Fatima Al Qadiri: Queen of my Art

I don’t know where to start with Fatima Al Qadiri. I’ve been fascinated by her for going on five years, for reasons including and aside from her work. I’ll try to give you the bare bones of it.

Fatima Al Qadiri photographed by Valeria Cherci
Fatima Al Qadiri photographed by Valeria Cherchi

Back when I was working as a content moderator on an ‘x-rated’ gay dating channel, my colleagues and I would always be listening to music in the office and would share stuff with each other, to ease the pain of all the dick pics and adult babies.

One day Hal, my most steadfast provider of inspiration, introduced me to Genre Specific Experience by Fatima Al Qadiri. Lyricless, futuristic and unnerving, I became immediately and irreconcilably obsessed. So of course, being at work with six hours to kill and all the explicit photo senders putting nooky on the back burner for their Sunday roasts, I indulged in everything Al Qadiri the internet had to offer.

Born in Senegal, she moved to Kuwait at two with her Kuwaiti parents, and together they lived through Saddam’s invasion, i.e. the Persian Gulf War. Her parents were part of the resistance against Iraq, which although extremely badass put them all at risk of being hung, drawn and quartered at any given moment.

“All the phone lines were monitored by the Iraqi police. My father was once half an hour late to a meeting and when he arrived everybody at the safe house had already been murdered. Our family was moving from house to house almost every week, but still my father was eventually a prisoner of war. He was taken from our house to a concentration camp in Basra for a month,” Fatima told The Guardian in a 2014 interview about her life and work.

From the series Bored
From the series Bored

So this left Fatima and her sister Monira stuck in their room getting really, really good at video games. “Me and my younger sister played them during and after the war. Even Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf! We were lords of the universe in video games. We had power. They were an alternative universe where we could react against traumatic adult reality. We could escape. And the music was so hypnotic! Little 8-bit melodies that lulled you into a waking sleep while playing.”

And those 8-bit melodies have certainly had an effect on Fatima’s music making. In fact I wouldn’t consider her work to be music at all, more a soundscape of End Times. In the most delicious way. In her first EP Desert Strike the influences of her apocalyptic childhood being holed up playing video games are dramatically apparent.

The sounds she uses are reminiscent of 90’s dial up internet, the small palette of bleeps and chimes remind me of the euphoric chords logging into Windows 95.

Her work can be considered part of Gulf Futurism but instead of simply being futuristic, her work leans towards nostalgia for the internet’s age of innocence.

Desktop savers of blue skies and heavenly clouds, Net Art of plush houses with Ferraris deep in a webspace fantasy. Even her website, when I first clicked on it, was a work of art. Simulated to look like the finder screen of a Mac, it tricks you into thinking you are inside your own computer (obviously now it’s dated and lols because Macs have changed, but now it’s like soooo retro).

Fatima Al Qadiri
Fatima Al Qadiri

Desert Strike drew me in, but ultimately it was Fatima’s next EP, the ultra addictive Genre Specific Experience, that was truly the tits. Both creepy and sexy, the crowning glory is the hyperactive How Can I Resist U.

Young Kuwaitis would be sent off to the UK in the summer to escape extreme heat and would be getting involved with all sorts of hoo-hah. How Can I Resist U is Fatima’s ode to London and the hypnotic video portrays it as a kind of Babylon (it’s directed by art titan Sophia Al Maria).

The video features secret footage of a style of dancing called Ma’alaya which few Westerners will have seen performed irl. Seen at weddings in the Middle East behind closed doors, it’s as taboo as it gets.

The very few videos featuring Ma’alaya on Youtube have the comments section disabled and most aren’t accessible to our prying Western eyes. Fatima Al Qadiri + Sophia Al Maria = cultural force to be reckoned with.

And F.A.Q’s done a lot since then. Her first album Asiatisch in 2014, was on the theme of an ‘imagined China’, one that exists only within Western stereotypes. The coolest thing about Asiatisch is Shanzhai, a ‘cover’ of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U but (wait for it) it’s sung in gibberish trying to pass off as Mandarin. Which is a blindin’ metaphor for how little we understand about the real China.

Her second album was just as enveloped in sociopolitical issues. Brute, a protest album about police brutality features a Josh Kline sculpture of a teletubby in riot gear as its front cover, entitled Po Po. The writing of this album stemmed from the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore. Fatima was reminded of her own experience in a large scale protest as a student and the overwhelming violent force of the police.

Only thing is, it’s hard to engineer a particular tangible reaction to a song, that reaction is more likely to happen when it’s not expected, like one wrenching line in a love song that just feels political.

But in our culture of ignoring the world around us and retreating into the bourgeois nest of Art as distraction, I was glad she did.

Being massively successful as a producer, it may be overlooked that she is also a visual artist with too many projects to talk about here.

They range from photos she took as a child of her sister dressed as a businessman (they literally couldn’t leave the house remember), to a series of portraits of Kuwaiti drag queens. Then there’s Mendeel Um A7mad a fascinating short film about a group of middle-aged women (all played by young men) drinking their pre-noon tea and gossiping.

It’s interesting to see that even though it’s within a totally different cultural context it’s not that different at all from enduring a bitchy cuppa with my mam and Aunty Ju, but as usual for Fatima there’s an air of complete unreality ’cause the roles are played by boys and the room they’re in is exaggeratedly huge. 

From Dragas series
From Fatima’s Dragas series

Fatima’s artistic output was as raw as all hell from the outset. Back in 2010 she created a ‘Muslim Trance’ mini-mix for DIS Magazine as Ayshay (which means ‘whatever’ in Arabic). Around a similar time she started writing a music blog called Global Wav. She scoured parts of the world lesser known by the West for their musical output, such as Afghanistan and Nigeria to harvest their musical gems, with results nothing short of fucking inspirational.

Just last Wednesday I was scrolling back into the abyss, crying my eyes out at a post entitled Kurdish Rural Rave. This bitch is a producer/artist/writer/curator/comedian and I can’t even remember to clip my toenails at regular intervals.

F.A.Q’s most recent EP, Shaneera is predictably as groundbreaking as everything else she’s ever done, and is described by The Fader as ‘A love letter to queer Arab icons’.

Many of her non-binary collaborators use fake names for fear of endangering themselves. My personal favourite is Bobo Secret. 

Fatima doesn’t so much go along with trends as fashion them into High Art with her own bare hands. 

From the cover of the Shaneera EP
From the cover of the Shaneera EP

There’s no direct translation of Shaneera in English. The word itself is a mispronunciation of Shanee’a in Arabic, meaning outrageous, nefarious, hideous and foul. Fatima’s non-binary friends in Kuwait have taken this word for their own, where it’s re-modelled as a slang term for an evil ice queen.

Speaking to The Fader, Fatima described the EP: “This is the most anxiety-ridden record I’ve ever made. I am scared. I don’t give a fuck what people in the West think. It’s not for a Western audience, at the end of the day. You can dance to it, and like it, but it’s not for you. The audience is the Arab audience, 100%.”

Fatima has been described as an ice queen herself by friends, and that Shaneera is her ‘evil femme alter ego’ and I couldn’t be more down with that. Fatima will always be an absolute fucking queen.

Fatima Al Qadiri
Fatima Al Qadiri

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