Camil Karam’s Yahala Studio and The Sacred Art of Collecting
The Dubai-based artist and collector filling his space with everything Arab.

My obsession with collecting limited release, seemingly rare printed matter started many years ago when I first moved out of my parents’ home to pursue an academic career in visual communications overseas, far away from the place where I grew up. For some reason, books (and the heritage they carry) became a comforting tool, a source of inspiration, a kink for my mind, and most of all, the marker for making myself feel at home no matter my location. 

I had always been prone to collecting as a result of many location changes throughout my youth.
Material possessions gave me a feeling of security when not having a fixed home. I started young, collecting Barbie dolls and accumulating the endless amounts of tiny fashionable garments that they came with. I may not have had a secure base, but the hoards of objects I moved from place to place recreated the snug atmosphere I yearned for. Further down the line, as I grew, my interest shifted towards soccer sticky cards and the relative quest to complete the collectible albums they came with. After that, it was fashion magazines with their glossy pages full of extravagant clothing, beautiful models, intriguing op-eds, and dreamy shoes. Then came books.

Having an extensive collection of prized books when moving apartments – or worse, countries – often is an extreme sport. Books are heavy, sometimes fragile, and hard to pack as they almost always end up ripping apart the bottom of the shipping box. And, of course, they run up the shipping company bill as well.
Yet, there’s nothing on earth that would push me to get rid of or stop collecting printed visual material. Especially as books have brought me nothing but happiness, friendship, and good conversation, every volume brings a story.

A few years back, after accepting a corporate job in a dull, high-rise building located close to the old port of Dubai and subsequently making my move to the Arabian desert away from my family and friends yet again, on a lovely, humid day, something curious happened.

During one of my workplace breaks aimed at finding new additions for my nonexistent bookshelf (like literally, my books were scattered all around the floor of my living room, piling up in crooked totems) and failing in locating a sold-out edition of Thee Almighty & Insane, Chicago Gang Business Cards from the ‘70s and ‘80s (did I mention I am into obscure literature?) and turning to social media for help, the universe sent Camil Karam

“I have the book! Three copies of it. I always purchase them in bulk for moments like these”, his DM read. I could not believe my eyes. Not only had I found a copy, but the holder also lived nearby. My uncultured opinion on Dubai was quickly overturned at that exact moment.

Camil Karam

It turns out that Camil is one of the most friendly, giving, and resourceful people I have ever met in my life. The day we linked up for the book exchange back in 2016, I was immediately taken by his agreeableness and subdued, comforting demeanor. Without being acquainted with me, he had decided to let me have the book free of charge, sparking a long-term friendship and connection between like-minded people.

Camil was born in Jordan and later settled in the United Arab Emirates, where he pursued a corporate career before breaking free of the weight of his redundant office job to pursue his true passion, art. Subsequently, he founded his first studio called Brain Flu.  

Supporting himself by specializing in wheat pasting and mural art, Camil soon found success in the scant local creative scene by collaborating with some of the most well-attended restaurants and nightlife locations in the city. He began creating their visual identity and decorating their dimly lit interiors with colorful collages and hypnotizing patterns inspired by traditional Islamic and Arab art. 

In his free time, he meticulously researched and unearthed extraordinary printed vintage material spanning from old Arabic tabloids and cinema posters to matchboxes, hand-painted pins, and vinyl records. Anything media-related one might be looking for, he has it. 

He keeps his extensive archive in his storage room and garage, allowing in-person access only to friends and associates while making it available to the rest of the world through his studio’s platform, Yahala Studio.

Yahala Studio was born in January 2017 after his parents decided to move into a smaller home resulting in Camil having to remove his collection from the premises. Prior to formalizing Yahala as the official name for his passionate endeavor, Camil considered dubbing it Misbaah, the Arabic word for Aladdin’s lamp, due to the dreamy nature of his prized possessions. Soon he discarded the idea because of its philosophical character and hard pronunciation for non-Arabic speakers. 

“Yahala came up when a good friend of mine came to visit, and I greeted them the way I always greet people: by saying “Ya Hala Ya Hala Ya Hala!”, which translates to “Hello welcome, welcome, welcome!” and it just made sense.” – he informed me. Given Camil’s warm and welcoming character, no better name could have been picked.

0C484E70-2B46-4D3D-9E4C-BAB2AE072F1E

While scrolling through the digitalized archive, it’s hard to grasp how much material Camil has managed to curate and carefully selvage. The more you look, the more the feed refreshes, opening way for an exciting, inspirational journey through the rich history of Middle Eastern and North African culture. The archive is not for sale, though he did host an auction to raise funds to donate to Beirut explosion victims back in August 2020.

Just like our serendipitous encounter, Camil’s research process is based on leads, luck, and freestyling. “The first time I acquired a beautiful collection of Arabic movie posters in Jordan, my friend and I were following up on a lead about an old man that was selling his magazine collection. Once we got to the meeting point, we started conversing about the good old days, and he mentioned that he knew a guy that owns a cinema and wants to sell old equipment and film canisters,” he told me over email during an informal catch-up.  Upon arriving at the cinema, Camil was welcomed into a vault of mythological movie posters from each and every film ever screened there. After striking up a friendship with the owner, he had the opportunity to acquire some of the rarest posters from the region.

His artistic practice and passion for old printed memorabilia are strictly intertwined with one another. Camil never misses a chance to experiment with scanning the patterns and graphics he finds during his research and has made the kaleidoscopic, vintage stencil technique his signature.

Education and eventually making his archive available to everybody is Camil’s purpose and Yahala’s Studio mission as the collection lays out the evolution of culture and print through time. Reconstructing history through visual culture is the reason why he keeps on collecting and expanding his archive. 

Though his studio is currently under construction and the medley of material he has racked up over the years is not easily accessible in real life at the moment, maybe one day we can expect a public Yahala Art Gallery.

All images via Yahala Studio’s Archive.

Camil Karam’s Yahala Studio and The Sacred Art of Collecting
The Dubai-based artist and collector filling his space with everything Arab.

My obsession with collecting limited release, seemingly rare printed matter started many years ago when I first moved out of my parents’ home to pursue an academic career in visual communications overseas, far away from the place where I grew up. For some reason, books (and the heritage they carry) became a comforting tool, a source of inspiration, a kink for my mind, and most of all, the marker for making myself feel at home no matter my location. 

I had always been prone to collecting as a result of many location changes throughout my youth.
Material possessions gave me a feeling of security when not having a fixed home. I started young, collecting Barbie dolls and accumulating the endless amounts of tiny fashionable garments that they came with. I may not have had a secure base, but the hoards of objects I moved from place to place recreated the snug atmosphere I yearned for. Further down the line, as I grew, my interest shifted towards soccer sticky cards and the relative quest to complete the collectible albums they came with. After that, it was fashion magazines with their glossy pages full of extravagant clothing, beautiful models, intriguing op-eds, and dreamy shoes. Then came books.

Having an extensive collection of prized books when moving apartments – or worse, countries – often is an extreme sport. Books are heavy, sometimes fragile, and hard to pack as they almost always end up ripping apart the bottom of the shipping box. And, of course, they run up the shipping company bill as well.
Yet, there’s nothing on earth that would push me to get rid of or stop collecting printed visual material. Especially as books have brought me nothing but happiness, friendship, and good conversation, every volume brings a story.

A few years back, after accepting a corporate job in a dull, high-rise building located close to the old port of Dubai and subsequently making my move to the Arabian desert away from my family and friends yet again, on a lovely, humid day, something curious happened.

During one of my workplace breaks aimed at finding new additions for my nonexistent bookshelf (like literally, my books were scattered all around the floor of my living room, piling up in crooked totems) and failing in locating a sold-out edition of Thee Almighty & Insane, Chicago Gang Business Cards from the ‘70s and ‘80s (did I mention I am into obscure literature?) and turning to social media for help, the universe sent Camil Karam

“I have the book! Three copies of it. I always purchase them in bulk for moments like these”, his DM read. I could not believe my eyes. Not only had I found a copy, but the holder also lived nearby. My uncultured opinion on Dubai was quickly overturned at that exact moment.

Camil Karam

It turns out that Camil is one of the most friendly, giving, and resourceful people I have ever met in my life. The day we linked up for the book exchange back in 2016, I was immediately taken by his agreeableness and subdued, comforting demeanor. Without being acquainted with me, he had decided to let me have the book free of charge, sparking a long-term friendship and connection between like-minded people.

Camil was born in Jordan and later settled in the United Arab Emirates, where he pursued a corporate career before breaking free of the weight of his redundant office job to pursue his true passion, art. Subsequently, he founded his first studio called Brain Flu.  

Supporting himself by specializing in wheat pasting and mural art, Camil soon found success in the scant local creative scene by collaborating with some of the most well-attended restaurants and nightlife locations in the city. He began creating their visual identity and decorating their dimly lit interiors with colorful collages and hypnotizing patterns inspired by traditional Islamic and Arab art. 

In his free time, he meticulously researched and unearthed extraordinary printed vintage material spanning from old Arabic tabloids and cinema posters to matchboxes, hand-painted pins, and vinyl records. Anything media-related one might be looking for, he has it. 

He keeps his extensive archive in his storage room and garage, allowing in-person access only to friends and associates while making it available to the rest of the world through his studio’s platform, Yahala Studio.

Yahala Studio was born in January 2017 after his parents decided to move into a smaller home resulting in Camil having to remove his collection from the premises. Prior to formalizing Yahala as the official name for his passionate endeavor, Camil considered dubbing it Misbaah, the Arabic word for Aladdin’s lamp, due to the dreamy nature of his prized possessions. Soon he discarded the idea because of its philosophical character and hard pronunciation for non-Arabic speakers. 

“Yahala came up when a good friend of mine came to visit, and I greeted them the way I always greet people: by saying “Ya Hala Ya Hala Ya Hala!”, which translates to “Hello welcome, welcome, welcome!” and it just made sense.” – he informed me. Given Camil’s warm and welcoming character, no better name could have been picked.

0C484E70-2B46-4D3D-9E4C-BAB2AE072F1E

While scrolling through the digitalized archive, it’s hard to grasp how much material Camil has managed to curate and carefully selvage. The more you look, the more the feed refreshes, opening way for an exciting, inspirational journey through the rich history of Middle Eastern and North African culture. The archive is not for sale, though he did host an auction to raise funds to donate to Beirut explosion victims back in August 2020.

Just like our serendipitous encounter, Camil’s research process is based on leads, luck, and freestyling. “The first time I acquired a beautiful collection of Arabic movie posters in Jordan, my friend and I were following up on a lead about an old man that was selling his magazine collection. Once we got to the meeting point, we started conversing about the good old days, and he mentioned that he knew a guy that owns a cinema and wants to sell old equipment and film canisters,” he told me over email during an informal catch-up.  Upon arriving at the cinema, Camil was welcomed into a vault of mythological movie posters from each and every film ever screened there. After striking up a friendship with the owner, he had the opportunity to acquire some of the rarest posters from the region.

His artistic practice and passion for old printed memorabilia are strictly intertwined with one another. Camil never misses a chance to experiment with scanning the patterns and graphics he finds during his research and has made the kaleidoscopic, vintage stencil technique his signature.

Education and eventually making his archive available to everybody is Camil’s purpose and Yahala’s Studio mission as the collection lays out the evolution of culture and print through time. Reconstructing history through visual culture is the reason why he keeps on collecting and expanding his archive. 

Though his studio is currently under construction and the medley of material he has racked up over the years is not easily accessible in real life at the moment, maybe one day we can expect a public Yahala Art Gallery.

All images via Yahala Studio’s Archive.

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