The art of Arab Spring

From the March-April 2014 issue of News & Letters:

The art of Arab Spring

Dearborn, Mich.—“Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings” is an exhibit which magnificently captures the voices, images and revolutionary ideas of participants in the Arab Spring. Although it was open for only three months at the Arab American National Museum here, I hope it will be seen all over the world. It included videos of art and of artists telling their own stories, and fortunately is available online at www.artsofthearabworlduprisings.com.

The Sprouting of Revolutionary Fists, mural by Zoo Project, Tunis, Tunisia, March-April 2011. Photograph courtesy of Elissa Jobson.

The curators, Christiane Gruber and Nama Khalil of the University of Michigan, organized the exhibit into six concepts: Humor and Subversion, Photographic Truth Claims, Slogans and Songs, Sounding Walls, and Revolution Reloaded. These concepts could be considered six weapons in the revolutionary struggle. Many of the pieces go beyond dissent to images and sounds which embody new ideas of freedom.

Photographic Truth Claims collects the work of citizen journalists which “became an act of rebellion against the state….Ordinary people overcame censorship by creating their own forms of knowledge. They acted as both producers and disseminators of images that triggered emotional responses, which in turn prompted public action.”

No, and a Thousand Times No, three stencils by Bahia Shehab, Cairo, Egypt, 2013. Artwork courtesy of Bahia Shehab.

Slogans and Songs shows how a chant, “the people want the downfall of the regime,” gained volume and power with each performance, and led to a new demand: “Irhal!” (“Get out!”), which a young Egyptian musician, Ramy, transformed into a song. Releasing oppositional songs is itself an act of rebellion—it led to detainment for Tunisian rapper El General, and the murder of Syrian singer Ibrahim Kashoush. But Amri Eid’s “Sout al-Houreya” (Sound of Freedom) became an anthem of the revolution. It was uploaded from Tahrir Square to YouTube, where it was seen by over 2,000,000 viewers.

Tents set aflame in Pearl Roundabout, Manama, Bahrain, 16 March 2011. Photograph courtesy of Mohamed CJ / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Sounding Walls focuses on murals, which “incite action, recall the past, and envisage the future…they are designed to share stories and to speak of peoples’ struggles for freedom and democracy.”

Revolution Reloaded reminds viewers that these revolutions are unfinished, but stresses that new forms of creative resistance continue to flourish and give hope as the revolution faces the pain and loss caused by the counter-revolution.

—S.VG.

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