Digital technology and the migration of people have resulted in multi cultural societies, in which traditions are perceived to be threatened. In order to visually communicate in a globalised world, cultural bridges must be built while still preserving heritage and identity. Therefore a new form of social visual communication is needed. Abdellatif, while adopting a bi-lingual and multi-cultural approach, explores a number of challenges in developing this new form of communication, including whether Arabic calligraphy/typography can visually communicate with viewers from different backgrounds and whether a balance can be found between Arabic and Western graphic design, in particular with regard to typography.

This research will be primarily achieved through the use of type and image and it might take different forms varying from editorial design to installation using the multi-cultural setting of Dublin.


Essay 1 – On graphic design

Between Dominance and Fusion:

The Way Forward for non-Western Graphic Design

This essay will explore to what extent non-Western design, and in particular Arabic design has been influenced by the West. In order to gain some insight in the development of graphic design in Western context I will provide a short history of Western graphic design indicating key moments. Then I will turn to spheres of influence for non-Western graphic design including Orientalism, Colonialism and Westernization. These will be the departure points for my essay. I will then construct my argument on patterns and trends in these spheres of influence in relation to non-Western graphic design and will look to what extent non-Western, especially Arabic design has been shaped by the West. I will conclude this essay with the identification of the need for a global discourse on non-Western design.

Western Graphic Design History

It was not until 1922, when the designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic design’ to describe his activities as “ an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications, that an emerging profession received an appropriate name.”[1]

Philip Meggs then defines graphic design as “… the art and profession of selecting and arranging visual elements—such as typography, images, symbols, and colours—to convey a message to an audience.” Graphic design being part of the field of visual communications has expanded into e.g. book design, logo and corporate identity, branding and website design and print media.

Graphic design is often linked to type and image of time periods and can therefore reflect political, social and economical contexts. This is supported by Meggs in his book A History of Graphic Design:

When looking at and studying graphic design we think of the word Zeitgeist, referring to the cultural trends and tastes to a given era, the immediacy and ephemeral nature of graphic design, combined with its link to the social, political and economic life of its culture, enable it to more closely express the Zeitgeist of an epoch than can many other forms of human expression.[2]

A time period that reflects this Zeitgeist are the early decades of the 20th century which brought about immense change on every level of society. It was a time of major technological development with for example the invention of the motorcar in 1885, the development of motion pictures in 1896 and the introduction of aviation in 1903.

However, two major periods of influence that affected every aspect of human life were the two world wars and the destruction brought by them. As a consequence of these technological and political events and developments, visual arts also under went dramatic changes which were reflected in the art movements of that era including, Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl and Constructivism and which directly influenced graphic design and visual communication.

A clear example is Futurism formulated by Philippo Marinetti and which was opposed to Italy’s neo-classical period. Furthermore Futurism was the artistic vehicle for the emerging Italian fascists under Mussolini. Marinetti explains the Futurist approach as follow:

The book will be the futurist expression of our futurist consciousness. I’m against what is known as the harmony of a setting. When necessary we shall use three or four columns to a page and twenty different type faces, we shall represent nasty perceptions in italic and express a scream in bold types… a new, painterly, typographic representation will be born out of the printed page.[3]

Marinetti’s approach is visible in the Futurism’s Parole in Libertà. In his poem Marinetti created a new visual language or the interpretation of the spoken word through typographic expression which became a very important source of inspiration to following artists and writers.[4].

Another example of political events that influence graphic design is the rise of the German Empire and World War II. These events are visible in the Plakatstil which was a response to the changed need of communication during the rise of Hitler. One leading designer of this Plakatstil school was Ludwig Hohlwein who succeeded in executing Hitler’s ideas such as “master race” in an outstanding visual interpretation. (Basson: 59-60).

It was only after WWII and well into the 1960s with the introduction of the International Typographic Style and American design that graphic design appeared to have spread around the globe and an international dialogue seemed to have started. Well-known graphic designers who exerted immense creative influence through their work were the Swiss Max Bill, Jusef Muller-Brockmann and Armin Hoffmann for example, who with other graphic designers developed the International Typographic Style.

The concepts of Colonialism, Orientalism and Westernisation in a visual context

For the purpose of this essay I will explain the concepts of Colonialism, Orientalism and Westernization to the extent that it is applicable to graphic design.

In this essay Colonialism serves as the overall concept and theory of spheres of influence that it is often described and perceived as the exploitation and dominance of economic, social and cultural power over another people. In order to understand the role of colonialism it is important to understand the intention and ideology of the colonisers. Mirzoeff explains the role and intention of the colonisers:

The colonial power always claimed that their role centered around the three C’s listed by the missionary David Livingstone: Commerce, Christianity and Civilization. In order to support the colonial powers’ intentions they developed an immensely productive visual colonialism range from maps, photographs and paintings to collection of indigenous arts and crafts.[5]

Although colonialism obviously has had a major impact in the world, another concept of importance, especially to the Middle East has been ‘Orientalism’, a term that was introduced by Edward Said.[6] In Orientalism Said applied Michel Foucault’s technique of discourse analysis to the production of knowledge about the Middle East. Said explains concepts, assumptions, and practices that were used to produce, interpret, and understand knowledge of non-Western people, and in particular the Orient. Although Said’s Orientalism only directly relates to the Middle East and parts of Asia and its inhabitants, the analysis of representation, concepts and assumptions can be easily translated to other parts of the non-Western world.[7] Furthermore, Orientalism can be used not only to explain political, economical and social power relationships but also cultural relationships and therefore the concept of Orientalism is useful for linking it to visual arts with attention to visual communication.

Westernization is a phenomenon that affects the entire Middle East. According to Raphael Patai as cited by Melissa Plourde Khoury and Tarek E. Khoury in their article Cultural Identity Crisis Within Contemporary Graphic Design Case Study: Lebanon, “For the last two or three decades the manifestations of Westernization in the Middle East have literally forced themselves upon the attention of students of the area … it would be a relatively simple task to draw up a long list showing what traditional features in Middle Eastern culture have been replaced in the course of the past 100 or 150 years by what new features introduced from the West”[8]

Buck-Morss further supports this view and argues that:

Western scientific and cultural hegemony was the intellectual reality of the first five hundred years of globalization, lasting from the beginning of European colonial expansion to the end of the Soviet modernizing project. It will not remain hegemonic in the next millennium.[9]

One can argue that Buck-Morss herewith balances the concepts of westernization, colonialism and globalization.

The current phase of Western scientific and cultural hegemony as presented by Buck-Morss is globalization. This era of globalisation, in which communication is the medium of exchange, presses technologically toward transforming the social relations of knowledge production and distribution. Visual communication exists within this transitional space.

Visual Colonialism

Although visual colonialism was already present in the early colonial period as indicated earlier and varied from maps to photographs and drawings, it has even come more to the front in the period of modernity and post-modernity, mainly because of the political and technological developments that have been outlined previously as well as the approach that has been adopted by the West.

Just as in colonial times, when the colonial power claimed to know the best way of doing everything – whether in the field of education, laws, or social relations, and then imposed its practices upon its subjects, today formerly colonized peoples are being taught how to be modern. The only thing that really differs is the approach itself. Modernity does not simply indicate “new” as opposed to “old,” but implies “better,” “advanced,” “efficient,” “mature,” “successful” and “improved” as opposed to “inferior,” “backward,” “ineffective,” “primitive” “failed” and “outdated.” (Thomas)

In postmodern graphic design the clarity and order have been challenged. As explained previously graphic design represents time periods and therefore is linked to social and political meaning. The term “postmodernism” does not always fit the pluralistic and diverse styles of graphic design that currently exist throughout the world. Consequently the non-Western graphic designers have been forced to change their standards up to those of Western postmodernism but are limited in using advanced technological tools to execute their ideas.  These limitations emerge in the use of non-Latin scripts and typography.  These limitations have come to the forefront in a comprehensive study and experiments to integrate non-Western scripts into graphic design. This study and project called Typographic Matchmaking initiated by the Dutch-Lebanese graphic designer Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares in the Netherlands to create legible Arabic fonts that communicate the design needs of contemporary design in the Arab world. Each Dutch designer was asked to select an appropriate font from their own-developed typefaces, and then in collaboration with an Arab partner to design a matching Arabic version. These selections of Latin fonts addressed diverse design applications and type design approaches, consequently creating a much-needed variety of contemporary Arabic typefaces.[10]

Non-Western design and how it is being influenced

Type, image, and technology are key features of graphic design influenced by the west. It is argued that digital technology facilitated the non-western graphic design development through the enormous progress in computer technology. However, software as well as output devices which enable non-western graphic designers to achieve virtually identical results to conventional working methods, for instance Arabic calligraphy, still lack authenticity and elegance. Blankenship paraphrasing Petsopoulos:

Latin letters can be perceived as formal, impersonal, rigid, separate, symmetrical, static, gray, geometric, vertical and mechanical. Most of these characteristics of Latin letters complement technology and its commercial applications. On the other hand, Arabic calligraphy can be traced through a chain of masters each of whom labored countless hours in patient imitation of their predecessors.[11]

Although Basson (2007:68) comments that rapid technological development facilitated the exchange of design and in the 1990s a new cultural milieu of simultaneity was created where Eastern and Western thought were fused with electronic and computer technology to create a pluralistic era for graphic design, this has appeared to be, once again a Eurocentric or Western approach as non-Western designers in practice are either forced to adapt or otherwise will be marginalised in their design activities as Smithuijzen Abi Fares indicated earlier.

This has actually resulted in a gap between the style which has been developed in the West and the local traditional style which was seeking to communicate to another audience. This gap is due to the limitation and difficulties of the use of traditional non-western script on a computer-based design following the western standards.  So whereas it is argued that a fusion could take place due to the conducive globalised environment, often the opposite has been true. This view becomes clearer when one looks at the existing consumer culture around graphic design which is directly linked to the notion of capitalism.

For example in advertising, when a graphic designer is working to achieve a corporate identity design or a product packaging design it is crucial to attract the consumer with a certain message executed during the design process, regardless the content of the product. This process is connected to the notion of consumerism. Nicholas Mirzoeff comments:

Consider a driver on a typical…highway. The progress of a vehicle is dependent on a series of visual judgments made by the driver concerning the relative speed of other vehicles, and any manoeuvres necessary to complete the journey. At the same time he or she is bombarded with other information: traffic lights, road signs, local time and temperature and so on. Yet most people consider the process so routine that they play music to keep from getting bored. (Basson: 26)

This growing link between graphic design -in particular advertising as it constitutes a large part of the graphic design industry- and consumer culture, influences non-western graphic designers especially in the Middle East. The western products are scattered all over the region, in supermarkets, households, schools, restaurants, book stores and so on, western brands are sold within every possible sort of commodity, with every new import there is a threat to the survival of the authentic local visual culture. This is a result of two elements. Firstly the Western notions of capitalism and globalisation that have been enforced on ‘the other’, while secondly, western products are perceived to be ‘better’, ‘more advanced’ and ‘higher quality’.

Graphic designers have a significant role to play in determining the design style and challenge the westernization of the visual communication aspects. According to Edward Said in his book Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient as cited by Sherry Blankenship “…during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries an assumption had been made the Orient and everything in it was, if not patently inferior to, then in need for a corrective study by the west.” (Blankenship:60-63). This suggestion of the west guardianship over non-western cultures has resulted in polarization and limitation of human interaction between different cultures.

This has become very clear in graphic design. For example, the name that has been given to foreign scripts as “Non-Latin” fonts depicts a Eurocentric approach, forcing the notion of the “other”, “inferior”, “peripheral” This view is supported by Peter Bil’ak a Dutch Type designer who clearly states that “…most of the existing typographic classification systems also apply exclusively to Latin type. In catalogues of the traditional type foundries such as French Imprimerie Nationale, the house of Garamond, Didot and Romain du Roi, typefaces other than Latin referred as “Orientales”. Most contemporary digital type foundries such as Monotype call these fonts “Non-Latin.” These terms certainly have rather colonial overtones, suggesting the idea of “the others”, describing foreign scripts in negative terms as “non-European”.[12]

Although there have been some minor initiatives to break the rules of western dominant graphic design in some parts of the world, the one country to challenge Europe’s graphic design takeover was Japan. The Japanese wood-block prints became a source of inspiration for many European impressionist painters in France and the rest of the West, and eventually for Art Nouveau and Cubism. According to Martin Fox, former editor in chief of PRINT magazine mentioned that the only other non-European example confronted western graphic design was Brazil. [13]


As a result of prolonged periods of influence of the West on non-western societies through respectively colonialism, westernization and globalization, non-western graphic designers have either been forced to adapt or lagged behind because of the Western dominance in social, political, economical and cultural aspects of life.

Non-western typography and in a culture like the Middle East with such a rich calligraphic design tradition, typography has failed to catch up or was seen as ‘inferior’ in the past as did book, magazine & newspaper design.

The lack of theory and praxis on how to make Arabic-in-print readable and beautiful as well as effective graphic design has pushed the designers toward a global discourse on non-western fonts and design. So far this has resulted in joint projects or new design competitions in Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek and Indic scripts. This would pave the way for a true ‘fusion’ of graphic design where culture and identity are mutually respected and the notion of ‘the other’ will belong to the past.


Basson, EL. Popular Visual Culture, University of South Africa, Pretoria 2007

Bil’ak Peter. ‘A view of Latin typography in relationship to the world’, Typotheque Essays,12. Mar. 2010.

Blankenship, Sherry. ‘Cultural Considerations: Arabic Calligraphy and Latin Typography’, Design Issues, Vol. 19, No. 2. Spring, 2003.

Buck-Morss, Susan. ‘Visual Studies and Global Imagination’, Papers of Surrealism 2, 14.Apr.2010.

Fox, Martin. vol. 38/no. 6, vol. 41/no. 6, Issue 1, Retrieved from Ebscohost database.

Helfand, Jessica. ‘Electronic Typography: The New Visual Language’, Typotheque Essays, 16. Apr. 2010.

Hohlwein, Ludwig. UND DU?, 1929, Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Collection, 26. Apr. 2010.

McComb, Don. Dada Typography: Patterns of experimentation with graphic design 1912-1930, Iowa City, University of Iowa, 1988.

Michel, Thomas. ‘New Forms of Colonization in the World Today’, Society of Jesus Articles, 26. Apr. 2010,

Meggs, PB. ‘Graphic Design Summary’, BookRags, 22. Apr. 2010.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. ‘visual colonialism/visual transculture’, The visual culture reader Routledge, 2002

Plourde Khoury, Melissa and Tarek E. Khoury. Cultural Identity Crisis Within Contemporary Graphic Design Case Study: Lebanon, 16. Apr. 2010.

Said, Edward. Orientalism, UK: Penguin 2003.

Smitshuijzen, Abi Fares Huda. Typographic Matchmaking, Amsterdam: BIS 2007.

[1] Philip Meggs , “Graphic Design Summary”, BookRags, 22. Apr. 2010 <;

[2] E L Basson, Popular Visual Culture, (University of South Africa, Pretoria 2007) 46-47.

[3] Don McComb, Dada Typography: Patterns of experimentation with graphic design 1912-1930, (The University of Iowa, Iowa City 1988) 11.

[4] Jessica Helfand, ‘Electronic Typography: The New Visual Language’ Typotheque Essays, 16. Apr. 2010,

[5] Nicholas Mirzoeff, ‘visual colonialism/visual transculture’, The visual culture reader. (Routledge, 2002) 474

[6] Edward Said, Orientalism, (UK, Penguin 2003)

[7] Thomas Michel, ‘New Forms of Colonization in the World Today’, Society of Jesus Articles, 26. Apr. 2010,

[8] Melissa Plourde Khoury and Tarek E. Khoury, Cultural Identity Crisis Whithin Contemporary Graphic Design Case Study: Lebanon, 16. Apr. 2010

[9] Susan Buck-Morss, ‘Visual Studies and Global Imagination’, Papers of Surrealism 2, 14.Apr.2010,

[10] Huda Smitshuijzen Abi Fares, Typographic Matchmaking, (Amsterdam, BIS 2007) 21

[11] Sherry Blankenship, ‘Cultural Considerations: Arabic Calligraphy and Latin Typography’, Design Issues, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 2003) 60-63.

[12] Peter Bil’ak, a view of Latin typography in relationship to the world, Typotheque Essays,12. Mar.2010.

[13] Martin Fox, vol. 38/no. 6, vol. 41/no. 6, Issue 1, Ebscohost database

Essay 2 – Exile

[…] the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it began to be based on another practice – politics.


Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The aim of this essay is to explore the connection between Palestinian art and its politics, to examine whether there is a place to escape the language of politics in art in the Palestinian context. In order to gain some insight into this subject, it is important to look at the historical and cultural transformation that the Palestinians endured, in particular, the condition of ‘exile’, that was created as a result of The Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948 and its fallout[1], where the entire nation became subject to some of the harshest colonial conditions ever imposed. Nearly every event the Palestinians have suffered since is a result of this misfortune.

This essay will explore the type of art that emerged in Palestine as a result of the prolonged struggle for freedom and liberation. To do so, it is helpful to use Walter Benjamin’s approach to analyze and understand the interrelation of political and artistic developments. The condition of exile, yet another form of oppression, is one of the very specific political conditions that informs the type of art that Palestinians have developed over the years, as well as their choice for specific subject matters. In this instance, art has become the perfect medium for the idea of liberation. Edward Said describes exile as

[…] strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.[2]

Exile in the Palestinian context does not only include those five million who live in a ‘foreign land’ –or the diaspora- and are no longer allowed to return, but it also includes the five million who still live in the country (in Israel and in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and Gaza). Said in his essay Reflections on Exile argues that the displacement experienced by exiles in the foreign land calls for a reconstruction of their historical past as a way to find a ‘common ground’ where they can identify as a group, overcoming their solitude. Thus in the Palestinian context, exiles who live outside the country identify with the refugees or displaced people living inside the country, hence those refugees are also living an exilic condition, for both groups the ‘common ground’ is the Palestinian cause, the dispossession of the place of origin. But what does it mean to have a common ground in this context, and in relation to art? An interesting artistic manifestation for this situation can be seen in the work of Mary Tuma, a Palestinian-American artist who lives and works in the United States. In her installation piece Homes for the Disembodied – exhibited at the Station Museum in Houston in 2003- she created a fifty yards of black chiffon to design five connected dresses, hung in the exhibition space, casting a shadow on current events, real, but dispossessed, disembodied as she suggests. Tuma has created these dress forms “so that those who couldn’t go back would have a place to dwell when they eventually returned.”[3] The notion of ‘return’ that was represented in Tuma’s work is the ‘common ground’, the link that connect the inside with the outside, the idea that never escapes the mind of the person who lives in exile, the bond that unites them to overcome the gap forced “between the self and its true home.”

Walter Benjamin then argued in his essay The Author as Producer that the author must revolutionise artistic technique to give it a political function within contemporary production relations[4]. Just like the author in Benjamin’s essay, so too the Palestinian artists, working under the severe sociopolitical circumstances of the Israeli occupation, are making significant contributions, transforming their artistic means to transmit a political meaning, in other words giving their work a ‘political function’. For these artists, the urgency of mere survival and continued resistance is most pertinent to their work, their art lies, rather, “in the act of reaching beyond the art context to capture a form of collective political expression.”[5]

Another example from modern history where politics and art are intertwined can be found in Apartheid South Africa. This case traces how art was affected by the exilic condition of South African people. The view that art has a social responsibility was one that dominated artistic production in South Africa in the 1980s. “It was the (exiled) African National Congress’ (ANC) official policy that art should be used as a weapon in the political struggle for liberation.”[6] At an arts conference Culture in Another South Africa (CASA) held in Amsterdam in 1987, it was stated that a person is first part of the struggle and only then a cultural worker or artist[7]. The result of this position was ‘committed’ or ‘protest art’, art that wanted to resist the political oppression at the time to speak of hope and liberation. Albie Sachs, a South African ANC member and an author, argued that

In the case of a real instrument of struggle, there is no room for ambiguity: a gun is a gun is a gun, and if it were full of contradictions, it would fire in all sorts of directions and be useless for its purpose. But the power of art lies precisely in its capacity to expose contradictions and reveal hidden tension  – hence the danger of viewing it as if it were just another kind of missile-firing apparatus.[8]

Sachs statement sparked a long debate about the social responsibilities of art. Some felt that art should continue to serve political liberation until liberation actually materializes; others felt that art should be free to express what it wants. Some argued that assigning art a social responsibility was simply an excuse for censorship and prescriptiveness.

This heated debate that took place in South Africa during the apartheid period in the 80’s can be compared to what happened during the 70’s and 80’s -in fact is still happening today- in Palestine. Joseph Massad describes in his article Permission to paint: Palestinian art and the colonial encounter how The Union of Palestinian Artists UPA was established in 1970 in Beirut and how they engaged in the major debates on aesthetics and the nature of liberation art. As a result, the UPA established the Al-Karamah Gallery to exhibit the works of Palestinian artists, but that was targeted for destruction by Israeli bombers.[9] This systematic destruction of Palestinian culture practiced by Zionism has inspired Palestinian artists to work in a conceptual manner as an intense reaction to oppression. This conforms to what critic Brian O’Doherty wrote in Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1970), “As Modernism gets older, context becomes content.”[10] The context is essential in assessing Palestinian art today, and allows us to review artworks critically.

In essence, the condition of ‘Exile’ has created significant political tendency in all aspects of life, of course art was no exception. Palestinian artists have been engaged in major contemporary art exhibitions, from international Biennales in Europe to Latin America, from New York to Japan, telling familiar and unfamiliar stories differently. They “embod [y] the historical experience of their people in aesthetic works.”[11]

The link between politics and art is further explored by Samia Halaby. Halaby another Palestinian artist in exile identifies the “Liberation Art” period that came into prominence in the second half of the 20th century in both Palestine and its diaspora in her book Liberation Art of Palestine. Her book provides both words and pictures of Palestinian resistance. It is itself an example of the struggle.

Palestinian artists, just like liberation artists from Latin America and South Africa in the 1960’s and 1970’s,[12] were concerned with the unstable political conditions in their countries and discovered an art that is affiliated with ideology and politics and serves as a means to take positions on political struggle and broadly elevate political concerns. Edward Said asserted that

It is no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinement and ravages of imperialism, has now shifted from the settled, established and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered and exilic energies, energies whose incarnation today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile[13]

This transformation of the liberation as “an intellectual mission” is of importance as it draws the links between liberation and artists in exile. It shows that a new energy has been created to confront any type of domination; the exilic person has now become significant and rather influential, having the potential to use this energy.  In Palestine, confrontation is not only against colonialism or Israeli occupation but has elevated to different levels including the confrontation with the “Palestinian Authority”[14], which has narrowed the Palestinian perception of the idea of liberation of Palestine. An example that confirms this, is the work of Jawad Ibrahim,[15] especially his cartoon art in which he criticises the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.

Among the events that have coloured mainstream Palestinian politics and culture was the Second Intifada, which erupted in 2000 declaring the unofficial end of the peace process that started in 1993 in Oslo[16]. When the Second Intifada began, conditions in the West bank and Gaza dramatically deteriorated. This moment of transformation marks an important development in the recent history of Palestine. Israel ‘s war against the Palestinians continues to target all aspects of their physical, spiritual, and cultural lives. Whether living in their colonized homeland or as refugees outside it. Palestinians continue to refuse to surrender their aesthetic sensibilities. Given that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is long lasting, it is noticeable that Palestinian artists have the elements of the conflict at the core of their artworks. As Victor Burgin argues, “we must accept the responsibility of producing an art which has more than Art as its content”.[17] This is further demonstrated by Larissa Sansour who works mostly with video. Her projects deal with Palestinian political reality, and the ways it impacts on the conditions of everyday life. Her video installation Soup Over Bethlehem featured in International Istanbul Biennial 2009 deals with exile, occupation, victimhood and identity.[18]

Likewise, Walter Benjamin argued in his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that the autonomous work of art loses its traditional status (its ‘aura’) as an effect of mechanical reproduction. Art is thereby removed from the realm of ritual to that of politics. Benjamin felt that the task of the proletariat and the task of the revolutionary intellectual -being the Palestinian intellectual in exile for that matter- were “to make the continuum of history explode.”[19] This view can be established in relation to the exilic Palestinian artist, his mission is to reveal the significance of the present historical instant, and to analyze the explosive convergence of past and future in the presence of the now, so that it can be transformed.

An interesting representation for this view is visible in the work of Emily Jacir, A Palestinian artist who lives between New York and Ramallah, who explained that the project Crossing Surda 2003 -a record of going to and from work- exists because an Israeli soldier threatened her and put an M-16 into her temple. Jacir says she “was filming her feet with a video camera at a checkpoint that day. If I had not had this direct threatening experience this piece would not exist.”[20]

It seems there is no danger-free zone when it comes to art and politics, especially in the case of Palestine. The examples provided above are thus clearly steeped in politics. Palestinian artists, with new energies have confronted all forms of domination. Art at this point, is the art of liberation, for it has the ability to transform, transverse and transmit moral signals and aesthetic values to a still-colonised people. As long as their land is occupied, there is no place where Palestinians can escape the language of politics. Moreover, for art to be independent of politics under these circumstances, the starting point is not a resolution of the conflict and the just fulfillment of all Palestinian claims, but rather the de-colonization of Palestine from this archetypal colonial alternation of the conventional colonialism.[21] The question remains, what Palestinian art would look like after the end of the Israeli occupation?


Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Author as Producer’, Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott. ed. Peter Demetz. New York: Schocken Books 1978

iKSV, ‘Larissa Sansour’, What Keeps Mankind Alive?, Istanbul: iKSV 2010

Institute for Middle East Understanding, ‘Mary Tuma: Artist and professor’ accessed Oct 23rd 2010

Kazis, Richard. ‘Benjamin’s age of mechanical reproduction’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, accessed Oct 23rd 2010

Massad, Joseph. ‘Permission to paint: Palestinian art and the colonial encounter’, Art Journal, accessed Oct 20th 2010

O’Doherty, Brian. ‘Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space, Part I’, Society of Control, accessed Oct 20th 2010

Prince, Mark. ‘Art & Politics’, Art Monthly, Issue 330, Oct 2009

Roy, Sara. Falling Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, London: Pluto Press 2007

Sabella, Steve. ‘Engaging the Viewer: Emily Jacir and Palestinian Conceptual Art’, accessed Oct 15th

Said, Edward. Representations of the Intellectual, New York: Vintage 1996

Said, Edward. ‘Movements and Migrations’, Culture and Imperialism, London: Chatto & Windus 1993

Said, Edward. ‘Reflections on Exile’, Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays, London: Granta Books 2001

Watt, Lies van der. ‘Art History Today’, Visual Literacy, Pretoria: University of South Africa UNISA 2005

Wise Michael Z. ‘Border Crossings between Art and Life’, Arabic Nadwah, Pub Jan 30th 2009 New York Times, accessed Oct 27th 2010

[1] Every year Palestinians commemorate the Nakba “the catastrophe”: the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948. In 1948 more than 60 percent of the total Palestinian population was expelled. More than 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and completely destroyed. To date, Israel has prevented the return of approximately six million Palestinian refugees, who have either been expelled or displaced.

[2] Edward Said, ‘Reflections on Exile’, Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays (London: Granta Books, 2001) p.173

[3] Institute for Middle East Understanding, ‘Mary Tuma: Artist and professor’ accessed Oct 23rd at

[4] Walter Benjamin, ‘The Author as Producer’, Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott. ed. Peter Demetz. (New York: Schocken Books, 1978) p. 220-238

[5] Mark Prince, ‘Art & Politics’, Art Monthly, Issue 330, October 2009

[6] Lies van der Watt, ‘Art History Today’, Visual Literacy, (Pretoria: University of South Africa UNISA, 2005) p.89

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, p.90

[9] Joseph Massad, ‘Permission to paint: Palestinian art and the colonial encounter’, Art Journal, Fall 2007, Vol. 66 Issue 3, p.126-33, accessed Oct 20th at

[10] Brian O’Doherty Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space, Part I, accessed Oct 20th at

[11] Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996) p.44

[12] Steve Sabella, ‘Engaging the Viewer: Emily Jacir and Palestinian Conceptual Art’, accessed Oct 15th at

[13] Edward Said, ‘Movements and Migrations’, Culture and Imperialism, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993) p.403

[14] The Palestinian Authority or PA is the governing body for the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, as laid out in the Oslo Agreement in 1993 between the PLO and Israel.

[15] Jawad Ibrahim is a Palestinian artist who lives and work in Ramallah, he participated in group exhibitions in Palestine and around the world.

[16] Oslo Accords are the result of the 1993 peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people and outline the levels of authority for the Palestinian Authority PA. Within Palestinian society, the Oslo Accords are seen as a failure as more land was lost and little independence gained. For further exploration on Oslo peace process failure see, Sara Roy, Falling Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, (London: Pluto Press, 2007)

[17] Steve Sabella, ‘Engaging the Viewer: Emily Jacir and Palestinian Conceptual Art’

[18] iKSV, ‘Larissa Sansour’, What Keeps Mankind Alive?, (Istanbul: iKSV, 2010) p.235

[19] Richard Kazis, ‘Benjamin’s age of mechanical reproduction’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, accessed Oct 23rd at

[20] Micheal Wise ‘Border Crossings between Art and Life’, Arabic Nadwah, Pub Jan 30th 2009 New York Times, accessed Oct 27th

[21] For further study on postcolonialism especially in Africa and India, see Edward Said Culture and Imperialism, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993)

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