Above: cover of Fatima Al Qadiri’s Desert Strike EP
Scott Smith interviews Rahel Aima:
Gulf futurism, as I understand it, is conceptualised in the mould of Marinetti’s Italian futurism, and inherits many of the same touchstones. All of its seductiveness: sun, sand, and solar-sintered glassy desolation of the Arabian gulf at the extreme promontory of the millennia. All the beautiful/callous brutality, all the proto-fascism of a society that privileges success and speed over human life.
Yet Gulf futurism offers no new imagery to displace the hegemonic ones in power—instead setting up the scaffolding to reproduce the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. As ethnifuturisms go, it feels like there’s something missing, too. Where’s the longing, the displacement, the impossibility of return? Where’s the Afghan, the Filipino, the Indian, the Iranian, the Somali, the Pakistani, the Bangladeshi, the Iraqi, and all the other non-Khaleeji Arabs all bound up into one pathologised brown body? [Experimental jazz musician] Sun Ra had to go all the way to Saturn; the Gulf futurist doesn’t need to go anywhere because they’re welcomed, and even reified, right at home.
At base, Gulf futurism is “plus ça change futurism,” all wrapped up in what a friend has dubbed “flying force fields of neo-Arabness.” It’s not imagining a future so much as mapping shards of future detritus—imagery strongly defined-as-future by Western culture, as you put it—in the present. It’s an aesthetic scaffolding that reproduces all the injustices, structural degradation and racial erasures of the present. I do want to tread carefully here, as I still live and work in the region. And I’m awfully reluctant to invoke any kind of rights-based frameworks which I think are problematic in their own way, but you can probably extrapolate and posit what else gets thrown out with the bathwater here. How can it be sci-fi without social justice?
See also: Rahel on “Aspirational Weirdness”