Art and Social Change

Just like music has the power to alter the mood of its listener, art and design have the power to change the minds of their viewers. During this past year, art coming out of the Middle East has been the subject of many articles as it continues to reflect, and perhaps propel, political unrest in the region.

Most recently, a New York Times article titled “Arab Art as an Early Indicator of Revolution” talks about politically-charged art at the Marrakech Art Fair in Morocco. The article said the artists freed themselves of traditional formats and “managed to break taboos to show the simmering discontent that led to explosion, while at the same time expressing a craving for personal freedom.” According to one of the curators, the artists were trying to convey messages reflecting the demands for freedom of speech, social justice and emancipation coming from people all across the Arab world.

Earlier this year, especially around February, March and April, similar stories were coming out about art and its reflection of politics in the area. The article “Political Artworks Reflecting the Middle East’s Unrest Electrify Art Dubai,” published by the Huffington Post, mentioned a few areas. The article is a little hard to follow, but it mentions issues in Palestine and how a piece of art titled “Kite” summarizes “the Palestinian cause.” It says the piece shows “no blame or bitterness, there is simply hope.” The article ends with a quote by an art collector, “Being Arab is almost a genetic disposition, we have to react to political turmoil and, thankfully, most of our artists do it in very poetic ways.” These articles do a good job showing how important artists are in reflecting their countries’s issues, which is really cool since I hadn’t really ever thought about how important art, rather than just photos, can be in capturing moments in history.

On a little bit of a different note, the article “The Middle East’s Other Revolution,” published on Forbes, mentions how Iranian artists have “busted open the seams of their repressive society with works that denounce the plight of women in the Muslim world, or expose the homophobia pervasive in a land where homosexuality is a capital offense, but sex-change operations, paid for by the state, are commonplace.” The other articles mentioned state and political issues, but I feel like this artwork goes into social issues affecting people on a personal level rather than on an over-all national level. It says they have to express the “unspeakable” in ways that convey their message to the world, yet remain “cryptic” enough to pass censors. I think it’s so interesting that artists are underground social changers. It ends with a quote from an Iraqi from New York that I found moving and interesting because it seems to portray art as something concrete rather than an abstract idea, “I sure do hope that art has inspired people to act. If so, then art has served its true calling.”  

Lastly, I thought these articles were cool because they show multiple examples of revolutionary art, graffiti and graphic design: “Art of Revolution” and “Art and Revolutions in the Middle East.”


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