The Flaneuse – Women in the City

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

“Whether women are seen as a problem of cities, or cities as a problem for women, the relationship remains fraught with difficulty” – Elizabeth Wilson, The Invisible Flaneur (1992) 

Now, here’s a contentious idea. The city has been, for the most part and still continues to be, a predominantly male domain. The 18th century flaneur (or poet explorer) constructed by Baudelaire, held both the city and its women at the end of his gaze. Janet Wolff in her essay, “Feminism and Modernism“, wrote:

“The experience of anonymity in the city, the fleeting, impersonal contacts described by social commentators like Georg Simmel, the possibility of unmolested strolling and observation first seen by Baudelaire, and then analysed by Walter Benjamin were entirely the experiences of men. By the late nineteenth century, middle-class women had been more or less consigned (in ideology if not in reality) to the private sphere. The public world of work, city life, bars, and cafés was barred to the respectable woman . . “

In Baudelaire’s Paris, “the women of the street” participated in the flesh trade, creating the perception of the wandering woman as unvirtuous or loose. According to Wilson, the flaneur himself was a marginal figure, hyped by the poetic gesticulations of authors such as Baudelaire, Benjamin and Simmel. But his “gaze” characterized the male threat to women in the city.

If one were to think about the persistent rhetoric one hears about single adult women, unrestrained by family or law chat,  who “roams around”  even for perfectly legitimate business, one could perhaps attribute the roots of such thought to the “gaze” of the flaneur.

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

The flaneur was seen as a free willed figure, who experienced the city as he willed, with no thought to boundaries or division of any kind. His experience was whole, not limited to or any type of space; he was moved by the spectacle that was the city. In contrast to this almost omnipresent privilege was the woman’s relationship to the city. Marsha Meskimmon, in her book “Engendering the City: Women Artist and the Urban Space” talks of the woman as a pedestrian, rather than a flaneur, who is aware of the physical limitation of the space that surrounds her. She writes:

“She is not a disembodied eye like the theoretical flaneur who wanders through the city “invisibly” and untouched, but a sentient participant in the city. She realises boundaries as embodied and refutes the flaneur’s privileged boundary transcendence and Utopia, unified city.”

The pedestrian is more aware of the local space, the communities, the politics of that space, while the flaneur is flighty, seemingly free of anything that might hamper his consumption of the city.

The appropriation of the city by women is seen as a crucial outcome of the feminist movement. And to a large extent, in the West and in certain countries of Asia, this has occured. West of Rome, a multi experiential urban art project, recently hosted an ongoing viral art exhibition focussed on “Women in the City“, which “showcased the art of women in empowered positions”

However, major cities of the world still struggle to balance the safety of women with their rising economic empowerment. In the light of a recent spate of violence against women in India, an organization called “Women in Cities” released a set of videos portraying how women in vulnerable communities were taking responsibility for their own safety. A safety map was created, through dialogue with young girls in the community, which highlighted the most dangerous spots for a girl to visit.  Unfortunately, these included common public places like parks, bus stops and even the communal toilets.

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

For true progress and political stability, it is imperative that women have equal access to a city as men. Dubai is possibly the safest place for a woman to live and work. In this article published by the Huffington post, the writer states:

“Dubai allows you to be you. And controversially especially if you are a woman. I’m not the only woman to think that. I feel safer here in Dubai than I do in London or Paris. There is a healthy respect that means you are just left alone, so long as you in turn respect the local values and customs.”

And that is how every city in the world should be!

 

 

Our urban interventions

It’s time to introduce our Urban Writers and their urban interventions. Made up of third year journalism students at the University, these students are working to recontextualize the city in new and creative ways.

Amina Waya:

Photo credit: Amina Waya

Photo credit: Amina Waya

Amina is exploring the personification of cities. Inspired by the writings of Poe, Woolfe and Sukhev Sandhu, Amina will be playing the part of a Dubai resident who “leaves notes for other residents around the city, asking them thought provoking questions that should help them understand how their city has been personally personified for them i.e. who their city is to them.

The notes will contain a simple question about the receivers relationship to the city. “Are you a part of of your city or is your city a part of you?”

She says: “It fascinates me how Dubai transforms from day to night. It’s like watching a woman get dolled up for a night out or seeing a man put on a mask and go pretend to be someone else for a few hours every night, only to wipe off the make up, slip out of the camouflage again before dawn”

You can post your answers on her Twitter page.

Ayesha Islam:

Photo credit: Ayesha Islam

Photo credit: Ayesha Islam

Creator of the Instagram page @discoverdxb , Ayesha has been looking at the city through her camera. Inspired by surrealistic narratives of the city, she dreams of a city where people converse in images.

Many of us don’t act upon our dreams and passions… Often people push their dreams aside, only seeing them before heading to bed, as they close their eyes. The fast paced city life is demanding and constantly makes us aware of time. Everyone is running on a schedule and forming relationships for a rational purpose. We should ask ourselves this question on a regular basis: when is the last time we did something for the first time?”

Daniil Shilov

Photo credit: Daniil Shilov

Photo credit: Daniil Shilov

A gaming enthusiast, Danill takes his passion for video games and recontextualizes the city as a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). He takes on the guise of a Game Master who sets simple tasks for players to accomplish. In accomplishing these tasks, his goal is to create a new “lore” for Dubai, one made up of the achievements of the common resident.

“Dubai, the way I see it now, is a virtual world where you are your own protagonist who moves, interacts and develops his skills as well as makes moral choices about his actions…It is like a social MMORPG with different hub areas and zones, all connected by the Metro. The intervention would work on the basis of getting people to talk to each other more and interact with their environment for the sake of improving their skill.”

Join the conversation and add to the new “lore” of Dubai. 

Dilwin Kaur:

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

Photo credit: Dilwin Kaur

For me Saed Al Suwadi represents Dubai completely.

Saed Al Suwadi is an old Emirati Man, his father was a pearl diver and also owned a museum which he then later on sold, but not before parting the hobby of collecting old trinkets to his son.

On one hand we have Saed Al Suwadi, son of a pearl diver; an Emirati who values and respects the olden ways and on the other hand we have Saed Al Suwadi, proud father of Fatima, a civic engineer now an offshore engineer. Not only is he literally from a past long gone, but he has a future vision. He appreciates history and looks forward to what the future would bring.”

Dilwin wishes to forge new relationships in order to understand the city better. She’s convinced that an appreciation of a city lies between the spaces between people. The city and its emphasis of timeliness and productivity, rob people of the time to be truly social; to slow down and appreciate everything the city has to offer. To fix this, she plans on placing social furniture in a place not necessarily used for that purpose. She wants to allow strangers to converse with each other in a setting otherwise reserved for “passing through”.

Dilwin’s intervention will take place in Knowledge Village in the week of the 30th March – 3rd of April.

Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

An inspired psychogeographer, Marwa is making maps of her urban explorations (or derives) of the city for people to enjoy.

She sees the city divided into 2 halves, each half on either side of Sheikh Zayed Road. To encourage movement between these two halves, she’ll be taking people from one side on “purposeless walks” to the other side. The aim is pure exploration and hopefully a deeper appreciation for the city as a whole.

Download Marwa’s maps (displayed below) and get started on your very own drift of Dubai.

Made by Marwa Chihab

Made by Marwa Chihab

Meena Bazaar

Made by Marwa Chihab

Al Ras

Made by Marwa Chihab

BUR DUBAI

Made by Marwa Chihab

DOWNTOWN

Made by Marwa Chihab

Sharmeen Khan

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

Photo credit: Sharmeen Khan

Permanent residence in Dubai is a luxury only few can afford. For most, Dubai remains a very comfortable transit city. In the context of this situation, Sharmeen is interested in exploring the concept of “Home”. How does one create home in a foreign city?

“What I really love about the area I live in, is that it is really lively, even though the signals are jam-packed almost every evening, the area is well lit, lots of supermarkets and eating joints, parlours and petrol stations. Something I have noticed, peculiar to other parts of Dubai is that people in this area make an effort to talk to each other, be it the supermarket cashier, the watchmen, delivery boys or even people in the lift. Personally, I have had people in the lift with me in my building who have made an effort to say a simple hello, or even ask about college and work.”

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on all our forums!

The City as a Canvas

We’re getting a lot of eyeballs and support from the digerati community already, and just for that, we’d like to say a big THANK YOU!

Image credit: WAM

Image credit: WAM

We were in a truly celebratory mood this past week with the announcement of the metro makeover by the city of Dubai. The Metro Museum Project is set to “enhance the quality of life and transport, and transform Dubai Metro stations into destinations of culture, creativity and aesthetics,” said Shaikh Mohammad, following the launch of the project.

What a fantastic idea for an urban intervention!

Photo credit: Daniil Shilov

Photo credit: Daniil Shilov

The city itself, being an assemblage of architecture, technology and media, becomes a veritable communication device. Acknowledgement of its power to enable better social relationships amongst its residents and inspire human ingenuity, allows it to be one of the most effective and important  incubators of human potential of our time.

In “The Culture of Cities“,  Lewis Mumford wrote:

IMG_0400“The city … is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn urban forms condition mind. For space, no less than time, is artfully reorganized in cities … With language itself, it remains man’s greatest work of art.”

Cities across the world are using art to revitalise urban communities. While some artists work anonymously like the infamous Banksy to draw attention to the issues around urban decay,  others invite the community to lend its voice to a growing urban regeneration movement. One of our favourites is Broken City Lab Project situated in Windsor, Ontario. An “artist led interdisciplinary research collective,” they look to “explore and unfold curiosities around locality, infrastructures, education, and creative practice leading towards civic change”

In the lead up to the London Olympics, a London based design studio Hide and Seek created 99 Tiny Games designed “for real world play on specific sites” for every borough in London. These were placed in public areas and had to be played by strangers, like “like Eye Contact, a race where you can only move when you’re making eye contact with someone else – another player, a stranger, whoever you like.”

Typerventions, brainchild of designer Kriti Monga of Turmeric Design, uses “experimental typography installations from everyday materials to spell meaningful messages in Delhi’s public spaces”

Starting the first week of April, residents of Dubai will be able to participate in a series of urban interventions created by students of this lab.

More on that in my next post. Stay tuned!

Urban Intervention

Photo credit: Ayeesha Islam

Photo credit: Ayeesha Islam

The primary function of any place is to encourage social interaction.

The Situationists, rightly believed that space has the ability to shape interactions and create new “situations” or experiences. While city planners have to focus on creating cities that are efficient, orderly and functional, places of social interaction are increasingly either commodified (coffee shops, restaurants, malls etc) or controlled by access.

Because of its focus on productivity and economic prosperity, George Simmel in his seminal work, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”,  explains how  cities tend to reduce every interaction to its most quantitative level. Emotional or intellectual investment in any relationship is based upon the perceived “return” in terms of value, one might receive.

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

Photo credit: Marwa Chihab

This “calculating exactness of practical life” in the metropolis, along with  the constant bombardment of the senses that occurs in the city, leads to what Simmel calls “the blase attitude” – the ultimate renunciation of response to stimulus.

In many cities across the world, this attitude has led to a disengagement with the local environment. People in cities tend to come across as indifferent, uncaring and wholly focussed on personal well being and self centered progress.  In an effort to counter this trend, city authorities  now  use art and cultural activities as means to revitalize urban life

Thus, the urban intervention.

Photo credit: Amina Waya

Photo credit: Amina Waya

George Yúdice, Professor of Latin American Studies and Interim Chair at the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the University of Miami,  defines the term as referring to “public or participatory art through which publics constitute themselves and experience something extraordinary in the process.”

Here at the lab,  students are currently developing intervention ideas for the city of Dubai. The ultimate aim is to ignite new conversations about the city and develop a deeper appreciation for its uniqueness and its complexity. Students are using a combination of multimedia and social media to creates new experience for the residents of Dubai.

Stay tuned for more.