September 2013

Steel Gate

FIND : NYU Abu Dhabi / New York

Examining larger concepts of time and location with FIND Contributor Munira Al Sayegh

Years after moving out, Munira Al Sayegh comprehends the complexity of her Grandfather’s house - and her family’s place in it - through its history and its stories. She revisits the structure and visually documents places for which she has photos from her childhood. In response to the time-based juxtapositions, she records the memories of her cousins and writes her own. Looking backwards while staring at the present, Munira examines larger concepts of time and location through the lens of her very personal journey.

Steel Gate: Mansour

Shabab
“The bigs” (older cousins), as we called them, were so separate to us with their own world that they only shared with us when the age gap was no longer a subject. They were the great grandchildren who got to see the great-grandparents. I came to life with them being adults, and my great grand-parents being characters who were told to us in the forms of reminiscent stories.
After coming home from Hamdan center with bags of video tapes and new Nintendo games, the boys made us watch WWF (World Wrestling Federation) every Wednesday night. They explained the fight beforehand and told us that we had to watch wrestling in case we ever got caught up in some sort of fight. All we wanted is for them to finish using the TV in the room where me and my girl cousins pretended to be the Spice Girls.
Thursdays would usually entail us all going to the souq next door, and all of us buying almost the same things. We went back to the house and split into teams, overtook the women's Majlis in Baba Yousifs house, and resold our toys - and everything else we could put our hands on - to each other with pretend money. Before I would leave, my cousin Aziz would get his battery charged car and park right outside the Majlis; he would take me back to the main house with my new sales, and buys.

Steel Gate: Aziz

The New Kids
These three are the first of the “new generation” after mine. It took me 12 years after they were born to drop the prefix of “baby” before any of their names. They took over on their own terms, created new imaginary games that involved kitchen paper towel rolls, soap, water, and a secret ingredient which, to this day, has never been disclosed to any of the cousins who didn’t partake in their childhood activity. Their boredom soon fed into ours. We overtook a room that had a floor-to-ceiling shelf filled with books stacked on top of each other; parallel to the shelf was a deck of rolled up Iranian carpets and one random old couch that could fit us all as kids. We would turn off the lights, and I would sit on the carpets. Welcoming the new generation in, as my cousins who were my age had them sit down, we transferred that storage room into a new place through interactive stories which we called FairyLand.

Steel Gate: Maryam

The Strut. The Imagination.
She was the start of the next generation, my little cousin (who now towers over me). Her thoughts and questions were controlled by her expansive imagination, which brought to life the “jungle jungle” game. We pretended that her shoelaces were bunnies looping through holes, so I could teach her how to tie her own laces. I tried to keep the stories simple, but she always came back to me, as she was attempting to tie her laces, with a more extensive, action filled bunny story that resulted in knots that were impossible to undo. This always led to another story about bunny and his adventures.

Steel Gate: Sara

Alshilla
We grew up side by side. Dressing alike, we went to McDonalds or Sindibad on the weekends because they were the only places with kids "playing areas". Later we returned to my grandfather’s house to have soup before we were released into the courtyard with the swing set. We played as we discussed things as abstract as religion to a kid to which one of us went to the better school to the idea of age—I convinced everyone that it had nothing to do with numbers, but had everything to do with height. (At the time I was the tallest of the bunch, which gave me instant power.) We recreated Jebel Ali, by tossing the masanid atop of each other, not knowing that Jabal Ali was just an area and not an actual mountain. I remember making up names of different kinds of "spins", the names of which we all knew by heart. One of us shouted a name, and we dropped everything and started spinning and spinning until all the objects around us turned into one, the floor beneath our feet sloped to one side, and we let our bodies rest on the ground with our eyes shut, describing our experience of what outer space must be like in relationship to our dizziness.

Steel Gate: Amna
By Munira Al Sayegh for FIND: NYU Abu Dhabi
Credits: Story

Project concept, photographs, and text by Munira Al Sayegh

Audio by Munira Al Sayegh with production assistance by Fadi Wahbeh

Illustrations by Munira Al Sayegh with Sherri Wasserman

http://www.f-in-d.com/stories/steel-gate

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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