“Video-Blogging: Police Crimes, Internet Activism, and the Egyptian Revolution”
In this presentation, Wael Abbas discusses his blog as one of the few avenues for free speech. Abbas has broken news on subjects generally avoided by local media. His vivid first-hand reports, videos of police brutality and popular protests, and photographs have attracted thousands of online viewers. A citizen journalist, Abbas uses a video camera and colloquial Egyptian Arabic to reach a younger generation. The video camera has been his most powerful tool since images and video footage give credit to his work and align claim with reality.
Wael Abbas is an internationally renowned Egyptian journalist, blogger, and human rights activist, who blogs at Misr Digital (Egyptian Awareness). He broadcast videos of police brutality, voting irregularities, and anti-government protests, both prior, during, and after the Egyptian revolution of 2011. His actions led to the conviction of police for torture. Abbas has received prestigious international prizes for his journalism and human rights activism. In 2006, he was named one of the “Most Influential People” by the BBC and, in 2007, CNN voted him “Middle East Person of the Year.”
"Images of the Libyan Revolution"
In my talk I will examine some of the images of the “Arab Spring” which I saw in Libya during a stay shortly after the capital, Tripoli, fell to rebel forces August 21, 2011. I will pay particular attention to graffiti, a form of expression that was forbidden under Gadhafi’s rule. Many of the images I found in Fashloom Street, lined with small shops and filled with pedestrians, a kind of an urban museum of revolutionary art. Graffiti covered many of the walls. The majority were caricatures of Muammar Gadhafi.
At first glance, many of these images appear insignificant, scrawled as they are on walls by unknown people, most of them young, many of whom apparently had no training in art. Some are crude hangings in effigy, using toys. Other images turn the symbols of Gadhafi “hero worship” upside-down. And yet these images, used as tools and even weapons, have power.
In lampooning Gadhafi the revolutionaries and members of the Libyan opposition invited each other to laugh at the leader who could, on a whim, throw people into prison to be tortured or killed. They intensified the attack not only by mocking Gadhafi’s hair and clothes; they intensify that image, often depicting him with blood-red lips that have the feeling of a vampire. There also is power in numbers: by publically displaying these images their creators invited their fellow Libyans to join in the “joke,” to band together, complicit in this collective attack against the aggressor.
Libyans also used the power of images to undermine his reign, to tear down and ultimately destroy the cult of personality that Gadhafi had systematically constructed. Employing images from traditional Libyan and Islamic artistic traditions as well as from graffiti culture from around the world, Libyans began to dismantle the control, physical and psychological, that Muammar Gadhafi held over his people for more than four decades.
Jill Dougherty is CNN’s Foreign Affairs Correspondent, based in the network’s Washington, D.C. bureau. From the State Department she covers international issues and has reported from more than fifty countries, including Russia, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. Dougherty previously served as U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International, based in Hong Kong. From 1997 – 2005 she served as CNN's Moscow bureau chief. From 1991-1996 she was CNN White House correspondent. She is an alumna of the University of Michigan.
"Performing Resistance: The Iconic Case of the ‘Woman in the Blue Bra’"
This presentation discusses the relationship between art and resistance by analyzing a symbolic photograph from the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The photograph is of an Egyptian woman who was stripped and beaten by security forces. Stemming from an embodied act of rebellion, the documentary photograph carries immense authority conferred by the medium of photography. The “realness” of the image endows the photograph with symbolic value as a highly condensed visual statement of moral and political concern.
With every new struggle, political action generates performances that circulate affect. As a case in point, the ‘woman in the blue bra’ prompted public actors, activists, and artists to comment and react through the production of visual responses. Central to the manifold iterations that were produced is the semiotic process that establishes the ‘blue bra’ as an icon. Each visual response incorporates the “blue bra” icon while simultaneously mediating social relations by manipulating the visual object at each stage. Through its multiple reconfigurations, this iconic image serves as a medium that creates a variety of narratives, which highlight how women's bodies have served as the terrain for state-sanctioned violence, critical dissent, and nation building during the Egyptian uprisings.
Nama Khalil is an activist, artist, and academic. She received her Bachelor in Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her thesis exhibition was derived from her personal experience, exploring instances of silenced and suppressed voice in post 9/11 society. She explores the notion of ‘otherness” in her work while attempting to speak for herself as an “other,” or acting as a mediator between her subjects and viewers. Her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries in the Cleveland area, Michigan and in online galleries. In 2009 Nama curated an exhibition titled Another Way of Looking: Influences from Islam. Nama is also co-curator of Creative Dissent: Arts of Arab World Uprisings, now on display at the Arab American National Museum. She received her Masters in Middle East Studies in 2012 from University of Michigan and is currently pursuing a PhD in Anthropology also at the University of Michigan. Her scholarly interest includes transnational Islam, visual culture of Muslim World, and identity politics and art in Arab American and Muslim American communities.
“A Tent for Henrik Ibsen: What the Arab Spring Means to Me”
In this presentation I wish to speak about my work as a cultural activist in Libya, a calling that I have developed since the revolution. A poet, translator, and academic, I have developed a renewed sense of hope in the arts that the revolutions in North Africa have ignited, a hope that has in turn taken me toward the path of cultural management rather than practicing my own art per se, and from an artist expressing his own voice to an artist presenting what he considers essential works of art to a wounded and fractured nation.
Khaled Mattawa is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A native of Benghazi, Libya, he is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Tocqueville, which won the San Francisco Poetry Center prizes and the Arab American Book award in 2012.
“Beeshu’s Laugh: The Arts of Satire in the Syrian Uprising”
The laugh of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has long been an ironic fascination for Syrians. In speeches, the President will often exude an aura of calm control, making the sudden interjection of what has been described as his “hyena-like” laugh seem particularly farcical. But Syrians, with a long tradition of black humor, are no strangers to absurdity. Since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011, this humor has become a powerful tool for an opposition frequently undersupplied with more conventional weapons. This paper explores the development of Syrian political satire as expressed in various artistic media: ranging from political cartoons, poster art, and video performance art, to a unique style of puppet theatre.
The Syrian leader’s distinctive physiognomy serves as a starting point: his peculiarly elongated face and neck, his bushy eyebrows, and his downward-sloping eyelids form fodder for humorous derision in the puppet theatre Masasit Mati (Top Goon), where Assad is called, mockingly, by his diminutive nickname “Beeshu.” Their snivelling caricature of a leader portrayed as hiding behind the apron strings of his “goon squad” – the notorious shabiha – went viral early in the uprising. Since then, Syria has been a wellspring of satirical artistic production, including, most famously, the sharply pointed cartoons of the beloved caricaturist Ali Farzat and the voluminous daily output of the Liberated city of Kafranbel, who have elevated poster art to the level of revolutionary manifesto. And through it all, ordinary citizens produce a seemingly endless stream of what can only be called video performance art, in which mockery of the regime, the dire situation of the people, the fracturing of the opposition, and the abuses and excesses of the revolutionary army play equal roles. Through humor, Syrians give voice to the unspeakable, forge communal identity, and on the simplest level, maintain sanity in the face of terror. This ever-expanding humorous output forms a critical revolutionary discourse of empowerment for a people traumatized by the most brutal of the Middle East uprisings.
Stephennie Mulder is Assistant Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas, Austin. A specialist in architectural history and archaeology, she has worked for over ten years in Syria. She is the author of numerous articles and her book The Architecture of Coexistence: Sunnis, Shi’is and the Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria will soon appear in print with Edinburgh University Press. She currently serves on the board of the Historians of Islamic Art Association (HIAA), and is listserve editor for the H-Islamart discussion list.
"Street Art as Collaborative Resistance"
In this presentation, Amr Nazeer discusses the role of street art in the Egyptian uprisings. The revolution started as a mass public calling, prompting different forms of activism, including collaborative street art projects. Of paramount importance to Nazeer is the notion and practice of collaboration, which he considers a form of activism that flourishes when a group of individuals work together. Collaboration is a form of learning from one’s fellow citizens, allowing for an exchange of ideas. Nazeer thus considers his visual messages and graffiti a key medium, comprised of a plurality of voices, to effectively shed light on how Egypt continues to suffer under the yoke of military authoritarianism.
Amr Nazeer is a self-taught artist whose work is inspired by his interest in "guerrilla marketing." Grounded in marketing techniques, Nazeer's street art delivers a clear and concise message of social justice. His first stencil was made in 2010 as part of the April 6th Youth Movement. Within minutes of completing his stencil, police cars surrounded the area because the place they sprayed was under close government surveillance. Moreover, his artwork critiques state-controlled public space. Through his graffiti work and collaborative endeavors, such as his group project “ColoringThruCorruption,” Nazeer aims to dismantle the hegemonic power of the state. His work has been featured in the newly published books “Walls of Freedom” and “Revolution Graffiti” and currently can be seen in Manifatture Knos, Lecce, Italy, and at the Arab American National Museum's exhibition “Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings.”
“Monumentalizing the Ephemeral: Ganzeer and the Rise of Cairene Street Art”
The use of social media to unite participants in the ongoing struggles in the Middle East dominated early narratives of the Arab Spring. In the case of the rapid proliferation of street art in Cairo, these networks have been instrumental in the spread of what is essentially local art to a worldwide network.
Street art and political graffiti were almost nonexistent prior to the uprisings of 2011. Since this time, an explosion of street art has occurred in the streets of Cairo, much of which contains an overtly political message. Planned events, such as Ganzeer’s declared “Mad Graffiti Week(s),” accompanied by Google maps of the painted murals, suggest the intentionality of the artists participating in this movement. The widespread, conscious documentation and digital sharing of Cairene street art has transformed this most ephemeral, and localized form of art into an eternal and global expression. This paper investigates Ganzeer’s projects as case studies in the development of Cairene street art, highlighting the collaborative nature of the projects, the role of social media in their development, and the function of his murals as palimpsests, whose layers may be peeled back to reveal a history of shifting artistic discontent.
Jennifer Pruitt is Assistant Professor in the Department Art History at the University of Wisconsion, Madison. In addition to the visual culture of the Arab Spring, her research explores art and architecture in the medieval Mediterranean, with a focus on Fatimid Egypt (969-1171). Her forthcoming publications include “Method in Madness: Reconsidering Church Destructions in the Fatimid Era,” Muqarnas (2013); “The Miracle of Muqattam: Moving a Mountain to Build a Church in the Early Fatimid Caliphate (969-995),” in Sacred Precincts: Non-Muslim Sites in Islamic Territories (Brill, 2014); and “The Three Caliphates, a Comparative Approach,” written with Glaire Anderson in The Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014). She is currently working on a book-length project, tentatively entitled Sectarian Identity in the Art of the Caliphs.
“An Enduring Monument: Bahrain’s 2011 Pearl Roundabout Protests”
On the morning of March 18, 2011, Bahrain’s state television broadcast the razing of the Pearl Roundabout (Dowar al-Lulu) and its iconic sculpture. This event unsurprisingly failed to quell the struggle between activists and the ruling elite. Rather, the destruction of the Pearl Monument (Lulu) and Bahrain’s “Pearl Square” offered demonstrators a readymade symbol embodying the traumatic and violent days of the 2011 demonstrations as well as the ongoing government suppression of reform movements. Rematerializations of the Lulu through photographs, graffiti tags, digital art, sculptural maquettes, and even child-size costumes echo the physical structure in miniature and continue to regenerate and multiply the monument like a viral meme. Through such manifestations and reanimations the now-vanished monument continues to occupy Bahrain’s public spaces and civic memory, enduringly resisting the state’s efforts to erase it and all it represents. In examining the “lifecycle” of the Lulu, this presentation demonstrates how an act of iconoclasm can result in an outpouring of new creative activities.
Elizabeth Rauh is a PhD student in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She specializes in contemporary art and visual culture of the Middle East, Shi‘i devotional and material cultures, modern Iranian visual culture, and contemporary art practices throughout the Islamic world. She is currently based in Muscat, Oman, completing pre-dissertation research on contemporary art practices in the Gulf.