The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Revolution and art

I've been struggling with the (largely nonsensical) question of "revolutionary art" for a while now, as I work on a forthcoming piece for MERIP on cultural production in Egypt over the last year. It was therefore and extra pleasure to read this piece by friend of the blog Negar Azimi, which neatly sums up some of the pitfalls of the genre:

A survey of titles of works from recent exhibitions in Cairo reveals the following: ‘Freedom’, ‘Drink Freedom’, ‘Shadow of Freedom’, ‘People Demand’, ‘Man Crying’, and so on. This, it turns out, is the sort of revolution-kitsch the market seeks. Mona Said, the owner of the Safar Khan Gallery in Cairo, told Reuters that she had held a show of revolutionary art in March that was so successful that she sold four times the amount she expected and ended up shipping works to clients all around the world. To be blandly political is in vogue and to be apolitical risks flirting with philistinism. This is, of course, not entirely surprising in a country in which the faces of revolutionary martyrs have been mass-produced on car air-fresheners.

It is not surprising at all to me that artists should have trouble representing the revolution right now -- it's a ridiculous demand to make of them in the first place. On the other hand, as Negar also points out, there has been an outpouring of creative energy which in particular forms (graffiti, theater, perhaps music) has spoken to this historical moment in some very meaningful and moving ways. The use of Tahrir itself as a dramatic performance space has of course been remarked upon by many, and there have been some great new ventures, like Tahrir Cinema and El-Fan Midan

Also worth checking out: the last issue of Bidoun magazine, which Negar edits, dedicated to cleverly and creatively trying and (by its own admission) failing to address the Egyptian revolution.