What will you take with you into the future? That’s the question posed by Algerian “cultural cartographer” Sofiane Si Merabet at his thought-provoking installation, Salon/Hammam Tomorrow. The salon-meets-hammam is part of the ten-day Sikka Art Fair in Dubai’s historic Al Bastakiya neighborhood. “For me, it’s obviously my identity,” says the artist, also known as “The Confused Arab,” answering his own question. The project, which occupies two rooms, recreates a beauty salon and a traditional hammam on a future planet. Si Merabet chose the hammam as an homage to his grandmother, who owned an Algerian bathhouse herself. “She was a very strong woman who decided to run a business on her own in the early ‘50s,” he recalls.
The project is a clear ode to his roots. A photograph of his grandmother’s hammam is displayed in the installation, alongside objects associated to the North African bathing ritual—clear bottles of shampoo, tangle teasers, Turkish bath towels, vibrant, plastic stools are displayed alongside artwork by Algerian artists Amel Benaoudia, Meryem Meg, and Walid Bouchouchi as well as Lebanese artist Ali Chaaban. A grainy, two-minute short featuring black and white footage that explores the evolution of the Arab’s identity plays on an endless loop.
Explaining the significance of the hammam, he says: “Hammams were central places of Arab cities,” adding, “Being both intimate and public spaces, [they were] fantasized by Orientalists and criticized by extremists, making them perfect location to illustrate the future of nostalgia.”
The project was positively received by guests that included Sheikha Latifa Bint Maktoum, Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister of Happiness, and Emirati business mogul Amina Rostamani. “The installation was an ideal opportunity to make people understand how our roles as Arabs today will have an impact on the region’s cultural scene tomorrow,” says Si Merabet.
Having recently launched www.theconfusedarab.com, a digital platform that aims to shed light on “the richness and diversity of the Arab region,” the artist, who was born and raised in France, aims to collaborate with talents from North Africa and the Middle East in future projects.
Salon/Hammam Tomorrow is open until tonight. Admission is free and open to the public.