January 13, 2016

#MeMu's: La Vache qui Rit (Adham Bakry, 2010)

La Vache qui rit is a brand of french processed cheese popular in Egypt. The packaging presents the consumer with the image of a laughing, happy cow. For years- since 1991 according to one author, this was the Egyptians nickname for their president, referencing his rural background and portraying him as a peasant. Additionally, it associated him with foreign imports and a particularly soft cheese that spreads easily on any kind of bread.

Prior to 2010, this nickname was mainly used verbally, in jokes or asides, but was popular with a people known for their sense of humour and sarcasm. In 2010, in the run-up to rigged parliamentary elections, Adham Bakry formalised the symbol by designing a sticker depicting a pink, crossed out Vache qui rit Logo (1). This visual reference to the thus branded president was taken up, both by demonstrators on Tahrir square (3), leaving outside observers to wonder at why the Egyptian people were demanding bread, freedom, social justice and no processed cheese for the country. Though it uses advertising language and is a highly visible sticker (2), it is a communication that very much uses local codes to attract attention, though online spread and contextualisation may have demystified the meaning of this sticker for many. Carlos Latuff, a caricaturist working mainly in the online space created an anthropomorphised version of the cows head logo for those who do not want to research its history, using the opportunity to show the Mubarak regimes hidden and obvious geopolitical allegiances. (4)

Allen Peterson, Mark; http://connectedincairo.com/2012/04/07/telling-mubarak-jokes/; 2012

January 10, 2016

#MeMus: You look somewhat bookish

Amongst many other things, the MeMu's are an evolving set of volumes.

This is a quick development shot from v2's dummy.

January 7, 2016

#MeMu: Hope Poster (Shepeard Fairy, 2007)

All images are the copyright of their various authors. 
In 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was seen by many across the world as a vehicle for change. His anti-war rhetoric, apparent sincerity, embrace of youth culture and progressive domestic agenda made him the American president the world would vote for. During his election campaign, which used elements of social media marketing, viral and crowd-sourced advertising, Amber Lee Ettinger became Obama Girl, will.i.am produced the song “We Are The Ones“ to express his support of the candidate alongside various American Celebrities. Shepeard Fairey, who came to fame for producing the Obey Giant posters, independently designed an iconic poster (1), based on a photograph by Manny Garcia.

The artists intention, to create a poster that would “deracialise Mr. Obama, […] something that would elevate him to iconic status in the vein of people who had [preceded] him…” proved successful, as the poster became one of the central images of the campaign. 350 000 posters subtitled “Hope” were produced during the campaign, most of which were distributed through campaign workers and events. Associated Press, the copyright holders of the photograph that served as the basis for the poster, later sued Fairey for unlicensed use of the picture and he was heavily criticised by other artists for “brazen, intentional copying of already existing artworks created by others”. However, the poster and its bold, reduced colour scheme became one of the images most closely associated with Barack Obama, instantly recognised in many countries. The poster was satirised by MAD Magazine by depicting their mascot, Alfred E. Newman, as the “Hopeless” candidate (2), amongst many other humorous versions. It has become part of the visual vocabulary of current politics and is preserved in the collective memory as one of the most iconic examples of image politics currently circulating, widely spread and shared.

By 2010, as the popularity of the former paragon of hope and change began to fade, the images connected to him came to reflect this shift in public perception. The Hopeless (3) subtitle was adopted in a remix of the original poster, which spread rapidly through the internet. Fairey subsequently made a poster depicting a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes (4) mask in the same style in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Although the initial version did reference the president with the line “Mr. President, we HOPE you’re on our side.”, for the artist saw the president as “a potential ally of the Occupy movement”, the quote was later shortened to “We are the HOPE” after the organisers expressed that they could not “in any way be connected to this design.”as it connected them visually and semantically to Obamas 2012 re-election campaign.

2013 saw the recontextualisation of this visual to suit the landscape of Egyptian politics. Nazeer, a graphic designer and street artist, adopted the language of the poster to express his opinion on the countries next president, Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, stating that “the Egyptian military junta and its American politico-financial ally are shown as making a mockery of the electoral process and civilian rule.”

He thus created a glocalised version of an image which is closely associated with the American political apparatus, a poster depicting al-Sisi in military uniform, using the same colour scheme as the original poster, Obama campaign pin displayed on his lapel, subtitled “Joke” (5).


REFLECTIONS ON THE HOPE POSTER CASE, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Spring 2012
 Vallen, M.; Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey; http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm, Dec. 2007
 Mad Magazine; Issue #495; http://www.madmagazine.com/issues/mad-495; Oct. 2008
 A Google search will return 13.300 000 results
 Fairey, S.; OCCUPY HOPE, http://www.obeygiant.com/headlines/occupy-hope; 2011
 Gray, R. Shepard Fairey Changes Unpopular 'Occupy Hope' Poster Under Pressure; http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/11/shepard_fairey_6.php ; Nov. 2011

December 31, 2015

#MeMu's: Israeli Separation Barrier, Palestine/Israel

The many names given to this fence demonstrate the complex semantic relationship between the object itself, the subjects of its effect and those observing and affecting the interplay between them. It is alternatively a separation or security fence or wall in Hebrew. It is the Wall of Apartheid in Arabic. The BBC’s list of acceptable terms lists it, alternately, as “barrier”, “separation barrier” or “West Bank Barrier” to “avoid the political connotations” of the above terms.

Its building, continuing presence and oppression attracted a number of artists from around the globe, who began expressing themselves on it almost as soon as the first segment was erected in 2003, with Banksy beginning to paint on the wall in 2005, calling it “the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers”.

Nigel Perry, writing for Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication that focuses on Palestinian issues, relates an anecdote about a design critic, Nathan Edelson, who contacted him in relation to an article about the aesthetics of the separation barrier in 2003, arguing that “the premise of my article is that one can argue about the desirability of a wall, and certainly where it runs, but if it is going to be built it should not be an aesthetic monstrosity.”. In the ensuing debate, Perry called into question the validity of that argument, countering that it was akin to “like arguing for nice faux painting on gas chamber walls or calling for Martha Stewart torture chamber bed sets.”. A long argument about the visuality of “prisons” and “art to serve the interests of what is a dictatorship for the 3.2 million Palestinians who didn't vote for the system that rules over them” ensued, ending with Edelson’s statement that “it is immoral to create any more ugliness than is absolutely necessary.”.

Enter Banksy, Blu, Faile and many other street artists and aspiring writers. They approached the wall as a space to produce art on, were, however, much more attuned to the political significance of their artistic expressions on that wall. In stead of painting “the cage a new color and watch the prisoners dance.”, the artwork refers to the nature of the fence as a spatial separation, sometimes of families, by playing with the context of the wall. Some artwork opens a trompe ل’oeil the land behind the wall, others reference other comparable barriers such as the Berlin Wall, and yet others show the effect that an enclosing barrier has on the population. Local reactions by Palestinians to the artwork vary from perceiving it as just being art to a feeling that the art highlights the friction and imprisonment imposed on them. One of the most related dialogues regarding the artwork on the wall is between an old Palestinian man who comments to the painting Banksy “You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.”. Banksy thanks him, to which the old man replies “We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home.”

Writing in 2011, Robert Saunders remarks that “ Of the graffiti that contains text, more than 75% are in English, 13% are in European languages, and slightly less than 11% are in Arabic.” This indicates a shift from an internal communication to one that wants to reach a global audience, which Saunders calls “a shift from action to performance”, noting that “international- produced graffiti on the barrier further deterritorializes the Palestinians by inadvertently popularising the physical and symbolic place that has aided in their dispossession.”

The effect of internationally acclaimed street artists painting on the wall has certainly brought attention to the separation barrier. However, the effect of such solidarity is, in this case, not to demand the removal of the barrier, but rather make it a popular spot for visitors and tourists to express their support for the Palestinian cause and remove the agency of those they performatively support. If one were to take the case to the extreme hypothesis, the separation wall might be kept in place to preserve the artwork on it.

 Parry, N. http://electronicintifada.net/content/well-known-uk-graffiti-artist-banksy-hacks-wall/5733; Sep.2005
 Saunders, Robert R. - Anthropology News 03/2011- Whose Place is This Anyways; March 2011

December 30, 2015

"HOMELAND IS NOT A SERIES" // production Diary part 2

Field of Vision - Homeland Is Not A Series from Field Of Vision on Vimeo.

These posts are grouped around parts of the "Syrian Monologue" by Wasim Ghrioui from the film "Homeland is not a series." You can find a full interview with Heba Amin, Don Karl and Caram here.

All experiences and views in this are my own and may not reflect anyone else's.

Izmir, November 6th-10th

This doesnt mean we all like each other, we dont have time to like each other

I’m invited to a planning meeting for one of the networks I’m part of. I meet an old friend of mine, the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve missed her and her waters. Most of the time, I am online with Don and Heba after the meetings are over, going over changes, edits and new cuts. I am not very sociable, although the only working internet connection in the hotel is in the main hall we gather in. By the end of the meeting, rather than feel more connected to people I have been working with for the past three years, I end up feeling disconnected and a bit sad. Ever since leaving Beirut, life has taken a turn for the more glamorous, but more useless. I miss people, and connecting with them. 

Izmir, November 10-12th 

Sometimes I feel this is a natural reserve for some endangered species of human. Or Noahs Ark.

Everyone here seems to speak Arabic. I am staying near Basmane, near the old Bazar, where everyone seems to have an Arabic-Speaking/Kurdish/Syrian barber. It is not the most glamorous quarter of the city, but somehow, I feel in my place here, sleeping on the pinkest sheets in the world, then leaving the hotel to find myself on the life-vest souk. Izmir is a crossing point to Greece, where the Syrians who enter Turkey stay for a while before giving up, or deciding that a better life may await in Europe. Every shop here sells life vests, priced somewhere between 150-200 Lire. 

On the 12th, I receive a text from a Lebanese friend. Our film says that Beirut is not a warzone. Her text tells me that multiple suicide bombs have gone off in Beirut, emanating from the refugee settlement of Burj-El Barajne- 40 dead, 200 injured. She is glad I am somewhere safer than I was a couple of weeks ago. Her family is safe. The shock sets in. I was just there and left, convinced that it is not a warzone, but a place filled with humanity. My friend tells me to go enjoy life in Izmir. I spend the next two days in an internet café, with very few interruptions, working on the film remotely. I am surrounded by children playing wargames, and my conversations with adults revolve around a coming war against Russia. 

Istanbul, November 13th

They lifted us out like sacks of wheat. 

One of the airports. I’m lost for a moment, cut off from any kind of communications I carry on my person. A telephone card that does not work until I use it with the fifth telephone. I already miss Izmir.

I ask five people how to get to the residence. Each one of them tells me to go in a different direction. I cross Taksim square five times in a random pattern. Finally, a girl called Deniz kindly accompanies me to the corner of the street. A political science student, she wants to come back to Berlin someday. We joke about the current political situation in the country and that we haven't been arrested yet for talking about it.

They know that many will die before the evolution of the next generation.

Another message, this time on social media. “I am in Paris but i'm safe. Staying at friend's place tonight. Thanks for your msg…” “What’s going on in Paris?” Facebook suddenly discovers a new emergency "Safe" button it had been keeping hidden during yesterday's bombings.

A line in the film talks about “Attacks in Paris, Berlin, Brussels”. Paris has just been attacked. It’s the second time this year. 126 dead. Many Injured. We’re waiting for an update on the film. I begin crying. I can’t stop for the next two days. This time, it’s personal, rather than an abstract news story. Where’s the update? Don “I usually have a much thicker skin, but this time…” We work until five or six in the morning. 

The next morning, it doesn’t matter. I watch a minute of the new cut that has miraculously appeared on my hard drive. After thirty seconds, it’s too much to bear. Tears clog my eyes. I don’t know anyone that died in Paris. But I fear what will follow this- something very much like manhunts frequently depicted in the series, on a much larger scale. A pretext for yet another War on Terror. Another ten years of inhumane, self-serving, geopolitical nonsense about a place that is currently only relevant as a meeting point of armies and a testing ground for new, ever more advanced weaponry.

That it will be used as an excuse to cut back on civil liberties, on human rights. That we will invent a new class of human who does not require the application of these rights. That even more people will lose their homes and lives.

Symbolically, it is a carefully coordinated, highly visible attack by the Other- maybe not as different as they are represented- on the values that have been the bulwark of modern democracies for the past 200 years- liberté, fraternité and equality. In Arabic, Horreya, A7’aweyya we Mosawa’.

Ever since 1991, I've been hearing announcements of wars over media. And then, just as it seems to be over, or slips my attention, a new one is declared, or an old one continues. Has there ever been such a thing as a lasting peace? Will I ever witness it in my lifetime? 

Istanbul, November 14th 

If you ask anyone how are you they wont answer- they dont know how to answer.

I’m much too late for the journalism workshop I’m attending. I’m tired and haven’t slept. It’s a workshop on cultural policy. Very fitting, somehow. I’m shocked at how unfazed my  colleagues are at the events unfolding. On a whim, I show them our film. Again, I can’t sit through it without tears. 

I realise how close this story is to me. On January 07th, I was glued to the screen, following every news outlet for updates. It ruined a date for me. 

This time, I just switch off the news. I’ve heard the story too often, seen the images and heard the chatter, the discourse. I catch glimpses of the distraught, of the panic, of the fear in peoples eyes, the suspicion that such an attack brings with it, in the reports I watch. I hear the beginning of an alarmist rhetoric, polemic. Toxic. Potentially deadly. I need a drink or five, or ten. I end up getting all of them and locking myself in.

January hadn’t been enough- the public reaction had possibly been too differentiated, too united, maybe even too anti-government. A year of refugee “crisis”, sensationalist news reports about ISIS and other extremist organisations, the "fall" of the great left hope in Greece later, public opinion seems to have shifted towards, if not support, something that is not a wide opposition to a new war of ideologies. 

I had the image of a man sitting behind a huge desk in January, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, rubbing his hands together and celebrating "Compared to 9/11, that was easy". He must be really happy today.

Istanbul, November 16th

Hollande announces war in a pale imitation of George Bush’s “We will smoke them out” speech in 2001. After almost five years of inaction, the international community is “doing something” about Syria. Bombing what is left of the country to bits in another War on Terror. By now, I’m out of tears- cynicism has set in once more

ISIS appears to be a violent terrorist organisation, and very possibly, they have the worst of intentions. Possibly, they are the successors to the counterforce that Al Qaida became on two occasions- once in the cold war, and once the war grew cold. There is enough written about how they have been supported by Saudi Arabia, the US and other States who have an interest in the region for it to be considered extensive research and proof.

Many contradictory things happen in the coming weeks- a NATO alliance is formed, many nations who have so far been decrying the violence in Syria send forces to- temporarily, they say- increase the violence and collateral damage with a military intervention agains DAESH. Some British politician warns that this is going to be a long process. The opposing voice this time is vocal, but countered by a strong voice that supports such action and suspects at home.  

We decide not to alter the film- there are parts that are painfully ironic and cynical that hurt us. They remind us why we started making the film in the first place.

Berlin, November 17th

This one especially was written by an Egyptian- he’s pretending to be Syrian to get Asylum Papers.

My mother has sent me a poem I hadn't noticed yet. It is by Nizar Qabbani. It is a perfect end for this film and a perfect beginning for a new experiment. It may be old-fashioned and slightly orientalist, but calligraphy is something I have been doing for a large number of years now, without putting it to any use beyond my personal entertainment- and the occasional reminder of the beauty of the names of some women. I've borrowed a few cameras from Alex Berlin for a journalism workshop. We put them to use filming my hands. 

I realise I've started thinking of our output as the ASA episodically, almost as if we've turned into a TV series of our own. What I'm working on here may very well turn out to be the third episode. For a moment, I think we may include it in HNS. I realise this works better as an extension, and the message is different. And in about thirty languages.

It's going to be called "Lying on Camera.". 

November 20th

A group of gunmen, apparently affiliated to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb shoot 20 people at a hotel in Bamako, Mali. Heba had just been there last month. It's strange, in the context of the film, how these events keep following us around. I'm worried for Berlin and Brussels… and somehow, I'm glad when we are later asked to take them out of the film. 

November 30th

Not to know your own situation!

It's been more than a month since we started making this film, we realise. It has already come a lot further than we expected our crappy footage would take us- it has become a film in it's own right. I'm dying to adjust timings, to see the thing finished and as it exists in my head. 

Our editor, Ahmed Hanifa, the brother of Ammar, has worked a lot of magic on this. In spite of his ideosyncratic working style, he does not let us down and seems to know what we- three directors from very different backgrounds- want. If not that, what we need. We watch version after version, spend sleepless nights up, trimming, adding and subtracting tiny ideas. It's highly frustrating to have to wait for renders from Cairo every evening before making any kind of new decision. We're flying blind through the Berlin night and hoping that our dreams come true in Cairo.