Marwan M. Kraidy, Ph.D., Professor of Communication and Director of the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) published an essay titled “A Heterotopology of Graffiti” in the online journal Orient Institut Papers.
This is the first in a series of pieces from Prof. Kraidy’s research into the politics and aesthetics of graffiti in the Middle East.
Abstract: In the decade leading to the Arab uprisings, there has been a proliferation of graffiti about media. Stencilled and free-style wall inscriptions featured commentary and criticism about graffiti, television, photography, the Internet, film, leading to comments about Twitter and Facebook as the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt got underway and seemingly metastasized to Libya, Bahrain, and Syria. This paper explores Beirut graffiti about media as unique spaces for discourse that are at once separate from the media environment and yet, by commenting and criticizing other media, are also connected to that media ecosystem. I collected these pictures in Beirut between June 2011 and August 2012, on daily walks hunting and documenting the colours, shapes, styles and messages covering city walls. This exploratory article, which begins to analyse a massive photographic graffiti data set, poses straight forward questions, to be addressed in no particular order: How do graffiti reflect on, raise questions about, and put forth critiques of other media in Lebanon and the Arab world? What do these graffiti about media tell us about how power and representation operate, and how competing political and cultural narratives circulate? Most importantly, what is the best way to understand and theorize graffiti’s dual role as at once part of Beirut’s media ecology but also distinct and relatively autonomous from that environment?
From the essay: “In the widespread hyperventilation about the role of media in the Arab uprisings, journalists, academics, and bloggers have endowed, in turn, Facebook, Twitter, Al-Jazeera, YouTube and hip-hop with magical powers […] as one of the oldest means of expression recorded in history, graffiti matter-of-factly undercuts the nexus of technological determinism and presentism. Whether we consider the forefathers of graffiti the cave wall scribbling of the Neanderthal, or we fast forward to the contemporary era to the walls of New York […] or wartime Beirut, contemporary graffiti can be said to be everything but 'unprecedented.'”