The photographic series, حب (ḥub) // LOVE (2021), pushes back against the forced reorientation of my native tongue, Arabic, and sparks a dialogue with one word, حب, reclaiming the beauty and nonviolence of the language. By employing photography, textile, and text, this body of work presents various points of entry to complex notions of inclusion, exclusion, erasure, and the politicization of the body and language. Through multiple gradations of color, single images are refracted across five surfaces demonstrating expanded interpretations of love– its expression, reception and acceptance. The use of textile is significant as it’s sourced from the earth to be woven into something that protects, defines, unifies, and divides us–– it becomes a point of departure from where we all begin, like language, itself. The fluctuation of the word حب between foreground and background questions the array of relational power within and among micro and macro societal structures.
The beginning of the century was marked by the attacks of September 11th, the illegal invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and the media’s subsequent portrayal of Arabs as either victims or villains. Arabic became a signifier of violence where Arabophones refrained from speaking in public in fear of being removed from airplanes, fired from jobs, harassed at schools, and tracked by government agencies for “suspicious behavior.” People changed their names and children’s names in order to protect themselves. In doing so, children lost their native tongue leading to the erasure of an entire generation’s stories, heritage, and connection to their roots. Others would find ways to reinvent their inherited languages, such as English or French, as an act of defiance and a mechanism of empowerment claiming it their own by manipulating it into newly evolved dialects, creating barriers between them and authority figures.
Central to the حب (ḥub) // LOVE series, is the reinterpretation of Arabic words by politicians and the media to fit particular agendas. When the words طالبان (taliban) and مدرسة (madrassa) are entered into Google search, different information is presented depending on how the words are typed: in Arabic script, English transliteration, and English translation. The word طالبان (taliban) is defined by Google as “a brutal, fundamentalist religious group that held power over most of Afghanistan during the late 1990s.” مدرسة (madrassa) as, “An Islamic religious school…” also noting, “...many of the Taliban were educated in Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam which is rooted in Saudi Arabia.” An image search portrays fundamentalist Islamic schools for boys and children holding guns. However, with a deeper search one finds that taliban and madrassa are, in fact, the only Arabic words for “student” and “school”– nowhere are they words that are limited to Islam, boys, or violence. Someone saying nahnu taliban fil madrassa, “We are students in school” runs the danger of being understood as “We are terrorists in a terrorist training camp.”
This pattern of misinformation and language abduction caused radical shifts in the language. Immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries would be forced to find replacements for these words by using the French and English counterparts, thus erasing the Arabic version from their vocabulary entirely–– like a glitch rooted in fear. حب (ḥub) // LOVE is an intervention to this pattern, subverting fear through beauty by expanding the capacity of language rather than accepting its limitations. حب repeatedly hand painted by the artist, is derived from two letters, ح and ب, which when put together carries multiple meanings, including seed, fruit, affection and love. حب is not static in its meaning or expressions–– it is infinite, flexible, and fluid. The titles of each of the works expand on the meaning of حب including تضحية ,راحة ,لطف ,الذات ,اختيار إخلاص ,عمل , أصل, روح further demonstrating its ubiquity and the endless ways a word can radically alter our thought processes and ways of existing.
راحة (raḥa) - comfort, rest, relief, leisure, repose, ease
لطف (latf) - kindness, courtesy, gentleness, friendliness, softness, civility
الذات (aldhat) - self, ego, person, essence
تضحية (tadhḥiya) - sacrifice, offering
اختيار (ikhtiyar) - option, choice, preference, liberty
إخلاص (‘ikhlas) - sincerity, dedication, loyalty, devotion, fidelity, honesty
عمل (a’amal) - effort, potential, labor
أصل (asl) - origin, descent, parent, root, ancestry, principle
روح (roowḥ) - spirit, soul, life, essence
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