In the wake of the uprisings that swept the Middle East since December 2010, a spotlight has, for better or worse, fallen on artists from the region. In this essay, Egypt-born, UK-based writer and curator Omar Kholeif looks at some of the problems attending this increased interest in art from the region and the pressure on artists to create works that not only respond to revolution but answer to ‘Arab Spring’-themed exhibitions.
More specifically, he discusses the work of artists who had been developing new media and digital art practices before the revolutions, practices that became not only televised but distributed across an array of online platforms and networks. Kholeif also examines the ways in which these artists are channelling their energies into grass-roots, artist-led initiatives that allow them a measure of independence both from the art market and its requirement that they comment on the political situation – and, ultimately, from the political situation itself. Could, Kholeif asks, the relationship between the ‘open source’ ideology in recent new media history and the proliferating ’share’ culture of revolutionary dissidence have created a grey area whereby artists from Egypt, to name but one country, who work with new media as a resource are being asked to comment or subscribe to an artistic interpretation of the Arab uprisings?
This essay is accompanied by an interview by the author with Sarah Rifky, curator at the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo.
Read the full essay here