In his pictures and through his visual work, Kim Badawi has been able to capture and expose unexpected and yet very real exchanges happening in different parts of the world. One might say his work tries to capture visual representations of contemporary cultural encounters. Whether it’s through images of indigenous groups in Brazil living in urban spaces, or Chinese communities living in Egypt, Badawi’s work shows how these encounters take place. A “cultural hybrid”, as he calls himself, Badawi concentrates on the everyday aspects of such intersections, highlighting the different sides of each experience.
Global Voices talked to Badawi to learn more about his work (some of which is shared below). Badawi described his main motivations and some of the most memorable moments in his career. He argues that online social media can be an important space for sharing stories that the mainstream media fails to report, or shows no interest in discussing.
Global Voices (GV): What sort of stories do you try to tell through your work?
Kim Badawi (KB): Being a cultural hybrid myself, I have worked in the past closely within cross-cultural subjects. I am to this day fascinated by the notion of “identity”, even “national identity” and subsequently by the idea of stereotypes, in general. Perhaps it is for these reasons that much of my work is largely about bipartisanship or showing the flip side to more commonly media enforced stereotypes.
One example of such work is Badawi’s piece, “The Gaza Stripper“, a provocative film about Ari Lauren Souad Said, a woman “born of an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father [who has] spent much of her childhood torn between two conflicting faiths and cultures in Israel”.
GV: What kind of images do you think mainstream media fails to show?
KB: In general mainstream media is a slave to the “like” button. Visual stories need to short, and to the point. Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately not everything is black and white. [The story about the community of Chinese migrants in Egypt] failed to have traction from two reasons: First of all, while I was working on this story just about every editor who asked me what I was working on, after I explained to them that I had discovered a network of illegal migrant Chinese workers living in Cairo, their response would be, “That’s great! But Kim, what does this have to do with the Egyptian revolution?” Nothing, and that is why I pursued it.
Fortunately for me, I had received funding from the French American Foundation and was free to work within my own limitations and work schedules. This story also didn’t hit the pages of many magazines because it was shot in black and white. In short, because I see this as a historical document
GV: What advantages do you think you have with the use of social media?
KB: In many of the cases where I have documented social movements, subcultures or communities in the past, social media and the internet in general have served as a platform for the individuals to connect [outside their locations]. In [the case of the Chinese migrant community in Egypt] however, the language barrier and the fact that Egypt was going through a social uprising, [communication had to go] on a person-to-person basis. The Chinese I photographed, however, were very present themselves on social networks and communicated daily using Chinese instance messaging, or QQ. It never ceased to surprise me that instead of a regular email address with a catchy name (like we would do it), they had really long QQ addresses that consisted solely of a series of numbers.
GV: Is there any idea/anecdote you would like to share with us?
KB: In this link I mention several anecdotes, including how I begun the project in the first place. This entire project was made difficult by language barriers. Because even with translators I was, for the most part, lost in translation. Whether it was Chinese speaking Arabic or Egyptians speaking Chinese, accents were so hard to grasp that I think this would have made for a humorous situation in itself. To make matters more confusing, differences in cultural attributes, manners and even culinary taste made for much discussion and at times, misunderstandings.
Once, I spent all day photographing a farmer family in the outskirts of Cairo, in Falloum. Explaining where exactly their farm was to an Egyptian taxi driver was my first challenge. Finding it was another. Once I was there, I spent most of the day photographing the family working under the hot sun. Around dusk, the father invited me into their small home, and said, “Do you know what a farm does after a hard day’s work?” He proceed to pull out a bottle of moonshine with floating seahorses inside. It tasted like fire, but after the first glass, it went down a little better. We chatted on into the night, until I asked if one of his children could help me get a taxi back to Cairo. I don’t recall getting home, but remember waking up and feeling great at 8am! I had no idea what I had drunk, nor where they managed to find seashores in Cairo, but was told later that at least I wasn’t drinking liquor fermented with insects, as that is custom in China!
Badawi’s work has also addressed the ongoing exchange between some indigenous communities in Brazil and the country’s rapidly growing urban population. Brazil’s recent World Cup provided a particularly resonant frame for these images, which showcase how two worlds can coexist peacefully, if uneasily.