Arts & Culture

How “Wild Arab West” highlights Khaleeji cultural fusion

We meet the two Emirati friends behind the platform.

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By Layan Aboshkier

A promotional video of the WAW exhibition at D3 in Dubai. Courtesy.

Growing up in the United Arab Emirates, I, and many others, have always felt that we belong to a mix of cultures, rather than one, due to the diverse society of the UAE. We grew up surrounded by friends, neighbors, and even family members that come from all over the world. Thus, our form of communication became a mix of Arabic and English words that were uniquely created to suit the cultural fusion that we are surrounded by. 

And to represent this cultural fusion, two Emirati ladies, Hessa Alechla and Iman Al Midfa, have decided to create the popular Instagram page “Wild Arab West”, better known as (WAW). The two friends, who share the same passion towards the fusion of cultures as portrayed through art, which the Instagram initiative is centered on, felt the necessity of creating a platform that they, and many Arabs, could relate to. However, they never knew the massive success that WAW was going to achieve, as they were able to gain over 12,000  followers on Instagram in less than four months only, and they have recently held their own art exhibition in Dubai Design District (D3). 

The idea behind WAW “is to showcase the fusion between Eastern and Western cultures and lifestyles” say Hessa and Iman.

The exhibition is a showcase of their famous WAW Dictionary Series and will be running until September 30, between buildings 6 and 7 in D3. It is also a representation of what WAW aims for, which is to become a platform that works with artists to highlight the Gulf’s cultural fusion. Therefore, the exhibition became a collaboration with the Emirati artist Ahmed Almahri, who is a part of the team that designed the UAE National Identity for the next 50 years.

I speak with Hessa and Iman to learn more about WAW and the exhibition.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the concept behind WAW? And how did it come to existence?

Hessa and Iman: WAW (Wild Arab West) is a concept created by the two of us. The idea behind the brand is to showcase the fusion between Eastern and Western cultures and lifestyles. We wanted to showcase that in a way that was fun for the audience, with our memes and also added a flare of pop culture to the brand. In addition to this, we felt it was important to highlight historic events and figures within the Arab world. So, the concept also includes an element of history in addition to art and culture.

WAW celebrates iconic figures from the Gulf and larger Arab world, such as the late Kuwaiti actor Ali Al Mufidi.

Tell us about the choice of name.

Hessa and Iman: We were inspired by the term “Wild West” and we added Arab [in between] to reflect the concept of the brand, hence using Arab and West within the name to highlight the fusion. We also liked the abbreviation of the name WAW since it is linked to the word ‘wow,’ which is always used in a positive, complimenting manner.

As two young Emiratis, how is your project contributing to the growth of the Emirati/Khaleeji/Arab art scene?

Hessa and Iman:  We both enjoy comedy and pop culture, along with visiting interactive art installations. However, we felt that this type of art scene was not as prevalent in Khaleeji society as much as we see it abroad. This is one of the main reasons we wanted to highlight the existence of this type of art within the Khaleeji world. There are so many talented artists that have elements of pop culture within their work, and we wanted to use our platform as a way for these artists to showcase their work.

What do you think was the reason behind the success that WAW has gained in 4 months only? Is there a particular story/project that you believe sparked your success?

Hessa and Iman: The concept of WAW is definitely the main reason for its success because we wanted to make something that would cheer people up and make them laugh. When we first started the account, we were also pleasantly surprised by the popularity that it received with our audience from various countries within the Arab world, not just within the UAE. Our WAW Dictionary Series was definitely one of the more popular posts as we tried to use words that we felt our audience would definitely be able to relate to. In addition, our daily Khaleeji life references, along with pop culture from both the Arab world and the west, makes it a match made in heaven.

Part of the WAW Dictionary Project.

Since you’re very well-known for your Dictionary Project, please tell me more about it. 

Hessa and Iman:  The concept is using Khaleeji words that are common in our daily lives, and used by millennials. The goal is to define the word and then give it a pop culture twist. We started the concept since we thought that there are many Khaleeji words that are used on a daily basis but people are not aware of their definitions or might have not used them in a long time. Thus, the WAW dictionary series acts as a way to remind people of their definitions while allowing people to laugh by enjoying the daily Khaleeji life references.

We have also received a lot of interest from non-Arabic speakers who were interested in the concept and learning the words and phrases we use in Khaleeji society. As a result, we started adding the English pronunciation of these words to the posts so that they could be enjoyed by both our Arab and non-Arab audiences.

“We felt it was important to highlight historic events and figures within the Arab world”, say Hessa and Iman. Featured here are iconic Saudi singers, the late Talal Maddan (left) and Mohammed Abdo (right).

You have recently started an exhibition in D3 (Dubai Design District) in collaboration with the Emirati artist Ahmed Almahri. What is this exhibition? And what is it trying to deliver to the audience? 

Hessa and Iman: As a result of the popularity of WAW Dictionary, we used this as an opportunity to showcase the famous WAW Dictionary Series in Dubai’s iconic Dubai Design District (D3).  The English pronunciation of these words is also included as part of this showcase to allow non-Arabic speaking visitors to also enjoy the art, as well as to provide a cultural learning experience for all nationalities.

The exhibition was also used as a platform to showcase Emirati art talent, and we collaborated with Ahmed Almahri, who is a graphic designer specialized in collage, pop art and street art (especially Arabic calligraffiti & stencil art). A selection of his artwork is also displayed at the exhibition to focus on the concept of the fusion of the “people” aspect of the Eastern and Western cultures. This can be seen through the combination of iconic figures and characteristics from both cultures into a single art piece.”

WAW is known for its humorous tone. 

What are your future plans for WAW?

Hessa and Iman: We started WAW as a platform to work with artists in order to further highlight the cultural fusion. Thus, we definitely plan to collaborate with more artists in future projects and events. Our goal is to build our brand to be a big contributor to the growth of the pop and urban culture within the region.

Layan Aboshkier is a Syrian journalist who contributes to Arabic and international media platforms. She is passionate about theatre, arts and culture, and literature. Layan is a firm believer in the power of the written word. She is currently interning at Sekka.

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