September 28, 2021

August Observations

Barrak Alzaid


Alt Text

Laid out before you are three pages of typewritten text. Although the original letter was handwritten in curvaceous, almost illegible script, I had transcribed it into typewritten format as I planned to write it into my memoir, my work in progress. I wish I could share that letter with you, but it’s in a box in Kuwait, sequestered due to the pandemic, and I’d rather not ask my father to go digging for it. Although maybe it would be a moment of healing for us.

Visually, here’s what the first two pages look like: at the top is the title, August Observations, inspired both by the fact that Grandpa wrote and addressed the letter to me the day after my eleventh birthday, and because the word ‘august’ means a couple of things: “respected and dignified: synonym: grand; of a quality inspiring mingled admiration and reverence; having an aspect of solemn dignity or grandeur; sublime; majestic; having exalted birth, character, state, or authority.”

It just fit.

The first two pages have black lines blocking out portions of text, creating a space in which words and phrases can emerge in a more charged manner. The first page distills Grandpa’s letter into its most august observations, and I use this deletion technique to craft my response to him.

The poems read as follows:


August 19, 1996

My Dear Barrak:
Growing up is not easy. I remember my days years ago
Everything seemed so difficult
but I knew who I was and what I wanted to be.
I made my firm decision that nothing would deter me
I said to myself, “I am a good person”
I can be what I want to be. I knew
what might lie ahead
we face
our horizons and
Outside forces
are only interruptions
It is my hope that as the years go by and I am no longer here for you I
You will look back and say to yourself, “ .”
your grandfather believes
your venture into adulthood will be
With a great deal of love,

Your American Grandfather,
Douglas L. Winokur
PS Feel free to give me your thoughts should you choose to do so.


I enjoyed your
Growing up is
so difficult
but I knew who I was and what I wanted to be.
nothing would deter me
I want to rise
I want to be.
What we face as a youth sometimes
seem to
manage to
as the years go by I
shall journey into life’s wonders. I know
I am living the day to day
However, I
will look back and say “ What was that all about.”


Wholeheartedly venture into adulthood
should choose


A few years ago, my mother handed me a letter that my grandfather had written to me a day after my eleventh birthday. He'd passed away a few months prior, and had never delivered the letter himself.

Mama's handover took place during a period of extreme crisis in our relationship, one in which silence, and my effort to overcome silence, had resulted in obstructions to our intimacy and our deep connection.

Despite the "vicissitudes" we'd undergone, the letter crafted a moment of healing for us. It was handwritten in Grandpa's elusive script, and I sat beside Mama attempting to discern letters and words. She dropped in, and we read the letter together.

These poems—a diptych—distill Grandpa's letter, and my response emerges out of a process of deletion.

Voices braid together—aurally and visually.

Barrak Alzaid is a writer of prose, poetry and art criticism whose current project, Fabulous, relates his queer coming of age in Kuwait. His art criticism is published in ArtAsiaPacific Magazine, Ibraaz, Jadaliyya, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, and Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. His prose is published in Nailed Magazine and two anthologies of writing by Muslim authors, The Ordinary Chaos of Being Human, and New Moons. He is a founding member of the artist collective GCC.

Visual Hunger
Artist Sondos Azzam explores the underbelly of our gastronomic longings
In Her Country
A series of portraits attempting to examine the relationship between a woman and her practice
Spoons Out of Water
What is sacred to the dining table is reduced to its form and colour in this photo series by Sondos Azzam
Fruit Scans
A photo series that challenges our perception of food by distorting the familiar
Abandoned: When a Crisis Allows Nature Back In
Series of photographs documenting the impacts of continual human manipulation of the UAE's natural landscapes
How our urban environment shapes nature and our individual activities within these spaces
Precarious Existence
The Magnum Foundation commissioned these images of Dubai residents hit hardest by the pandemic
A Force To Reckon With: Manal Aldowayan
A conversation with one of Saudi Arabia's most significant artists about her evolving methodologies, the shifting significance of her work, and the thought behind her practice
Architecture Meets Nature: While We Wait
A conversation with award-winning designers Yousef and Elias Anastas about their latest installation piece, While We Wait.
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 2)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
Alserkal Avenue | The First Decade (Part 1)
A conversation with the creative visionaries and cultural entrepreneurs who have partnered with Alserkal Avenue over the past decade.
Turning The Spotlight On UAE-Based Emerging Artists
A conversation with UAE Unlimited Executive Director Shobha Shamdsani
Humanity as Refuge II
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
Humanity as Refuge I
A conversation with Fabric(ated) Fractures curator Diana Campbell Betancourt and participating artists
Hassan Hajjaj: Carte Blanche
Fari Bradley in conversation with Hassan Hajjaj prior to his show at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Soothing the Soothsayers
A conversation with arts writer Kevin Jones, curator of the Foretold Now summer programme
What is the role of the artist in society?
In the context of shifting definitions surrounding the role that the artist plays in nation building and place-making, Stephen Hobbs (Director of Johannesburg’s The Trinity Session) and Laila Binbrek (Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE la Biennale di Venezia) unpack insights that reflect on current trends and possible futures.
Concrete Closed Sessions: Danabelle Gutierrez and Charlie119
Filipino poet Danabelle Gutierrez collaborates with all-sibling band Charlie119 on an improvisational performance of poetry.
Concrete Closed Sessions: Inam & Friends
A musical gathering around Qawwali music
Safina Radio Project: Venice
From 6-8 May 2015, Alserkal created an itinerant space on the waterways of Venice
"Under": A Video Documentation
Under is Hale Tenger’s first major public work in Dubai commissioned by Alserkal, guest curated by Mari Spirito of Protocinema
While We Wait
An immersive installation by Bethlehem-based architects about the cultural claim over nature in Palestine
Adapt to Survive: Notes from the Future
Curator Dr. Cliff Lauson and artist Youmna Chlala discuss the need of adaptation for survival
Noria: Circulation Of People In Systems
Investigating how societies influence and mould us through systems of social politics, particularly in South Korea
When the Band Comes Marching In
A work by Block Universe, supported by Alserkal, questions the power structures of the Venice Biennale
Curriculum II
The follow-up to 2020's Introductory Curriculum for Reparations revealed
Echo Holdings x Synthanatos
This edition of Echo Holdings, artist Isaac Sullivan’s context-shifting series of hybrid live sets and collaborative lecture performances, features vocals by independent researcher Dana Dawud and takes up a machinic sense of the psychoanalytic death drive. Here, an uncanny ambiguity between recorded and live speech, and a seemingly infinite field of images within images, produces an ecstatic blurring of presence and asynchrony as we negotiate a sonic palette alternately sparkling and ragged.
Dayanita Singh in Conversation
Dayanita Singh discusses her body of work with curator Nada Raza
Who Owns Yoga?
The warrior poses and sun salutations practiced in yoga studios around the world aren’t mentioned in any ancient yoga text. If that disconnect is a direct result of colonial influences, should we feel anxious about the authenticity of our modern yoga practices?
The Tower by Wilf Speller
Compiled entirely out of footage appropriated from luxury real estate advertisements
August Observations
Personal archives are fraught sites filled with memories and stories that drag us into the past. How does a writer respond to a letter he receives years after it is written? The result is an exploration of the gaps and elisions laid bare by forgotten memories and unspoken sentiments.
Rewilding the Kitchen | Recipe No. 1 | Barri by Namliyeh
Curator and artist Nahla Al Tabbaa savours unlearning traditional food narratives with ethnobotanists Namliyeh
The Wedding Project
An online / offline audiovisual trail of celebratory wedding music
Cultures in Conversation at Expo 2020
Shaping New Thinking on Burning Issues - Programmed by Alserkal, commissioned by Expo 2020 Dubai, Cultures in Conversation challenges the conventional talks programme with artist interventions, immersive experiences, and new thinking on critical challenges
On Emirati Women
An insight into the practices of Emirati women challenging notions within their professional fields
The Alserkal Ecology Reader | Three Lectures on Architecture and Landscape in the Gulf
The Alserkal Ecology Reader is a compilation of three lectures held in 2018 and 2019 in relation to Civil Architecture’s residency at Alserkal Arts Foundation. These three lectures form a summary of on-going issues in the discipline and are intended to be a loose primer for architects in the Gulf.
The Absent Body
Mapping disembodiment and performativity among GCC artists
Three Conversation Pieces III
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 2
In Part 2 of her Incomplete History, Mezaina explores the rise of the multiplex model, film festivals, and the creation of alternative viewing spaces in the 2000s.
Design as a Wrapper
Designer and educator Zena Adhami explores the dangers of assumptions when designing for communities
Three Conversation Pieces II
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
Engaging Audiences
Muscat-based artist Majeda Alhinai considers how viewers become part of artworks
Three Conversation Pieces I
As India continues to find its bearings amidst COVID tumult, Aveek Sen explores how his own conversations have become at once more vital, yet oddly unfamiliar
Every day I wake up and...
A chronicle of daily conversations with artists Sandi Hilal
Ways of Seeing
Palestinian artist Samia Halaby's approach to painting reveals her precise complex process, astute peripheral sensibilities, and why abstraction is the only movement left unexploited.
An Introductory Curriculum for Reparations
An informational response by our community on the Black Lives Matter Movement
The Africa Connection
As the global art world shines a light on Africa, Rebecca Anne Proctor writes on the growing dialogue between the Middle East and Africa
Chaos, Love, and Enigmas
Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris tackles his homeland’s multiculturalism through densely populated compositions that engage episodic memory, manifested by mythological through to Sci-Fi imagery
The First Collectors
The role of the artist in relation to collecting is reconsidered
Q&A: Hale Tenger And Mari Spirito
'Under' is Hale Tenger's first major commission in almost a decade, on view at The Yard in 2018
Re-Examining The Role Of The Museum In Society
The 2017 CiMAM Annual Conference brought together museum professionals from around the world to re-evaluate the public functions of museums.
Living Under The Net
Hale Tenger's 'Under' asks us what beliefs we accept without question and what our potential could be without such self-imposed restrictions.
Slippery Modernism
A review of Building Bauhaus, Jean-Paul Najar Foundation’s tribute to the German art school’s centenary – with a regional twist.
A Modern History
Nancy Lorenz’s exhibition 'Silver Moon' at Leila Heller Gallery presents a complex craft-meets-contemporary body of work that references Japanese tradition and Abstract Expressionism
Is This Tomorrow?
Whitechapel Gallery curator Lydia Yee explores the works of five pairings of artists and architects
The Making of a Ruin
A public art commission by the artist collective METASITU welcomed visitors to a post-apocalyptic ruin
Hydrogen Helium
A sound installation first realised in a residency at Alserkal Arts Foundation
The Fabric of Fractures
Exploring ‘sensitive spaces' that challenge ideas of nation, state, and territory
Fabric(ated) Fractures
A collaboration with Samdani Art Foundation, challenging ideas of nation, state, and territory
How Will We Return?
Dialogues between cultural practitioners & scholars from the Alserkal Arts Foundation network
Collaborative Co-existence
A six-week series screenings, workshops, performances, and exhibitions around the theme of maintenance
Connecting Syria to the World
Director Shireen Atassi expands on Atassi Foundation efforts
Mohamed Melehi And The Casablanca Art School Archives
Works by major figure in postcolonial Moroccan art showcased at Concrete
Will the Fashion Industry Ever Truly Be Sustainable?
Founder of clothing brand One and Four speaks about sustainable practices
Why Institutions Now
What contemporary arts institutions might become in the future
A Letter
Micro-fiction by Amrita Shergar to inaugurate's new showcase for creative writing
Connecting Cultures Through Contemporary Art
Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi shares her thoughts on curating the second edition of the Lahore Biennale
One-on-One with Nabila Abdel Nabi
A conversation with Nabila Abdel Nabi, Tate Modern's first MENA curator
Mystical Warriors
The works in Reza Derakshani’s latest show at Leila Heller Gallery reveal the mystical connections between the artist’s time in Russia, and the forgotten tales and symbolism of his Iranian heritage
Is This Tomorrow? Art vs Architecture
Architecture and arts writers experience the show from their own perspectives
At the Confluence of Art and Industry
Architect, designer, and writer Edwin Heathcote reflects on Concrete’s significance
Poetry In Motion
Nujoom Al Ghanem fuses poetry and filmmaking for 'Passages', a reflection on the universal experience of displacement and alienation. The Emirati poet and director speaks to Melissa Gronlund about her solo presentation for the National Pavilion UAE at the 58th Venice Biennale
The Lighthouse Podcast x Vilma Jurkute
Alserkal's Executive Director Vilma Jurkute sat down with Hashem Montasser, creator of The Lighthouse Podcast, to share her experience in developing Alserkal Avenue as the leading arts & culture district in the region.
Cape Town: A New Capital for Art
The eighth edition of Investec Cape Town Art Fair took place in February against an uneasy socio-economic backdrop — concluding in solid sales, and a newfound zeal for multiculturalism.
METASITU in conversation with Ghada Yaiche
Artist collective in discussion with an architect on urban and ruin
Drone Go Chasing Waterfalls
Thoughts on Stephanie Comilang’s film Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise)
An Incomplete History of UAE Cinemas, Part 1
In Part 1, Dubai-based writer Mezaina examines independent cinemas pre-multiplex days
The Overseas Filipino Artist
Fresh insights on Filipino artists in Dubai through the lens of Sa Tahanan Collective founder
An Artistic Meditation
On Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim’s practice, about the mind, its subconscious and space.