Last month’s Art Dubai, the biggest art fair in the Middle East, showcased some of the most provocative art yet to come from arguably the most volatile region in the world, currently suffering from a wildfire of uprisings. As Dubai’s art movement is growing exponentially, this year’s fair featured over five hundred artists in some eighty galleries. The timing of 2011’s Art Dubai, in the midst of the Arab Spring, however, has given this year’s show far greater meaning. As Tunisia and Egypt have taken the lead in successfully toppling their former authoritarian regimes, they have inspired protests all throughout the region, in countries ranging from Bahrain to Yemen.
As protesters across the region continue to be inspired by their neighbours, they are not the only ones inspired. The art world has been utterly captivated with these movements for political change as well. Many artists, often themselves involved in the protests, have been moved by their fellow citizen’s courage, resilience, and sacrifice in overcoming oppression in often violent and chaotic demonstrations. As the spotlight of the art world was cast on Dubai, this inspiration was on full display for the world to see.
Specifically, one booth in an Artspace gallery titled “Revolution” featured works by famous Egyptian artist Khaled Hafez, known for his politically motivated paintings. Hafez’s contributions to the gallery included two pieces titled “Revolution: 11.02.2011 – The Sniper and the Sky War”, as well as its counterpart, “Revolution: 11.02.2011 –Snipers, Cats, and Sky Sweepers”. While fusing ancient iconography with modern imagery of snipers and protesters, Hafez has created an image symbolising the struggle of the Egyptian people. Hafez himself a participant in Egypt’s uprising, paid homage to those lost in the violence.
A Moroccan artist, Zakaria Ramhani, displayed a buzz-worthy piece titled “Bye Bye Hosni”, portraying an image of a protester displaying a Facebook like button on his shirt, while tearing down a poster of the former President. Ramhani, too, is making a political statement, and in a sense paying homage to the social media platform of Facebook, for helping to enable the rebellion among the youth of Egypt.
Evidently, artists such as Hafez and Ramhani have found the revolutions of the Arab Spring as an incredible source of inspiration for their work. As the Dubai art scene continues to grow, it is likely artists of the Middle East will continue to showcase this revolutionary fervour that has so intensely engaged the wider world. As history has shown us, art and current affairs can often be a complicated pair, yet artists of the region are overcoming this, displaying their national pride.