On Arabs and the Art Awakening: Warnings from a Narcoleptic Population

Kirsten Scheid in Jadaliyya:

CamelofHardships_SuleimanMansourAmidst commentaries on American crony capitalism, security feminism, and the democracy movement in Mexico, “Art and the Arab Awakening,” Nama Khalil’s article in Foreign Policy in Focus (2 August 2012), stands out with its colorful, playful, joyful descriptions of the art production that has come to international attention during the “Arab Awakening.” Many celebrations of Arab art have been pouring forth since 2001[i], but the placement of Khalil’s article in a forum for American-Anglophone foreign policy raises important questions about international relations conducted in cultural production[ii]: 1) Why “art”? 2) Why an “awakening”? 3) Why foreign policy? Why do these terms orient the discussion? I want to argue that this approach to art is the flip-side of a policy of humanitarian intervention that minimizes and limits how victimized people may come to participate in global politics.

Early in her catalogue of new works Khalil avers, “Art has also been an ongoing experience for therevolutionary youth that is strengthening civil society and democratic process” (my emphasis). The same bywords reverberated at a conference recently held in Ramallah by a European funding umbrella to glean suggestions from “cultural producers” for ways they could contribute to civil society. Eerily, Khalil’s article reads like a grant application to this EU organization, and posted on a policy advocacy website, it constitutes a call for a new type of humanitarian intervention. Enfolded in the technicolor robes of art, is an argument about what a human is and how humans who were “asleep” can experience and exist in a global world of unequal power.

More here.