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Visual Anthropology Of The Egyptian Revolution (And Beyond)

October 12, 2017

Visual anthropology of the revolution

A special issue of the journal Visual Anthropology brings together seven scholars exploring visual aspects of political contestation in the Middle East, especially the Arab Spring.

 

The issue contains four articles that address Egypt:

  1. an introduction by editors Mark Westmoreland (Leiden University) and and Diana K. Allan (McGill),
  2. Westmoreland’s “Street Scenes: The Politics of Revolutionary Video in Egypt” 
  3. “’Film!’—The Arab Revolutions and the Filmmaker as Amanuensis” by the Belgian filmmaker Peter Snowden, and
  4. an account of the organization www.filmingrevolution.org by Alisa Liebow (University of Sussex)

In addition, the collection includes an essay by Peter Limbrick about John Greyson’s film 14.3 Seconds which describes and explores the destruction of Iraqi film archives, “Thinking with X-rays: Investigating the Politics of Visibility through the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid’s Photography Collection” by Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, Diana K. Allan’s “Watching Photos in Shatila: Visualizing Politics in the 2011 March of Return” and “Touched from Below: On Drones, Screens and Navigation” by Anjali Nath.

Hopefully I will find time to review each of these articles separately. In the meantime, here are the abstracts:

Westmoreland, Mark R. and Diana K. Allan. 2016. Visual Revolutions in the Middle East. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 205-210.

Five years ago images from the Arab uprisings revealed a renewed investment in political visibility. Despite the brutal outcome of most of these revolts, the centrality of seeing for understanding the dynamics of political vision and struggle in the region remains salient. Images serve as important touchstones around which political narratives emerge and cohere. In this special issue on Visual Revolutions in the Middle East, seven scholars— Diana K. Allan, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, Alisa Lebow, Peter Limbrick, Anjali Nath, Peter Snowdon and Mark R. Westmoreland—bring interdisciplinary attention to the generative possibilities of image-making in sites of political contestation. Whether through archival remnants, mobile screen technologies or the lens of a camera, the contributors to this collection explore the image as an agent of expression, engagement and critique, operating at the interface between political desires and evidentiary forms of visuality.

Westmoreland, Mark R. 2016.  Street Scenes: The Politics of Revolutionary Video in Egypt. Visual Anthropology 29(3):  243-262.

Images of mass protests that arose from Egypt in early 2011 enraptured global audiences with unexpected scenes of street politics and unprecedented possibilities for political change. While the presence of thousands of cellphone cameras, perhaps hundreds of thousands, provided the technology for a multitude of witnessing, the hyper-visibility of the street in times of protest made image-making practices both threatening and powerful. The recursive rehabilitation of counter-revolutionary images happened on many fronts. Western journalists have long characterized the “Arab Street” as a “barbarous urban mob” and, despite enchantment with the “Arab Spring,” still perpetuated a simplistic analysis of street politics in the region. Meanwhile local television, advertising, and music videos endlessly recycled revolutionary images in superficial modes of patriotic sentimentality; while the urban poor, unable to realize the aims of “bread, freedom, and social justice,” have suspiciously remained the unclaimed image of the Egyptian revolution. But by attending to the social life of revolutionary street media, this article reviews the potential for emerging image practice to cultivate new kinds of political subjectivity and collectivity.

Snowden, Peter. 2016. “Film!”—The Arab Revolutions and the Filmmaker as Amanuensis. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 263-277.

In her recent memoir of the Egyptian revolution Ahdaf Soueif records how one day a woman came up to her on Tahrir Square and started instructing her on how to write down the “national epic” unfolding around them. Taking Soueif’s text as an allegory of the relationship between the individual and the people, I explore how an analogous process is enacted in one particular video shot in Cairo on January 25, 2011. Taken together, these two “texts” suggest the emergence of a distinctively revolutionary aesthetic, which is also a politics of obedience.

Liebow, Alisa. 2016. Seeing Revolution Non-Linearly: http://www.filmingrevolution.org. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 278-295.

Filming Revolution, launched in 2015, is an online interactive data base documentary tracing the strands and strains of independent (mostly) documentary filmmaking in Egypt since the revolution. Consisting of edited interviews with 30 filmmakers, archivists, activists and artists based there, the website is organized by the themes that emerged from the material, allowing the viewer to engage in an unlimited set of “curated dialogues” about issues relating to filmmaking in Egypt since 2011. With its constellatory interactive design, Filming Revolution creates as much as documents a community of makers, attempting to grapple with approaches to filmmaking in the wake of momentous historical events. The non-hierarchical polysemous structure of the project is meant to echo the rhizomatic, open-ended aspect of the revolution and its aftermath, in yet another affirmation and instantiation of contemporary civil revolution as a non-linear, ever-unfolding, ongoing event.

References:

Liebow, Alisa. 2016. Seeing Revolution Non-Linearly: http://www.filmingrevolution.org. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 278-295.

Snowden, Peter. 2016. “Film!”—The Arab Revolutions and the Filmmaker as Amanuensis. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 263-277

Westmoreland, Mark R. 2016.  Street Scenes: The Politics of Revolutionary Video in Egypt. Visual Anthropology 29(3):  243-262.

Westmoreland, Mark R. and Diana K. Allan. 2016. Visual Revolutions in the Middle East. Visual Anthropology 29(3): 205-210.

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