art of resistance, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

Yemen | 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview.

kayai so what/Then What, painting by Louay Kayali/

An estimated 18.8 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 10.3 million who are in acute need. Escalating conflict since March 2015 has created a vast protection crisis in which millions face risks to their safety and basic rights, and are struggling to survive.

Even before March 25, 2015, when the conflict in Yemen escalated, the country faced enormous levels of humanitarian need, with 15.9 million people requiring some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance in late 2014. These needs stemmed from years of poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law – including widespread violations of human rights.

The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 25 October 2016, health facilities had reported almost 44,000 casualties (including nearly 7,100 deaths) – an average of 75 people killed or injured every day. These figures significantly undercount the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities after 19 months of war and many people’s inability to access healthcare at all.

Read the full report on Yemen here.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Najwan Darwish | We Never Stop.

301-dia-azzawi-red-sky-with-birds-1981-oil-on-canvas/Red Sky With Birds, by Dia al-Azzawi, 1981./

Najwan Darwish is a celebrated Palestinian poet, born in Jerusalem in 1978. Nothing More to Lose (published in 2014 and translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid), is his first collection of poetry to appear in English. We Never Stop is one of the poems from this (highly recommended) collection.

We Never Stop

I’ve got no country to return to
and no country to be banished from:
a tree whose roots
are a running river:
if it stops it dies
and if it doesn’t stop
it dies

I spent the best of my days
on the cheeks and arms of death
and the land I lost each day
I gained each day anew
The people had but a single land
while mine multiplied in defeat
renewed itself in loss
Its roots, like mine, are water:
if it stops it will wither
if it stops it will die
We’re both running

with a river of sunbeams
a river of gold dust
that rises from ancient wounds
and we never stop
We keep on running
never thinking to pause
so our two paths can meet

I’ve got no country to be banished from
and no country to return to:
stopping
would be the death of me

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art of resistance

In Defence Of M.I.A.

mia borders video/photo: ytb-prtsc, Borders video/

There has always been a lot of controversy about M.I.A. and her music, and most of the time for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t usually take time to write about it, but I feel it’s important to write something because it just doesn’t stop – by it I mean the shitstorm M.I.A. is facing.

Like it was nicely explained on Backwithpowerpower, it really doesn’t stop – from the dislikes she gets for posting photos of refugees and conditions they live in on Instagram, to debates about her headlining Afropunk. Sure, some of the criticism she has faced over the years is justified and it opened up space for conversations  that were much needed (I think Afropunk is in that category), but it’s also important to note that there was a lot of criticism over the years that wasn’t aimed to be constructive, but rather destructive (in relation to M.I.A.).

It wasn’t really about engaging with her, it wasn’t about having a discussion, it was about silencing her, discrediting her – in one fast move, usually. Of course, M.I.A. is a not a one-trick pony and cannot be discarded just like that. Her message resonates with many people, although they might not be the ones having the power in their hands and setting the course of mainstream conversations.

The first thing that comes to mind and is necessary to go back to again, is the famous article published in The New York Times six years ago, written by Lynn Hirschberg, titled M.I.A.’s Agitprop PopIt was the article that made M.I.A. say “fuck the New York Times” and that sentiment was not without a reason.

After it was published, M.I.A. posted two audio recordings from her interview, that she secretly taped. Hirschberg suerly didn’t expect that. In the published piece, M.I.A. is described as “eating a truffle-flavored French fry” as she mused about what type of artist she is. To be precise, here is the quote:

“‘I kind of want to be an outsider’, she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. ‘I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.'”

Now, if you are an observant reader, truffle-flavoured French fry is not just a small detail, it might tell you a lot about M.I.A.’s personality, it might tell you how she is, well, one of the fancy rich folks, pretending while talking about being an outsider and all.

The thing is, according to the tape M.I.A. posted after the interview was published, it was Hirschberg who introduced the concept of fry-ordering, and proposed the idea of a fancy treat. M.I.A. also tweeted Hirschberg’s phone number in response to the piece. Hirschberg said that was an unethical thing to do, but didn’t think it was surprising. “She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative”, she said about M.I.A.

But M.I.A. was just angry, because she felt that she was cheated on, that her story was distorted. Hirschberg’s own opinions and desire for a strong angle got in the way of her piece’s veracity. All the way through the nine page piece, it feels like she wants to discredit M.I.A., in a subtle way, writing things like:

“But many of her fans didn’t listen too closely to her lyrics, concentrating instead on the beat, the newness of the sound and her own multiculti, many-layered appeal. She was an instant indie darling (although Arular sold only 190,000 copies in the United States). Her songs were creative and abrasive in an intoxicating way, and it didn’t hurt that Maya was absolutely great looking. She quickly became a style icon: like that of all great pop stars, her anger and spirit of revolution was mitigated by sex.”

Now, that is what I am talking about. Hirschberg, whose main issues with M.I.A. are precisely her political lyrics, tries to downplay the importance of that part of M.I.A.’s work – saying how her fans don’t even listen closely to the lyrics. She also says how it’s basically all about her great looks. Sure, M.I.A. is beautiful, she has a unique style and there’s a cool vibe about it, but, her anger wasn’t and isn’t mitigated by sex (that is exactly why many people have issues with her).  In a song 20 dollar, from her second album Kala, M.I.A. raps:

People judge me so hard

’cause I don’t floss my titty set

I was born out of dirt like I’m porn in a skirt

I was a little girl who made good with all that I blurt

I put people on the map that never seen a map

I show ’em something they ain’t never seen

And hope they make it back

Saying M.I.A.’s politics don’t matter means being dismissive about the absolute core of her work, from day one. It’s also totally dishonest, as it is obvious in the part of the article where Hirschberg writes about the Born Free video:

“Seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube, which it was instantly, the video is set in Los Angeles where a vague but apparently American militia forcibly search out red-headed men and one particularly beautiful red-headed child. The gingers, as Maya called them, using British slang, are taken to the desert, where they are beaten and killed. The first to die is the child, who is shot in the head. While ‘Born Free’ is heard in the background throughout, the song is lost in the carnage. As a meditation on prejudice and senseless persecution, the video is, at best, politically naïve.”

So, first we will say that M.I.A.’s political message is not important at all, and then we will discard her on the basis of that political message. Hirschberg was not the only one to do that. In an article on Flavorwire, titled Is It Time To Give Up On M.I.A.? Judy Berman writes:

“The (ultraviolent, NSFW) music video (if you can call it that) for ‘Born Free’ brought M.I.A.’s political posturing to a new low. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the flap over the seemingly endless clip, it features military types rounding up and shooting redheads, including some particularly adorable children. While some were impressed with M.I.A. and director Romain-Gavras’ messaging, all we got out of the extreme visuals was this: ‘Genocide happens! And it’s bad! What if it happened to you?’ Next time, try telling us something we didn’t know… or at least leaving shocked viewers with some opportunity to get involved in efforts to stop mass murder around the world.”

So, many of the critics got on the bandwagon, saying M.I.A. is just superficial and provocative, and her work is pure political posturing – she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention. Now, this definition “she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention” can be applied to a great majority of pop stars today (although they will never be nailed to a cross, or even questioned for it), but it cannot be applied to M.I.A.

You don’t see a lot of pop stars doing what she’s doing to “get attention”, do you? You don’t see a lot of mainstream musicians making bold statements and taking a stand on various issues, through their music and their public appearance, do you? Sure, little moments happen from time to time, but they seem very calculated and thought out in order not to shake things up too much. So, why aren’t their PR experts telling them to do what M.I.A. does, if that has been working out so well for her?

Simply because – it’s risky, it will get you in trouble, it upsets the status quo (and status quo is good for business, and business is all that matters). But M.I.A. won’t stick to the rules of business. In Born Free, she raps:

Yeah I don’t wanna live for tomorrow

I push my life today

I throw this in your face when I see ya

I got something to say

I throw this shit in your face when I see ya

Cause I got something to say

We really ought to ask ourselves what we want from our public figures. Should we really aim all the criticism towards the ones who are trying to open up the debate, who are giving space to new voices, who offer us new and different perspectives, who make us think, or make us feel uncomfortable? Are we really going to analyze them in detail, tear them apart, make them disposable? Do we really want to magnify their flaws, present them as the main thing about their work?

And at the same time, we will not say anything about all of those who create music that supports the system, that questions nothing, music that is just a nice sound and nothing else, music that is one long lullaby to our brain. They are ok, the damage that they are doing we do not see and do not question. But from M.I.A. we will demand consistency, adherence to principles all the time, in everything she does. And if she makes one mistake, we will call her a fake and say it’s time to give up on her?

Sure, that doesn’t mean we shloudn’t talk about the issues that exist. I don’t like the fact that M.I.A. decided to be fronting a recycling campaign for H&M, a company that relies on sweatshops and cheap third world labour. Even if you want to say they are making an effort (recycling and all) there’s an issue there too – those who recycle their clothes at H&M, which allows you to turn in garments at its stores year round, get a voucher for a discount on their next purchase, giving them incentive to buy more clothes. So yeah, it’s an issue.

Also, criticism of M.I.A.’s headlining of Afropunk have some truth to them – it is an event conceived by Black people, for Black people. But is it really just her fault, or was it also the organizers, who invited her in the first place? Aren’t they also complicit in erasing Black talent in this case? Those questions also need to be asked and we need to think about them, the same way we need to think about the importance of Black-Brown solidarity.

Now, back to that interview published in The New York Times. In it, it was also emphasized how M.I.A. said that instead of giving peace a chance we should maybe give war a chance, a stance then connected to her “militaristic and rebelious character”. I think this could be discussed on so many levels. For example, watching the Democratic National Convention (!) last week, you could hear much more horrifying things than what M.I.A. has (ever?) said.

General John Allen went out to say (yell might be a better word for it), among other things: “To our enemies, we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us, we will defeat you”. I didn’t see much uproar about his and many other similar views expressed that night. If Hassan Rouhani yelled out something like that, it would be welcomed with terror. Because, you see, from the position of world dominance fueled with the (out of reality) idea of the “greatest nation in the world” it’s hard to recognize your own violent rethoric, your own exclusivity and aggression. That’s why it’s troubling to many when they hear lyrics like the ones in Bucky Done Gone from M.I.A.’s first album Arular:

Can I get control

Do you like me vulnerable

I’m armed and I’m equal

More fun for the people

Recently, M.I.A. has been criticised for her comments about Beyoncé and the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed in the interview in the Evening Standard. “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me – it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s”, she said.

She later added: “Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.” Since the piece was published M.I.A. has clarified her position, saying she wasn’t criticising Beyoncé directly, or BLM, and that her point was that only certain issues are allowed to be discussed on “American platforms”.

What she is really questioning is American exception and hegemony, the larger American imperialist structure. Now, this is where we need to talk about unity, about the way the oppressed people can recognize each other’s struggles and the way their struggles are connected. It’s a chance to talk about the multiple layers of oppression that make up the complex realities we live in. Because it’s not only about racism, it’s not only about imperialism, it’s not only about capitalism, it’s not only about patriarchy. It’s about all of it combined. That is the struggle. Neither one of those alone can serve as a lens to understand all forms of power and all the issues we face – it is just not that simple. We need to recognize that in order to develop true solidarity.

As Akiba Solomon writes in Yes! Magazine, “My lips, so accustomed to spitting out ‘White supremacy’ and ‘racism,’ never once considered ‘patriarchy’ as a way to explain why things were so fucked up for people who were not White, heterosexual, able-bodied, traditionally masculine, cisgender males with money. This was true even as I saw the women closest to me doing feminist work.”

And finally, when it comes to M.I.A., I think one of the most important things about her is (one) that she is holding a mirror and (two) she is trying to own her story. And she won’t be silenced, she won’t play the game politely, she won’t be a puppet. Yeah, she’s flawed, and who isn’t? Unlike many, I think she’s actually willing to talk about it. You may not like what she has to say, and so what? That’s Karmageddon, baby.

Things do change and change can have range

System shouldn’t operate by sticking me in a cage

Ain’t Dalai Lama

Ain’t Sai Baba

My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma

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art of resistance, Syria

Gylan Safadi: Paint It Black.

safadi3/artwork © Gylan Safadi/

Gylan Safadi is a Syrian artist, born in Soueida in 1977.  He is a graduate of Damascus University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and has lived and worked in Syria until couple of years ago, when he moved to Lebanon.

Prior to 2012, Safadi’s work was characterized by strong colors, but that changed with the escalating war and  horror in Syria. As he put it one of his interviews, he just couldn’t paint in colors anymore.

safadi4

Painting in black seemed real, it seemed true to the way things were. Painting became Safadi’s way to salvage the memories of faces, friends, dreams, and experiences amidst the destruction of war in Syria.

“All that surrounds me is colorless, only scorched memories come to me and I try to gather their shreds on my canvas before they are blown away”, Safadi explained in an interview with Skeyes.

safadi5

I find these images so powerful, a real testimony of pain, despair, uncertainty. It shows how war looks like, how it feels, and it just might be a little less easy for us to turn our heads away from this.

safadi/all images © Gylan Safadi/

You can find out more about Safadi and find more of his work on his Facebook page.

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art of resistance, Turkey

The Last Dance of Tarlabasi.

effendi1

This week, Istanbul on my mind. So much change in the last couple of years. In Istanbul, in Turkey, in countries around Turkey. A terrifying game of dominos, it seems.

I thought about Rena Effendi’s work The Last Dance of Tarlabasidone in 2011. It makes me nostalgic because that is when and where I first time fell in love with Istanbul.  With Effendi’s great work, Tarlabasi and its magic remain captured in time.

In spite of its run-down looks and reputation for widespread crime, Tarlabasi was a culturally vibrant neighborhood kaleidoscope – populated by Kurdish migrant workers from Anatolia, Roma gypsies, Greeks and African immigrants – from devout Muslims to trans-gender sex workers.

effendi3

But a big change happened – in 2011, Beyoglu municipality began a series of forced evictions – following the government’s plan for city “beautification”. Effendi described how as a result of this urban development initiative, many of the current Tarlabasi residents were being “bought out” and ordered to leave, as their homes are demolished to accommodate the construction of upscale residences.

Entire building blocks in Tarlabasi have been sold off to private companies, transforming the streets into ghostly barracks, pending reconstruction. Many of the neighborhood’s residents, their faces and lifestyles did not fit in with the new, “modern”, mandated look of Tarlabasi.

effendi6

Last Dance of Tarlabasi is a visual tale of this neighborhood and the way it struggled to survive the ruthless pace of Istanbul’s urban change.

All of this is captured very well in a sentence told by Ali Ber, a 45-year-old Kurdish migrant from Mardin. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years; all my children grew up here. Why should I leave? If they want to make Tarlabasi better, why can’t I be part of it?”, Ber asked.

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How is the story of Tarlabasi revelant today, five years later? How is it relevant after the recent terrorist attacks in Instabul?

It is relevant because it shows what today’s world values, what capitalism values. Most of the people are getting eaten by the machine of capitalism, we are being crushed and squeezed, with very little place to breathe, to live decent lives.

We live in a time of crisis that cannot be fixed within the capitalist framework. Creating more and more fear is the method that is being used  – since most of the world’s leaders and politicians don’t seem to care for (long-term) solutions.

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People being pushed out of their homes, people dying in terrorist attacks, people being forced to work for way less than a minimum wage (it is slavery, so call it slavery), people jumping off bridges because they can’t pay the rent, people begging on streets, people selling kidneys to pay for their children’s education, people who dare to cross the sea in boats that look like walnut shells because there’s no safe ground for them, people who still don’t know where their children (their bodies) are because they happened to be at a wrong corner, at a wrong time, with wrong skin on their bodies and wrong language coming out of their mouth, people who live and die each day to see what wars (war on terror, war on drugs, war on war) look like on the ground, in reality – all of these people are the victims, and all of their stories are connected.

We are being forced to see these problems in a deeply fragmented way (which is exactly how the ruling classes of our time want us to see it),  but we need to move beyond fragments and see how things are connected, how we are connected.

And when you think about things that way, it is easy to realize that we are all (well, 99 percent of us at least) dancing the last dance of Tarlabasi.

//all photos © Rena Effendi//

For more on Effendi and her work, go to her official website.

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art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

Ghayath Almadhoun: The Details.

4Safwan_Dahoul/art by Safwan Dahoul/

Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian poet born in Damascus, Syria, in 1979, and living in Stockholm since 2008. With the Syrian poet Lukman Derky, he founded Bayt al-Qasid (House of Poetry), a space for freewheeling expression in Damascus.

Almadhoun has published three collections of poetry, the latest in Beirut in 2014. In Sweden, his poetry has been translated and published in two collections, and awarded the Klas de Vylders stipendiefond for immigrant writers.

The following is Almadhoun’s poem The Details. This translation for The Details was originally published in Tripwire Journal.

Do you know why people die when they are pierced by a bullet?
Because 70% of the human body is made up of water
Just as if you made a hole in a water tank.

Was it a random clash dancing at the head of the alley when I passed
Or was there a sniper watching me and counting my final steps?

Was it a stray bullet
Or was I a stray man even though I’m a third of a century old?

Is it friendly fire?
How can it be
When I’ve never made friends with fire in my life?

56-264168-safawan-dahoul-dream-80-180-x-200-cm.-acrylic-on-canvas-2014

Do you think I got in the way of the bullet
Or it got in my way?
So how am I supposed to know when it’s passing and which way it will go?

Is an encounter with a bullet considered a crash in the conventional sense
Like what happens between two cars?
Will my body and my hard bones smash its ribs too
And cause its death?
Or will it survive?

Did it try to avoid me?
Was my body soft?
And did this little thing as small as a mulberry feel female in my maleness?

The sniper aimed at me without bothering to find out that I’m allergic to snipers’ bullets
And it’s an allergy of a most serious kind, and can be fatal.

The sniper didn’t ask my permission before he fired, an obvious example of the lack of civility that has become all too common these days.

For more on Almadhoun’s poetry, visit Cabaret Wittgenstein. For more of Safwan Dahoul’s art, visit Ayyam Gallery.

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