Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria on the starkly avant garde culture of the Middle East
“The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson
Over the last fifty years, the Arabian Gulf has given birth to a very particular brand of futurism. It is a phenomena marked by a deranged optimism about the sustainability of both oil reserves and late capitalism. Similar to early 20th century Euro-Futurism and mid-century American kitch and retro-futurism, Gulf Futurism is evident in a dominant class concerned with master-planning and world-building, while the youth culture preoccupied with fast cars, fast tech and viddying a bit of ultra-violence.
The Arabian Gulf is a region that has been hyper-driven into a present made up of interior wastelands, municipal master plans and environmental collapse, thus making it a projection of our global future. From this statement, the themes and ideas of Gulf Futurism emerge: the isolation of individuals via technology, wealth and reactionary Islam, the corrosive elements of consumerism on the soul and industry on the earth, the erasure of history from our memories and our surroundings and finally, our dizzying collective arrival in a future no one was ready for.
The way to this conclusion was accompanied by certain guidebooks: Baudrillard’s The Illusion of the End, As-Sufi’s Book of the Dead, Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Unreal, imagery from Islamic eschatology, corporate ideology, posthumanism and the global mythos of science fiction.
The following are nine examples as compiled by Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al Maria, illustrating the edges and origins of Gulf Futurism.
1. The Tron chopper is legendary along the Doha corniche. A man of singular vision, Ahmed Al Jaber is Qatar’s resident light cyclist and owner of no less than 5 gilded and glowing Mercedes, Kawasakis and
rumor has it: a Delorean.
2. "Heart's Trip" might read gas station convenience store party drug of the air freshener/bath salts varietal, but this foiled cassette tape of religious anthems is pure aural ecstasy.
3. It was 1983 when this unmanned alien ship landed in Qatar. Throughout the 70s architect William Peirera was building in the greater Gulf region such as the Yanbu housing complex in Saudi, the Imperial Medical Center in Iran and the “Saddam” International Airport in Iraq all of which showcased his flare for Flash Gordon. For his final project in the region before his death he built the Doha Sheraton – a lux monument to 80s-upward mobility and Islamic geometry. American astronaut Alan Shephard was the very first guest to check-in.
4. “New Weird” imam China Miéville called Iranian author Reza Negarestani's 2008 work Cyclonopedia “a post-genre horror, apocalypse theology and philosophy of oil, crossbred into a new and necessary codex”. Although not strictly linked geographically, the paranoid preoccupations of the novel are one with Gulf Futurism.
5. The great oil fires of Kuwait after the first Gulf War were Wagnerian in scale even without Wagner as a soundtrack (or Werner Herzog's mutterings from the book of revelations). Primeval and prophetic, the omnipotent 'alien' narration of Herzog's 1992 Lessons of Darkness lends a strange poetry to the apocalyptic landscape of post-war Kuwaiti oil fields.
6. Workers of Metropolis - When Fritz Lang and Thea Von Harbou wrote Metropolis in 1927, it seemed a safely exaggerated fantasy for them to dabble in half-baked faux-Marxist ideology. But like so many unsettling dystopias, Metropolis has turned out to be prophetic. Fast-forward less than a century and the building of our cities mirror the Metropolis scenario: masses of exhausted workers grist to the mill of behemoth urban industrial complexes. Sadly, no hot Deco femme-bot in sight.
7. Khalifa and Lidia Al Qattan met and fell in love in a hospital in England in the 50s. An outsider art couple, Khalifa invented the concept of Circulism in the mid 1970s and used it as a painting method in which "the curved line is a universal symbol, suggestive of time-motion and change.” Meanwhile, Lidia set to work encrusting their Qadsiya home with shards of mirror, creating a gallery of rooms with galactic and zodiac themes and rigging the house to play a "faerie" soundtrack triggered by light switches. A seminal Gulf Futurist interior.
8. In 1976 the Kuwait Water Towers were completed by Swedish architect, Sune Lindström. These groves of reinforced concrete framed against a gigantic sky appeared to children with stretched imaginations to be the perfect cover for extra-terrestrial dweling. Meanwhile, the Kuwait Towers were constructed to contain a bar and disco (now only restaurant and cafe) overlooking the cruisey coastline. The two skewered globes topping the structure were bedazzled by the designers to give the appearance of sequined thobe neshil, Kuwaiti sister of the kaftan .
9. Masterplans - Every country has one of these executive summaries for their future. This entry is as much about the absurdity (and villainy) of corporate language as it is about the conundrum of having to have a cunning ‘master plan’ in the first place. Municipally enforced utopianism inevitably dulls down to dystopia. The ultimate master plan: this AS Architecture-Studio proposal for a Masjid Al Haram grand expansion envisions the Mecca of the future as a tiered radioconcentric ripple with maximum capacity for a procession of up to 2,250,000 pilgrims at once.