Immortalizing the untold stories of Queer & Trans folks; Beirut & beyond

by Yassa Almokhamad-Sarkisian

Mohamad Abdouni is truly an iconic artist who has graciously interwoven their craft with shedding light on a historical existence within Arab society. His works are centered in uncovering the untold stories of Beirut and beyond. The rich yet eradicated queer histories of the Arabic-speaking region through various documentaries and photo stories is a rebellious act of work. Many of our identities are often forced under the radar and these works are a direct challenge to the erasure that is far too common.

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Mohamad Abdouni is a creative director, photographer and filmmaker based in Beirut who is playing a key role in the art world to make sure queer SWANA voices are brought back to life. His work has been featured in publications such as A24, Telerama, Foam Magazine, Tetu, New Queer Photography, Kaleidoscope, i-D, Photoworks, The Guardian, Facebook, and more.

Since 2019, he has dedicated his time to what is arguably the first archive of trans* histories in an Arab country, a project titled “Treat Me Like Your Mother: Trans* Histories From Beirut’s Forgotten Past.” This collection is now safely housed at the Arab Image Foundation. Mohamad creates a powerful pairing, with timeless photos of the trans feminine experience and oral histories from Lebanon’s post war period. So far Mohamad has compiled over 300 photos in this ongoing project.


In Mohamads latest series, “Extended Archives,” the artist builds on this concept by expanding his current project and creating “pseudo-archives’’. Drawing from personal photographs generously donated by the women, transcriptions of their oral histories, additional images from the Arab Image Foundation, and his own past photographic work. Recently, Mohamad has been working on a long-term project exploring his hometown in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, near the Syrian border. This project examines the ideals of masculinity he was expected to embody and the strains these expectations place on familial relationships.


Do you feel like there are some parts of Arab culture that are inherently Queer?

I think what’s even more interesting is how much queer folk have always had a strong influence on our culture as a whole. Whether it’s in art, entertainment, nightlife or even politics, figures that we consider as pillar exports of our Arab culture have always had massive queer influences that helped shape them, and so in turn are, and become, inherently queer.

Why is highlighting Queer/Trans SWANA experience important to you personally?

Because I grew up with much more questions than there were answers available. I mean it’s easier to find answers today, something to help you find some sort of belonging, but at the time there was a frustration to know more that stuck with me until today. The fact that it was harder for anyone to document their own life the way we do now, meant that many stories went unrecorded, and I find that to be a little tragic. I try to do my part in bridging whatever little I can of that gap, when I can.

How has your approach to your art shifted as you have grown as an artist?

It’s constantly ever-changing but I suppose that’s what keeps it exciting, at least for me. At times I’ve found more of an interest in documenting others, whereas lately I’m turning the lens back on myself playfully. At times I have something I deem important to express, and sometimes I just want to poke fun and make jokes. No one’s ever all serious, nor all frivolous, and I find there’s a beautiful world right there in the middle.

Beyond an orientation, what does Queerness mean to you?

‘Queerness’ is a fickle term; it has quickly become what it originally set out to exist against. Queerness can mean different things, but the definition I’ve personally found most comfort in is simply that of a life lived differently, unrestricted by normative societal expectations.