ARTS OF THE ARAB SPRING UPRISINGS EXAMINED IN COMPELLING NEW MULTIMEDIA EXHIBITION
Dearborn, Mich. (Nov. 4, 2013) – It has been said the pen is mightier than the sword. What happens when the pen is joined by laptops and tablets, paint and brushes, markers, stencils, found items, songs and smart-phone photos and videos that can instantly circle the globe? Call it the 21st-century edition of creative dissent.
Presented by the Arab American National Museum (AANM) and the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab World Uprisings runs Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 through Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 at the AANM. A companion website, www.artsofthearabworlduprisings.com, currently features themes and content from the exhibition, and will later include video of related programs taking place this month in Dearborn and Ann Arbor.
The exhibition is designed to immerse visitors in the creative vitality of the continually evolving uprising movement commonly referred to as the Arab Spring. Drawn into the AANM’s Lower Level Gallery by the call-and-response chants commonly associated with these populist movements, visitors will experience how freedom of speech merges with artistic expression – capturing the anger, elation, frustration, and hope of these revolutions in the form of graffiti, video, blog postings, cartoons, music, photography and even puppetry. Drawn primarily from protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Creative Dissent demonstrates the varied responses to the protest in the Arab World beginning in late 2010.
Creative Dissent is guest-curated by Associate Professor of Islamic Art Christiane Gruber of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, and Nama Khalil, an artist and anthropology PhD student at UM (see biographies and curator statements below). It is a companion to the 2013 Freer Symposium Arts of the Arab World Uprisings in Ann Arbor Nov. 14-15, 2013. The symposium is free and open to the public; more at www.lsa.umich.edu/histart/events/artsofthearabworlduprisings.
The AANM hosts a free opening reception and panel discussion from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Award-winning activists and artists will share their personal stories and the role of freedom of expression before, during and after the revolutions. Panelists: Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni; Egyptian journalist Wael Abbas; and Egyptian artist Amr Nazeer (bios appear below). Guest curators Christiane Gruber and Nama Khalil will also take part. The event is presented in partnership with Michigan Radio; Vincent Duffy, news director at Michigan Radio, will moderate.
CURATOR & PANELIST BIOGRAPHIES
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 volume, co-edited with Sune Haugbolle, is entitled Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East: Rhetoric of the Image (Indiana, 2013). Her published research can be accessed here.
I have had an urge to curate an exhibition on the arts of the Middle East uprisings since 2011, when the demonstrations first broke out in Tunisia and Egypt, later engulfing Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. I myself experienced and photographed the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul this past summer, which gave me a greater sense of purpose and urgency. As the revolutions unfolded, I began to record the extraordinary output of visual imagery, chants, and other expressive media through which protesters were mobilized and inspired into collective action.
I believe that the power of these modes of communication cannot be underestimated. Many forms of performed and visual dissent, however, are ephemeral and born in the streets, so it is a challenge to convey the electricity—even chaos—of the moment within a carefully organized museum space. Yet we have aimed to do just that, in the hope that the visitor will come away from the show with a greater appreciation of the pivotal role that the creative arts play in tense moments of social and political upheaval.
Nama Khalil is an artist and cultural anthropologist. She received her Masters in Middle East Studies in 2012 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Anthropology at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. Her scholarly interests include transnational Islam, art and visual culture of the Arab World, and Arab American and Muslim American communities.
Both my art education and Arab background fuel my interest in the visual productions of the Arab World, and among Arab Americans. I first became interested in curating an exhibition about the creative output of the Arab World uprisings when I worked for a D.C think tank on art and the Arab awakening.
Spending this past summer in Egypt allowed me to meet with street artists and document the ever-changing landscape. This trip made the thought of such an exhibition even more real. The time, thought and effort devoted by activists and artists to such a risky activity is incredible, and is highlighted in every image in this show.
For me, the most challenging curatorial aspect was the process of choosing what to include, especially with the ongoing political struggles and the new works currently being created in response. The biggest take away would be to realize that this exhibition is not a time capsule of everything that has been done – no exhibition with a social activism theme can ever be. Rather, the show exhibits certain moments in time that spurred such a wide range of creative expression. We have no doubt that further forms of creative dissent will continue to flourish in the turbulent Arab World.
Lina Ben Mhenni is an acclaimed online activist, human rights defender, an assistant lecturer in linguistics at Tunis University, and the author of the highly influential blog, A Tunisian Girl. In the wake of the civil unrest in December of 2010, Ben Mhenni began travelling across Tunisia, visiting local hospitals in order to photograph individuals who had been attacked by the government’s crackdowns. In January 2011, she documented the early weeks of the Tunisian Revolution from Sidi Bouzid Governorate in the interior of the country. Ben Mhenni was one of the few bloggers in the region when government forces suppressed and massacred protestors in Kasserine and Regueb. Her images documented the brutality of the regime and her blog served as an invaluable source of uncensored information for other Tunisian activists and the international media during the revolution. Ben Mhenni is the recipient of the Deutsche Welle International Blog Award, El Mundo’s International Journalism Prize, the Sean MacBride Peace Award, as well as several other awards. In 2011, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wael Abbas is an internationally renowned Egyptian journalist, blogger, and human rights activist, who blogs at Misr Digital (Egyptian Awareness) and The Wael Abbas Daily. 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.
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 is currently on display at Manifatture Knos in Lecce, Italy.
Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arab Uprisings
Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 through Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014
Arab American National Museum
13624 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI USA 48126
Lower Level Gallery; free with Museum admission
Opening reception + panel discussion
5:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013
Free and open to the public
This exhibition is made possible in part by the Kresge Foundation.
The Arab American National Museum (AANM) documents, preserves and presents Arab American history, culture and contributions.
The AANM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums; an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution; and a founding member of the Immigration and Civil Rights Network of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $8 for adults; $4 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under and Museum Members, free.
Visit www.arabamericanmuseum.org or call 313.582.2266 for further information.