The Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) explores the growing popularity of Ramadan television drama culture in the Arab world and the forces shaping it in its new interactive exhibition for spring 2023, The World is Watching Musalsalat.
The exhibition, which opens Wednesday discusses how the business of musalsalat, (which is Arabic for serialised television dramas made for and shown during Ramadan), has changed over the past two decades, and its impact on viewers, writers, composers, costume designers, directors, and producers. Data on advertising during musalsalat is also examined, with opportunities for visitors to give their feedback on how they consume this type of media.
“From the first Ramadan drama series in 1978 to the era of video-on-demand in the 1990s and online streaming today, dramas continue to be watched, debated, and dissected by millions, especially during the primetime television Ramadan season,” said Pamela Erskine-Loftus, director of The Media Majlis.
“The World is Watching Musalsalat looks at forces contributing to the rise of Ramadan serial television dramas and how they are shaping local cultures across the region.”
Through a series of interactive installations and physical artifacts, the exhibition enables the visiting public, as well as faculty and student researchers from NU-Q and across Education City, to look at the various themes influencing the proliferation and the future of musalsalat, from viewers and actors to behind-the-scenes players shaping the industry, such as film producers, advertisers, and industry makers.
Shahnawaz Zali, manager of digital content at The Media Majlis at NU-Q, said the exhibition has been designed to immerse visitors in the various elements shaping the serialised drama landscape in the Arab world. “As musalsalat evolve into a global cultural force, the exhibition engages visitors in an immersive experience that exposes them to the forces making up this lucrative industry and the many political and financial stakes that often go undiscussed when talking about Arab drama.”
An interactive installation in the north zone of the exhibition introduces audiences to historical visual content from the region on the development of musalsalat. Visitors engaging with the installation learn about the key players who shaped the development of the industry, first in Egypt, Syria, and Kuwait and later in Saudi Arabia and the UAE after the satellite television boom of the 1990s.
Another installation, The Streaming Age, allows visitors to examine the rise in international streaming services such as Netflix and Shahid in the 2010s and their effects on promoting Arab culture. Other installations in the exhibition explore how the growing popularity of dubbed Ramadan dramas from Latin America, Turkey, Korea, and India, have shaped Arab viewers’ attitudes toward ideas of love, family life, and other social issues.
In highlighting the impact of the exhibition, Marwan M Kraidy, dean and CEO of NU-Q, explained how it will help encourage academic and research exploration into one of the most significant contemporary media developments in the region.
“Today streaming platforms have rejuvenated drama production, circulation, and consumption around the world. Arab musalsalat now have to contend with Turkish, Korean, and Latin American serialised drama. From NU-Q, a community of scholar-teacher-learners focused on evidence-based storytelling on the Global South. The World is Watching Musalasalat will inspire faculty and student researchers all over the world to conduct further inquiry into the fast-changing landscapes of patterns and trends in the creation of, production, and consumption of musalsalat and their encounters with global television trends.”
The exhibition is also accompanied by a special edition of the museum’s edited publication, Voices and Conversations, exploring the history of the development of the musalsalat as an industry and how it impacted the entertainment and media culture in the region.
The Media Majlis is open Saturday to Wednesday from 10am to 5pm. The current exhibition will run until May 13, 2023.