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About the Event


Spring 2011 was a riveting moment across the Arab world. Beginning with popular demonstrations in Tunisia that resulted in the January ousting of longtime president Ben Ali, the uprisings subsequently spread to a number of other countries, including Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, and Syria (where violence continues unabated today). These uprisings were dubbed the “Arab Spring” due to their timing and the hope for democratic change that they seemed to promise. Although they did not just take place in Arab lands and their courses remain unclear as various political parties continue to vie for power today, their images nevertheless have remained indelible in the minds of those who participated in demonstrations or watched the events unfold. This is especially the case for Egypt where televised reports—both past and ongoing—have allowed demonstrators to address both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes as well as an international viewership.

Over and again, government-controlled modes of communication were circumvented as a number of other media allowed for an alternative (and arguably more accurate) recording of events on the ground. The dissemination of images trickled through countless venues as demonstrators and other individuals turned to using their own cameras, photographs, and paints to create visualized forms of dissent. This flood of images of torture, violence, anger, joy, and hope resulted from participant observation and eyewitness journalism, in turn coalescing into a larger visual amalgam through the cybermedia.

This symposium explores the various roles and functions played by the visual arts and other expressive media in the recent Middle East Uprisings by bringing together internationally acclaimed and award-winning journalists, bloggers, activists, cinematographers, photographers, writers, and art historians. This collaborative enterprise seeks to bridge several disciplines within academia while also placing scholars in conversation with activists and journalists active on the ground.

Organizers: Christiane Gruber and Juan Cole

Christiane Gruber is Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Visual Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has authored two books and has edited several volumes on various topics, including Islamic book arts, ascension tales and images, and contemporary visual and material culture. Her most recently published volumes are Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East: Rhetoric of the Image (2013) and The Landscapes of 9/11: A Photographer's Journey (2013). She has curated several exhibitions on Islamic book arts and post-revolutionary Iranian posters as well as the symposium's companion show entitled "Creative Dissent: The Arts of the Arab World Uprisings," now on display at the Arab American National Museum. Her published research can be accessed here.

Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History and director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East(Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and many other works. He has translated works of Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran. He has been a regular guest on PBS's Lehrer News Hour, and has also appeared on ABC Nightly News, Nightline, the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, Rachel Maddow, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now! and many others. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iranian domestic struggles, the Arab Spring and its aftermath, and foreign affairs. He has a regular column at He continues to study and write about contemporary Islamic movements, whether mainstream or radical, whether Sunni and Salafi or Shi`ite. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, and continues to travel widely there.

The Freer Connection

The University of Michigan Department of History of Art's enduring relationship with the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art –which includes an annual lecture, the co-publication of the journal Ars Orientalis, and an endowed graduate fellowship– has nurtured several generations of intellectual inquiry and created networks of interpretation for an ever-widening field of Asian art history and visual culture. 

Our Sponsors

Arts of the Arab World Uprisings is sponsored by the Department of History of Art and Center for Middle East and North African Studies, with additional support from the International Institute, U-M Museum of Art, Rackham Graduate School, Office of Vice President for Research, Institute for the Humanities, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.