MINA GERGES X LUNAKHODS
On a punishingly hot day in May we asked Lunakhods to photograph the queer icon Mina Gerges in a half-renovated studio above 100% SILK. Mina emerged on the set glowing, blasting Arabic love songs and ready to transform.
Inspired by Mina’s unapologetic presence, Lunakhods transported him onto the beaches, gardens and bathrooms of Egypt, Pakistan, Ghana, and Uzbekistan, environments where queerness remains hidden and underground.
The following is an unedited Facetime conversation between Lunakhods and Mina Gerges, where they talk about the photoshoot, the erasure of queerness in Arab culture, ancient Egyptian iconography, recontextualizing your own memories and, of course, Naomi Campbell
Jeans, Carl Jan Cruz
Lunakhods- Hiiiiiii you look so cute today!
Mina- Thank you!!!
L- How has it been being more in the public eye. Do you ever hold back on expressing yourself?
M- Yes! Actually yesterday I deleted all my dating apps because I randomly found out that people were talking about me on a reddit thread. And someone was being like “oh my god I DMed him once and he never replied to me”. I was like wait, people can talk about me like this online?
L- How does it feel having more space to express.
M- Well, I feel like the best part is that I get to do amazing things with people I love working with like you guys
L- I don’t even know how to take that compliment
M- It’s the truth it’s not a compliment!
L- (laughs) thank you!
L- On our recent shoot we talked about being from Egypt and I wanted to ask you more about the visual aspect of queer culture there and how you see it if at all.
M- I don’t see it. Actually I saw something recently on a TV show, airing during Ramadan. If was a gay man depicted as an overly feminine exaggeration - it was almost like the kind of representation in North American Media but like from 20 years ago where you’re a caricature and people are mocking you. Everything from his mannerisms to his voice. He was the punchline. So I guess the only depictions are problematic ones. Other than that, I follow some Egyptian creatives who are pushing boundaries through their visuals, but they’re no longer in Egypt for safety reasons.
L- You had mentioned that in Arabic, an appropriate word for ‘gay’ only came into use recently
M- It was probably around 2017/18 is when I found out about it. Before a few years ago the only words were derogatory, and none of them explained what being gay actually was. Now there’s a word “mthlie” مثلي which directly translates as “same” but without the sex part. The words are very literal. At the very least it speaks to progress and that the language doesn’t reflect the outdated societal views that exist.
L- How was it to grow up without being able to describe yourself. Did you share that feeling with friends
M- I had several friends who were a bit effeminate and we stuck together. We just knew there wasn’t a word for it. There’s this entire early part of my life that makes no sense and every time I try to remember, it slowly starts making more sense. When you don’t have the language to describe what you’re experiencing you can forget those experiences.
L- like deleting a reality from someone’s mind because it doesn’t exist in the language
M- Exactly! I feel like maybe the first 15 years of my life, I didn’t necessarily live them. I felt like I was just going day by day without really living. On one hand I feel incredible that I get to be myself now and on the other hand I feel like I missed a big chunk of my life because I never had support or community. Now I think about how to move the other way which is growth and finding joy.
L- That’s the first thing I would say about you such joyful energy.
M- I love your guys’ energy
Shirt, Carl Jan Cruz
L- We often wonder how to reconcile the good from the bad parts of where we’re from too
M- Maybe you can relate there’s a lot of things about our cultures that we don’t agree with. A lot of really problematic and archaic views. It’s hard to feel like you belong when there’s so many things that you don’t fundamentally agree with. But I try to take the things I love about it and introduce new progressive aspects to create something new.
For me there’s certain things, the language, the music, clothes, the visuals, the values. Those are the things that I’m taking and re-contextualizing them. It’s the same culture but from my perspective. I refuse to see things from their perspective and instead I take what I love and make them my own. If that makes sense.
L- It makes sense. When I think about when I first found your work, the recreated photos you made, I see a theme in what you do. Taking the things that exist around you and updating them to include yourself. What have been the reactions.
M- I sometimes get people who comment “you need to change your name, it’s such a shame that you have such an Egyptian name and you’re gay you should be ashamed … you don’t belong” and then I also get people saying “I’ve never seen someone like you before. Thank you for being visible." All the negative stuff I don’t give a shit about.
One of the things that really inspired me when I look at ancient Egyptian imagery is that the men were gender fluid. It was only when colonialism took over the region, that strict gender rules were enforced. When you arm yourself with the history and understand what happened to your people, it gives you purpose. When someone tells me not to be this way I ask; Have you not picked up google or a book and read about the fact that our ancestors wore makeup? That imagery gives me power. The ancient Egyptians were fucking iconic!
L- Yes! Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and think “oh my god, I’m the Pharaoh!”. Do you start saying “Biiiiiitch!” at 125 miles per hour.
Shirt and Heart Choker, 3_3_4_7
M- Only when I’m wearing makeup. It feels empowering to me because I’ve been told that I shouldn’t do this. It reminds me of that imagery that my ancestors are known for. Women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut, women with big noses just like mine. That’s the energy that I feel.
L- Do you have an early memory of playing with makeup
M- I always used to sneak into my moms room and try her things and her red lipstick. When she would take her mid afternoon naps I would crawl on the floor and go and steal things from the bedroom which was completely dark. I guess I was always living my life on the edge and living my life dangerously, always feeling like I might get in trouble for this but it’s going to be fun while I do it so fuck it. My mom always had this one red lipstick in this bright green tube. That’s probably why I gravitate towards red. My only diva move when I’m on set is that I refuse to let the makeup artist put me in any other colour pallet lip. When people try and put me in blue or green lipstick I’m like “get that away from me, girl!” There’s only certain colours you’re allowed to put on me
L- You’re basically Naomi Campbell. She would often paint her own base before letting the makeup artist begin. She knew her colours
M- Oh my god that’s so me. I’m Naomi Campbell without knowing.
L- Mina bint بنت Campbell
M- I love it!
L- How were you transported to Abu Dhabi? Do you remember your room growing up?
M- We emigrated to Abu Dhabi when I was three and we were there till I was twelve. We would spend four months a year in Egypt. Me and Merray shared a room. It was awful! She was going through her teenage angst years. So when her friends would call, she would kick us out! I was like bitch it’s my room too!
L- Wasn’t she in Lebanon recently?
M- She’s a journalist and she decided to go to Lebanon in early Jan not knowing there was a revolution there. Which is very opposite of me because I’m very planned and organized. I don’t know how we’re both Virgos.
L- I’m Virgo too!! September 14th
M- No way! I’m the 19th, she’s the 11th and you’re the 14th so you’ve have a Gerges Sandwich
L- Sounds delicious!
Shorts, Nor Black Nor White
L- This interview is so professional (pulls out camera to photograph Mina in the face time. *click*)
M- OH MY GOD! I wasn’t ready for that!.... That’ s okay it was cute!
L- We loved making this series with you. We placed you mostly in Egypt, Pakistan, Ghana and somewhere in Uzbekistan. It made sense to create new realities with your photos.
M- When I saw those photos there's something so striking about the images that feel very familiar but then the way that I’m presented is very unfamiliar to the way that people there would dress and act in those spaces in real life. I hope that it kind of pushes the idea of us queer people reclaiming our spaces. We almost have to force ourselves in. To make room for ourselves. Those photos communicate that vividly. I think we need to see more of that.
Dress, Carl Jan Cruz
L- Seeing the different ways you’ve expressed yourself online was definitely reflected back in the way it came together. The way you include, humour, body positivity, social issues, activism, it somehow makes it seem less overwhelming to make any changes no matter how big or small
M- Sometimes things may seem little at the time, but even having one person see an image that resonates with them can create an impact, and that’s really what matters. It could be the slightest small thing
L- If you could go back, what would you tell your younger self.
M- I would tell him that everything will be ok. I tell myself that a lot now. When I have moments of self-doubt I remind myself, and it just works. Younger Mina needed to hear that. Things may not make sense, but it’ll all make sense eventually.
Jeans, Carl Jan Cruz
Shirt, Carl Jan Cruz
Shirt and Bathing Suit, Bower
Dress, 3_3_4_7 and Carl Jan Cruz