interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, London, February 2007

What is your background?

My mother is English and my father is Kuwaiti of Iranian extraction. His parents came to Kuwait from southern Iran as immigrants when they were very young. I have British and Kuwaiti nationality.

Are your parents living in Kuwait?

My parents are currently living in United Arab Emirates. They lived in Kuwait for about twenty years and then after a brief period of living in the UK they moved back to the Middle East, to Dubai. My father's work still takes him to Kuwait. He commutes back and forth.

But you are based in London, why? Do you commute between the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates?

As a teenager Dubai didn't have much to offer back then, other than the beach. There were certainly no galleries or art. London seemed an obvious choice for an education but I have always returned regularly to visit family and more recently this has led to trips to work on projects over there. I guess living in London has given me a certain distance or objectivity when I return to things that I am familiar with, that are everyday occurrences. Now they jump out at me. Then when I leave I feel able to address why.

You mentioned you recently went back to work on some projects. What kind of projects?

It's been a combination of photographic and video projects. The main focus has been, as I mentioned, the daily occurrences in urban life that are either taken for granted or over-looked entirely that in their own way are fascinating and sometimes an intrinsic part of the city. In Kuwait I was observing and documenting the activities of a group of elderly marbles players. I was intrigued by their pitch's location, that although just a patch of wasteland, it was located directly behind Kuwait's affluent business quarter. These men had been playing in the gaps between the city buildings for over fifty years and yet had only recently attracted any kind of attention.

Two Square Kilometres
, 6.30 min, 2006, video still
Courtesy of the artist

More recent projects centred on the immigrant workers and builders that are the backbone of the much of the region. There is such a focus now on lifestyle or rather the marketing of lifestyles. Houses, apartments, malls are immaculately manicured and planned. Urban spaces are designed to cater for and accommodate all levels of these lifestyles apparently.

Why immigrant workers? Where do they come from?

Because I am interested in the structures and substructures that meshed together create urban societies and I find it interesting that this social group that are so vital to the very existence and progress of these cities are socially invisible. The fact of their presence is not hidden but avoided. They are from all over Asia. The men I met were from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

What do you mean by avoided?

I think there is a certain discomfort that inevitably arises in the attempt to create these utopian environments. A home in utopia comes at a price and the dream becomes slightly sullied if compared with the realities of those who built it.

What is your personal opinion about the Middle East? If you need to explain it to someone who never went there, what would you say?

That's a tough question. It's an interesting region and there have been incredible changes taking place that I have witnessed during my lifetime. It is a region of contradictions, it hinges between developed/undeveloped, extremes of poverty and wealth, progressive and backward. They all coexist. But like Europe the cultures and languages differ greatly from state to state. The Levantine Middle East is a very different experience to that of the Gulf. It would be futile to attempt to sum up a region as diverse as this.