection… How I hoped and hoped, yet never predicted that you’ll arrive with rain. Act 4. -Tender voices with tender meaningsThe son’s voice- A voice filled with hope and ambition, contemplating a future he can almost see.

Sitting, he directs his speech to his mother and then to the crowd upon him. He stands in his place and speaks to the future like a person. He then starts moving around the table, engaging with the crowd, touching and patting their shoulders in a way that captures their attention and delivers the moment. The son: Here I stand, Seeing my dreams waving on the edge of success. I am here upon the borders of my town readying to go ahead and not behind, to journey for it. It’s upon me, I see it, I feel it, I extend my hand, it seems to fall on me, a faint flow of rain. I am here and chance pushes me to pursue it. I am here… I see the clouds high, wild, and exquisite like my dreams. I am here… Hope flutters in my eyes like free birds, a white dove.


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