All posts by Malak Abobakr

Guatemala: The Colors Within Textile & Fashion

Final-Arts, Media, and Conflictnice

Final-Arts, Media, and Conflict


Investigation: US/Guatemala relations from Sweatshops to textile & fashion

Initially I was very much interested in investigating the relationship between the U.S. and Guatemala through the economy behind sweatshops in Guatemala that provides some of the most popular companies with various products that range from art crafts, home supplies, to cloths. Through my research it seems that in recent years there has been some pressure groups such as the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights that is based here in the U.S., exposing large corporations and advocating for labour rights in Guatemala.

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Li & Fung in china, is one of the largest sourcing and logistics companies in the world that is considered the matchmaker between cheap labour in poor countries and affluent vendors. In investigating the Alianza Guatemala crisis it has been found that there is a huge discrepancy between the production cost and retail cost. For example, Calvin Klein boys suit retailed for %59.9 where the actual production cost is just $9.23.

“We definitely are part of bringing the prices down, there’s no question about that, because we are arbitrating factories and countries all the time,” said CEO Bruce Rockowitz.

Having said so, it seems that two societies were cheated, the Guatemalans being over-worked and under-paid, and the Americans for overpaying large companies. Now this indirect relationship raises a question, have Guatemalans exported their aesthetic taste for textile and fashion to the U.S. ?  In 1996 , professor Matthew Looper realized that the civil had taken its toll on people especially the indigenous which as a result will affect textile arts. Professor Looper, spent a year in Guatemala with different indigenous groups documenting the treatment of textile , style of attire , resources needed, patterns and designs.


Growing from the richness of Guatemalan colors, documentation of textile, sharing the beauty , stories and memories my research paper is unfolding the exciting truth behind a globalized Guatemala through textile , fashion and arts.

My point of reference for this research is Quique Lee.

Zona Intervenida: Short Film Review

A rough-cut of the film Zona Intervenida was screened at the NYU Critical Tactics Lab in the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics on Thursday, November 20th, 2014, with a talk by co-director Nitin Sawhney, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School.

Guatemala is a country that struggled with civil war particularly genocide against indigenous groups for almost 40 years. Nearly 200,000 people died or went missing during the war, including 40,000 to 50,000 people who “disappeared”. (Wikipedia)  Today, the young generation in Guatemala is heavily engaged in embracing their historic memory through various works of art. The film follows a number of Guatemalan artists in the fields of dance, performance and poetry displaying their translation of their historic memory of violence and civil war while they convene in Quetzaltenango  which is a former train station that was converted to a military base during the war.


The film featured a number of performances, dance, poetry recitation and interviews. The interesting twist in the movie is that it was dealing with a generation of Guatemalans that have not been directly affected by the war, in fact this is the generation that suffered the residue of war. Accordingly it wouldn’t be surprising that their interpretation of this painful past will be different from those who had a direct interface with war.  In the film performers and dancers summon in Quetzaltenago and create a routine by which they express the journey of historic memory where they were and where they are now!

One of the most fascinating performances in my opinion is the sweeper/ing act. In the empty building, under a roof that drew light rectangles in the floor designed by the precision of sun rays, each performer stood in one of beautiful sun spots and held a sweeper. Everyone started to sweep their way back and forth in their designated space. All performers were barefoot , it felt as if their feet were touching base with the feet of Guatemalans who lived in another time, some were victims and some were criminals. For a brief time these performers got the chance to relive the past, the difference is they had the opportunity to make a difference in a positive way. The intensity in the sweeping act felt that Guatemalans are not erasing the past but removing the dust and cracks because there is a lot of light to see. It’s a choice that these dancers made, they refuse to be captured in a silent painful memory but insist to look beyond that. Their movements looked very spiritual as if they were touching the ghosts and spirits from the past, perhaps they gave these ghosts a closure and assured them that they shall not and will not be forgotten. There was another act where balls that were made of mud and mixed with seeds were thrown in a field that could have been an execution zone. These “seed bombs” were planted replacing memories of death with memories of birth. An interesting performance was the shadow puppetry, which was a fun entertaining way of storytelling with in the film.

The cinematography aspect of Zona felt sleek, modern, and transitional. Some of the angles were rounded which gives room for one’s imagination to see beyond what’s on the screen. At times the performances were shot in black and white and gradually hint of colors kick in as the film unfolds.  At the end of the movie , you feel that you got introduced to a style of arts that embraces the past with all of its different shades and steps into the future creating a conscious print of positive wave.

Nitin was asked, why Guatemala?  He said, he was in a visit there where he was captured by the richness and beauty of the country. He met with Bonifaz Canelo (the other co-director of the film) and biked in some of the places featured in the movie. It seems they weren’t looking for a story but a story was waiting for them to be told.

During the screening a couple in the audience commented on the beauty and organic style of the performances, Nitin mentioned that some of these moves were improvised just before the shooting. There were four women filming and assisting the crew, their energies united and produced that wonderful dance under the rain scene. The key to this movie, Nitin says, “ is the level of intimacy and connection the team enjoyed during the making of Zona.”

Watch the Film Trailer

Project Proposal working with Yasmin Hage (US and Guatemalan Relations & Arts)

Upon discussing my initial project proposal that focused on the work behind the scenes in showcasing arts namely the economy of it and the outreach and public engagement aspect I find myself taking these ares of emphasis and tailoring it around the “US and Guatemalan relations” perceptions. I am interested in working closely with Artist Yasmin Hage and sharing with her my research findings on how I perceive one of the elements of this relationship. In this case my research is revolved around a heated debate about how American Corporations rely on sweat shops/labour in Guatemala.

The institute for global labour and human right have put together a detailed report about Alianza Sweatshops that is believed to serve American Corporations. According to research these Corporations owe $6 million to Guatemalan workers.  The interesting twist in this story is that on one hand there is the American Corporate Abuse to workers in Guatemala and on the other hand there is the American Arm of Institute For Global Labour & Human Rights that is based in Pittsburgh that is exposing the truth bringing issues to the surface to be rectified.  This is an area where Social justice is challenged ! I do have few  very ideas to share with Yasmin in displaying this relationship artistically , I am very curious to see what she will offer to such an exhibition of US Vs Guatemalan relations.





Arts, Advocacy & Reach

Throughout this course (so far) I have been introduced to arts and media under a different shade, rather shocking and conceptual pieces that challenge my mind and pose questions  pertaining to why arts ? Though I have no background in the Arts field academically, professionally or even culturally I am gradually finding myself appreciating how arts is a venting tool that may heal societies, and address current pressing issues.  Having said so, I also realize that arts cannot be treated as an island or singled out in a manner where it’s expected to operate solely.

Another angle into arts, I believe, is creating advocacy , public engagement, spreading the word which also comes with a special eye that looks into aspects such as budgets, sponsorship, supporters, safety and security as well as education.  I find myself interested in this area where mechanisms and strategies are made enabling the wheel of arts to move forward.

After seeing the documentary “Waste Land”, I have recently been following *Vik Muniz the Brazilian artist featured in the documentary. Vik who’s a photographer uses unconventional materials in displaying his photos such dust, garbage, chocolate syrup and sugar. In “Waste Land”, he took dramatic photos of his subjects and then asked them to remake the photos from garbage. As a result one of the photos was auctioned in the UK for $50,000 which was injected to the landfill workers association. Also another interesting photography  project he did was taking photos of children in a sugar cane plantation , where the end result were portraits made out of sugar symbolizing that how the sweet product isn’t so sweet to these children after all.

Waste Land Trailer

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The key element in Vik’s approach is how he engages his subjects in the process of making a unique piece of art. This was very evident in “Waste Land”.  Through these engagements the stars of his pieces learned more about arts, through arts they were given a voice to communicate their concerns. By the end of the project these people felt very confident to represent themselves to media and publicly engaged with news outlets, Tv shows and exhibition visitors and have had the courage to change their lives drastically. 

I am very impressed with the model Vik created to feature his works and how it became a global product rather than issues limited only to Brazil.  In due course I am very interested in investigating Vik Muniz  framework, what makes it successful? How did he reach out to international communities? what differentiates his works from others? Arts , a public property or a commercial product or both? Giving back to society, an obligation or genuine passion? What is the life span for his projects and are they sustainable?  In light of this investigation I would also like to research the role of advocacy in channeling Latin American/Guatemalan arts and if Vik Muniz model could be replicated.

“I’m the Hugo Chaves of art world; I want to make something populist, to make something that anybody has access to” Vik Muniz

As for the Guatemalan artists submissions I find myself gravitated towards two projects Sitio-sena and Los Cuatro Elementos (Fire, Earth, Air, Water). Since my interest is inspired by Vik’s Muniz work I can’t help but see that both projects resemble Vik’s work stylistically  in using unique materials in portraying a certain vision.  I am very interested in meeting with these artists and learn more about their thoughts and vision and to possibly to compare their previous artistic works to the ones they will submit to the New School taking into account the lessons learned from previous projects. What I would like to add to these projects (if possible) is how to translate these efforts into a wider audience by making it more relevant ? 

Through the platform of arts I have seen great examples of dealing with issues of social justice, healing distorted historical memories but most importantly I am seeing a  two way dialogue between artists and viewers where together they try to reflect, reshape and reveal a true image of a past or current reality. 

An Interesting Fact:

It’s been said that Vik’s exhibition had the largest turn up in history which made it come second to Picasso. Not only that the exhibition lasted for few years but also the advocacy campaign is still running.

Vik Muniz (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈvik muˈnis]; born in 1961, São Paulo, Brazil)[1] is a Brazilian artist and photographer. Initially a sculptor, Muniz grew interested with the photographic representations of his work, eventually focusing completely on photography. Primarily working in series, Muniz incorporates the use of quotidian objects such as diamonds, sugar, thread, chocolate syrup and garbage in his practice to create bold, ironic and often deceiving imagery, gleaned from the pages of pop culture and art history. His work has been met with both commercial success and critical acclaim, and has been exhibited worldwide. His solo show at MAM in Rio de Janeiro was second only to Picasso in attendance records. In 2010, Muniz was featured in the documentary film Waste Land, directed by Lucy Walker, which featured Muniz’s work on one of the world’s largest garbage dumps, Jardim Gramacho, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The film was nominated to the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 83rd Academy Awards.[2][3] – Wikipedia

Resources  to consider:

Thought Provoking or Soul Provoking ?

Visiting “Under the same  sun” exhibition was a unique and new experience to me. The title of the exhibition suggests a number of provocative thoughts, one could be the common struggle Latin American countries face/ed, another could be the common interests of Latin American artists to voice out a history of conflict , loss, and pain through their artistic projects.

Through a vast array of rich presentations I found myself driven towards Brazilian Rivane  Neuenschwander “Mapa Mundi/BR Postal – 2007”.   She presented a collection of photos that she took from different parts of Brazil such as bars, streets, restaurants, shops…etc that are named after International cities  and countries such as New York, Tokyo, even Baghdad. These photos are made into Brazilian postcards with no Brazilian names. I find her work combines an element of humor, subtle messages, sarcasm and beauty all at the same time.  As mentioned in the Guggenheim description this may be a translation into how local communities identify themselves with global culture.  I am very curious to know on what basis  are these international names selected.

For example in Cairo particularly in Almohandessen area a lot of the streets are named after Arab cities. I am not sure if it’s a coincidence or not but it’s not hard to see that the name of the street reflects the social class of the neighborhood.  Sadly, Alsudan street happens to be one of the worsts ! I also think that this tradition stemmed from the fact that Cairo hosts the official HQ of The Arab League.

NY in Brazil !
NY in Brazil !


Is Brazilian identity at risk?  References to international cities in local areas is it a way of brining the world to Brazil or it is Brazil’s way in adapting a new more universal attitude? These are the questions that come to my mind when I look at the postcards.

Rivane describes her work as”Etherial Materialism” .  This makes a lot of sense since her style seems to make use of current material aesthetics as in the postcards or utilizing natural ingredients in constructing and deconstructing a piece of art. I came across another project by her “Contingent”  that is worth watching.

“A new film work Contingent (2008), recalls the didactic videos screened by natural history museums. Made with time-lapse photography, the film deconstructs the formation of the continents by allowing nature’s wilful course to unfold. A map of the world, rendered in honey, is gradually consumed by an army of tiny ants. Landmasses shrink to islands, isolated from their previously contiguous bodies. The whole is reduced to parts, and the system of the seven continents is reformed into a strange new alignment.”

“The circle of fires” by Jaun Downey 1979 , was also another attraction to me.  Sitting closely and surrounded by a number of screens that are displaying the same video scenes with a difference of seconds in terms of timing creates moments of intrigue in figuring out the idea of film, and one tries to catch up with change of/transition of  images in each screen.  I feel my reaction physically and emotionally to the film is the same way a member of Yanomami group would have reacted gasping in moments of Oh,  deep observation and realization.

Having said so, I have an inner conflict in the depiction  of Yanomami in this film. I understand Downey’s interests in showing the indigenous group way of life through their own eyes upon filming this rather raw and organic  documentary.  But, what does it serve? My first impression was the primitive state of the Yanomami.  Is the message sent to viewers upon watching this film is “is this what happens to indigenous groups when they live in isolation? “, ” help indigenous groups to evolve?” … I don’t get the purpose and frankly speaking accept it as just a conceptual piece of arts, it’s certainly beyond that.

circle of fire
circle of fire

Much of Juan Downey’s pioneering video work critiques the purported objectivity of ethnographic observation and documentation. To produce The Circle of Fires, the artist lived with his wife and stepdaughter among the Yanomami indigenous group in the Venezuelan Amazon for seven months; inviting the Yanomami to both make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted the conventional roles of observer and observed. Likely seeing themselves in this medium for the first time, the subjects are presented with a new vision of themselves through the screen’s alternate reality. The installation’s multi-monitor design refers to the circular layout of a Yanomami settlement, encouraging viewers to see themselves not as outsiders, but rather as existing within the community it represents.

Malak Abobakr

With my family, I spent most of my life in the diaspora. During my university days I was heavily engaged in the cultural activities. I was always passionate about promoting my country. Through coordinating cultural exhibitions and participating in a couple of plays (directing and acting) I found myself drawn into an area of arts that I had never considered before. Nonetheless I earned my BA in Public Administration, with a minor in International Relations at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE.

In my professional journey I was fortunate enough to work for International organizations namely Shell Oil Company and the *British Council.

After nearly 100 years of presence in Sudan, Shell divested as a result of how the country was portrayed in the International media. A pressure group in the US determined the fate of an investment legacy, leaving behind a large number of employees jobless, and tarnishing the face of foreign investment of Sudan.  Ironically, this incident coincided with the birth of a local network of private businesses that joined the **UN Global Compact. I became an active member in the secretariat, advocating and inviting members from the private sector to take part. To reflect the business environment of Sudan positively. I worked with colleagues in collecting success stories and the documentation of Corporate Social Responsibility projects that took place across the country. This experience revealed to me the value of communicating in different mediums. At the time I realized that Media practice was beyond “News outlets.” In fact I could see how media could act as a catalyst in addressing sincere issues of social justice in urban and rural societies defying mainstream stereotypes.

My work in the British Council exposed me to another level of understanding communication. Since the BC relies on tax payers’ cheques, the Chairman had to present evidence before the British parliament to justify budgets spent; confirming the mission and outreach of the BC in different communities. One of the effective and quick tools of engagement was through Social Media.

The above experiences and more opened up my eyes to appreciating the supremacy of media and the vital rule of communication. Through The New School, I aspire to engage in progressive conversations with faculty and colleagues. One of the elements of attraction to the program is that the curricula combines both theoretical and practical approaches, given my desire to upgrade my career, I feel it is time to arm myself with skills, knowledge and practice.

*The UK’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations. The BC is on the ground in six continents and over 100 countries, bringing international opportunity to life, every day.

** The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principals in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere