Wide and upward, a desert and a skyscraper delineate past, present, and future
As I watched the short but significant works of Sophia Al Maria, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Larissa Sansour – The future was desert, Desert strike ghost raid, and Nation estate respectively – I couldn’t help but feel both confusion and clarity at the same time. While Sansour’s was a short film, it offered a lenght that gave room to a richer and more formal narrative that helped the viewer in understanding the elements of science fiction embedded in the reality of the condition of Palestinian confinement. Al Maria and Al Qadiri come up with a new genre, a new movement: Gulf-futurism. Hence, as everything that is new, it might confuse the viewer at first before shading light to the meaning of the message that the artist is conveying. One element that I believe all these works have in common is that use of natural or man-made infrastructural elements, more specifically a desert and a skyscraper. These elements, in their own way, expose a consumerism-driven culture and a sense of confinement in one’s own home land.
The timeless desert keeps track of time
The work of Sophia Al Maria largely focuses on the desert as an element that is both timeless and that at the same time reminds people of the time that goes by. In fact, a more appropriate definition rather than “timeless” would be “free from the constraints of time”. Indeed, the desert does not really pay attention to “the space race for skyscrapers” induced by the oil-boom in the Gulf. The desert is just there. However, both Al Maria and Al Qadiri were at least curious about the kind of life in Western countries. The mix of natural and artificial elements in Al Maria’s film show the gap of time influenced by capitalism, with a growing worry towards consumer culture when, in all honesty, death of mankind is the only certain thing that the future allows to foresee.
Fatima Al Qadiri’s video concentrates more on the Gulf War and its critique as a “video game war”. Some of the special effects seem to be the result of being “high” on some drug, but I believe it expresses the reality and gravity of those times. In particular, part of the name of the film was called “Desert Strike” which, incidentally, is also the name of a video game that came out in 1992, inspired from the events of the Gulf War, developed by the American video game company Electronic Arts. This particular choice of both the name and the graphics in the video shows an additional critique of capitalism and the consumer culture that revolves around a life of TV, video games and shopping malls, along with the re-appropriation of a specific historical and societal narrative.
A skyscraper that isolates
Just as the Gulf’s condition was commodified by an American video game company, the work of Sansour shows a commodified version of Palestine, where all its population is confined within a immensely tall skyscraper that mimics the structure of an hotel. Indeed, in the Sci-Fi film of Sansour, all citizens of Palestine access to their apartments through an elevator that has a name of an area or part of a Palestinian city per floor; then, they enter their rooms with an electronic key resembling the Palestinian flag. Though the environment seems surgically clean and welcoming, those who live there are stuck in a condition of confinement, forced to develop “upward” in order to be united as a community.