Egypt's YouTube revolution: Is it art?

Menna Taher, Sunday 22 Jan 2012

The creators of the viral media in Egypt give their opinion on whether the flood of videos either satirising events or exposing truths in the country's revolution can be called 'art'

Victory to the Martyrs by Mosireen

Art has taken new forms throughout this revolutionary year in Egypt. With the ever-changing situation in Egypt, quick, satirical and timely commentaries on events have erupted and gone viral. Examples of the commentaries include graffiti, YouTube videos, or political cartoons, all shared at rapid paces online.

This year, Facebook has become a news source and an outlet for political commentary. Footage of events was often taken out of context to add a satirical touch or a point of view.Videos were also shared on the Twitter and many other social platforms.

Video editing has become a very important activity this year. Sometimes different footage is interwoven to get a point across, sometimes a soundtrack or animation was added to create something of the dull news-oriented reportage.

Many songs have also come out, with music remixes mocking statements of some public figure.

However, could this be considered a type of art?

Omar Robert Hamilton, one of the members of the citizen journalism initiative, Mosireen, believes that this is an art by the people for the people.

"It has much more validity than art made for an art gallery," he commented to Ahram Online.

According to Hamilton, videos like Mahragan El Thawra (The Festival of the Revolution), the spoof for the Noor Party advert and Omar Soliman’s Year in Review are pieces of art that have a direct and positive impact on society, which is the ultimate and ideal purpose of art.

Omar Suleiman’s Year in Review adds footage of army abuses against protesters to Omar Suleiman’s speech announcing Mubarak’s resignation and the transfer of power to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

In the video they narrate what the SCAF would do once they take hold of power "kill and torture protesters, conduct virginity tests, put citizens on military trials etc…"

Mahragan El Thawra, is a song based on the most popular chants of the revolution to the beats of local, popular songs. It was made to reach the people and spread the revolutionary spirit.

Aalam Wassef, a visual artist and musician, has been exposing the realities of the Mubarak regime through his videos since 2006 under the pseudonym Ahmad Sherif.

"I do consider such videos works of art," he asserted to Ahram Online.

Wassef is participating in the Demonstrations exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein museum in Germany, which draws upon the revolutionary spark worldwide. They liken it to the popular movements of the 1960’s. 

Wassef, who produced Omar Suleiman Year in Review, commends Omar Hamilton’s video The People Demand the Fall of the Regime: 2011.

The video, which is a panorama of the revolutionary year, has been shared by many, who called it a moving and beautiful panorama of 2011. The video uses footage of the year 2011 set against a moving music piece and closes off with the chant "The people demand the fall of the regime."

Another video that Wassef considers one of the best this year is a video made by Salma Said, a member of Mosireen, calling for people to join in protests on 25 January 2012.

The video shows footage of children, elders, students, workers, men and women protesting. It shows people protesting in front of courts, in factories, in the street, in the square and even at the airport.

To the contrary, however, film critic Joseph Fahim doesn’t believe such videos can be considered art.

"I can’t deny that some of these videos have original content," he said "but [satirical videos] are just a form of entertainment."

"I wouldn’t call it a movement," he said. When asked which ones he would consider original, Fahim said he doesn’t recall any videos "which is just proof to the transient nature of these videos."

Tamim Younis, whose YouTube channel has become popular after taking a scene of the Disney cartoon Cinderella to mock the curfew that was imposed on the country, also believes that despite the abundance, that it is not quite a movement. For many it is just a trend.

Interestingly enough, the graffiti artist known as Sad Panda described what many call "the graffiti movement" as a new trend. Both agreed that those who are genuinely interested will continue even after the trend has worn off.

"I make these videos because I work for advertisement, so for me they are a form of outlet outside the systemised structure of creativity," Younis said.

For Younis, some of the best videos are by Omar Adel, whose YouTube Channel has also gained popularity.

Kharabeesh, an initiative founded in 2008 that makes comical videos, usually adding animated content, has also gained popularity throughout the revolutionary year.

One interesting video that was widely shared adds an animated song to the statement of the General Emara, who said that no live bullets were used against protesters at a press conference.

Do such videos shape public opinion and to what extent?

"These ‘viral objects’ add an unconventional dimension to politics, news and information," Wassef said. "Although they are provided by anonymous outsiders, they can sometimes become a full part of the public debate."

According to Hamilton, Mosireen "is evolving every day," however it’s incredibly hard to pinpoint what shapes public opinion and to quantify its influence.

"But," he says "what is easy to measure is how far from the truth the state media outlets are."

"So the responsibility is on civilians to [get] alternative sources. And for those that aren't media producers, it is their responsibility to spread that information," he continued.

"But it is also clear that YouTube and the internet isn't enough. The revolution's foundations are in the physical presence of people, so information needs to spread physically, as well. So, we distribute CDs packed with films, we make our films available as mobile downloads, as high-res screeners and add them to the Kazeboon (Liars) campaign, which screens films across the country."

On the other hand, Fahim believes that raw videos can be an instrument of re-evaluation, but they would not shake people’s beliefs.

"The statement a picture says a thousand words is a myth," he asserts. "A picture can have a thousand interpretations," he clarified.

"Take the image of the soldiers beating up the girl and taking off her clothes," he said. "Many have found excuses for that behaviour."

Whether it can be considered an art form, it is undeniable that the importance of videos has become evident.

Many young people are now keen to make videos and join initiatives such as Mosireen or Kazeboon and the flood of information everyday is taking new shapes and forms.

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