‘In-between’ at Sadu House
Written by: Ashley Alleluya
Video by: Miniature Malekpour
If you’ve lived for any amount of time in Kuwait, you’d have experienced a sense of being in-between. Existing between the world of entitlement and earning as an expatriate. Between the guidelines of freedom and caution as a woman or a minority. Between the realms of the old and new rules as a Kuwaiti of the current generation. These dimensions barely scratch the surface of the middle ground that this country is. ‘Inbetween’ at Sadu House on the evening of the 5th of March was an effort by budding photographer Abdullah Al Saleh to dig a little under this surface.
Artistic expressions via photography, music and dance were the platforms of choice and good ones at that. There are few other media of expression that can strike the right balance between calm and provocative as these three. Dramatic enactments can sometimes be overly aggressive to an audience member. Poetry and prose have that famed ability to be sharper than knives. Paintings, beautiful though they may be to look at, are so open to interpretation that their original message may be lost. Photography, however, has a way of presenting a story without verbalizing these thoughts. The photographer truly has a story to tell.
Adorning the pillars and walls of an interior room in Sadu House is a collection of Abdullah’s work from his ‘Inbetween’ collection. Each of these photographs captures a person in motion in-between movements. What stands out immediately is this brief second of stasis frozen in a supposedly fluidly kinetic setting. When I ask Abdullah about his exhibit, he speaks to me about the cyclical nature of the pictures. “The exhibit begins with a woman in the disdasha, evolving into different women and men in other forms of clothing, until you reach the last photograph – of a man in the disdasha,” he explains. Abdulla beautifully captures the essence of in-betweenness through dress and posture, placing his models in scenarios that include props such as a hula hoop, a fence or a silk covering.
On a screen hoisted up against a corner, a projector plays out a series of videos of the models in motion, expressing the idea of balancing in-betweenness with artistic movement. Beautiful though it was, I found myself constantly drawn towards the still images, those that managed to pause motion into a comprehensive story under the watchful eyes of Abdullah. What was also interesting to me was the venue. Sadu House, as it was that evening, felt like the physical embodiment of the in-between vibe. It was a richly traditional space for that one night, filled with people between the old and young adages of age, between those who dressed in their traditional attire or put on their edgiest clothing, and between the silent observers and the expressive socializers. “I chose Sadu House for its cultural background, and the space it provided for this form of expression,” Abdullah informs me of his choice.
Later on, as the evening progressed, we got to witness the expression he speaks of in its complete glory. A contemporary dance performance by Tamara Qabazard, whose forte happens to be aerial gymnastics and an interpretative dance piece by Dalal Al Mohanna, who incorporated the hula hoop into her act (and also teaches classes in the artform of the hula hoop dance) – two artistes who beautifully captured the vocabulary behind the night’s theme with a language far more powerful than words. They walked – or rather danced – the fine line between motion and staccato, graceful and powerful, real and surreal, while all the while relaying to their audience the feeling of limbo – that odd pause in time that is neither here nor there.
Before I leave, I ask Abdullah about his personal connection with the ‘Inbetween’ theme and what it means to him. “I always feel like I am in balance as a person,” he laughs, “but I definitely feel an in-betweenness being half-Kuwaiti and half-Algerian. This exhibition is an outlet to convey that feeling of being a part of both worlds together.” As an Indian growing up strongly within the Indian community in Kuwait and existing in both spaces together, his sense of in-betweenness resonates with me. Through Abdullah’s eyes, for that night, I found the beauty in being ‘Inbetween.’