How Arab revolutionary art helped break the spell of political oppression
Graffiti, murals and other dissident art have transformed public spaces and mobilised public opinion in the Middle East
Julia Rampen and Laurie Tuffrey
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 5 May 2012 08.00 EDT
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In January 2011 the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali fled Tunisia. Ten months later, his giant smiling face appeared on the side of a building in the busy port city of La Goulette. At first people just gathered beneath it and stared. Then they started to get angry. Urged on by the crowd, a group of men pulled the dictator's image down. The poster crumpled – and revealed a second poster: "Beware, dictatorship can return. On Oct 23rd, VOTE."
Half-ad, half-performance, this was one of the examples of art as political statement selected by Professor Charles Tripp, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, who spoke at the University of East London on Tuesday night. He argued that graffiti, murals, posters and other visual art forms helped to "break the spell" of dictators like Ben Ali, continuing to mobilise protesters against threats to the revolutionary ideals.
For instance in January this year, as tensions between Egypt's interim military leadership and the crowds in Tahrir Square grew, the prominent street artist Ganzeer declared: "Art is the only weapon we have left to deal with the military dictatorship". When the authorities put up barricades around Tahrir, they were soon transformed by the city's artists. The use of visual tricks further undermined the installation of the barricades - many of these paintings simply depicted the forbidden street that lay behind.