Brookings Doha Center, the overseas centre of Brookings Institution in Washington DC, recently hosted a Suhoor entitled ‘The Role of Revolutionary Art in Political Expression and Peace Building’ at Intercontinental Doha.

As Noha Abdoueldahab, a fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings and Brookings Doha Centre moderated the panel, three panelists and artists – Ataiaf Z Alwazir, Soraya Morayef, and Khalid Albaih – from Yemen, Egypt and Sudan shared their insights on the role of revolutionary art in their home countries.

Referring to the chaos and unrest in the Middle East while citing the example of the Yemeni revolution, Ataiaf Z Alwazir, human rights activist, citizen journalist, researcher and lecturer focusing on gender and the intersection of art and politics, emphasised on the importance of art and its ability to turn all the ugliness into beauty. 

Displaying work of Saba Jallas, a Yemeni artist known for displaying hope amidst all the chaos, Alwazir expressed that art has the ability to improve the quality of life. She was reminiscent of the uprising and the events that led up to the founding of the media collective @SupportYemen. Author of many political op-eds, fiction, and creative non-fiction, she represents the voices of the unheard through her work.

We live in a polarised world now… Identity politics play a big role and fiction allows you to transcend that because in fiction we don’t shy away from the complexities, we embrace them.’

Carrying forward the conversation, Soraya Morayef, an Egyptian journalist, photographer, and writer, expressed that capturing people’s expression through street art in Egypt was a truly phenomenal time to be alive.

There are two forms of political participation: Institutionalised that conforms to norms and doesn’t challenge the legitimacy of the power and it’s the other, non-Institutional participation of which graffiti would be a part of.’ 

She further displayed photographs taken on the streets of Egypt, from whitewashed bare walls to an explosion of graffiti with vibrant colours, murals, and paintings of loved ones who had lost their lives that graced those walls. She added that art such as this had no language barrier and could be understood globally.

Street art provides a service – an extremely important and emotional one.’

Having witnessed the coming together of the community and people of several social groups engaging with one another, coming together as one, Morayef further added that street art helps send out a message to the world while helping build the local community at the same time.

Romanian – born Sudanese artist and political cartoonist, Khalid Albaih expressed that his work was initially inspired by political and social events taking place in his motherland, Sudan. Coming from a hyperpolitical family, he was always surrounded by political issues. Through his official social media pages, Albaih expresses and shares his views regarding political issues across the world with over 80,000 online followers. His cartoons of the Arab Spring in 2011 and its aftermath is what brought him to fame.

I’ve grown up reading comics… however, these comics didn’t represent our culture nor were they relatable.’ 

From drawing comic book characters to drawing people around him, over the course of time, Albaih founded Khartoon. Initially being unable to get this work published due to the heavy imposition of censorship on all kinds of media, he finally took his work online and to social media, and has been expressing his views through cartoons ever since.

When asked about how artists were going to bring other social issues in the spotlight, Morayef replied that issues, apart from just politics are being expressed on Egyptian streets. Albaih added that it was all a matter of freedom that one has and that at the end of the day, all social issues are intertwined with politics.  

The discussion concluded with a thank you note from Abdoueldahab on behalf of Brookings Doha Center. Panelists and guests then continued their evening with Suhoor and conversation.

Author: Ahona Saha

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