The Brookings Doha Center (BDC) hosted a Suhoor event on May 26, 2019 that discussed the role of revolutionary art in political expression and peace building. The panelists considered the effects of art in all its forms on Arab societies in times of war, transition, and peace. They explained how art can be an act of celebration, documentation, resistance, mourning, and political expression, and they elaborated on how it creates an effective place for dialogue and peace building. The panel consisted of a group of distinguished artists from across the region, including: Atiaf Z. Alwazir, a Yemeni writer and researcher at Lille University; Soraya Morayef, an Egyptian writer and documentary filmmaker; and Khalid Al Baih, a Sudanese artist-in-residence at the International Cities of Refuge Network in Denmark. The event was moderated by BDC foreign policy fellow Noha Aboueldahab. Members of Doha’s diplomatic, academic, and media communities attended the event.
Atiaf Alwazir expressed that art enhances the quality of living. It documents violations and pushes people to discuss taboos. It is an escape and a source of hope in desperate times. Alwazir highlighted the work of Saba Jallas, a Yemeni artist who creates hope of reclaiming agency and cultivates resilience. Alwazir believes art also heals trauma during conflict. Her novels helped her escape depression after the start of the Yemeni war. It gave her a chance to transcend the uncontrollable here and now, and it provided a tool to process and deal with her emotions.
Soraya Morayef reflected on her own experience witnessing the Egyptian revolution. She documented street graffiti created by young Egyptians. According to Morayef, this kind of art, despite being illegal, has a profound effect on society and is a necessary component in creating a healthy democracy. Graffiti artists often resort to their art because they feel alienated from the political discourse. It is their only means to communicate with the rest of the world. Street art represents a call for action used by various activist groups since it educates and raises awareness. It also communicates clear messages to the international community without any need for translation.
Khalid Al Baih shared his personal story on how he became a political cartoonist. Growing up reading comics and political cartoon magazines, he was impressed by the artists’ ability to convey their messages in the face of censorship. He was especially inspired by the work of Palestinian artist Naji al-Ali. Al Baih initially struggled to get his work published, but it did not stop him from using social media to convey his messages. His cartoons allowed him to raise awareness about critical topics such as corruption, racism, and the effects of war on children.
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