How The Middle East’s Creative Class Is Coping with Coronavirus

07 May 2020
INTERVIEW, Lifestyle, Coronavirus, Covid-19, Lockdown, Middle East, Arabs, Film Director, Fashion Photographer, Stylist & Art Director, Pam Nasr, PROD ANTZOULIS, OUMAYMA ELBOUMESHOULI, Creative Class, GQ Middle East Summer 2020, Self Isolation, Cover Story
GQ Middle East explores isolation from the point of view of Middle Eastern creatives

The Middle East’s creative class is as ambitious as it is diverse. We gathered three artists we admire – with roots from Lebanon to Morocco to Cyprus – to explore how creativity looks and feels in uncertain times: Pam Nasr (Film Director) Prod Antzoulis (Fashion Photographer) and Oumayma Elboumeshouli (Stylist & Art Director).

It’s an isolating period around the world. How are you coping?

PAM: Everything starts with acceptance, I believe it to be the key to sanity. I’ve noticed the little things that make me happy: when the sun comes out, when I discover a really good track, have a good conversation with someone, or when I’ve perfected a new dish. Today, I’m taking my time in enjoying these little, mundane pleasures.

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PROD: At the beginning of my self-isolation, I would find it challenging to focus on doing things that felt productive. As the days would pass, I found myself distracted by trivial tasks. I realised that introducing small changes to my day-to-day was becoming crucial and actually something to look forward to. I started replacing my coffee with a ginger and honey tea – it made such a huge change to my mornings.

How has your daily routine changed?

OUMAYMA: I try to wake at the same time up every day – I don’t want to lose my sleeping rhythm. Before Ramadan, I used to have my breakfast with my Zoom meetings. I try to plan all meetings in the morning so I’m free in the afternoon to do things around the house such as redecorating and painting the walls. I’m currently living with my mum and we are redecorating the entire house. It’s a nice activity to do during quarantine and Ramadan.        

PAM: I’m falling asleep two or three hours earlier than I usually do and waking up earlier too – a goal of mine for almost a decade! My daily routine didn’t change too much because I work from home anyway. I do have one rule though: I don’t watch anything before sundown, not even on weekends. That way, I make sure I do all the work I have during the day. My mom and I meditate in the evenings, coincidentally always around 7pm, as we listen to the sound of the city applauding our healthcare workers, which is so bittersweet.

How are you staying in touch with friends and family? Any virtual activities that you’ve done together?

PROD: I’m not the best when it comes to online communication and a lot of my friends would say the same. Now that I’ve had no choice, it’s forced me to be more active online and, to my surprise, I’ve actually been enjoying it a lot. April 19 was our Easter, and I couldn’t be with my family, so we organised for each of us to cook something and have a virtual sit-down lunch where for a moment, it truly felt like we were together.

PAM: Zoom has become a huge part of our lives of course. I’m also so blessed to have my mom here with me, she happened to be visiting as all of this went down.

OUMAYMA: When we do our iftar, we like to FaceTime our family members to show them what we are having – also to create that feeling of togetherness.

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Do you feel that the lockdown has helped your creativity flourish?

OUMAYMA: For me, it’s been a source of inspiration somehow. I try to look for new ideas every day. I have a huge collection of old fashion magazines and they have helped me a lot. My dad left a lot of his garments when he passed away last October. He used to be a photographer and he really inspired me to do the same thing. I often go to his work room to discover new things. The first months after his passing, I was very emotional and couldn’t go in the room – there were too many memories. But now, I use all of these memories as an inspiration and look back on such an amazing time.

PAM: A friend asked me if I was feeling creative the other day and my answer was a solid no, and I’m choosing to be very okay with that. My mind and body are asking me to attend to different parts of me right now, and that’s what I have to do. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

What did you learn while putting together this visual project with GQ?

PROD: It has been a beautiful experience to say the least. This opportunity has not only given me something exciting to look forward to in a time like this, but also a great way to share my creativity virtually with other people around the world. A lesson to take away from this experience is definitely patience. A lot of the time we are rushing to meet deadlines and sometimes don’t dedicate enough time to enjoy the process of working.

What have you learned over the past few months in isolation – both about yourself and about the world?

PAM: I have truly learned the importance of mental well-being and how vulnerable we, as humans, are. I’ve made it a point to myself to focus my efforts inwards and simply let love, light and faith guide me.

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Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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PAM NASR (Film Director, New York City)

PROD ANTZOULIS (Fashion Photographer, Dubai)

OUMAYMA ELBOUMESHOULI (Stylist & Art Director, Amsterdam)

Photography by Prod Antzoulis