Kids often play dress up and act out adult roles, with girls smearing mothers’ lipsticks across their own lips and wobbling in high heels. As a teen, Fatima Al Qadiri twisted around this notion of dress up into a discussion on gender and its performativity, with her younger sister costumed in a suit.
Accompanying the launch of magazine mono.kultur’s 43rd issue featuring Kuwaiti music producer and visual artist, Fatima Al Qadiri, is the London exhibit of her photography at KK Outlet. The series, Bored 1997, is also published in the print issue and has Fatima Al Qadiri’s younger sister, Monira, aged 14 at the time, as the main subject dressed in their father’s garments. The artist is well known for her music and art around displacement, war, and sexual, cultural, and national identities, most recently recording a show entitled The Sound of Bombs on BBC Radio 4 which explores how war sounds are conflated with contemporary music.
Taken at age 16, the photos from Bored 1997 show a mature and socially aware Fatima behind the lens exploring the fluidity within binaries, specifically gender, from a young age. The shoot, set in the Al Qadiri’s father’s “hunting room” already provides a highly masculine, gendered context. Dressed up in slacks and a tie, complete with slicked back hair, Fatima’s younger sister performs manhood and masculinity.
The gender performativity is overt and playful. In some of Fatima’s photos, Monira is featured with a headscarf or fur stole, adding femininity into the mix. Rather than detract from Al Qadiri’s visual conceptualisation of the dichotomy of gendered identities, it, instead, offers a multi-faceted perspective of gender constructs. When is Monira performing a man and does it end once a fur stole, a signifier of female elegance, is around her neck or does it continue? Which gender identity is she performing when she is pictured on the phone with a scarf around her head?
The photos also initiate a similar conversation around cultural and national identity as well, with some photos picturing Monira wearing a gulf keffiyeh, a cloth worn by Arab men on the head or shoulders, or a loose hijab, a female headscarf. Fatima’s inclusion of these items generate a specific cultural identity to the performance whereas Monira’s businessman costume is much more generic and vague regarding such identities. Again, it begs to ask when certain identities, associations, or specificities apply, begin, or end, if ever.
Gender performativity, in particular, is a main thematic concept Fatima consistently deals with in all mediums and aspects of her work, both musically and visually. Rather than impose some grand statement on masculinity or femininity, Bored 1997 displays what its title implies: these presentations of gender are weaved into the everyday and most banal of tasks.
The series is published in mono.kultur for the first time in print and the exhibit runs until May 15