Art Dubai: The Revolution Must Hide its Underwear

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“You Were My Only Love” by Moroccan artist Zakaria Ramhani.

By: Najwan Darwish

Published Saturday, March 24, 2012

Iconic articles of clothing have joined the myriad of taboos that Arab artists have to avoid if they want their work to be displayed.

This is not merely a tale of censorship and banning. It is an opportunity for reflection on the relationship between Arab artistic production and the fragile state of the regimes in the Arab world.

At Art Dubai – the biggest art exhibit in the Gulf region, which is just concluding – security forces went into the Art Space Gallery and banned the display of two works. What they had in common was that they were both by young Arab artists who used women’s underwear to comment on the Egyptian revolution.

The first work was a portrait by Palestinian artist Shadi Al Zaqzouq titled “After Washing.” It shows a masked young woman revolutionary holding up a pair of briefs with the word “leave” written on them – which has refused, in all its “shamelessness” and directness, to be washed away.

The second banned work was by Moroccan artist Zakaria Ramhani, and titled “You Were My Only Love.” Ramhani utilized the famous photo of the courageous Egyptian woman who was dragged along the ground by the security forces, exposing her bra. The artist added his own touches. He put a monkey’s torso on a baton-wielding police officer, and on another looking sullenly on. Van Gogh was depicted too, like a hapless witness to the violent near-rape of a woman who at that moment represented an entire nation bravely facing up to its rapists. The result is a scene from the human jungle, the jungle of political oppression.

“After Washing” by Palestinian artist Shadi Al Zaqzouq.

Zaqzouq was denied a visa by the UAE authorities to attend the exhibition at which his painting was shown and then banned. It seems that being Palestinian (not Libyan, as some websites reported) makes him unwelcome in Dubai, which markets itself as being open to people of all nationalities.

But it’s not as though Palestinians, whether artists or non-artists, have any easier access to Cairo, Beirut, or most Arab countries. The Arab revolution, as Ramhani and Zaqzouq’s works suggest, is in the future tense. Being banned in a world ruled by the values of consumption is a sign of merit…Congratulations to the banned artists.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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