Palestinian Expression Inside a Cultural Ghetto

by Kamal Boullata
published in MER159

During the summer of 1986,1 spent a month in the West Bank, keen to learn for myself about the effects of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian forms of expression, particularly in the visual arts and local crafts. A quick look at different cultural products indicated that traditional aesthetic values have for some time been rapidly eroding. Alternative aesthetic values were more often than not crudely colored by the reactive rhetoric intrinsic to the cultural ghetto created by the occupation. I set out to explore for myself the process that brings into being products which stir a sense of pride among Palestinians living under occupation, and to understand the components that endow these cultural products with their uniquely Palestinian character.

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In Between, Fragmented and Disoriented

Art Making in Iraq

by Nada Shabout
published in MER263

It is argued that the celebrated Arab protest movements have changed the path of visual arts in the region. Headlines predict that art inspired by the uprisings will be freer and more critical. Artists have partaken in the displays of mass dissent, demonstrating in the streets and protesting further through their work. Inflated claims notwithstanding, and despite unfulfilled hopes, the protests have indeed directed welcome attention to art scenes in Arab cities. Change, many still hope, is finally possible.

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Culture, State and Revolution

by Sonali Pahwa , Jessica Winegar
published in MER263

The Arab uprisings have brought major challenges, as well as unprecedented opportunities, to the culture industries. According to a flurry of celebratory news articles from the spring of 2011 onward, protest art is proliferating in the region, from graffiti in Egypt to hip-hop in Morocco to massive photographic displays and political cartoons gone viral in Tunisia. These articles then adopt a predictably ominous tone to express the concern that resurgent Islamist forces represent a danger to arts and culture writ large.

Interventions

Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

Art in Egypt's Revolutionary Square

by Ursula Lindsey | published January 2012

On January 7, under a clear chill sky, the monthly culture festival al-Fann Midan (Art Is a Square) took place in Cairo’s ‘Abdin plaza. In the sunny esplanade facing the shuttered former royal palace, spectators cheered a succession of musical acts, took in a display of cartoons and caricatures, and wandered from tables selling homemade jewelry to others handing out the literature of the Revolutionary Socialists or the centrist Islamist party al-Wasat. The drama troupe Masrah al-Maqhurin (Theater of the Oppressed) put on a series of skits requiring audience participation. In the first, a daughter left the family house against her father’s will, and with her mother’s connivance, to attend a birthday party. She was caught and reported by her brother, and then beaten by her father. In the participatory iterations that followed, a young woman from the audience chose to play the brother and, to much laughter, told the sister: “I won’t tell Dad I saw you in the street if you don’t tell him I was at the café.” Another audience member played the mother, working arduously but in vain to convince the father to allow the girl out of the house under her brother’s supervision. Interestingly, no one in the audience chose to incarnate -- and change the behavior of -- the authoritarian and violent father.

An Artist as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

by Shiva Balaghi | published June 8, 2009

Something’s happening here. In one of the largest street demonstrations in Tehran since the 1979 revolution, thousands filled Vali Asr Street (formerly known as Pahlavi Street) on Monday, forming a human chain nearly 12 miles long and stopping traffic for nearly five hours. They wore strips of green cloth around their wrists and heads in support of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. They sang “Ey Iran,” the unofficial national anthem composed in the Pahlavi era by one of the leading figures of classical Persian music, the late Ruhollah Khaleghi. Banned for a time by the Islamic Republic, the song’s lyrical melody touches a deeply patriotic vein.

The Post-September 11 Arab Wave in World Music

by Ted Swedenburg
published in MER224

Music from the Arab world has traditionally been a minor player within world music, the marketing category encompassing a wide variety of international music that emerged in the late 1980s. Aimed at an NPR listening “adult” audience, world music has a small market share of roughly 2-3 percent (comparable to classical music and jazz), but its audibility increased during the 1990s. Rai music from Algeria and Algerians in France -- the most important Arab presence in world music -- opened the way for other Arab artists to enter the scene during the 1990s.

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Change of Power

Ardeshir Mohassess' Drawings of Modern Iran

by Shiva Balaghi
published in MER250

The poet Esmail Khoi once remarked to Ardeshir Mohassess that many of his drawings focused on oppression, depicting both the oppressor and the oppressed as ugly and animal-like. “You seem to suggest,” Khoi observed, “that those who suffer from oppression are no less cruel that their oppressors.” Ardeshir responded, “Perhaps I see both as equally responsible.” [1] Throughout an artistic career that spanned nearly five decades, Mohassess’ evocative line drawings depicted the heavy burden of the contest for power on the lives of Iranians. Above all, Ardeshir saw himself as a reporter, and his body of work forms an archive of twentieth-century Iran.

Maasri, Off the Wall

by Sarah A. Rogers
published in MER252

Zeina Maasri, Off the Wall: Political Posters of the Lebanese Civil War (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009).

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