In this semester, I have concentrated on using cultural symbols of hospitality in Saudi Arabia (the date and Arabic coffee) as essential elements to create social spaces in which cultural exchange occurs between my culture and other cultures and to consider the new contexts which will arise from these experimentations through this unit and how that will achieve the social space which I intend.
I carried out a set of experiments and tests for creating these social spaces, starting with two people and then adding more for each experiment. Since my work depends essentially on the participants’ reactions in accessing the new context of my culture of hospitality, they are an essential part of the work and not just spectators. My main focus was therefore on their reactions and how they dealt with these cultural elements which would help me to create this social space which will enable them to engage in this practice which presents a new context for the Saudi hospitality culture. The new way that the participants used the Arabic coffee ingredients which were inside the tied fabric to make a cup of coffee was interesting to me and different from the original method of preparation, which made me think about concentrating on these elements and keeping them present in the upcoming experiments and looking at the reactions of other participants.
The first experiment
The first experiment showed many reactions which I had not expected from the participants, as I had expected something like simply eating the dates or just drinking the coffee. I was surprised that the participants rushed to try to make the Arabic coffee, which differed completely from our way as Saudis for making this coffee.
Another thing that was very exciting was the way of presenting this coffee, putting dates with it and eating them in a way which is different from our usual way, which provoked dialogue and discussion between me and the participants about why they had done this. They told me that it was their traditional way, which is somewhat similar to making tea in China by putting the bag which holds the leaves into a cup and pouring hot water on it.
I asked myself if this reaction might have happened by chance, or would it be repeated: I was curious to know what would happen next in other experiments.
The two tied white cloths containing the dates and the Arabic coffee which were in the middle of my workspace affected the way that the viewers approached them and motivated them to unpack them and find out what was inside and then ask many questions about it. This opened the conversation around this cultural practice and increased our enthusiasm to see more photographs on my phone which showed this conversation about the date’s history, such as watching the date-selling season in Buraidah and pictures of Al-Ahsa, the largest city in the world, containing date palm trees. I found that this is a good thing which should be kept because it is considered as the means which will encourage the participants to come and start the interaction and open the discussion about this fruit (dates).
The yellow colour which appeared on the white piece of cloth aroused my interest and made me think of keeping it as an integral part which expresses the participation of the audience and represents the impact which they left after this experiment, and also whether it can be used within a work of art created from these experiences.
This made me think of doing many more experiments using the same ingredients of dates, Arabic coffee and cups.
For the first time in this experiment, I felt that the work had begun to move forward as if it was beginning to achieve the main goal of creating social spaces.
The second experiment
In this experiment, I found that the first reaction from participants was to smell and touch the tied pieces of cloth containing the dates and coffee, and it was interesting for me to see this interest in the smell of Arabic coffee. It reminded me of how we as Saudi people feel the sense of hospitality from the first moment we enter the place through the aroma which fills the area, which made me ask what would happen if I were to prepare Arabic coffee in the location. Would it produce any more reactions or push the audience to interact more in the experiment?
I felt that this could work more, especially after watching a participant in this experiment try to prepare Arabic coffee in her own way, which was different from the participants' way in the first experiment.
in this time, the participants were more interested in the test the date and coffee, I feel they lived the hospitality mode by pour coffee for each other and serve it with eating the date
So from all these three experiments, I touched on different unique reactions not repeated by everyone. It gave me the feeling that the work goes in the right way, but maybe I need to think more about the way of installing the work, especially if I go to a different place with more people.
I think that made me see that the table is not a good way to install my artwork that because it made them stand around it, which made them leave after they finish this practice in the time that I focus on creating social spaces for them
because of that, I was thinking about how I can achieve that, so I felt that I need to talk with my Saudi friend, which I believed could help me because we our belong in this culture and we discussed, in the end, to go back to the traditional way of a hospitality setting, which is on the floor, because it may in increase the participant's sense of comfort and increase social participation among them.
The fourth experiment
After the previous three experiments, I decided to repeat the process by having the participants sitting on the floor, which is the traditional way of providing hospitality in my culture, and then see if it would make a difference from the previous experiments.
As host and guest, artist and participant, we lived this experience more comfortably, more relaxed and more effectively; we talked for a long time without realizing the time, which reassured me that this was the method which I should adopt in all my subsequent experiments but with more people and considering the context which would come from this experiment.
The fifth experiment
I was now ready to repeat the experiment to test the previous results which I had found, which was to carry out the experiment sitting on the ground in a public place with a larger number of people, and indeed what happened was that I met with them for the first time by inviting them through a friend.
Everyone sat on the ground around the dates and coffee and began exploring the dates and trying to experiment with making Arabic coffee. Until that moment, I felt that the social space was shaped by the elements of hospitality, the dates and the Arabic coffee, which expanded dialogues, practice and the exchange of conversation. In addition to the photographs of the event which they exchanged over their phones, which were related to dates, their history and importance and the forms of hospitality practices in my country, all these factors made us harmonize, relax and enjoy those moments, which lasted for more than an hour without us realizing it, which confirmed to me at this moment that the work really constituted a social space. The space where we met was one where we might see people for the first time, but we created with each other a time in which we exchanged our different cultures, making us get to know each other even though it was a temporary event.
The participants were interested in the Arabic words which I used as a way of welcoming them, and they asked me about the meaning, which led me to think about use this in the final work as a background sound which welcomes people with Arabic music.
This experience helped me very much in planning the construction of the final work for my technical research, but I went back over all the experiments and considered every aspect of them which could contribute to building the work in the correct manner that would make it achieve the objectives of this experimental research.
The participants engaging
Seeing the participants engaging in all these experiences and experimentations, I realised that the participants were a central part of my work. I could not apply, enhance or improve my work without them, and I also realised that the detail of sitting was essential to creating an environment of hospitality in a social space, which made me revisit the traditional form of the hospitality in an authentic Bedouin tent, which is basically dedicated to the reception and hospitality of the guest on the ground in the form of a letter U ( see Fig 1) which means that it wraps everyone around in the this hospitality space and is the start of a cultural practice in all its forms.
( see Fig 1)
The Arabic coffee industry
The early attempts of the participants to make Arabic coffee in their own way had an impact on my thinking that this should be precisely prepared to allow them to engage in the experiment as it represented the new context in these experiments.
I found that that was part of getting the audience in and engaging them in the experience. Also, this was how we got to talk about drinks in different cultures which I think will be the most fun and exciting aspect of the work.
So I decided to use traditional coffee kettles and I put them in the middle of the space; I wanted four kettles in the workspaces to allow the participation of between eight and ten people, and I provided all the ingredients for Arabic coffee – coffee, cardamom and saffron – in addition to the cups.( see Fig 2)
Also, the yellow colour which the white fabric bags acquired while the participants tried to make coffee was an inspiration for me to make it part of the work by dyeing the fabric which I would sew up and prepare for the session( see Fig 4).
I regard all this as a kind of generosity as I have prepared it myself as a welcome to my guests participating in my artwork.
Dates were the main element of the conversation about hospitality and generosity. We talked about every aspect of the date in detail; its function and value in Saudi Arabia in different parts of religion, economy and history, and also socially through the conversations which we shared or by seeing the photos on the phones, which made me think how nice it would be to have that knowledge in my workspace, because it would enable the participants to engage with it; if they were to be spending time in this space, they would feel more comfortable if they want to sit down to have a coffee, and from that to start to learn about the date as being a social symbol by documenting this on the wall or in a book or in a box using photos and newspaper articles. I decided to create a zine as a newspaper which the participants could easily share. It was 30cm by 50cm, painted saffron, an Arabic coffee colour, and I installed photos and articles from the online website on it.
As a last test before the final one, I did test it in my home with a few friends to ensure how effective these changes were at the final artwork.
The final show for my work (Aljawd Min Almawjud ), was presented in the mini-show exhibition, which sent an electronic invitation to all MA students at Camplowell, which included the date and time of my performance.
The work was installed as planned. The setting was in the shape of the letter U, in an area 2.5m square. I placed the white cloth on which dates and coffee were fixed in the middle of the setting, along with four coffee kettles and twelve coffee cups.
I installed thirteen A4 drawings on the wall opposite the setting in roughly a rectangular pattern which fitted the general shape of the space and helped the audience to pass around the work smoothly. The zine was placed near the setting so that it would be accessible to the public.
The sound of music was also played to create the general atmosphere inspired by the Saudi environment.
This show was an excellent opportunity to look at my work from another perspective from the partners in Camplowell and to test my artwork before submitting to and also to prepare it for the graduate show.
It was a chance to look at all the details and elements in the work to know what worked well and how I could improve it to be ready for the final show, and also to be sure that it would achieve the meaning and aims of my research artwork.
I thought about how I could improve the zine by having it printed by a digital print in black and white to make it closer to a newspaper, which would better fit the context and the concept of the work.
I shall also show different sizes of photos on a wall showing all the previous experiments because I think that this is an essential part of this work which presents the real meaning of this work and how it is associated with social spaces and the meaning of cultural exchange.
I also think that I shall be adding the conversation for this experience to combine it with the sound of Arabic music, which I sense will evoke the social environment of this work.
a digital print in black and white to make it closer to a newspaper,
In this practice-based research study, I have discussed how the traditional Saudi culture of hospitality can create a social space for participants to create a new context for the culture after it has been shifted to a new location. I have examined the date in my practices as a symbol of the Saudi hospitality culture and re-presented it in different social spaces, which creates a new coding of this culture after participants have accepted it and interacted with it in a new location. These influences of this practice-based research are shown in the new places, diversity, connections, relationships, cultural exchanges and a community for us; it allows the audience participants to create a new scenario for this culture in a unique place of interrelations where they have to harmonize without issues of difference through the practice of the conventional notions of hospitality in Saudi Arabia. Further, the focus of this research study was on creating a new context for Saudi hospitality in a contemporary practice, but future work can adopt a similar focus by researching the impact of this context on the shape of this authentic culture and its manifestation in a new artwork. This might reveal further findings and make us consider its effect on its original identity and its social coding within