Art, uprising, and smartphones
in Rebel populism
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This chapter explores the pro-uprising images that workers shared over WhatsApp and imagine. I argue that their political aesthetic is distinct from “Arab Spring artwork” displayed in regional and Western capitals – art produced by self-recognised (and institutionally-recognised) “artists.” When I talked to my informants about why they shared any given image, it was evident some idea of political “intentionality” is at the heart of aesthetic choices. We learn in this chapter that workers are not interested in pictures that (re-)present aspects of regime violence – like scenes of smashed bodies, or mutilated flesh. Rather, images set as profile pictures on WhatsApp, or passed to each other over Bluetooth, appeared to always intend to do something within the context of an emergent revolutionary commitment. They broke with the barrier of fear and asserted everyday people as a new political force. Worker artwork brashly traverses prior limits of what could be said and not said. And this was achieved not by presenting visceral images capturing of regime violence, but by superimposing a donkey’s face over the president’s head.

Rebel populism

Revolution and loss among Syrian labourers in Beirut

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