Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Slave Market: War, Prostitution and Creation

Sundus Abdul Hadi is a Iraqi-Canadian artist who lives in Canada. She draws her inspiration from Ancient Sumerian art and the early Islamic aesthetic and, in her own words, her work is “a commentary on the media, history, politics and social issues as related to being an Arab woman in today's world”.

Shortly after the US press did so, the online daily Elaph mentioned a few days ago one of her works, called “Inanna in Damascus” (Inanna is the Sumerian goddess for sexuality and war). As she explain in her blog, she wants, with this reinterpretation of Jean-Léon Gérôme, a French Orientalist painter, to “expose the sex industry that is currently running rampant in Middle East due to the consequences of the 2003 war in Iraq and the resulting exodus of refugees”. She sees that “these same connections of pimp and client, the soldier and the politician, and the Arab businessman [already] existed in the 19th century and today.”

To fully understand the strength of Sundus Abdul Hadi’s work(s), one has to remember how important the Iraqi school has been for modern Arab plastic expression, especially in the 50’s with the foundation of a local form of abstraction based on the use of the Arabic alphabet (a school called hurûfiyya in Arabic: see previous post.

Memories of such a fertile experience make the present time particularly bitter to the Arabs artists and intellectuals. The exodus of the Iraqi artists, which started in the 90’, is now so important that it is said that more than three quarters of them live abroad.

Thus, those who stayed in the country deserve a warm tribute, as does Artiquea, a gallery in London which has done its first exhibition with works done by twenty-three artists “who still live and work in Iraq”.

As usual, the link to the more elaborated post in French.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fatwas as a Ramadan Ritual

After the TV soap operas of Ramadan, a new ritual seems to be adopted in the Arab countries: the Ramadan fatwa. It is inevitable that the habits of the Holy month, like traditional Christian celebrations, reveal the contradiction between pre-modern religious rituals and the practices of the post-modern consumer society.

Saudi Arabia, a country with a large and rich population and a strict religious oriented regime, is probably the place where such contradictions are to be felt causing a real clash, not between civilizations but between extremely different ways of living a same religion--Islam.

After many calls by religious authorities against the too successful Turkish soap opera “Noor”, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, the most senior juge in the kingdom, has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes.

Such a condemnation is a real provocation as most of the major Arab TV channels are own by people very close to the ruling family. So, it is no surprise that Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan toned down his fatwa a few days later.

In spite of all the comments about such a strange fatwa, this new battle gives the impression that the traditional components of the Saudi society are doomed to lose ground at the advantage of the liberal ones.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Divas and Politicians: the Dialectic of Body and Power

For a change, the subject of all conversations in the Arab world during the holy month of Ramadan was not the countless TV soap-operas aired at that time of the year, but the serialized novel of the murder of a well-known Lebanese singer, Suzanne Tamim.

Her body was found in her flat in Dubai and, a few days later, the police arrested the murderer, a former Egyptian cop. But, the real scandal came when it became obvious that Hishma Talaat, a famous Egyptian billionaire, leading member of the ruling Party and close friend of President Mubarak’s family, was charged with arranging the murder.

The Arab press (see this article in Elaph) has suggested many scenarios to explain the somehow unusual promptness of the Egyptian justice: rivalries among the ruling elite, the necessity of restoring the Egyptian Department of Justice reputation after various disputed decisions, the desire of calming things down considering the popular reaction, and also bearing in mind the fact that the Emirates authorities were urging for a quick and efficient elucidation of the case.

It is certainly not the first example, and the last one, of the "dialectic of power and body", to use Adnan Abuzeed's nice way to put it. After all, the famous Jahiz wrote in the IXth century his famous eulogy to the qiyans, a kind of Arabic variation of the famous Japanese geisha. Obviously, there is some sexual activity in the (supposedly) puritanical Arab world.

As another evidence of the many connections between sexual fame and politics, mention could be made to the famous Haifa Wehbe (see previous post). When she mentions, as she did more than one time, how fascinated she is by shaykh Hassan Nasrallah’s personality, we must ask ourselves if we are always right in using opposed categories like securalism and liberated sexuality on one side, and religiosity and moral uprightness on the other.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Palestinian Hip-Hoppers: Jackie Salloum’s "Slingshot Hip Hop"

Rap music in Palestine began as an “Israeli phenomenon”, with young Jewish and Arab rebels coming from the poor industrial suburbs of Israel sharing the same rage against their living conditions.

A short-lived artistic coexistence as the Palestinian hip-hoppers went their own way with the Second Intifada (2000) and the adoption a more nationalist political discourse by artists like Dam, while Israeli rappers like Subliminal became more and more extremist.

Today, rap music has been adopted by the young Palestinians as a way to express their (political) identity and musicians perform regularly in Israel, as well as in the so-called “Autonomous Territories” or in the Palestinian camps of the surrounding Arab states.

Thus, after Ramallah and Jenine in June, Jackie Salloum was in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon in August to show her first “real” movie, Slingshot Hip Hop. Listening to the soundtrack was a real shock for the young Palestinian raised in Lebanon: certainly not because of the music but because they were amazed to discover that Arabic and Hebrew could be used by “Israeli Palestinian” rappers.

As they explained in an interview given some time ago to the Moroccan weekly Telquel, the three members of Dam are eager to be heard, especially by an Israeli society upset by their national claims.

Under Slingshot Hip-Hop trailer...

... a link to the more elaborated post in French and to Jackie Salloum's website where two shorter moovies could be seen: a must !