Arab Revolution in the 21st Century?: Lessons From Egypt and Tunisia

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Keizer, an anonymous street artist, emphasized that the power of a group of select individuals to define, create, and promote this art according to neoliberal and political interests — was the end of art in Egypt:. The art scene before the revolution was extremely secluded to an exclusive club of people that had money to enter these places, sip a few wine bottles, and point and decide what art was.

There was loads of nepotism Keizer, pers. First of all, they [private galleries] would say who are you, you are still in school or university and you want to showcase your work? Secondly, this is a part of them from the beginning not even accepting your work There are several reasons that lead you to say that you are going to revolt against the art institutions in that I am going to take my drawings and throw them in the street so that everyone can actually get to see it Sad Panda, pers.

Indeed, this marginalization of artists with no connections, or whose art works do not conform to predetermined standards of private or government cultural institutions, is the direct result of the totalizing role the Egyptian state occupies in the cultural field:. Beyond the aesthetics, how is art now being thought of and approached? By doing so, it is important to understand that works of art that tilt towards more universal, abstract, and conceptual forms have been heavily promoted at the expense of critical local visualities and local narratives that characterized the art field prior to the Egyptian uprising.

As Mousa writes:. While modernist art trends have subsided in many parts of the world and given way to post-modern or contemporary genres, they remain heavily promoted in Egypt by domestic and foreign art institutions. Most of the artists I spoke to seemed to retreat from adopting a conception of art as an ahistorical, universal idea towards an understanding of art as located in narratives constituted within relevant local socio-historical and cultural contexts.

As artist and art professor Alaa Awad notes, one must use the symbols, context, and language of society if one is attempting to meaningfully address society artistically:. I am in Egypt, so I address the society through its culture and its political, cultural, and social situation.

I have to express the society. Art that does not voice the whole society, politically and economically, does not exist.

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The artist cannot be separated from the world that they live in. Who will present the visualization that expresses the mechanisms of the Egyptian society? Furthermore, most of the artists agreed that the uprising was instrumental for the creation of art in public spaces whether or not this was expressed in their initial motivations for becoming involved in art as the uprising was the central framework for which to narrate, analyze, and critically visualize and negotiate with the social and political context, either directly or indirectly.

The uprising attempted to deconstruct the idea that the political was the realm of the few, just as the massive participation in organic forms of cultural production in public spaces was also an attempt to deconstruct the idea that the cultural field belonged to the realm of the few. You went down because you had an idea, and when you go down you will find that people will ask you what you are doing and what is that, and you will find people disagree with you, and you will disagree back, and they will tell you something you never heard of, so there are nice conversations that occur between you and the people.

For many of the artists I interviewed, any reaction and involvement by the public meant that they were successful in fostering an interactive versus one directional art which embodied the collective and popular sentiments of the uprising into the cultural field. Any art that received no reaction was, to them, considered a failure, regardless of the aesthetic form. As Ganzeer said:. If I get either, one or the other, that is fine, if I get both, towards the same work, then I would say it is probably a successful piece of art Ganzeer, pers.

In this sense, social relations are constitutive of the creation of the work, and art and the artist were centrally involved in processes of mediation though the recognition of the street not as a platform, but as the platform in which to meaningfully communicate with others, that initiated the premise of its cultural importance in the revolution.

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As Radwa noted, the power of the street and street art emanates not only as a cultural form, but as essentially the only legitimate media form in its:. This is the power of street art. If it is not interactive it will be just like exhibition art, nothing.

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If that dialogue kept going, and it kind of pushes forward it will change things…because we do not have an equivalent media, especially the media, we do not have a media that is interactive or intriguing [my emphasis] Radwa, pers. This observation serves as a reminder of the largely unidirectional dialogue between the artist and the public which characterized the cultural field prior to the uprising, and the attempt of artists and non-artists alike in the aftermath of the uprisings to create a counter-dialogue, one which is informed—and informs—by societal discourse, conflict, and antagonism.

As such, as El Zeft, an anonymous street artist who had no interest in either art or politics prior to the uprising, noted, street art becomes the medium through which to communicate and connect with the intended audience and create an interactive dialogue:. Right now…it is much better for you to say what you want in the street, to tell the people I am with you I am sitting in the same place as you [my emphasis] — not like the people who are sitting in the air-conditioned studios on a stage telling you something else.

Street art creates question marks and discussions. This is what you want. Put differently, art is about being co-present with the public and therefore about being connected — either positively or negatively in that the art is not necessarily intended to garner approval — and stimulating engagement with other artists and between members of a community. In the aftermath of the uprising, art was viewed more as a social process in that it involved the interaction and dialogue of artists and non-artists alike between each other and the greater community in which they work.


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Therefore, creative practices are informed by practical, real world considerations, and is largely an outcome of societal interaction, dialogue, and mutual experiences. We talk to people and what comes out of our conversation with people we try to translate it together so that we can produce an artwork from it El Hosseiny, pers.


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  • You can go to the streets wherever you are…This is how awareness will come about everywhere, if one person starts with himself and the people around him, he will also learn because he needs that awareness as well. El Degham, pers. Seen this way, the art work is the product of a shared artistic-societal discourse, a merging of experiences and situations, that both constructs, and responds to, their needs and their wants, by enhancing the artists own realizations through the consciousness of the public, a consciousness that has been largely absent from the cultural field.

    This interactive aspect, according to Amr Nazeer, who never studied art or was interested in politics prior to the uprising, means that street art can not end with the art work, but was about the continuous flow of ideas and dialogue in which both the public and the artist are actively involved in the process of its creation, a process which does not end with the completion of the product which, in itself, being street art is transitory :.

    You went down because you had an idea, and when you go down you will find that people will ask you what you are doing and what is that, and you will find people disagree with you, and you will disagree back, and they will tell you something you never heard of, so there are nice conversations that occur between you and the people Nazeer, pers.


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    • The artist in Egypt that draws a nice portrait of a traditional Egyptian man in his jalabiyeh or a nice typical looking Egyptian scenery in the countryside, and then sells it to some random person, that artist is a bastard and hopefully we will destroy and break him, because his role does not serve our society.

      He adds that this kind of artist and his works have no place in the cultural field after the revolution because art should no longer be a modernist, and neoliberal, endeavor:. As we [artists] understood it, our role was not to draw portraits and rush off to sell them in galleries…the art I adopt is …from the motifs on the koshari food stalls and the art that the shoe shine man does on his shoe shine box, I adopt this art that comes from a country which has been devastated over the years.

      Abo Bakr, pers. Indeed, in a revolutionary context art is created not necessarily in isolation to the revolutionary event but is constitutive of it, and the artist does not create in isolation of the social processes of the public sphere.

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      Arab Revolution in the 21st Century?: Lessons from Egypt and Tunisia

      Artist and non-artists alike are using art to mediate between themselves, the street, and the people in it, through interaction, dialogue, and sometimes conflict, thus illustrating the potential for art to liberate hegemonic narratives of what constitutes cultural production and may serve to liberate not only the consciousness of the audience in the process, but of the producer as well. You should not get yourself into the bubble of an artist, the world does not revolve around you and your opinion, so draw your opinion but bear in mind other peoples lives. Radwa, pers. The emphasis on collective understanding and cooperating with others suggests there is not only a desire, but a need, to connect with the public.

      As he notes:. Art should be for the people. It should be everywhere for the people. The meaning of revolution in its most essential [form] is groups of people going down in the street — it has no other meaning. Archived from the original on 12 January Posted by Curtis Jacobs. Retrieved 10 March , to 25 pm. University of Cincinnati.

      Archived from the original on 19 June Retrieved 6 June History Unfolded.

      Arab Revolution

      White, Primitive rebels or revolutionary modernizers? Baltic Prisoners of the Gulag Revolts of — L. This book uses a structuralist political economy framework rather than a detailed historical account as it considers how the ALT may prove to be an historic opportunity for human renaissance in the Arab World — or alternatively a disaster of epic proportions.

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