From Confusion, A New Nostalgia
As a kid, every other summer, Sofiane Si Merabet would leave his home in Nantes, France, to visit Algeria. “Gradually, I saw a difference between my Algerian background and the rest of society. It’s something that stayed in my mind,” he says.
The French-Algerian was surrounded by Arab cultural iconography growing up. “I listened at home always to Umm Kulthum, Cheb Hasni, Fairuz,” he says. “Being the son of Arab immigrants, we all grew up with nostalgia. It was a core value at home: ‘Things were better before. You don’t know how we lived in our time.’ We all heard these kinds of things.”
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Si Merabet’s curiosity about his diverse identity led him to study political science and the history of the Arab world – at Sciences Po, the prestigious French university, no less.
“The nostalgia that I’m talking about started to become part of my identity. I started to interrogate myself saying, ‘All the things that I have at home, that people from our background have, can become a strength.’”
Si Merabet materialised this strength with The Confused Arab, a creative platform he launched to explore and explain Arab identities. It’s branched out from an Instagram account to something more multidisciplinary, including a website along with occasional art installations.
And let’s be straight: the platform’s name isn’t a slight. “Confusion is the first step to creativity. Confusion means that you are interrogating your history, your surroundings. It’s allowing yourself to question yourself and to be open to different narratives,” he says.
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Si Merabet believes that we’re in the midst of a cultural Arab renaissance – something that can be seen and felt across North Africa, the Levant, in Egypt and the Gulf. The risk, he says, is that, amidst all of these conversations – and all of this cultural momentum – we lose sight of the roots.
“We really have to be very careful not to fetishise our culture. We speak more and more about what’s going on culturally in the region, but the problem is that we do it in English – we don’t do it in Arabic. We are taking some distance from our own identity.”
The Confused Arab has morphed into its own community, bringing together a diaspora that was curious, and hungry for more.
“When people ask you, where are you really from – are you more French or Algerian? Are you more Iraqi or Australian? People are asking you to pick out a card from a castle of cards. And when you remove a card, the castle will collapse. What I’m saying is, you don’t have to choose.”
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For Si Merabet, the platform’s silver bullet is nostalgia – something that harnesses the culture that echoes from generation to generation.
“I don’t want to be stuck in the past, but I want to use nostalgia as an inspiration for us to do modern things, to move forward.”
Photography: Prod Antzoulis
Styling: Keanoush Zargham