Monday 1 May 2023

Doha Fashion Fridays -- lifting the cloak of invisibility with fashion

Dear Readers,

It is 'International Workers Day' today. It is the first of May.

What better way to acknowledge the many migrant workers who live in Doha than to share the story of one of the most appealing photographic exhibitions I have seen in recent years.

It's called Doha Fashion Fridays and it's on at the M7 till the 20th of May 2023.

It's not often that one is able to capture an entire experience in one word.

But on 18th March, 2023, I came across one such word--an old and known one-- in a new light which did just that. This was at the Doha Fashion Fridays inaugural talk at the M7.

The word is curator. 

Although I am familiar with the word but I have always associated 'curator' with the act of sourcing, collecting and  assembling of objects or art of interest in a certain way for a certain purpose or audience. I hadn't given the word much thought or bothered to look up its etymology. 

Known words are like our landscape. That which we see everyday, we stop noticing. We stop paying attention. Not unlike the migrant workers in Doha.

Although they are visible on construction sites but for most of us who live in this city, they're 'invisible' underneath their blue overalls and yellow hard hats. They merge with the landscape. We, as a collective, are mostly indifferent to their existence.

So, when Aparna Jayakumar prodded Charlotte Cotton to share more about the word 'curator', I was struck by its aptness. The word curator owes its origin to the Latin verb curare which means to take care of. 

How apt, I thought. How perfect. 

Care: a four letter word that is all too often overlooked or overshadowed by the other overused four-letter words -- love and like. 

Care. To take care of. To care enough about. To bother to care in the first place.

I believe 'care' is the basis of humanity. Yes, love is the canvas on which all human drama plays out. But care is the currency of love. How much or how little we care about ourselves, our families, the society, this planet and all the creatures of this planet decides our and their state of health.

Doha Fashion Fridays is the result of an idea that was planted by political cartoonist, Khalid Albaih seven years ago. Serendipitously, Aparna happened to be his neighbour. So when one day Khalid mentioned his idea to her, the seeds started sprouting into a 'unique collaborative project.' Soon, Shaima Altamimi came on board. 

During the panel discussion the previous day, when asked about her motivation to join the project, Aparna mentioned that when she first moved to Qatar from India, she was struck by the absence of life on the streets. In India, LIFE along with its messiness and chaos is on full display out in the open. The poor, the rich, the involved and the disinterested share the same space. The populace is part of the same canvas. 

In Doha, it's different.

But on Fridays everything changes, especially on the Corniche.

It's the migrant workers' day off. On Fridays, if you find yourself on the Corniche, you will be rewarded with a sea of colour and life. Hundreds of workers pour into public spaces dressed to the nines. This is where they spend their day--meeting friends, taking photos, spending their  free day their way. 

On Fridays, on Doha Corniche, the cloak of invisibility is lifted. 

During the rest of the week, it's easy to not notice the construction worker in his blue overalls, the domestic help in her neatly ironed uniform, the drivers, the loaders and so many invaluable contributors to the rise and shine of this beautiful country and city. They become an invisible backdrop to the humdrum of progress and success. And this is true of many countries and places.

In India, for example, when I was at university, my flat (barsaati) was next door to a basti -- a shanty town. I was hit by the sounds, smells and  poverty of the basti the first time I saw it. I had grown up in the sheltered shade of Dehradun. So, this was shocking. But three years later, by the time I graduated, the basti had become the backdrop to my barsaati. I had stopped caring because I saw it everyday. I was so focused on myself that I'd stopped noticing the 'others'.

A couple of years ago, I was shocked to see the sea of tents in Seattle and Portland in the USA. The homelessness of a super powerful nation was on full display and yet the daily commuters around me didn't seem to notice or want to pay attention. 

Indifference is the rose tinted lens we use to see our world when we are comfortable.

Doha Fashion Fridays reminds us that curiosity about the other is a good thing. Curiosity leads to care. And care is a great connector.

Khalid Albaih's curiosity about the fashionable migrant workers gatherings on Fridays was the foundation on which Aparna and Shaima built. They cared enough to lift that cloak of invisibility. 

A cloak we so easily and carelessly drape over those we don't care enough about. 

I  urge you to go and 'meet' the vibrant migrant workers of Qatar via their portraits and stories at the exhibition. 

But if you're not able to, then this photo essay in the Guardian will give you some idea about the ethos and aspirations of this ongoing project.

Visibility -- the one human need that comes in after food, shelter and clothing. All it takes is a glance, a smile, a nod to turn the invisible into the visible. 

Let's play our part and lift the cloaks around us. Acknowledge the presence of another, the other.  It may reveal ourselves to us. It may not be pretty. Reality rarely is. But at least it will be real. To be real is worth everything.

Thank you for reading this post. I welcome your comments and views. Wishing you well.



  1. Hari OM
    Golly, what an intersting and rewarding project! Thanks for the video inclusion and the links. The sort of thing that is right down my street - only it is too far down that street to actually visit. Thank you for sharing this insight with us, Arti - yes, caring is the best expressionf of Love with the capital 'ell' and something that so easily slips from us... YAM xx

    1. I'm glad you were able to 'view' the exhibition's beautiful intent Yamini. The fact that it is an ongoing project wherein photographers based in Doha are invited to add to the gallery fills me with hope. However, I hope that the people who join in use the lens Aparna and Khalid used--the lens of acknowledgment, of curiosity for connection and not for purely personal gain. I guess that's a topic we can discuss in another post-- about the ethical practices of street photography.

  2. What a wonderful idea and beautiful photographs!

    1. Indeed. In fact, when I went to see the exhibition Kristin, I thought of your blog posts and how wonderful it would be (unless you have already done so) to hold similar viewings of your family's photographs and history. Your writing and the photos would make such an interesting and immersive experience for anyone who's keen on history.

  3. Such a beautiful concept and execution…so so happy and grateful to have read this and go through this amazing photo library!! Wishing best to the ‘curators’ and love to those beautiful souls who paint the Corniche Fridays with colors of their hearts and spirits!! Thank you Arti for sharing this beautiful write up…
    This is Shanty, for some reason not able to post from my google account:)

    1. Thank you for visiting Shanty. And for reading this post. It's a wonderful project and the photos (along with the stories) are a must see.

  4. Curator has much to do with 'cure,' I'm sure.

    It's apt that you paid a tribute to migrant workers this way. The post is suffused with a curative feeling.

    1. Thank you for visiting Tomichan:) I'm sure curator has much to do with cure-- for sure.


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