5 minutes with Umama Hamido

Umama Hamido is a London-based, Lebanon-born performance artist. Her live art piece On Akka’s Shore serves as the fictional memoir of Umama and her friend Tareq Al Jazzar’s experiences of navigating place, imagined space and ideas of the self. Drawing upon hallucinations, dreams and out-of-body experiences, scenes slip between Akka in Palestine; a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon; Hamido’s city of birth, Beirut, and London, their current home, taking us on an exploration of the chaos of memory in relation to personal and collective history.

How did your project On Akka’s Shore begin?

My work on On Akka’s Shore began when I started recording my conversations with my old friend Tareq Al Jazzar, or Jaz, from Lebanon in 2016. Jaz is a rapper who grew up in Burj Al Barajne Camp for Palestinian refugees on the outskirts of Beirut, born during the War of the Camps in the mid-1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. At the time we were both relatively new in London and didn’t have access to back home. Jaz had arrived in 2013 and just obtained his refugee status in the UK but had also just been released from a psychiatric ward in London, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia in Lebanon.

I was a student at Goldsmiths studying Performance Making and myself claiming asylum, and was/still am waiting to hear a decision from the home office. At first I didn’t know what I was making, but I remember I was very drawn to document my encounter with Jaz, the time we spent together and the space we occupied in the new city. Things felt very urgent and we were both living in a limbo. Not fully here and not fully there. It’s like living in a gap. And so I wanted to turn this gap into artwork.

Jaz’s group was the first rap group to be formed in the camp. I was drawn towards the power of the imagery he expressed in his rhymes, and a philosophy of life that he had developed for himself as a Palestinian. During the transitions we were both simultaneously experiencing, I became obsessed with recording our conversations and wanderings in London. I wanted to document our present in relation to our history and the struggle. I was focused on his persona and wanted to create an image of him as a ghost in the city. A ghost with superpowers who is capable of taking over and changing the course of things. I became obsessed with filming bridges and different means of transport such as trains and airplanes. It’s like documenting ourselves in the city, and documenting the city through our gaze.

 

On Akka’s Shore is a fusion of different art forms. How important to you is the use of mixed art forms & media in creating performance art? 

My background is in theatre. But I also love cinema, music, poetry and I don’t like to be hemmed in by the boundaries of genre, or limit myself to one form of expression. What drives me most is what I really want to say and then I am free to use any medium I’m comfortable with to convey it. In 2014 I started working with moving image because at the time it felt that it was the most suitable way that allowed me to express the reality I encountered on the ground. Based on the footage I shot at the Lebanese-Syrian border in 2014, I made a cinematic live performance called HIND. It was a meditation on the everyday life of people amidst the conflict in Syria. It was then when I started developing a language and experimenting with combining image, sound, and text within live performance. 

When I started working on On Akka’s Shore I didn’t think much at first about the form. Instinctively I started using different means of writing in order to record images, sounds and ideas. It all depended on what was happening at the time. For instance I had intense periods of recording sound, and other periods where I was filming a lot. Other periods I was writing… It’s like I carry an unconscious process of collecting and archiving. I can’t really deal with the material I accumulate until a later stage.

Your work explores the relationships between space, memory and identity. Is there anywhere in London that you feel is important to your sense of self?

Yes, I love Stratford. I lived there for three years. I remember when I first came out of the big station with so many people during the rush hour; I got overwhelmed and felt quite alienated. It intimidated me because it seemed not to have a clear identity. I had come from Beirut, which is a small place and most areas have a very clear identity either to do with sect, class or ethnicity. Later Stratford grew on me because I came to spend a long time filming there on the streets for my new project, and I was able understand and connect to it much better through its street life. 

You can watch Umama perform On Akka’s Shore on the Saturday night of the festival at the Mosaic Rooms.