Civilian Resistance in Modern and Contemporary Art

Chair: Peter Murray, Director, Crawford Art Gallery



Rebecca Gulowski and Dominik Raphael Molnar, University of Augsburg

Graffiti Traces of Arab Upraising: The Everyday Iconography of Interactions in Contemporary Warfare

Based on graffiti as our research topic, this paper illustrates a novel and interdisciplinary perspective analyzing war-related events. Using the example of the Arab Uprisings we argue that the complexity of contemporary warfare must be conceived in a more encompassing manner. Within the main discourse of “old” and “new” wars (e.g. Kaldor 1998) we cannot systemize the process of the current (civil-)war-related events and as a result, emergent elements and structures are overlooked or misinterpreted. Therefore, we go a theoretical step back and investigate constructions of social realities expressed in art. “Art renders accessible what is invisible without it” (Luhmann 2000: 17). We suggest that the analysis of graffiti, which have been created in the context of the Arab Uprisings, reveal important elements of situational conflict structures. Thus, looking at graffiti as “unauthorized act of painting, writing, scratching and etching onto or into public or private property” (Merrill/Hack 2013: 106), is an invaluable way for investigating current phenomena of conflicts. For this, the processuality and coherences of particular constructions of meanings are emphasized. Single situations as results of interactions and decisions determine the trajectory of war-related events. For example, while the riots in Egypt led to a largely peaceful regime change, Libya and Syria have witnessed significantly more violence. Our analytical approach based on the combination of Discourse Analysis and Grounded Theory (Clarke 2005). For that, looking at graffiti is particularly suitable, because (1) it connects the everyday world (accessibility for the artist and the recipient) with the policy (political statement, rupture of existing laws). Moreover (2) graffiti show situational elements transferred into art, which are considered to be particularly relevant. And lastly (3) graffiti are open to the public and thus, they can influence new situations, in which the recipients are respond to the graffiti in different ways. Graffiti carry elements of meaning and notions of reality in the discourse, and modify or manifest them. We see graffiti as an art form in everyday life of the riots of Arab Uprisings to yield access to the everyday iconography of interactions in contemporary warfare.


Clarke, Adele E. (2005). Situational Analysis. Grounded Theory After the Postmodern Turn. USA/London/New Delhi: SAGE Publications Inc.

Kaldor, Mary (1998).  New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Luhmann, Niklas (2000). Art as a Social System. Stanford, Californian: Stanford University Press.

Merrill, Samuel/Hack, Hans (2013). ‘Exploring hidden narratives: Conscript graffiti at the former military base of Kummersdorf.’ In Journal of Social Archaeology 13.1, 101-121.



Sam Bowker, Charles Sturt University

Another Egyptian Revolution: Khayamiya as War Art

The Tentmakers of Cairo have made decorated tents or ‘Khayamiya’ since the time of the Ottoman Empire (Stone, 2010 and Gagnon, 2003).  Their work was widely collected as souvenirs by Allied soldiers in Egypt during the First and Second World Wars, and even appropriated for military purposes. However, in the aftermath of the 25 January 2011 Revolution, Hany Abdel Khader became the first Egyptian Tentmaker to directly address the complex genre of war art. His Revolution Khayamiya (2011 and 2012) are unprecedented and controversial interpretations of this historic textile art form. Given their original context, they are the most provocative of the contemporary artworks that have emerged in Cairo in the wake of the 2011 Revolution. They symbolize a vast break from tradition, and a very direct engagement with the social and political disruption of the Egyptian Revolution.

This paper will discuss the unexpected emergence of Abdel Khader’s highly expressive and individual work as a contemporary war artist within a medium widely disregarded as a decorative textile craft. His original Revolution Khayamiya now belongs to the Oriental Museum in Durham University, with a second piece proposed for acquisition by another cultural institution at the time of writing. These are the first contemporary Khayamiya to be recognized by major cultural institutions, and they are both exemplars of Egyptian war art.

The depiction of a recent and violent political event, by the conventions of the Sharia el-Khayamiya, is an act of breathtaking audacity and acumen. The Revolution Khayamiya were sewn by hand in secret, depicting the events in Tahrir Square as Hany Abdel Khader saw them, as his friends told him, and as they were related by Egyptian media. The result is simple in the manner of folk art, but profound as his personal narrative of a complex national uprising.

This is an important story expressed through an ancient decorative art; a revolution for the Egyptians, and a revolution for the Khayamiya.


Gagnon, Blaire (2003). ‘Egyptian Applique’ in Uncoverings: The Research Papers of the AQSG. Volume 24.

Stone, Caroline (2010). ‘Moveable Palaces’ in Saudi Aramco World, July/August 2010.


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