introduction |  mary salome and laura

In Arabic

Welcome to the virtual edition of Map of a Virtual World: Voices and Visions of Queer Southwest Asian and North African People!

This issue springs from a live event, by the same title, that was organized as part of the Fifth Annual National Queer Arts Festival. The Festival is organized every year by our fiscal sponsors, the Queer Cultural Center (Qcc). This massive San Francisco-based festival brings together hundreds of artists to perform, exhibit, play, teach, dance, and generally rock the world of San Francisco during a month that is set aside to celebrate queer pride. It was great to have queer SWANA visibility at the Festival, and to be part of this amazing series of events.

"Map of a Virtual World" took place at SomArts in the South of Market area of San Francisco on Sunday, June 2nd, 2002. Generally, the Mujadarra Grrls' focus is on the Internet because it allows us to reach an international audience and dispersed communities. We strategized from the beginning to create ways to develop a Web component for the event, and this issue is the result of those efforts. (We entertained the idea of a live chat, but were not able to pull it off this time).

This issue differs from previous issues in several important ways. First, our intent was to be inclusive of Southwest Asian and North African people, and not just those who are Arab-world identified. Some of the people working on the project were Iranian, and after group discussion, we felt it was wrong to exclude them from the scope of the event. Second, this issue includes "bio guys" -- men who are not transgendered. We are proud to have their work as part of this issue. It's also worth noting that this issue includes work by a South Asian ally, Shailja Patel; we're excited about building an alliance with her in particular, and South Asian communities in general.

The title, "Map of a Virtual World," came from the tagline that appears in the top right hand corner of Bint el Nas, which says, "From the Virtual World of Queer Arabia." Obviously, Queer Arabia doesn't really exist, and if it did, its inhabitants would be a very dispersed population who rarely got to meet in person. (And when they did, they would probably argue about the meaning of the word "queer" and the construction of the word "Arabia!") The original title was actually "Putting Queer Arabia on the Map," since queer Arabs are often invisible in queer communities in the West. We changed the name when we decided to be inclusive of SWANA ethnicities.

With all of this talk about map making and worlds, we thought it would be a fun idea to make flags for this virtual world. The misunderstandings and challenges that arose from our call for flags were amazing. Some people thought we wanted to replace the rainbow flag. Others responded by raising questions about the meaning of nationalism. Part of the confusion around our intent came from the fact that the explanations were distributed by email, a poor method of communication if you want to examine anything complicated. Ultimately, the discussions that we had about the flags were eye-opening and worthwhile.

The event opened with a panel discussion. The panel, titled "Finding Our Ways Home: Queer SWANA Artists as Mapmakers," included local artists Happy, jim, and Maher as panelists, with Sima acting as moderator. Each panelist discussed her/his experience of home, community, queerness and art. You will find the transcribed panel discussion in this issue.

The panel discussion was followed by an art exhibit, wherein various community members displayed their artistic renditions of "Queer Arabia" in flag form. This portion of the event, which, as we've noted, had been considered controversial by some, turned into a fun, entertaining, thought-provoking experience. Flag artists included Bassam, Laura, Mary, Nadya, Suhair, and two anonymous artists. Included with the flag displays was a special installation, created by Laura and Melinda, that combined flags from the "Middle East" and the United States with evocative questions such as "who belongs?", "who passes?", "who stays?" and "who comes out?". Look inside for photos from the exhibit.

Later in the evening, the panelists performed some of their work, along with Fadi, Hanan, Shailja and Tania. Each performance was creative and powerful. It was an incredible site to see SWANA artists expressing themselves on stage. The text from most of the performances is included here.

"Map of a Virtual World" was the first live event produced by the Mujadarra Grrls. The work was both fun and frustrating, and included some surprises. The biggest surprise was the number of non-SWANA people who came out to help us organize -- very special thanks to Anna, Lynn and Melinda for this. Our primary workgroup was very cohesive and worked (and ate!) well together. After one particularly intense planning meeting we went en masse to see the queer hip hop group Juha perform in downtown Oakland. We had no trouble combining work and play! Our major frustration was around the community's low-key (at best) response to both our call for organizers, and to the event itself. We had a surprisingly, painfully low turn-out for the event. Although the low attendance was probably due to some planning mistakes on our part, we wish more community folks had come out to see and support our work. That said, the event was wonderfully moving and, we believe, historical.

The Mujadarra Grrls would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable assistance on this project:
Najat and "La Crepe de Marrakesh" in Berkeley for providing the wonderful Moroccan food at a very low-cost, and
Damion Baroody Kelley for donating amazing Arabic sweets to the event!

Without them, we would not have been able to produce this important event.

Finally, it is important to note that translating a live event into a web-based format is tricky business. Some of the clarity, meaning and nuances of the evening are bound to be lost in the transition. Nevertheless, we wanted to record this event here, both for the sake of "history" and to give our international membership an opportunity to experience at least some of the magic of "seeing" your own community shine. We hope you enjoy this special issue of Bint el Nas!

--Mary and Laura, for the Mujadarra Grrls

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