Cultural identity

Portrait of Kholoud Al-Ali, alias Koodiz, a Doha-based Qatari influencer - © 2018 Sebastian Castelier

Introduction text

Fashion and Art


In Kuwait, A new generation of artists is paving their way to a distinctive hybrid identity that fuses traditional art forms with international ones. Street art has become trendy among liberal segments of Kuwaiti society, with cool cafes playing rap, fashionistas lining up to be photographed in front of street art and commercial videos featuring local breakdancers. Yet breakdancer Moaath Salah bemoans "the absence of bridges to connect traditional and Westernised Kuwaitis". According to sociologist Ali Altarah, many young Kuwaitis act like Westerners. “Those kids are sometimes lost: should I strengthen my Arab Muslim identity, the Kuwaiti one or a global lifestyle? Kuwaiti society faces countless contradictions and social issues,” he said. Read more...

How can I look Qatari, stylish, modern and fashion? In the emirate, ancestral clothing traditions inspire the youth who explore subtlety and details to develop a very sleek contemporary fashion style, which includes flashy caps, refined abayas, vintage watches, high-heeled shoes. "Our clothing identity has been strongly influenced by the Bedouin culture, our exchanges with India and Africa. I design clothes that celebrate our traditional outfits but can be worn by everyone", designer Fahad Al-Obaidly said. 

A luxury clothes designer, Farah Al-Rasi uses fur, colourful garments, metals, lead glass and various stones to reinvent abayas, a robe-like dress worn by a vast majority of Qatari women. "Not everyone agrees as we live in a Muslim, Arab and traditionalist society." 
In this report, six Qatari talk about the latest clothing trendsRead more...

Galvanised by a diplomatic rift in the Gulf, Qatari artists have expressed their fierce loyalty to the country in a series of nationalist artworks. In the streets of Doha, a famous portrait of Qatar's emir entitled Glorious Tamim is displayed on the facade of skyscrapers, five-star hotels and sports cars, it even adorns T-shirts and flags. The success turned his author, Qatari artist Ahmed bin Majed al-Maadheed, into a national star overnight. And the crisis revealed many other talents. Mubarak al-Thani, a young Qatari artist, painted several men in cubic form, each one representing a country involved in the blockade. For example, Bahrain appears chained to Saudi Arabia, symbolising its submission to Saudi’s policies, according to al-Thani. Read more...

Kuwaiti filmmakers say censorship is an obstacle to artistic freedom; censors claim it is the result of social and geopolitical pressure. "Movies made under censorship are tasteless and colourless," filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri laments. Situated between Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait pays attention to its neighbours' feelings. A member of the Censor Board Committee who wants to remain anonymous remembers what happened to Wadjda, Saudi Arabian movie which address the issue of women rights through the moving story of a rebellious girl who hopes to buy her own bicycle. "We, the censors, received an order from Saudi Arabia asking us not to show the movie in our country!". Embedded with the Censor Board Committee, this report offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at censorship in a Gulf state. Read more...



In Qatar, Islam is the state religion, although Muslims account for less than half of the total population. Other religious groups, including Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, are guaranteed by the Constitution the 'freedom to practice religious rites'. Yet, in the 1980's group prayer was forbidden and the believers afraid to reveal their faith. Built in 2008 on a land donated by Qatar's former emir, Our Lady of the Rosary is the country's first church since pre-Islamic times. Over time, it has become a sanctuary for a plural community composed of Asian, Arab, African and Western Christians. "On Friday, up to 100,000 believers attend our masses," the Filipino parish priest said. This report depicts how Christianity lives at the margins of the Qatari society. Read more...


Ancestral traditions

In the dry heights not far from Nizwa, the old capital of Oman, fresh water runs through traditional streams. Archaeological evidence suggests they were carved out around 2500 BC, in order to irrigate mountainous farmlands. To manage the supply of water, Omani farmers created the aflaj irrigation system. By using gravity, the system channels water from underground water sources in the mountains. The water then flows through the village’s farms to irrigate the land, often over many kilometres.

But the aflaj are increasingly drying up due to the excessive pumping of groundwater, the shrinking of agricultural land as more resorts and hotels stand tall in the area, and younger generations prefer to move to the city in search of work. Less and less children are following in their fathers’ paths and tending to the aflaj and the farms. "More than 30 percent of the total number of aflaj are dried up now," Abdullah Al Ghafri, director of the Aflaj Research Unit at Nizwa University revealed. Read more...




Notable books to read

Lake Landscape
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 -   © 2020 Sebastian Castelier

Kuwaiti breakdancer Moaath Salah, alias Psycho - © 2019 Sebastian Castelier