Reflect & Reconnect: Ramadan at Alserkal Avenue

05 May 2019Vinita Bharadwaj
Reflect & Reconnect: Ramadan at Alserkal Avenue

Ramadan Kareem.

Pause, reflect, and reconnect. As part of Alserkal’s annual thematic on Maintenance, Ramadan at Alserkal Avenue encourages us to shift our focus towards discourses around maintenance, urging us to reconsider our present moment. Throughout the month, our Ramadan programme invites you to discover alternative Iftar and Suhoor experiences, art and self-care workshops, thought-provoking discussions, exhibition openings and guided tours, film screenings and more, reflecting the communal spirit of Ramadan.

In this episode of Conversations on the Avenue, we catch up with Butheina Kazim from Cinema Akil, Kenza and Patrick Jarjour from Inked, and Lola Boatwright form Gulf Photo Plus to hear about their Ramadan line-up. Our Alserkal Lates continue every Wednesday, and the galleries will open new shows during the 15 May edition of Alserkal Lates, when galleries will be open from 8-11PM. 

You’re also welcome to discover our many family-friendly activities throughout Ramadan at Alserkal Avenue, including the children’s camps at Wisdom Warehouse, Board Game Nights at A4 Space, fashion pop-ups, night markets, and Majlis Storytelling in The Yard.

The full calendar of events is available here, and we have an ever-growing calendar of activities, events, and exhibitions running throughout the month, so keep checking in for updates.




Conversations on the Avenue | Reflect & Reconnect: Ramadan at Alserkal Avenue 

Butheina: I definitely remember the days when Ramadan was kind of a sort of blackout season for entertainment, you know, and that was something that was standard. There was a month that everything slowed down, people came together and that still persists, the sort of communal element. And I think one thing that has happened is there's a sort of a hyper commercialization of that communal element. There are some problematic elements of the way that it only is limited within that framework. I believe that giving and coming together and all these different principles should exist throughout the year, which is why we do what we do here at the cinema. And that's something that's key to the work that we do.


Vinita Bharadwaj: Ramadan Kareem to everyone listening. We just heard from Butheina Kazim, founder of Cinema Akil, the GCC’s first art-house cinema and indie film platform. Cinema Akil’s flagship home is brought to you in partnership with Alserkal Avenue.

I’m Vinita Bharadwaj and you’re listening to Conversations on the Avenue, a podcast brought to you by Alserkal. This Ramadan, Alserkal Avenue invites you for a month of self-reflection, pause and reconnection. The entire calendar of events is on our website alserkalavenue.ae

In this episode as we walked around the Avenue, we ran into some of the residents to find out about their plans for Ramadan. Here’s Butheina.

Butheina Kazim: One thing that we did keep in mind, you know, being here is yes, you know, entertainment isn't exactly the go-to a sort of activity or, or sort of the industry that, that, uh, that does spike during the month, but we wanted it, we're not really an entertainment based, you know, platform. We're really a space for the celebration of the different kinds of cinematic works and arts and, and, and, and thinking.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Cinema Akil will run CineMajlis, which is a coming together of thought-provoking film, community, authentic food curated by the cinema’s F+B partner The Project Chaiwala as well as a copious supply of chai by them. The month-long program will screen 4 feature films – each running for a week - and a collection of short films, to commemorate Nakba Day on the 15th of May.

Butheina Kazim: So the programming that we're bringing to the table is focused around films in the region. We are starting with documentary from Saudi Arabia called The Poetess. It really revolves around this poetry competition that is the biggest poetry competition in the world. Um, it has its own TV channel and is predominantly dominated by a very strong male voice. And there was a contestant back in 2017 that kind of blew all that up, lyrically and, and poetically, her name is Hessa Hillal. She made a lot of headlines for kind of being the only woman to reach the finals. And, and you know, with her very strong feminist, uh, poetry. So it was a disruptor for all intensive purposes in the context of Saudi Arabia at the time. You know, obviously a lot has changed since then, so the conversation has shifted. Uh, but you know, the, the meaning of the words and the end her, what she's, what she was, uh, was, was, it was about, uh, you know, still stand true. And I think it's a story that's worth experiencing and seeing.

Vinita Bharadwaj: The second film is a Palestinian documentary Naila and the Uprising, an incredible story of women in the Intifada, Palestinian uprising and the resistance movement. It’s followed in the third week by Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al Daradji’s extraordinary feature that is a powerful examination of the choice between life and death, and culminates with a film from Egypt by Ahmad Abdalla called Exterior Night, a touching social satire that lenses issues like class and gender relations.

Butheina Kazim: One thing that we, that we are doing differently with the program this year is we're doing a smaller number of films with a much, much, much more concentrated to the repeat pattern where people are actually like, get it, get a real opportunity to catch those films. Cause one thing we are always accused of is, you know, it's catch me if you can, syndrome, you know, so we're really trying to change that with Ramadan and maybe slow things down as well, you know, on, on the programmatic side.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Butheina says the idea behind CineMajlis was to offer a different way of coming together, eating and watching films. The new setting within Cinema Akil can accommodate 75 people and is designed to create an intimate sense of camaraderie, with a love for cinema at the heart of the experience. So we asked Butheina, how is CineMajlis, which starts on the 10th of May, going to work as a format? What time does it begin and what can we expect?

Butheina Kazim: The Iftar obviously is at sundown, so it changes minute by minute to as we go through the month. We'll open doors at 6:30 and you can either buy a pass for the Iftar and film, and you know, and start your Iftar and either, you know, book a table or just grab a seat.

During the dining hours there'll be performances by different local musicians. It's all curated by Blank Space, the community organization that puts on a lot of open mics and, and performances and so on. We're also doing something that is, we're using that sort of, that space to introduce a Speakers Corner element where we're inviting and reaching out to different community groups, using our big screen as a space to share those ideas with people who are here, who are, you know, within the Majlis and, and really, you know, really bringing to bringing to life that concept of a Majlis, which is a, something of a, you know, something of, I don't want to say an agora, but it's something of a, of an idea exchange concept at its core.

So from 6.30 to 8.45, it's, you know, it's the Iftar, the hangout, the lull, the music, the performances, the photo presentations or talks. All of these things are happening within that, um, that bracket.

It's a buffet style and there's unlimited chai and you know, and, and uh, and desserts coming through. So there's, there's, um, there's different stations, food stations, and uh, you'll get to sit with a cluster of the clusters are organized in tables of six or in clusters of six.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Film screening times during Ramadan are 9 pm and 11 pm. So at 9pm the venue turns into a straightforward cinema, with seating on the floor, which is just as comfortable as their regular big, comfy sofas.

Butheina Kazim: Or you can just buy an Iftar package and just come and have Iftar with us and to watch a film another day.

Vinita Bharadwaj: The iftar + film experience is priced at 200 dirhams and bookings are now open for Cinema Akil’s CineMajlis program. Visit cinemaakil.com to save your seat. That’s CINEMAAKIL.com


Kenza Jarjour: I think everyone is, loving this idea of, especially because we're all, I mean, most of us are expatriates here, so having the possibility to eat home cooked, let's say food prepared by moms is always, it's always great.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Our next stop is at Inked, where we sat down with Kenza and Patrick Jarjour, who are bringing back Tawlet after a fantastic run during last Ramadan. Tawle opened in 2009 in Lebanon. It’s essentially a farmers’ kitchen that was set up to complement Souk El Tayyeb, which was founded by Kamal Mouzawak and is Lebanon’s first farmers’ market that encourages farmers from different parts of the country to come and sell their produce.

Kenza Jarjour: The message of Souk Al Tayyeb goes beyond that. It's really about, telling your story, your history, in a land that is so, divided either culturally or religious or politically. And it shows that with food, you can create a means of communication and bring people together.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Tawleh in Beirut operates like a restaurant with cooks from different parts of Lebanon contributing to the magic of the experience. Although they’re referred to as cooks, they’re actually people from different walks of life, who are essentially coming together to keep traditional cooking alive in Lebanon, and spreading the love and generosity by travelling overseas as well.

Kenza Jarjour: A lot of the, a lot of the moms, a lot of the cooks are traveling for the first time abroad. So it has created a great opportunity for them not only to have work and revenue and to be recognized as well and to be able to, to travel the world also.


Kenza Jarjour: It's that human connection that makes the whole difference because it's, it's home cooked food. It's nothing pretentious but it, it's made with love and, you get to meet the woman who have prepared it and, their generosity is very obvious and they're, they're here and they have, they have cooked it all day and they're here and they're serving you and they want to, to talk to you too, to understand what they have prepared for you. So that's, it's very different from going to a restaurant and ordering from a menu for sure.

Patrick Jarjour: The first time we brought them in was at the beginning of Inked it was before Ramadan and then last year we said no, they should come during Ramadan. It makes so much sense. It's all about the community is all about helping each other. It's all about sharing the whole love behind what they do. And then those ladies, they come, they work for like seven days in a row and plus they're serving the food at the end and it's all done. And there you see the way they work, it's becoming like super well organized. They come five hours in the morning, they do everything. They're cooking for roughly 250 people. I mean it should be faced with. There is always more food than the number of guests. Uh, so they're coming for 250 people cause we have two seating, we have the Iftar and we have the dinner afterwards. And then obviously no waste of food afterwards. It's all distributed, uh, right after each day that we're hosting with hosting them, at Inked.


Vinita Bharadwaj: Tawlet at Inked will run from the 7th to the 13th of May. The menu will change every other day, featuring a generous offering of authentic Lebanese favourites. The experience is priced at 275 dirhams per person and 130 dirhams for children between 5- and 11 years. Tawlet sold out fairly quickly last year, so we recommend you book right away via inked.ae or email info@inked.ae for more information.

Inked will also play host to a food-themed Pecha Kucha on the 25th of May brought to you by Alserkal. The free event will feature 8 diverse speakers and from sustainability in farming, to the health benefits of fasting, you’re invited to join the conversation dedicated to foodies of all kinds. To book your seat for Pecha Kucha night, drop us a line at RSVP@alserkalavenue.ae to register


Lola Boatwright: My name is Lola Boatwright and I'm the managing director of Gulf Photo Plus. So this Ramadan, our main activity is called Suhoor strolls.

Vinita Bharadwaj: For anyone who’s familiar with Gulf Photo Plus’ activities, they’re the go-to people for photo trails. In past Ramadans, you might have heard of or even been on one of their Iftar photo walks in Deira.

Lola Boatwright: This year we're mixing it up a little bit. These photo walks will now be in Karama and instead of having it at the moment of Iftar, we decided to have the photo walks during Suhour, just to get a different atmosphere. Focusing a little bit more in photography. So Karama has a lot of really wonderful storefronts with artificial lights. Uh, you know, red, blue, pink, green as, so we'll have some opportunities to do portraits in front of, uh, these kinds of lights.

Vinita Bharadwaj: The three-hour experience will meander purposefully through a route charted out by the GPP team. There will be interactions with residents and businesses that have really contributed to the history and urban fabric that have given Karama its distinct identity. The stroll will end at a restaurant, where the group sits down and reviews their images and gets feedback from the instructor on their photography from the evening.

Lola Boatwright: What we wanted to do a as well, like we've kept the groups kind of small, it's 12 people and whether you're shooting with your mobile phone or your mirrorless camera or Dslr, it's completely fine either way. So if someone has taken workshops at Gulf Photo Plus in the past, it's amazing. This is the way for them to continue to practise what they learned in, you know, in a classroom setting out in the real world with the help of a photography guide and instructor, you know, there with them.

Vinita Bharadwaj: And what if one hasn’t done a GPP workshop?

Lola Boatwright: If someone hasn't taken a photography workshop, if they're just interested in mobile photography basically, um, but we do have a mobile workshop by the way. But even if you haven't taken it, it's still the kind of experience that you can, you know, learn on the fly with a small group. The instructor will be able to kind of, you know, adapt the lessons to each different device.


Lola Boatwright: The feedback we've gotten is incredible on not only the Iftar walks, but it really all the photo walks that we've done over the years. The feedback that sticks out the most in my memory is when people say things, and this happens quite often that I've been living in Dubai for 10 years. I've never experienced this, you know, this part of Dubai in this way. Um, so for someone who feels like they are kind of stuck in, in their routine and Dubai and spending time in certain neighborhoods and a little bit reluctant to venture outside of that circuit, it's, it's really eye-opening experience.

Vinita Bharadwaj: GPP has currently scheduled 5 Suhour strolls – on the evenings of May 8, 11, 13, 15 and 18. They run from 830 PM to 1130PM, including the walk and the image review at the end. In the event the strolls sell out, GPP does have space to accommodate two more dates, which will be confirmed as the slots fill up. Priced at 295 dirhams per person, Lola says it’s an all-inclusive experience that also works in small bites and chai along the way. Participants need to bring their own camera or phone along.

Lola Boatwright: I would say generally speaking, from my point of view, it's important to have a Ramadan experience that it's, uh, not too extravagant. I feel like we're moving away maybe from the all you can eat buffet, Ramadan tent kind of activity because nobody likes waste and leftover food and it just doesn't seem to be the, the spirit. Uh, so I, I hope to see more activities that like ours that are not wasteful and that encourage interactions between people who might not otherwise be, you know, interacting on a day to day basis.

Vinita Bharadwaj: As we spoke about the importance of connecting offline in a hyper-digital world, Lola, describes her own experience of having recently moved to Bur Dubai, where says she’s truly immersed in the sense of being part of a real neighborhood.

Lola Boatwright: And I don't know, I'm just, I'm finding the, um, the sense of urbanism on that side of World Trade Center is so much more thriving then, you know, from Downtown to Marina side of things. So exploring Karama for creating this Suhour stroll was actually quite easy and you know, really, really fun experience even just for, for us to go out and say, okay, if we were a group of 12 people, what would be interesting, not only to photograph, but you know, what would we want to know about this building, about the shop, et cetera.

Vinita Bharadwaj: Bookings to GPP’s Suhour Strolls can be made through their website gulfphotoplus.com

We look forward to seeing you on the Avenue during Ramadan, as there are several activities, events and exhibitions running throughout the month. Our Wednesday Lates take place every Wednesday and the galleries will open new shows during the 15th May Wednesday Lates. Galleries will be open from 8 to 11 pm.

You can also come by for the children’s camps at Wisdom Warehouse or the fashion pop-ups and Board Game Nights, the Ramadan Night Market and Majlis Storytelling out on The Yard. Our calendar is growing with opportunities for all of us to come together, pause and reconnect.

For more information about the exhibitions and events on the Avenue during Ramadan visit http://alserkalavenue.ae or follow Alserkal Avenue on Instagram. That’s A-l-s-e-r-k-a-l-A-v-e-n-u-e.ae

Vinita Bharadwaj: This episode was brought to you by Alserkal and was hosted by me, Vinita Bharadwaj. Editing & Production by Chirag Desai. We’d love it if you could subscribe to the show in Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, or any podcast player, as well as streaming apps like Spotify and Anghami. And if you really enjoyed this episode, share it with your friends.



It's that human connection that makes the whole difference because it's home cooked food. It's nothing pretentious but it's made with love, and you get to meet the women who have prepared it." — Kenza Jarjour, Co-founder of INKED