Mectoub The New Arab Man
Switching Arab Gender Codes
By Lauri Lyons
Mectoub is an Arabic word that loosely translates as: “It was written”. The word denotes a sense of pre-ordained destiny. The beginning of the Arab Spring protests in 2010 marked a cultural shifting of the sand, throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The recent announcement that Saudi Arabia will lift the ban on female drivers is further evidence that things are changing. We are beginning to witness the rise of the new Arab man and woman.
Scarlett Coten is a french photographer who explores identity and intimacy throughout the Arab diaspora. Her series Mectoub poses questions about the emergence of a new Arab masculinity. The series documents Scarlett’s personal encounters with men who are challenging the established codes of gender and the relationship to women.
“I decided to photograph men. My journey took me from North Africa to the Middle East, in order to look into male identity. Hidden places, abandoned houses, forgotten shorelines, these are the places where men would come, at my invitation, for a photographic tete-a-tete.
I wanted to photograph the men with all their complexity, fragility, sensuality and freedom.
I set off to further my travels into countries which had long been close to my heart, including Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine and Lebanon. I walked through the streets to alleyways, cafes to backyards, always searching.
Mectoub is a relationship that I decided to have with men that were strangers to me, in these Arab countries. The men I chose had a freedom of spirit about them and I sensed a mutual connivance in their attitude.”
Inviting a man to pose for a female photographer is a reversal of the habitual assignment of gender roles for visual art.
Posing is essentially considered a feminine or effeminate act and directing is perceived as a masculine act. Coten’s role reversal overturns the traditional formulas of seduction.
During the process of creating the portraits, the men were prompted to abandon themselves and accept the loss of control. The portraits are reflections of the private encounters.
Mectoub captures a young Arab generation that is adopting emancipated attitudes towards life and gender codes. Depending on where you stand, their personal expression may be viewed either as a social evolution or an act of rebellion.
Photos © Scarlett Coten