Arabi Gharbi is a neon work of Islamic calligraphy that depicts two Arabic written words simultaneously: Arabi (Arab) and Gharbi (Western/Non-Arab). A flickering light flashes on and off, lighting a single dot that allows the work to switch from one term to the other. When lit, it reads Gharbi; when unlit, it reads Arabi.
By using the very language that is used to identify an Arab from a non-Arab, the work highlights the minor differences that have shaped and perplexed narratives of self-identification in the region. In today’s world of constant cultural and social exchange, blending, assimilation and even appropriation, the artist states, “we find ourselves asking: What makes an Arab an Arab? What are the differences beyond the surface of a language?”
The broad depth and complexity of the terms oscillates back and forth with each flicker of the dot. In one way, it suggests that in our contemporary world the term Arabi can’t exist without its counterpart. On the other hand, in the moment of pause when “Arabi” is frozen, it asserts its prominence, becoming almost nationalistic – a stance of an inimitable identity threatened by the other that deeply saddens the artist.