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Tea with Culture

Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


Iceland Airwaves 2013 Review - Part 1

© Gavin Cassidy

I am back from a wonderful week in Reykjavik (and tying to recover from a big fat cold).   

It was a week of music wonderland - the music I heard during Iceland Airwaves made me laugh, cry, dance and joyous. For the first time I disconnected myself from the rest of the world and just focused on Reykjavik and Iceland Airwaves. 

I even managed to see the Northern Lights on the first night of the festival, hung out with a couple of friends from Dubai, chatted with some of the acts and their families and enjoyed a bit of celebrity spotting - the one and only Bjork (who was also hanging out at the festival like the rest of us). 

It was one of the best weeks I've had for a long, long time. I fell in love with Reykjavik even more and can't wait to go back. 

Here's the first of several reviews of Iceland Airwaves 2013. I will start with some of my favourite songs from the festival. The 20 songs added below include most of the acts I saw, in the order I saw them. Sit back and enjoy, the playlist is approximately an hour and a half long.

The photo above was taken at Harlem, one of the festival venues. Basically, all roads led to Harlem during the festival, I ended there every night and found it befitting to share this photo taken on the last night. 


Please stay tuned for more updates, but for now, hope you enjoy the music I shared. They all hold personal memories that I will never, ever forget.  

I leave you with one last song by Sykur. It's an ode to Reykjavik.  

"Reykjavík þú vekur mig" (Reykjavik, you wake me up*). You really do. 





* I relied on Google Translate. If I'm wrong and you are fluent in Icelandic, please let me know what is the correct translation. 


Film Screening - My Brother The Devil

The Scene Club
, the monthly film club that takes place in the Knowledge Village Auditorium is back this month with the critically acclaimed and award winning film My Brother The Devil by Sally El Hosaini

The screening will take place on Wednesday, 6th November and actor James Floyed will be there for the Q & A session.  Tickets are complimentary, but you must register in advance and collect your ticket at the venue.

I missed this at the last Dubai International Film Festival, so hoping I get a chance to watch it this week.

A masterful debut from one of England’s boldest and brightest new talents, Sally El Hosaini’s MY BROTHER THE DEVIL tells the story of two brothers tested loyalty as their paths collide amidst a violent world of drugs and gangs.

Rashid (James Floyd), a young man from a traditional Egyptian family, runs with a gang that rules the streets of Hackney, one of London’s most ethnically-mixed and historically volatile neighborhoods. Rashid’s younger brother, Mo, (Fadi Elsayed) idolizes his handsome, charismatic older brother and dreams of following in his footsteps, but Rashid envisions a different life for Mo and insists that he stay away from gang life and stick to his studies.

When Rashid forms a bond with Sayyid, an older man of similar background who is now a successful photographer, he is introduced to a world he never knew existed. But, just as he decides he wants out of his dead-end life on the streets, Mo decides he wants in and starts doing drug runs behind Rashid’s back.

Headed on a collision course of conflicting desires, each young man is forced to face himself and confront the brother he thought he knew. 





Event details 
Date: Wednesday, 6th November 2013 
Time: 7.00pm – Ticket Collection and Networking | 8.00pm – Film screening | 10.00pm – Q&A with actor James Floyd.  Register for your ticket online
Venue: Knowledge Village Auditorium, Dubai (location map)
The film is 111 minutes long and rated 18.


Iceland Airwaves 2013


I am in Reykjavik this week to attend Iceland Airwaves. The festival has been running since 2002 and Rolling Stone magazine described it as “The hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar.”  I am 11 years late, but I guess better late than never. 

The line up has more than 200 acts including bands, solo acts and DJs. Additionally, there's an extensive off venue schedule which will take place across the city in venues that include book shops, cafes, bars and hotels. So basically, this week in Reykjavik will be a music wonderland and I can't wait to experience it (and report back to you).   

Below are two short documentaries that show you what Iceland Airwaves is all about.


Iceland Airwaves - A Rockumentary
This short documentary covers the first nine years of the festival. 



Iceland Airwavves Music Festival 2012
This short documentary by Reykjavik Boulevard showcases last year's festival. 




I'm SO happy to be back in Reykjavik. 



cyclo. by Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai

cyclo. (Ryoji Ikeda + Carsten Nicolai), 2011. YCAM Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media

A decade since its inception, Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai are re-launching their collaborative project, cyclo., a project that focuses on the visualisation of sound and seeks to create a new hybrid of visual art and music.

Since the beginning of the cyclo. project, the artists, both leading electronic composers/artists from Japan and Germany respectively, Ikeda and Nicolai have developed a database of sounds composed to produce visual responses when analysed in real time with the help of stereo image monitoring equipment.

Through processes of composition, editing and experimentation, cyclo. is amassing an ‘infinity index’ of sound fragments. In building this archive, Ikeda and Nicolai transcend the usual dynamic whereby image acts merely as a functional accompaniment to sound. Instead, the audio element in the process is subservient to the desire and appetite of the image.

This will be Ryoji Ikeda's second time performing in Sharjah. In April he performed an audiovisual concert, datamatics [ver. 2.0] in the Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts . Sadly I missed it, but hope I won't miss this one.

Hats off to Sharjah for bringing shows like this. It's so far ahead compared to Dubai and Abu Dhabi when it comes to programming music (and art) events like this.  

Here's a short clip to show you what to expect. 

Event details

Date and time: Saturday, 23rd November at 8pm 
Venue: Bait Al Shamsi, Arts Area, Sharjah (close to the Sharjah Art Museum - location map)

Phone: +971 6 568 5050
Free entry.


Exhibition: I Look To You And I See Nothing

Giuseppe Penone - Rovesciare i propri occhi (To Reverse One’s Eyes), 1970 - Photograph: Paolo Mussat Sartor

Sharjah Art Foundation will be hosting an exhibition next month 'I Look to You and I See Nothing' from 16th November 2013 - 16th February 2013.

Co-curated by Olivier Varenne and Nicole Durling, the exhibition will feature the following international artists: 
Anish Kapoor, Fabien GiraudGino de Dominicis, Guiseppe PenoneGregorio Zanon, Ivana FrankeKurt HentschlägerLawrence Weiner, Mathieu Briand, Michelangelo PistolettoRaphael Siboni, Ryoji IkedaShezad DawoodSophie CalleTerence Koh and Teresa Margolles

The exhibition is in colloaboration with MONA (Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania) where it was previously exhibited under the title  Beam In Thine Own Eye.

For their exhibition, Varenne and Durling’s selection of works is an attempt to ignite a person’s inner world, causing that person to constantly create new visions in his or her mind.

The exhibition includes immersive sound environments, light installations, visual illusions, hallucination inducing rooms and contemplative spaces that explore the boundaries of the viewer’s perception.


For me, the stand out work in this exhibition is Ryoji Ikeda's light installation "Spectra" (previously shown in Amsterdam, Barelona, Buenos Aires, Hobart, Nagoya and Paris). For the Sharjah edition, Spectra will be located on Flag Island on 15-16th and 21st-23rd November 2013.

I can't wait to see this installation, I am sure it will be a spectacular sight. This is what it looked like in Hobart, Tasmania. 

Ryoji Ikeda - Spectra (Hobart, Tasmania, 2013)

Ryoji Ikeda - Spectra (Hobart, Tasmania, 2013)  


I am looking forward to this exhibition. After the Sharjah Biennial earlier this year (which was so good and my favourite art event that took place in the UAE this year, and I have yet to share my highlights with you as soon as I can), this looks like it's another important exhibition to hit our shores. Don't miss this. 



Event details
Dates: Saturday, 16th November 2013 - Sunday, 15th February 2014 
Venue: Building P & J, SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah (location map)
(Spectra will on Flag Island only on the following dates: 15-16th and 21st-23rd November 2013)
Phone: +971 6 568 5050 



My trip to Reykjavik

© Hind Mezaina, The Sun Voyagar

© Hind Mezaina, Mount Esja

I finally got round sorting out photos from my trip to Reykjavik in February. I am planning to visit again soon, so I thought I better share these photos with you now.

As you may or may not know, I've had a long distance crush on Iceland, and I was so glad I finally had a chance to visit. I stayed in Reykjavik the whole time because I was there for Sonar Reykjavik (the first Sonar festival held there).

© Hind Mezaina, Hallgrímskirkja


It was a great week of music and I really enjoyed spending time in the city. Reykjavik is adorably small and almost everything is within walking distance. The city has so many independent shops and bookstores, I hardly saw any high street labels which was such a good change. I also managed visit a few exhibitions in the Reykjavik Art Museum and Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Museum of Photography)

I missed out on the Northern Lights because the weather on the night I booked to go wasn't good, so the trip got cancelled.  


Here are some more photos and highlights from my trip:


The adorable homes and shops

I fell in love with the little houses and shops across the city and wanted to pack one up and bring back with me to Dubai. 

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina
© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina 


On the streets 

There was some colourful and interesting street art in the city centre.

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina

© Hind Mezaina


Lake Tjörnin (The Pond) 

I spent one lovely afternoon walkng around Lake Tjörnin also known as the Pond. Some parts of the lake were frozen and some parts weren't. The sight of the swans walking on the frozen part looked adorable and funny. 

© Hind Mezaina, Lake Tjörnin

© Hind Mezaina, Lake Tjörnin

© Hind Mezaina, Lake Tjörnin

© Hind Mezaina, Lake Tjörnin

© Hind Mezaina, Lake Tjörnin



Sonar Reykjavik 2013 

Sonar Reykjavik 2013 took place in the gorgeous Harpa concert hall (image below). 

© Hind Mezaina, Harpa

There were some good (and a few not so good) singers, bands and DJs at the festival which was predominately focused on electronic music. I didn't use my film camera to photograph this festival, but I found video clips of a couple of my favourite acts from the festival to give you a small taste of what it was like. 

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto






If you're interested, you can read a wrap up summary and find photos from the Sonar Reykjavik site.




That wraps up my post about my Reykjavik trip in February. Needless to say, I am officially in love with Reykjavik and can't wait to go back again. 





[All photos taken using my beloved LC-A+ camera.]


Slidefest XI - 30th October 2013

© Ebrahim Mirmalek

The eleventh edition of Slidefest organised by Gulf Photo Plus is on this Wednesday, 30th October at 7pm in the Knowledge Village Auditorium. Slidefest started in 2009 and it's so great to see that it will celebrate 10 editions this week. Over the past few years, Slidefest has been a showcase of some very good photography projects, most of it from the region.

If you are new to Slidefest, it's an event organised by Gulf Photo Plus where photographers present their personal projects, from documentary projects to fine art, still-life and landscape images. The event also aims to bring photographers (amateurs and pros) and people from the photography community together where people can network, connect and share stories.

Here's the line up of photographers:   

Ammar Al Attar  

© Ammar Al Attar

Born in Dubai, Ammar Al Attar has a Masters degree in International Business, however his passion for photography has resulted in numerous photo exhibitions of his work both locally and internationally.  A veteran to GPP Slidefest, Ammar will be showing his latest photography project 'Water' from 2013.  Ever so quickly becoming a scarce commodity, access to clean drinking water has become worldwide a topic of concern.  Ammar's interest was peaked by the common practice in the UAE to offer free water to the public, often situated in busy public areas. 



Antonie Robertson  

© Antonie Robertson

Antonie Robertson is a commercial photographer and visual story teller based in Dubai. Originally from Cape Town he has been living abroad covering a wide range of assignments and genres for the last ten years.  

His latest project aims to produce the first contemporary collection of tintype portraits of the UAE by employing a 150 year-old technique to capture the multitude of nationalities that call it home.  

The Tintype process is the photographic creation of a positive image on a metal plate. Antonie will be sharing his portrait series as well as further insight regarding the process.



I recently shared an interview I had with Antonie Robertson. You can read it here



Ebrahim Mirmalek   

© Ebrahim Mirmalek

Ebrahim Mirmalek (born in US in 1981) grew up in San Jose, his family moved to Iran after the Iran/Iraq war in 1989.  Pursuing photography as a serious passion after he moved to Dubai in 2008, Ebrahim also worked as a video editor on numerous documentaries.  

In 2011 he traveled to Tanzania, inspired by the Albino community he began shooting portraits with a film camera. Often victims of violence and discrimination owing to negative superstitious beliefs surrounding the skin disorder, Ebrahim aimed to capture theoptimism among the people he portrayed; a key to overcoming the hardships of being 'different'.



Hilmi Al-Kindy

© Hilmi Al-Kindy

Hilmi Al-Kindy graduated with a Diploma in information technology in 1998 and worked in the IT industry till 2003 when he switched career paths to get into Oil & Gas industry and drilling. At that time working late shifts at night spurred his interest in the night sky.  

It wasn't until he received helpful guidance on how toapproach astrophotography that he finally felt he was capturing the images he had aimed for.  Hilmi will share images of the night sky as well as further insight regarding the gear and techniques required for this type of photography. 



Lee Hoagland 

© Lee Hoagland

Lee Hoagland is a Dubai based photographer currently working on projects throughout the Middle East. He has collaborated with a variety of publications, NGO's, and companies. His work has been exhibited internationally and received numerous awards.  

The project Lee is presenting was photographed at Médecins Sans Frontières' (MSF) reconstructive surgery hospital in Amman, Jordan. Too often victims of the Iraq war-and any other war-are photographed as objects rather than people.

These portraits try to re-calibrate the way we look at victims while still reminding the viewer of the chilling violence which occurs regularly in Iraq, despite the conflict being "over".



Matthew Dols 

© Matthew Dols

Matthew Dols is an Assistant Professor of New Media in the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University. He has his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art and Design.  

His artwork has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Crown Point Press, and the Auchenbach Collection, Palace of Fine Arts. 

Matthew will be presenting a series of images from a book he collaborated on titled  "20 Days over 20 Years" reflecting a relationship that consisted of 20 face-to-face meetings over the course of 20 years.    


Ruksana Hussain 

© Ruksana Hussain

Ruksana Hussain moved to Dubai in 2011 to start a new life and discovered photography while travelling. A vivid memory from her childhood in Bangladesh involved the excitement that came with the journey she and her brothers would take to pick up her father at the airport, passing gigantic ships along the coast.  

It was only as an adult that she came upon a once-scenic coastal strip of a beach about 15-20 kms long, now home to one of the biggest ship-breaking yards in the world. Ruksana began documenting this massive graveyard for decommissioned ships and tankers, and the people who dismantle them.



Event details:
Date: Wednesday, 30th October, doors open at 7pm, Slidefest begins at 7.30pm.
Location: Knowledge Village Auditorium, Dubai (location map)
Free entry.


Film Screening - Intouchables


Sharjah Art Foundation will be screening the award winning Intouchables this Saturday, 26th October at 8.00pm in the open air Mirage City Cinema in Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces. The venue is lovely and was recently included in the list of the world's best outdoor cinemas



About Intouchables

When Driss, an ex-con from the projects, is hired to take care of an eccentric French aristocrat named Philippe, his newfound job quickly becomes an unpredictable adventure. Speeding a Maserati through Paris, seducing women and paragliding over the Alps is just the beginning, as Driss turns the often humorous world of upper-class Parisian society upside-down.

As this unlikely duo overcome adversity of every flavor in this true story, they also shatter their preconceptions of love, life and each other. Based on the #1 international best-selling book, "You Changed My Life."





Event details
Date: Saturday, 26th October 2013 at 8.00pm
Venue: Mirage City Cinema, Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces, Heritage Area (location map)
Event on Facebook
Freen entry. 



[image via Universes in Universe


Tintype Portraits by Antonie Robertson


Antonie Robertson is a Dubai based commercial photographer and describes himself as a visual story teller. I feaured his 30 Mosques Project a couple of years ago and I am happy to feature his latest project with you today.

For the past few months, Antonie has been shooting portraits using the tintype process (also known as wet-plate photography), a 150 year-old technique where the process involves a photographic creation of a positive image on a metal plate.  Black anodised aluminium is coated with collodion; it is then sensitised in a bath of silver before being exposed in camera. After that it is hand processed to create the final image. The final results unique and ethereal.
(You can find a step-by-step guide to tintype/wet-plate photography here.)

Antonie is working on producing the first contemporary collection of tintype portraits of the UAE. I asked him a few questions about his project. Read on and enjoy looking at some of the portraits he shared with me. 



The Culturist: What made you start using the tintype method for portraits? 

Antonie Robertson: I’ve known about the wet plate/tintype process along with the various other alternative photographic processes for a the better part of 14 years. It’s always interested me. Sally Mann was a big inspiration from the moment Immediate Family came onto my radar. But at that stage of my career it just wasn’t an economically sound option to focus on creative work solely.

I started shooting about five years before digital really became an option. My career in the beginning was heavily focused on creating images at the height of the analog era. I loved the craft of coaxing an emulsion through the right choice of format, processing and printing to create the look and feel that one wanted. There was an immense skill to being a professional image-maker that is now being completely lost due to the skillset change that the digital workflow has brought us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love digital, but it’s definitely a very different experience with it’s own rewards. Wet plate is a very involved process with distinct margins. It’s a different kind of discipline if you want to create good work. It has the potential to be truly beautiful in a way that cannot be replicated. 














TC: How are you choosing people to photograph?

AR: Up until now, the people I photographed have been based on availability. Mostly, the people who were willing to sit for me got photographed. I also approached a few people I knew who would be visual.














TC: During a conversation we had a few months ago, you said each session is a learning experience. Have you mastered it by now or still learning?

AR:  There’s no doubt in my mind that I have a lot to learn. But I can see progress. And hopefully others can too. The process itself is not forgiving, so it forces you to be clear in your own mind about what you are doing and how you are going to go about it.

For instance, there is a very distinct difference in the approach to shooting woman versus men. With almost all the guys I’ve shot, I was really bold and hard with the light because it really accentuates the perception of manliness with the process. Ninety percent of the guys I shot are all done on a variation of one technique. But women need a much more nuanced approach. There is a definite subtlety to creating a visual experience of the feminine representation.














TC: How has the reaction been so far by the people you photographed?

AR: I prepared the people I photographed by sending them popular links on the web that explains what I’m going to shoot and how. And mostly it’s that interest that gets people in front of the lens. There really is an intrigue to the alchemy of it all. But it’s a very revealing process, and I’ve had very extreme reactions. From people ecstatically jumping up and down to much less enthusiastic.

I really think since it’s not a perfect digital representation of what you yourself see in the mirror everyday, it plays a lot about the perception that every person has of him or herself. And then you throw in all the physical factors like the state of the chemicals that day, specific lighting, processing, my esthetic, etc. and you really end up with a cocktail of love or hate.














TC: What are you planning on doing next? Will you continue with indoor portraits?

AR: Right now I’m finishing up the first batch of the online gallery, and in the first week of November all the hardware I need to make the process mobile will be finished. Some things can be purchased, but I’ve had to make a lot of the equipment myself. Then I’m taking it outside to take street portraits wherever I can in different locations. I’m going to push it as far as I can go during the cooler months in the UAE. I’ve already got a list of subjects lined up. But I’m also very open to ideas and suggestions.














TC: I am seeing more and more photographers in many cities using the same method. How do you think tintype photography can be taken to the next level?

AR:  There definitely is a bandwagon forming. You had the precursors to the movement with people like Michael Shindler (co-founder of Photobooth in San Francisco) and Ian Ruther who are very widely published today. There is always a bandwagon. And like any medium it’s easy to chase the look and feel of what is trending at that moment in time.

I mean, just look at street art and the evolution from the 1980s hip hop style tags that led to big bold pieces. Then the focus shifted to stencils and stickers and then again to mini instillations, and now we are seeing people going back to very intricate painted work. As an art form, tintypes will have its own evolution.















TC: How can you differentiate yourself from what the others are doing?

AR:  Think of musicians and what they have at their disposal, basically what’s been around right from the start. Each musician takes that and melts it into their own creation, their own sound. We have the same parallels for painting, sculpture and even architecture. We just need to see where the individuals practicing the art will take it.

For me personally, there are very distinct aspects I want to focus on. Portraiture will feature strongly in my work. It always has and I think my approach to story telling should shine through it strongly too. 



Thanks Antonie. Personally I am looking forward to the next phase of this project when Antonie goes out to shoot tintype portraits (and I need to pluck up some courage and accept Antonie's request to get myself tintyped too). 

If you are in Dubai later this month, you can see Antonie Robertson at Slidefest on 30th October where he will present his tintype portraits and talk about the process.



[All images courtesy of Antonie Robertson]


The 1981 Dubai Grand Prix 


A friend shared a video of a sports event that took place in Dubai in 1981, The Dubai Grand Prix which happened during the 10th UAE National Day weekend.

I don't remember the event myself, but do recall races were held around the Hyatt Regency hotel (the building in the image below). I used to really like that part of Dubai, but alas, today, instead of a clear ocean view, you have the dreaded and unfinished Palm Deira

In the video, the 1981 Dubai Grand Prix was promoted as "the biggest motor racing event ever to hit the Arabian Gulf", and with racing cars and classic cars taking part, it was described as "a potent mixture of razzmatazz and pizazz and racing nostalgia with a certain amount of competition thrown in".  


The event was put together by "Birmingham entrepreneur, Martin Hone" and you can watch him being interviewed in the video by the poolside of the Hyatt Regency hotel (where I used to go with my siblings to swim when we were kids). 
There's a very, dare I say, colonial tone in his voice, especially when he said that when he first introduced the idea of racing, the locals thought he was talking about camel racing. He got permission to call it the Dubai Grand Prix to make people realise it's a motor car racing.

He goes on to say that in three years, "we will have educated the local people sufficiently enough to say yes, we like this event as a tourism event, as a publicity and promotion event - and we will go for a world championship Grand Prix". 

Of course that never happened and it was only recently that Abu Dhabi started hosting the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Today we have the Dubai Auto Drome, but it is nothing compared to the track built in 1981.  

But before Abu Dhabi and even Bahrain, Dubai had the ambitions to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix. I do love this small chapter of motor racing history that happened in Dubai. Why wasn't this pursued to become something bigger? I don't know. My guess is Dubai preferred building big malls and tall buildings.

Please do watch the video. It really is quite amazing and comical at the same time, it's like something out of Wacky Races


The National wrote a detailed article about this event in 2010 (which I don't know how I missed). There's also a write up about the 1981 Dubai Grand Prix with images in Dubai As It Used to Be and 8W. I strongly recommend you visit all three links. 





Thanks Wissam for sharing this. You made my day.



[Dubai Grand Prix poster image via F1 Rejects.]