Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri recently created a short video (http://bit.ly/1qQPZTv) called SOAP, which has been posted on the website Creative Time Reports. She explains that during Ramadan (which is going on now, by the way), soap operas from the Muslim world are very popular with Kuwaitis and other Gulf state nationals. In her mashed up version, Al Qadiri has inserted immigrant workers into the video, workers who do all the work in these lavish homes, but in the soap operas, cease to exist. It’s very clever. I applaud Al Qadiri for starting this conversation – a conversation about workers who are virtually ignored even though they are the ones sustaining not only individual families, but the very Gulf economies themselves. I hope she goes further, and discusses the horrible human rights abuses that these workers endure. It is a much needed discussion, I would be thrilled if it happened from within these countries, instead of someone like me, an outsider and a Westerner, pointing out these horrendous crimes.
Al Qadiri writes:
In the Gulf, however, an important figure is erased from these mass-produced images: the migrant worker. Although they play a central role in maintaining daily life throughout the region, migrant laborers are never represented within pop culture. This is especially apparent in soap operas, in which the main characters sit by themselves in their lavishly decorated, ultraclean villas, cook their own food, drive their own cars to work and independently conduct other daily activities. Such images of autonomous life are far from reality: most citizens of Gulf states are serviced 24/7 by housemaids, cooks, drivers and sanitation workers, who come largely from South and Southeast Asia.
The video above hijacks excerpts from Gulf soap operas to superimpose images of domestic workers onto their unrealistic settings, making the presence of migrant laborers both undeniable and surreal. The title of the work, SOAP, conflates the shorthand for “soap opera” with a bar of soap, that evanescent object that seems to magically leave a state of cleanliness in its wake. Its disregarded presence mirrors the precarious existence of the migrant worker who wields it.
I hope you have a chance to look at this video. It’s short and totally worth it.