Bidoun is a loaded word. One meaning is a name given to 180,000 people who, although they live in the country of Kuwait, are officially noncitizens. They are, in many senses, stateless. They have no passport, no official status other than the designation of a people without citizenship: bidouns. No matter how long or hard they work, they will never belong to a country they consider home. The situation connected to this meaning of the word is sad and unjust.
But it its simplest form, in both Arabic and Farsi, the word bidoun means “without.”
It can mean without a home, without a country or without judgment. In our understanding, it can also describe someone who feels comfortable living in many different worlds, but who does not belong to one in particular. It describes the undeniable warmth upon entering a Middle Eastern store in a foreign city or the surprising familiarity when meeting someone who is also from that region. It defines the positive feeling of participating in many cultures, of being stateless, and in a sense, free.
When we first began working on the concept for this magazine, I was shocked to discover that something like it didn’t already exist. Why was there no platform for the people of the Middle East, when we are so many, scattered all around the world? Why was there no place for our artists? The answer I received while talking to the business executives I had come to for advice was, “It’s because no one cares what is happening outside of their country. Why should an Iranian living in Los Angeles care about what an Egyptian is doing in Cairo?”
We beg to differ.
And that’s why we decided to just go ahead and make this thing. We cannot say definitively what it means to be Middle Eastern. What we can say is that it is a part of this world that has been misrepresented for too long. This magazine is a place where art stands for itself, unencumbered by editorial superficiality and unmarred by media-fueled misconceptions. Just because there is a scarf on a broom’s head doesn’t mean it is a _____. We would like to create a place where Middle Easterners can just _be.
Almost everyone we have met in the last three months while traveling through the region speaks at least three languages. But they are not speaking to each other. I invite you as readers to meet each other here and to voice your opinions to us.
The bigwigs in the high-rises, who I went to for advice, told me that this magazine was a bad idea. They looked at the mock-up for Bidoun and then looked out the window, raising their hands as if to show me the view. “Contemporary art? You are going to raising so many problems. Why don’t you write about positive things? Look outside — the sun is shining. Why don’t you write about the sunshine?”
We have chosen not to take the easy route, not to just “write about the sunshine.” I hope for so many things for this project. But most of all I hope that you understand what Bidoun means, and that you like that fact that in Farsi it also means “to know.”