Arab artists ponder freedom post-revolution

Ahram Online, Monday 9 Jan 2012

As political restraints have eased in some Arab countries, Islamic repression is forcing its way in

In the last scene of Ibrahim El Batout’s independent film Ein Shams produced in 2006, fiction mixes with reality, as policemen detain the film’s crew for shooting without a license.

Now, artists are hopeful that they will no longer have to face such restraints.

Yasser Naeem a young Egyptian producer, who made a short film about the hardships of making Ein Shams, said that with the fall of Mubarak artistic repression has eased.

“As artists we have to make sure that incidents such as Batout’s should not be repeated,” he said.

Basma El-Hosseiny, the founder and managing director, of Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Cultural Resource), said that the Arab revolutions and their spirit have released an artistic explosion.

Researcher and director Viola Shafik, on the other hand, believes that despite the outburst in the art scene in the Arab region, many artists have to deal with being activists as well as artists, a duality that does not allow artists for much time to create.

“The artists do not have enough time to take a step back to develop the artistic forms, and the revolutions are currently the main inspirations for artists,” she told DPA.

Tunisia and Egypt were the first Arab countries to oust their presidents, and since then political debates have focused on how to move forward.

Many books were published in Egypt since the outburst of the January 25 revolution and most of them document the events of the uprising. Other books include collections of photographs of the 18 days between the first day of protests and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

In cinema, the documentary film Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Politician looks at the 18 days from three different perspectives.

In Tunisia, a photo exhibition was held displaying 100 photographs taken during the revolution.

Rana Yazgy, a Syrian activist and secretary of an art museum, said that currently it is street art that is essential since any form of art funded by the ministry is unacceptable.

The rise of Islamist parties on the political scene in the Arab world, however, has left many artists wondering about the fate of art.

In Morocco, where they celebrated the landslide win of the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party in November, creative freedoms are dwindling according to Mourad Kadery a Moroccan poet and activist.

Islamist political figures in Morocco condemned the screening of the independent film Veiled Love, which depicts a veiled woman, who gets pregnant from a pre-marital affair.

The visual artist Hoda Lotfy said that the newly-found creative freedoms might not last long with a parliament that holds a majority of Islamists and that artists should lobby against Islamist pressure in the arts field.

The Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher said that he is optimistic of the art scene in the region and believes it will flourish.

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