Top of this document
Go directly to navigation
Go directly to page content

Salon 1

El HEMA Koopavond 8

Forbidden topics, moves and grooves

The 8th El HEMA weekly meeting proved to be a melodious blend of music, dance and literature.

As the white entrance hall to the Mediamatic exhibition room gradually became a vivacious red, inside the room music blazed, hips shimmied and taboos no longer were taboos.

The El HEMA exhibit opened on August 24th in the ground floor of the Post CS building.

  • Introduction of the new El HEMA logo - 

    Dutch store Hema recently changed their logo, so El HEMA designers redesigned the El HEMA logo, left, as well. The right represents a blueprint for the El HEMA exhibition floor. It's similar to the blue and white checkered pattern of Hema stores but with an Arab touch.

The Design

“We decided to have all the floor tiles white and blue with Arabesque patterns on the white tiles,” graphic design intern Wael Morcos said Thursday at the 8th weekly El HEMA meeting. “We’re also testing the printers and colors to make sure we have the same red everywhere.”

The labels for the chocolate Arabic letters have been designed. Now, what is needed is to make all 29 letters so that people will be able to choose their Arab initials, similar to the chocolate letters Hema makes available during the Christmas season. Pillows with Arab letters and patterns have also been designed and the El HEMA clothing line still needs to be finished Morcos added.

All in due time. For now, Thursday evening’s meeting was an exchange of sensual visuals, sounds and words.

Forbidden Words

Writer Raouf Moussad Basta began by sharing his take on forbidden topics in Egyptian and Arabic literature. “We live in two different schools of language,” Basta began, “the written and the spoken language.”

The written Arabic language, he explained, is the language of the Koran and is considered holy. While the spoken language is “wider and active and accepts the world from outside.”

Osama speaking during the El HEMA Koopavond 8 - Photo by Marieke Bijster

Osama speaking during the El HEMA Koopavond 8 - Photo by Marieke Bijster


Ossama Abu Ammar screened the documentary Ossama's Dance. The documentary portrayed his life as a male Oriental dance instructor, as well as the history and techniques of the dance.

In order to write about necessary sexual topics often considered taboo, Basta said he switched to the spoken language when he wrote his books. Nevertheless, this still caused outrage because of the three censorships on issues dealing with morals, politics and religion in the Arab world. And a new Internet censorship is rising especially for young people with blogs, he said.

“Even when I’m working [on the internet] from home, I know I’m being observed by Big Brother… I know it’s risky, but I can’t stop the temptation to write.”

Male Belly Dancer

Ossama Abu Amar, a social worker and belly dancer extraordinaire, further discussed how dialogue can begin with a single dance. For starters, Amar has been practicing a dance normally thought to be exclusively feminine for eight years now, raks sharki or oriental dancing. The French began calling it belly dancing, he said, but to him it’s simply oriental dancing.

In some countries, oriental dancing was “traditionally a man’s dance because women were not allowed to entertain other men,” Amar said. Hence, men would dress as women and entertain the men.

El HEMA Koopavond 8: Forbidden topics, moves and grooves at Mediamatic

El HEMA Koopavond 8: Forbidden topics, moves and grooves at Mediamatic


Author Raouf Moussad Basta lectures on the three forbidden topics in Egyptian and Arabic literature, which he said are morals, religion, and politics at the 8th El HEMA meeting on August 9th.

He further explained that in Arab culture, dancing begins at home, especially at family parties. His sister taught him how to dance, he said. However, when boys reach approximately 12 years of age, “they’re not allowed to do it anymore. They say it’s more for women.”

Clearly Amar continued to dance and he continues to spark discussions by stepping outside the boundaries set by society.

Middle Eastern Beats

Similarly, DJ Safri, fed up with the techno and electro music scene in Europe, stepped outside the musical boundaries to bring Middle Eastern dance music to the Netherlands.

DJ Safri said when he was growing up he was exposed to a wide variety of music and developed a taste for Eastern music that he couldn’t explain. Now Safri skillfully combines Western music with Eastern and Asian music so that it’s “interesting to as many people as possible.”

Wael & Maria trying a Khamsa shirt

Wael & Maria trying a Khamsa shirt


Lebanese design interns Wael Morcos and Maria Hakim examine hamza-shirts made by Mandy. The shirts will be available for purchase at the El HEMA exhibition to open on August 24th at the old Post CS building on Oosterdokskade 5, Amsterdam.

His goal is to have a dance floor comprised of 50 percent Dutch people and 50 percent non-Dutch—but that’s proved to be difficult. In the United Kingdom where there is a large population of Moroccan immigrants and the immigrants are more open-minded, Safri said, such innovative combinations of music are more popular.

“In Holland unfortunately it’s not the same. To Dutch people it all sounds the same and they either love it or leave it.”

Fortunately for Safri, most of the people at the meeting (that was approximately 50/50) seemed enthusiastic towards his music. And, most agreed that music is a good way to bring people together.

“When you see them on the dance floor you don’t see a difference anymore—the music gets people together,” Amar said.