Cold Cuts with Mohamad Abdouni

Self-portrait by Mohamad Abdouni

Mohamad Abdouni is a photographer, filmmaker, and editor in chief of Cold Cuts magazine, a “Beirut-based photo journal and video platform exploring queer culture and the Middle East”.

I had the chance of working with Mohamad on the art direction and design of the magazine. From Brooklyn to Beirut, we miraculously managed to remotely put together a complete first issue—and a trilingual shiny silver insert—over long Skype sessions, conflicting time zones, and contrasting internet speeds.

The first issue was released in November of 2017. It showcases 176 pages of exclusive work featuring an array of photographers, stylists, designers and performers from around the world. The list includes the likes of Tanya Traboulsi, Melchior Tersen, Esteban Gonzalez, MISBHV, Mattis Dovier, Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches), Fecal Matter and Yumna Marwan amongst many others.

Cold Cuts Magazine (Issue 1)

Tala: So, why “Cold Cuts”?

Mohamad: Cold cuts are usually appetizers. They’re not hearty meals, you know. That’s how I first thought of Cold Cuts: little bits and pieces of information. Nothing that can change the world. Like “La Piara” ham and mortadella. Okay, this sounds stupid, you shouldn’t put this in.

Tala: How did it become a queer-focused magazine?

Mohamad: It started off as a fun playground, a “projet caprice”, where I just wanted to share good content from talented people that I’ve always wanted to work with. Throughout the process, my friend and consultant, Anya Kneez, kept telling me: “You know you’re putting out a queer magazine, right”? And she was right. Because of the editorial content that was shaping up—the contributors, the final visual selections, the way I was seeing and combining things—it organically grew into a queer-focused publication. I also came to realize that it needed to be a queer-focused publication.

Cold Cuts Magazine (Issue 1)

Tala: How so?

Mohamad: I felt that it was necessary to document queer culture in Lebanon and the region for future generations. Queer performers and artists coming up in the Arab world have little to no archive of gay culture in the Middle East. Paris is Burning is an amazing documentary. But Paris is Burning is not your history as a queer Arab. We grew up with no references, no history.

Thankfully some of the people who lead the way are still here. Like Alexandre Paulikevitch. For us, he’s one of the first queer performers to come out as himself, with his full persona, you know what I mean? He was one of the first Arab Baladi dancers. For a man to come up on stage, do shows in Beirut and belly dance in a dress… that’s a queer performer.
We want to keep a record, a testimony of now, an inspiration for future queer generations. We want to document our queer lives. That’s why we also have the online platform. So far we made a documentary about Anya Kneez and a music video for Kabreet, a queer Yemeni-German band.

Why do we always need to turn to the West for inspiration when we can make our own? There’s so much potential and richness here. Queer culture and the LGBTQ community are on a current revolutionary high in the Arab World. We want to document this pivotal moment from the inside of the community, invoking the activists, performers, and artists behind this change to tell their own stories. I also think of it as a reaction to the misrepresentation of the queer Arab community and its exploitation by foreign media. This project serves as a witness to an important time in the region, and an overdue truthful documentation from within the community for future generations of LGBTQ individuals living in the Middle East and the Arab Diaspora.

Tala: Your documentary, Anya Kneez: A Queen in Beirut, premiered at the Brooklyn Museum in June 2017 and was screened at a number of worldwide film festivals. How did it come together?

Mohamad: One day, I randomly decided to film Anya on a weekend. She needed to make a jumpsuit for a show, and I thought it would be fun to just follow her around with a camera and film her buying fabric and sewing the jumpsuit together. There was no lighting, no crew, nothing. I was just goofing around with my own digital camera. We didn’t know what we were doing, we just wanted to see what we can come up with. Nothing was staged, the voice over wasn’t even scripted (I secretly recorded it!). The only scene that was planned out was the one with the club lights. After the jumpsuit was done, I asked a friend if we can shoot in her space, and we did.

Amazing people chimed in and helped me actually make something out of the footage, like brilliant editor Nathalie Rbeiz who now works with me on everything, musician Paul Alouf who generously composed a mini-score for it, and colorist Belal Hibri who, quite literally, saved the image.

Tala: What’s next for Cold Cuts?

Mohamad: The second issue is underway with an estimated Fall ‘19 release! I’m very excited about this one. I shared with you a teaser image from my photoshoot with Andrea, Melanie, and Valerie.

Andrea, Melanie, and Valerie – teaser image shot by Mohamad for the upcoming issue of Cold Cuts