Photographs by Rafic
Worded and styled by Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Sitting Editor: Eliza Marks
Interview by Raya Khatib
Make-up: Nada Al-Agha
Hair: Mahmoud Karajogly
Fashion assistant: Razan Irshaid
Digital art work: Atef Daglees
Behind the scenes video: Ala’a Abu Qasheh and Mustafa Rashed.
Special thanks to ‘Al Janaen al Mallaqa’, a ceramic, sculpting and landscaping space, King Abdullah St – Amman, for lending My.Kali the location.
Lara Sawalha is representative of her generation in a number of ways. She has a highly developed sense of irony, unbridled career ambition, and a close relationship with her family! The dainty, 20-something year old actress remains a total original. She owns her position as a guest in ‘Bath Bayakha,’ a Youtube/TV hit, and many have fallen for her gypsy charms and her regular theatre appearances!
Lara studied acting at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and Drama school in London, earning a Bachelor’s degree in acting, and her name is now all over the place! Her latest role in ‘Rest Upon The Wind’, a play tour inspired by the life and times of Gibran Khalil Gibran, which celebrates the Arab sense of humor and family warmth through the relationship of Gibran and his sister Miryanna as they struggle to adapt to life in America, and has brought her great claims of positive reviews. One blogger wrote that it was “A well paced, nicely written, funny at times and with just enough ‘effects’ to make it interesting without falling into the trap of trying too hard” (Lebanese Writer Blog).
Born and raised between Britain and Jordan, Lara’s family tree is well endowed with entertainers. Her uncle, Nadim, is perhaps Jordan’s most well-known actor, and his daughter Julia Sawalha (Lara’s cousin), is known as Saffron Monsoon in the British ab-fab sitcom comedy-hit Absolutely Fabulous. Lara is the daughter of legendary actor Nabil Sawalha, Jordan’s veteran comedian, who made his name by poking fun at authority during countless theatre and television performances.
I first met Lara in mid-August, 2012, at (now closed) Cups & Kilos coffee shop on Rainbow Street. I had heard so much about her, and anticipated meeting her! Many of her peers referred to her to be “childish and the typical English Rose,” which is perfect for our the innocent character we asked her to play on her cover and feature shoots. These shots raised a few brows once online and after hitting social media outlets. There were hints of nudity and lots hiding under all that hair — she played both innocent and naughty Eve. “Many won’t understand it, many will attack me for it. But I’m up for anything not typical, and all for creativity,” she says as she sits up straight, perhaps recognizing an opportunity to sow a bit of mischief. Some of her friends were worried that her choices might be hurt her career, and that it might come back to haunt her one day. But her expose is far from grotesque, and she portrays a clear message, saying “We are Eve and Eve is always forbidden. It’s the beauty of being a women. Sometimes it’s healthy to challenge the norm.” You just never see it coming with Lara! She doesn’t care whether it’s “true” or “false.” There is more zest, fun, wondering.
Whether touring the globe with groundbreaking plays, or launching an online shop for vintage fashion, Lara Sawalha is meeting the future on her own inventive terms.
Let’s talk harassment, you must have had your fair share of harassment in this town. Can you describe the encounter that resonated with you most?
To be honest I haven’t been physically harassed in this town. People are much more gentle here than they are in the UK or US. I once had a guy call me continuously at all hours of the day, now that was called harassment. All I did was block his number, and report him to the telephone company. If you have this issue its very easy: simply go to the phone company and they will take the necessary action.
Do you think the Middle Eastern personal media, pop singers and celebrities are focused too much on sex-selling?
There are definitely some female pop singers of today who do depend on their sexuality to sell their art. You just have to look at a music video to see how the camera tends to angle itself on a female behind or the upper half of her torso. This is not the case with male pop singers. Although some of these female singers are great artists and have achieved worldwide recognition, I feel the music industry, especially in the pop genre, has its fair share of discrimination against women.
However, within the Middle East region this is perhaps particularly so. Discrimination is even more evident on satellite television channels that promote game shows, for example. I believe that if the music is good enough, it should sell itself without the need to resort to below-the-belt marketing. The Middle Eastern pop industry has become very commercial and it’s all about making a quick buck, as the saying goes.
However, there are many female musicians, actors and others, as well as male artists, who are trying to change the way people view the profession, which in itself will eventually impact the way they appear in the media. A book has just come out on this issue by Lebanese author, Joumana Haddad, ‘Superman is an Arab’ which talks about the ‘battle of the sexes’ … it’s on my wish list!
“Sexual harassment has been part of everyday life throughout the world, some people can control it and others can’t… However as a woman I feel safer in the Arab world than I do in the Western world.”
Do you think that media representation is one of the factors of causing harassment in this generally sexually repressed region?
Maybe it contributes, but sexual harassment has been part of everyday life throughout the world. Some people can control it and others can’t. It is a problem for which there is no lasting solution. However, as a woman I feel safer in the Arab world than I do in the Western world.
Why and how do you feel safer in the Arab world more than you do in the West?
Because the Arab world is my home, I know its ins and outs. I know how the people work, I can see their next move. In the West, people change very quickly and its harder to keep up. I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel safe there. I do. It’s just a more unstable lifestyle than in the Arab world. That’s not to say I don’t love the fast paced walk! However, in Jordan, especially Amman you can sit back relax and let things roll, which I also love doing. I believe a mixture of two cultures keeps life a bit more exciting.
You have a blog, ‘Laracid in Wonderland,’ on which you post your casual encounters: poetry, pictures, stories and events you attended. In what way has the online platform helped you express yourself?
I can post what I like, so that’s a way of expressing myself. I can write how I feel without being judged, tell stories of adventures I’ve been on, and share it with whoever is interested. But I still would have done so in any case with family and friends if the blogosphere did not exist.
Lots of people follow your online presence on Facebook and other media in addition to your blog. Do you think the online presence has killed mystery and anonymity?
No, because at the end of the day it’s your choice to put that information online. I don’t put my entire self online, I just post what interests me, my small journeys, and things that I wish to share with the global community. All of this can only lead to greater understanding and tolerance of other cultures. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my mystery. I think it makes it more exciting: I find people’s lives and the paths they have taken quite interesting and I love knowing the unknown. The internet makes you want to meet more people because of adventures, journeys, and experiences posted and shared. It’s all about sharing the love from person to the next.
What is your favorite blog theme for a personal/professional blog?
I think all blogs have a certain element that I like. I don’t have a favorite theme. Every blog I’ve ever come across has inspired me and given me ideas for my own. I believe the most interesting blogs have pictures, videos and articles that entice the reader, taking them on a blog adventure through the galaxy of the internet, and filling them with useful facts, beautiful images, and entertaining videos. A blog is an expression of oneself, it’s like your meeting a new viral friend.
You’re preparing for an online shop (in collaboration with your friend – Sophie Elizabeth). Can you tell us a little about it and your plans for it?
We’re in the process of designing the website but we’re on Facebook. ‘Topsy Loves Sid.’ It is for all the vintage lovers out there like us. We started Topsy Loves Sid because we were fed up of paying ridiculous prices for vintages products. This online shop gave us the opportunity to sell vintage products at its true value or less. We want to see more vintage on the streets of Amman as we believe signature pieces bring out the uniqueness of those wearing them. It also looks pretty cool too. Seeing as both of us love to shop it’s the perfect excuse to spend hours looking for the perfect piece.
As an actress, do you think people should share their deepest emotions, or should some feelings remain to one’s self only? How do you know what and when to share?
No, they shouldn’t share everything because they would become too dramatic. I think you should keep your deepest emotions to yourself or your partner. I don’t want to know how you’re feeling all the time… it would drive any normal human being insane. When you’re on stage, that’s a different story because you’re showing the character’s emotions, not your own. Its common knowledge to know when to show what: if I’m sad I may cry, and if I’m happy I’ll smile. It’s not that difficult.
Acting can be tough and disorienting, and one could get lost in emotion, but clearly there is also a lot of good that comes from it. In your opinion, which is more inspiring for you, theater or camera?
Both. With theatre it’s in the moment and completely true; if you mess up you can’t cut and repeat, you have to go with whatever emotion or state you’re in and make the audience love you or hate you depending on the nature of the character you are portraying. It is my job to hold the audience’s attention at all times, taking them from the beginning of the play till the end. With camera, it’s more about finding that true emotion and making the people on the other side of the lens believe you. It’s just like theatre but closer, making them see your thoughts through your eyes.
What about photo shoots, like yours for My.Kali. Do you find any inspiration there?
Photo shoots are fun and wild. I always find inspiration in front of a camera, especially if you have a good photographer, because then you can play with the costume, your poses, your expressions endlessly. There’s no limit with a camera: the photographer snaps and you can do whatever you like. As the saying goes, a good picture speaks a thousand words.
When do you think a woman knows when she’s in control? in power?
When the man says “Yes dear”!
Do you think the face of the Middle Eastern woman is changing, claiming more power and more rights, or is it remaining stagnant?
Yes. I believe with the Arab Spring is changing the status quo for the better as far as women’s rights are concerned. There is a greater awareness within society of the contributions of women in the work force and women’s own personal ambitions that have evolved into a progressive and forward thinking role.
Many countries deny the existence of LGBT community, within their borders, which applies to a lot of Middle Eastern countries and the Arab world. How do you respond to this?
I think people don’t understand it yet, but the world is changing. I hope that soon people will start to see that we’re all the same at the end of the day, and we just have different choices in life.
What do you know about Jordan’s LGBT community and how do you feel about it?
I love diversity in whatever town I’m in. Life, I believe, is more interesting when you are surrounded by different minded people, I’ve learnt a lot from my friends, whether they are straight or gay, we all have a lot to give and learn from one another.
What do think the advantages that gay women have, straight women don’t, or vice versa?
No advantages, we’re both women and we both move on with life just as any human being would.
Were you ever involved in any interesting workshops? (anything for LGBT?) Tell us about it….
I haven’t done a workshop regarding LGBT but I have participated in Gay Pride in London. I was dressed as an air-hostess in a pink suite inviting people to the bathrooms [she laughs]!
Watch behind the scenes of MyKali‘s outdoor shoot for actress Lara Sawalha:
Watch behind the scenes of MyKali‘s cover shoot for actress Lara Sawalha:
(English below ?) . تصوير ماي كالي لعدد سبتمبر\اكتوبر ٢٠١٢ للمثلة لارا صوالحة . #TBT Shoot ‘Porcelain Project’ for actress Lara Sawalha for My.Kali’s September/October 2012. #throwbackthursday . Photographed by Rafic. Creative Director by Khalid Abdel-Hadi. Make-up: @nada.makeup Hair: Mahmoud Karajogly. Fashion assistant: Razan I. Digital art work: Atef Daglees