When Kuwait-based artist Ali Cha’aban teamed up with fellow creative Rayan Nawawi, the duo embarked on a nostalgic cultural reverie. The kind that breaks the boundaries on global identity and just so happens to tap into the urban zeitgeist. “We came up with the phrase ‘satellite culture.’ It’s a phrase we tend to think about when we visualize an age before the internet,” Cha’aban tells Vogue Arabia in an exclusive interview. The two artists joined forces prompted by the campaign Summer Of White, associated with the #mywhitesneaker hashtag. “We chose the Nike Air Max 97 model and decided to elaborate on its aesthetics,” adds Cha’aban.
The result? A sequence of striking photographs amid a rooftop scene, with isolated shots of man and machine. The shoot joins an unofficial movement of millennial Middle Eastern artists who tap into their Arabic roots with an unexpected spin on modernity (check Najd Al Taher). Not only is Cha’aban and Nawawi’s shoot refreshing, the outcome is also strangely evocative.
“Most of our information was consumed from what was seen on TV. When it came to creating the visuals for the Air Max 97, there are the aspects we tried to envision: a revisit to the past with a humble conscience,” Cha’aban tells Vogue Arabia. This latest venture is no major departure for the Kuwaiti artist’s approach. Collaboration is key for Cha’aban. While he cut the ribbon on his first solo exhibit last fall, Cha’aban believes in supporting those around him on the emerging art scene and therefore founded Live Demo, an experimental art collective.
As part of the Satellite Culture project, the thobe features as a symbol of cultural heritage that crosses social boundaries: not dissimilar to Cha’aban’s take on the Persian rug from his piece called the “Broken Dream” (exhibited in 2016.) This time, the focus is on the thobe. “It is a garment we wear that makes us all equal, whether rich or poor, we all wear it,” reflect Cha’aban. “Our concern with the traditional attire is a form of esteem, we wear it with pride because it has so much history, which is our connection to the past.” The shoot is stripped back to expose the uncomplicated era of the 90s post-digital boom, harking to “a simpler time that appreciated simpler things.”
As the Cha’aban studio prepares for an editorial shoot with breakout streetwear label Hindamme by Mohammed Khoja, and the up-and-coming Beirut Art Fair at the Hafez Gallery to expand on the Broken Dream series, it is clear that this regional artist is set on redefining the Middle Eastern art scene from within, taking a community with him. “What Arabs have is a rich culture, visual identity, and artistic settings that provide an impact to the observer,” states Cha’aban. “These aesthetics range from luxurious settings to the imperfect and common scenery that tend to tell a story without the need for words.” The call to action is simply thus: look back and learn. And do so with a dose of patriotism.
Check back on Vogue.me to find out more about the Ali Cha’aban X Hindamme collaboration.