Future leaders. Builders of tomorrow. Change-makers. These are the terms that are often used to describe the Arab youth of today. August 12 marks the annual celebration of International Youth Day, an awareness day created by the United Nations (UN). Each year, a new theme is set, aiming to cover a range of issues that affect young people. From sustainability in 2016 to safe spaces in 2018 and the impact of COVID-19 in 2021, every year, the day emphasizes on the rights of young people to have full access to education, healthcare, employment, monetary services and complete participation in public life.
Today’s generation of youth is the largest in history. According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the youth unemployment rate in Arab countries is over 30 percent, the highest in the world. The fact that approximately 42 percent of Arab youth are seriously considering emigrating should not come as a surprise. With many finding themselves in the dark, in terms of their immediate situation and their hopes for the future, this marginalization is shaping their experiences in relation to society and their approach to the world.
As such, the Arab youth of today have found themselves looking at the world with a fresh perspective. In the Arab region, a new class of creatives is setting a high bar for the future of our creative industries. Tackling themes like Arab futurism, gender identity, modernism versus traditionalism, and the feeling of displacement that comes with being a third-culture kid, the creative output of young Arab talent has resulted in some thrilling developments.
Today, we are celebrating the contributions of eight Arab creatives from across the MENA region who serve as catalysts for hope, not only in their local communities, but on the global stage as well. I asked all of them one simple question — “What is it like being an Arab creative today?” Here is what they had to say.
Noor Alazzawi / Junior Editor at GQ Middle East / Iraq
The perspective on what it is to be any creative depends on how one is able to persevere through challenging obstacles or contexts, such as expectations, roles, traditions, and culture. I come from a deep-rooted culture with traditions that I use to fuel my inspiration. In fact, working around those sets of limitations and challenging them, is what I find riveting.
Shahinaz Alotaishan / Fashion Journalism Undergraduate at
London College of Fashion / Saudi Arabia
Being an Arab creative today is about pushing the boundaries and stereotypes that are pushed onto us while embracing our beautifully rich heritage to create to our hearts’ desire. We live in a world of superficial diversity, where people on my side of the world are used as token figures rather than as a part of the “team”. Speaking on behalf of young Arab creatives today, we don’t want a seat at that table – what we want is a table that accommodates everyone.
Tayachi Bachir / Visuaul Artist, Photographer and Architect / Tunisia
As an Arab creative, I find that my work allows me to constantly explore human behavior and its hidden sides, which triggers me to dig deeper into it. Being an Arab creator is a journey of discovery. I do not believe in labeling my work, especially when it comes to photography. Even though my work is mostly fashion focused, I believe the human is the main element I find myself focusing on.
Ali Kiblawi / Art & Creative Director at Highsnobiety / Lebanon
It is surprisingly overwhelming to be an Arab creative today, acknowledging our responsibilities and mission to bring our creative scene to a larger local and global audience, especially since it has started booming in recent years. It is at the same time challenging to be an Arab creative in Europe, aiming to establish ourselves in a Western society that has always deemed the MENA’s creativity to be “far away” due to the various stereotypes we all are familiar with, and the limited resources that allow us to move at the same pace as the West.
Leen Ramini / Freelance Creative Director and Stylist / Jordan
The voices creative Arabs have in today’s conversation are exciting. We are expressing our identities freely to the world through our work. These identities are multifaceted, daring, and even sensual, which has shifted the narrative on who we are in a contemporary world. Together as a community, we have been imperative to each other in establishing a continuous, flourishing presence.
Aly Saab / Photographer / Lebanon
Being a creative Arab in general has always been a challenge. Yes, things are getting better and Arabs are being noticed and praised, but we still have a long way to go. As a Lebanese photographer, things are twice as hard, as not only am I working hard to keep my career progressing, but I am also struggling with an economic crisis and political factors that limit my creativity and ability to produce as before.
Najla Said / Photographer / Egypt
Being an Arab creative is inseparable from my identity as a woman living in Cairo. There is so much room to play and push boundaries; on the other hand, the restrictions are inescapable, and are defined by gender. Be it political, economic or social, our work is rooted in the context we live in today. My work contextualizes the collective identity of our society and challenges these notions and traditions through critiques of colonialism, particularly its influences on Arab female identity. My process involves creating new understandings and representations of what it means to be a woman in Arab society today. It’s a push-pull game, constantly adding pressure on the tension between what is deemed acceptable and what is not.
Dania & Mariam Sawadeg / Jewelry Designers and PR and Communications Specialists / Libya
Being an Arab creative is very empowering, it gives us a platform to shine a light on our culture and heritage in a positive way, allowing all Arabs to feel a part of a community or family that is growing at a very fast pace.