What can one say about the founders of the coolest cultural forum in town? Not only are they intelligent and culture-savvy, but each of them – Mohammed BenBader, Zainab Mirza, Mohammed El Salloul, and Samia Saade – exudes an aura of mystique and coolness that is inimitable and unique.
BenBader and Mirza are both voracious readers and incredibly talented, and as yet unpublished, writers; the former loves to play, in his own words, the devil’s advocate when he engages people in discussion, whilst the latter is a poet in her own right as evident in her spoken word performance at the Word of Mouth event held in September.
Salloul is the unassuming intellect and injects liberalism and depth into any discussion while imparting words of wisdom. And, finally, Saade is the artist and graphic designer who brings the images to life. Together, these profound thinkers are the founders of The Divan which, as defined on their website, is “where ideas are discussed, where differences in opinions are welcomed, where prejudices have no place. It is where diverse mindsets gather for conversations on philosophy, literature, society, art, and more.”
Their book club, known as The Salon, brings together book-lovers to Sirdab Lab once a month.
All are avid supporters of the culture and art scene here and happen to be among my favorite people in town.
Here, I had the chance to delve into their psyches.
You are all currently fixtures in the art scene, but tell us what makes The Divan tick?
The Divan was born out of a desire to create a haven where thoughts and ideas could be discussed without fear of judgment. Ideas on literature, faith, philosophy, culture; ideas that have shaped civilizations and continue to do so today. For instance, in The Salon, we discuss a book on the first Tuesday of the month. The books we read are all classics but differ greatly in content, e.g. The Little Prince, The Prophet, Tao Te Ching, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, among others. But the discussion goes deeper than the content and the style in which it was written. It pierces right to the heart of the book, picking up its themes and ideologies, neatly placing them in relevant contexts of life, love, society, psychology, ethics, science etc. And that’s why we say the Salon is more than just a place for discussions. It’s an experience.
The Divan has recently launched a blog, in which you feature artists’ work along with podcast interviews. How did you become so phenomenally involved in supporting the cultural scene here?
It began with meeting the exceptional individuals that we did – writers, activists, artists, or even someone with a unique worldview – and wanting to share their story and outlook on life to inspire a wider audience. Kuwait is bursting at the seams with talent, locals and expats alike. We wanted to do our bit in revealing it to the world, but in a different style, through scintillating conversations on a podcast that stir one into dwelling upon ideas they may not have thought of before.
The blog is where we invite individuals to offer unique perspectives in answering questions that have perplexed humanity for centuries. Questions like ‘What is the purpose of life?’ or ‘Are science and religion compatible?’ along with other thought-provoking ones, such as ‘What would you write in a letter to your bully?’ or ‘Why run?’
Is it easy to collaborate in a team of four players or do you sometimes find it difficult meeting in the middle?
With fiery minds like these, it can be hard to keep track of the constant surge of ideas, which sometimes requires us to slow down, analyze each one, and decide whether it’s the right time to implement.
Besides that, each of us has had our roles carved out from the very beginning, which rarely if ever overlap. Salloul, for example, takes care of everything tech and has saved the day countless times with his “I’ll handle it, don’t worry!” attitude. Samia, our graphics extraordinaire, has educated us considerably on what good design is (but we can be slow on the uptake, and she’s often been on the verge of murdering us because of it). They say it takes two hands to clap, but have you tried four?
You have emphasized on your website that the Divan podcasts thrive on interviews with non-conformists. What constitutes non-conformism to The Divan?
Refusing to accept the status quo. Being unafraid to break free from conventional thinking and societal dictates.
At The Divan, we’ve stretched this definition to include the positive impact that can emerge as a result of non-conformism. Each one of us is empowered with the ability to be catalysts for positive change, and it’s up to us to exercise that ability, regardless of what perceived limitations are placed upon one’s thinking about themselves, what they are capable of changing or achieving.
What is the greatest hindrance toward creativity, in your opinion?
Censorship. Fear. An unwillingness to feel the intensity of emotions that arises when life gets rough and channeling it into creating something tangible, such as music, poetry, or any other form of art.
Finally, what’s the next chapter for The Divan?
That’s confidential! ☺