A SLICE OF PÂTÉ
For V70 we feature Pâté—not the type made up of ground fat, meat, and entrails condensed into an edible spread, but something similar—a published work of art by Lauren Boyle and Fatima Al Qadiri, designed by Common Space Projects, on the topic of Kuwaiti taste. For the issue, we struck up a conversation with the artists that was so engrossing and entertaining we decided to put it up online in its entirety. Read about the inspiration behind (and the grotesque beauty of) Pâté!
PATRIK SANDBERG How did the idea for Pâté arise?
FATIMA AL QADIRI The first time I met Lauren I was leafing through her library of magazines and texts and it was too overwhelming. I wanted to show her what I had (which was pitiful in comparison to her mega archive) so I pulled some Kuwaiti magazines and showed her some of my photos. She coined the title.
LAUREN BOYLE Pâté pays homage to The Better Class by Alice Columbo. “They all agreed the pâté was excellent” was a quote from The Better Class. I was obsessed with this novel at the time we met. Published in New York in 1980, The Better Class explores the relationship between revolutionary politics and revolutionary couture. Quotes like “Terrorism is like accessories. It should not be understated.” inspired us.
PS How does pâté the cuisine relate to Pâté‘s content?
FAQ Pâté is a murky meat, the origins of which are dubious. It’s really rich and fatty—just like Kuwait.
LB Pâté is expensive and elitist. It’s also a classic Western delicacy, not Arab.
FAQ It’s from all parts of the animal but you can’t make out which parts, that’s what’s so fascinating. You’re hit with a finished design or image and its inception is not easily decipherable. It is impossible to thoroughly document a nation’s style. With Pâté we wanted to encapsulate Kuwaiti taste: a thin slice of pâté!
PS Are you making a political statement by highlighting Kuwaiti taste in this context?
LB It’s hard to separate politics and fashion. Just think about Qaddafi’s incredible picture-frame brooch in relation to his dictatorship and the world makes more sense. I think Pâté does a good job presenting the relationship between style/culture/religion/politics without drawing any conclusions. It’s not too heavy on one thing which is nice. But there is a forced dichotomy presented between images and text. We paired the most unapologetic and self-assured text from Western writers with images of Kuwaiti culture. For example: “The feeling of being in harmony with fashion gives man a measure of security religion can never give him.” That is a quote from René Konig in A la Mode: On the Social Psychology of Fashion.
PS How would you describe Kuwaiti taste?
FAQ Kuwaiti taste is out of control nouveau riche, but it’s more than that. It represents a severe transition from a poverty-stricken medieval lifestyle to über-rich gold-plated toilets. The jolt of wealth came so fast and so severely that people didn’t know what to do with it, so much so that the new became revered and the old was cast aside. That’s why so many images in the book are of abandoned, ruined palaces and TV stations.
Interior of grand reception hall of the ’60s guest palace, QASR AL SALAM (THE PALACE OF PEACE), Shuwaikh, 2008. Qasr Al Salam was occupied by the Iraqi forces during the invasion of Kuwait, 1990-1991. Photo by Fatima Al Qadiri
FAQ In the ’50s, the old city of Kuwait was demolished and the citizens were all moved to brand new planned, urban residential areas. Since then, Kuwaiti citizens are allergic to “old” things. The culture of reinvention spread through every facet of society. Women don’t want modest faces—they want hyperreal makeup. Everyone in Kuwait is a fashion designer who makes “couture”, it’s hysterical!
Jawaher Palace Advertisement, Maro’s Wedding Catalogue, 2006-2007
Back cover of Pâté. Fatima Al Qadiri photographed by Jon Santos
PS Even in America there is a tackyness associated with the nouveau riche but it seems a lot more extreme in Kuwait.
FAQ There is a culture of self-congratulation that comes with excess wealth and small populations, not to mention a façade of Islamic conservativism that breeds new frontiers of taste. All the images in Pâté—architecture, bank ads, jewelry, interiors, record covers, “couture”—were selected to convey the status quo of taste. Even the teddy bear hijab image on the back is a real thing.
PS Can you explain that? Why do women put teddy bears in their hijabs?
FAQ Women started adding volume to their hijabs a few years ago, using yogurt cups, huge banana clips, and finally they resorted to teddy bears.
FAQ I don’t know! Where did that come from? It’s the whole notion of Pâté. We made our hijab see-through because we are trying to reveal some of these style realities to the outside world. The majority of these images are not available on the internet, and that was a big incentive behind this project.
Toy cell phone with the image of Lebanese pop star, HAIFA WEHBE. Photo by Marco Roso
PS How can the style of an entire nation not exist on the internet? I feel like there is nothing that lives offline completely.
FAQ It’s there but the threads are so loose and definitely not searchable in English, sometimes not even in Arabic. It’s crazy. Kuwait is a closed world and a very secretive society with a thousand cliques.
PS Did you face obstacles in trying to put together these images?
FAQ Absolutely. For example, there is an image of the reception room of the Kuwait Oil Company in the book, but to photograph it I needed to get clearance from the K.O.C. My mother had to pull a lot of strings to get us in there, but that reception room represents every reception area in Kuwait. The key ingredients are fake plants, gold hued sofas, cove lighting, wooden coffee tables, and a Kleenex box on every table. It’s uncanny how few variations on that formula exist in every Kuwaiti household.
PS Why the Kleenex?
FAQ The rich are invariably obsessed with clinical levels of hygiene. Each household must be scrubbed from top to bottom on a daily basis until the smell of disinfectant permeates under the scent of local incense. Cleanliness is Godliness and it’s the slogan of Kuwait.
PS Do all of the decrepit, abandoned buildings exist in the midst of the new construction? Why hasn’t it all been demolished?
FAQ That palace is a really good example of how Kuwaitis deal with excess wealth. It was a guest palace built in the ’60s and abandoned by the state in the early ’80s. By then they felt it was too old fashioned! They didn’t care enough to renovate, they preferred to build something new. By the time the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in 1990, it had already been left in disrepair for a decade, so the Iraqis had little to steal from the place. They just burnt the walls and trashed the already decaying interior. The government hasn’t touched it at all. They can’t demolish it because there are too many inheritors that own it, and they can’t decide what to do with it. In typically bizarre fashion they keep guards outside the walls. There are like 16 inches of dust on every surface. Pigeons and cats roam wild in its interior, and it’s a shame because it looks like a bombed Fellini set.
Another photo of QASR AL SALAM by Fatima Al Qadiri
PS It seems very lazy not to tear it down and rebuild. Isn’t it an eyesore? It’s like a large-scale governmental version of Hoarders.
FAQ They just don’t care. Recently there have been rumors of renovation, but renovation in Kuwait always means a new paint job and recessed lighting. There are a ton of decrepit abandoned places and they just sit in the middle of everything. The past is just too gross to deal with.