Symposium Looks at Role of Arts in Arab World

Olivia Goodman ’14
News Editor

On Tuesday, April 2, the symposium “Youth Voices in the Arab World: The Arts as an Agent of Social Change” was held in Weinstein Auditorium. The symposium ran all evening and included a panel discussion, refreshments, the play Palestine and a closing question and answer session.

The panel discussion focused on the role of the arts as an agent of social change in the Arab world. The panelists included members of the TEAL-ONE97 Arab North Africa Music Project; Amahl Bishara, an assistant anthropology professor at Tufts University and researcher on media, the state and human rights and Jennifer Pruitt, lecturer in Art at Smith, whose focus included the street art of the Egyptian revolution.

Bishara became involved in the event after being invited to speak by Smith Lecturer Abdelkader Berrahmoun, who organized the event. Within her Middle East studies background, Bishara specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; she is currently working on a research project examining the relationship between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank.

“I think the arts will continue to be important in movements for political and social change, but they do not operate in isolation of larger political movements, and often they cannot overcome political and military constraints,” she said during the panel.

Panelist Jennifer Pruitt ’97 also has an extensive background in Middle Eastern studies and art, having earned her Ph.D in the History of Art and Architecture with an Islamic focus in 2009. She also lived in Cairo and Dubai for five years while researching and writing her dissertation.

“I was interested in the work of a particular Egyptian street artist, who goes by the name Ganzeer. In looking at his work, I explored how street art projects were created, changed and promoted in Cairo and throughout the world following the revolution of 2011. In particular, I was interested in the collaborative nature of street art projects, the role of social media in their development, and the function of Cairene murals as living documents whose layers may be peeled back to reveal a history of shifting artistic discontent,” said Pruitt.

TEAL-ONE97 is a rock music collective comprised of American artists of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Dawn Elder, a member of TEAL-ONE97, discussed her role as a panelist and what she hopes to help achieve through the band.

“As a panelist, I wanted to share that we are all alike. We try to use our music to build bridges of understanding to help people find common ground. We wanted to share our perspective and also shed light on the misconceptions people have about the Arab world, and about the Arab Spring,” Elder said. “We cannot sit back and ignore the problem or the divide between communities both here and abroad. It is our responsibility to use our music and art to be agents of change.”

The symposium ended with the theater production Palestine, written and performed by Najla Said, daughter of literary critic and human rights activist Edward Said, with direction and dramaturgy by Sturgis Warner, followed by a final question and answer session.

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