Arts and culture from Syria`s uprising

An update on what`s new on arts and culture coming out from Syria these days, despite the ongoing bloodshed and the brutal armed conflict.

Several Syrian artists are gathering at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris for the art exhibition Syrie: Cris-Action (22 May- 22 June 2014).

Among them, filmaker and visual artist Khaled Abdulwahed, author of the amazing short movie Tuji; visual artist Dino Ahmed Ali, whom I have been knowing since my Damascus days and have recently met in Paris, where he now lives and works on very cool stuff;   and visual artist Hamid Suleiman, who does amazing illustrations and visual art (we had the pleasure of hosting him in Italy for an art exhibit two years ago).

Another Syrian artist who is around these days with exhibits and talks is Tammam Azzam -whom I was happy to host last year in Milan with Festival del Cinema Africano for “Creative Syria”-. Tammam, who became internationally known for his series Syrian Museum, is now exhibiting in Dakar, Budapest, and in New York where he will be part of an event focused on Syria and Iran.

On the filmaking side, probably the biggest event is happening next week at Cannes Film Festival where acclaimed Syrian director Osama Mohammad is is premiering his new documentary, Silvered Water Syria self-portrait, entirely filmed with a mobile phone by a female filmaker based in Homs, Wiam Berdixan.

Also several Syrian TV-drama makers are filming short-movies and TV drama (musalsalat) dealing with the current situation in Syria. Abdelhakim al Qutfan, a very well known Syrian actor who also starred in “Wilada min-al-Khasira” part three (the TV series broadcast last Ramadan whose plot revolved  around the Syrian uprising and how it turned into an armed conflict), is presenting today in Amman “The night of the fall”.


The short movie, directed by Nawras Abu Saleh, tries to imagine the night before the fall of Assad`s regime; a hope that several Syrians, including artists and drama makers, still cultivate, despite the dire situation in the country.




This advertising poster was spotted in Damascus and uploaded to Facebook today. It`s about the presidential elections in Syria which president Bashar al-Asad announced to be held next June.

The poster says: “Your vote=the country Your vote=president”

A friend on Facebook added: “Your vote…a barrel bomb” (صوتك برميل.”)



Activists have started a social media campaign under the hashtag #Assadcampaignslogans to mock the president`s decision to held elections even in the midst of a bloody conflicts with millions of Syrians being displaced.

Here you can find a selection of tweets:

“I will rebuild Syria from the ashes (as soon as i finish burning it completly)”


With 9 million Syrians displaced and 50% of the country obliterated, my life’s work is only half-done.


Bringing Syrians Together and Blowing Them Apart Since 2011.

Digital Peripheries: Internet Activism and Surveillance in the Mediterranean

Friday 14 March 2014 from 1 PM to 5 PM, at University of Chicago Paris Centre

This conference brings together scholars and activists who focus on the Mediterannean region to analyze the uses of technology for political mobilization, surveillance, and repression. Investigating how contemporary information and media technologies might encourage decentralized collaboration and/or invite novel occasions for social control, the conference interrogates the extent to which new forms of web 2.0-oriented participation have actually enabled critical publics. Panelists will also explore how activists are attempting to counter the corporate and state control of content, the ways in which information is curated and disseminated, and the growth of innovative modes of surveillance. To what extent has the Internet helped to create conditions conducive to a world-affirming politics and to what extent is it like any other technological advance—also or even primarily dependent on the content?

with Emiliano Campagnola, Michael Dawson, Sylvia De Fanti, Donatella Della Ratta, Sami Ben Gharbia, Johanne Kuebler, Korinna Patelis, Lisa Wedeen and Ebru Yetiskin.


Digital Peripheries




Today at The Annenberg School for Communication, Penn University I`m gonna present my work on “Wilada min al-khasira” (Birth from the Waist) season three.

I`m posting the abstract of the talk here below, hopefully this should be published very soon. I`ll make sure to share info and links here.



This colloquium looks at the political economy of cultural production in Syria and at the power relations that shape it, within the country and in the broader Arab region; discussing how they might shift, recombine and adapt in the context of a three year old uprising turned into an armed conflict.

“Wilada min al-Khasira” (Birth from the Waist) Part Three – a Syrian TV drama from the 2013 Ramadan season – offers a privileged site for the analysis of these power relations, both for its plot which revolves around a peaceful protest movement soon turned into an armed struggle between corrupted and obscure powers, and for its exceptional context of production, where Syrian drama makers have to act simultaneously as observers and participants to events that are still unfolding.

In particular, the talk looks at the multiple strategies employed by these drama makers to cope with the complexity of a cultural text that aims at reaching out to a broad domestic audience with opposed views and contrasting positions vis-a-vis the responsibilities of the crisis in Syria and its possible solutions. Yet, at the same time, it has to operate as a commodity to be acquired by Gulf buyers and consumed on the Pan Arab market. Syrian drama makers have to engage with the multiple consumers of the cultural texts they produce by constantly shifting between the domestic and regional layer, where the relationship between Syrian and Gulf political elites has dramatically reconfigured as a result of Syria`s uprising. They are faced with the necessity of mediating between their need to survive both financially, as players in a profit-oriented market; and as citizens, in a country where the daily violence of the civil war and a stronger security grip have made life unbearable.

Dr. Della Ratta will argue that, while trying to cope with its multiple identities and consumption sites, “Wilada min al-Khasira” fails to fulfill the promise of edginess that the previous two seasons of the TV serial and the first episodes of part three seemed to suggest. In its efforts to reach out to several audiences and to serve both as a commodity and as a venue for contrasted visions of the nation and of a national project to come together, “Wilada min al-Khasira” ends up sending ambivalent messages shaped on a phony patriotism and a romanticized idea of the “people” as the only way out from a crisis where the parties are equally corrupt, violent, and driven by personal and material interests.

To this extent, “Wilada min al-Khasira” is unlikely to be described as a post-uprising serial, as it fails to suggest novel ways of thinking and looking at cultural products in the context of political unrest. On the contrary, this TV drama seems to reproduce a pattern in Syrian cultural production towards “tanwir” – enlightening the masses and driving social progress through edgy media content – which has failed to fulfill its promise of reformism; as much as the Syrian president’s much promoted vision of gradual political reforms seems to have succumbed to a security-minded strategy vis-a-vis the crisis. Yet, the research interest in “Wilada min al-Khasira” lies precisely in its unpacking the ambivalence of “tanwir”  and of Bashar al-Assad`s era, and reflecting the frustrations of Syrian cultural producers for having failed ideas of unity, multiculturalism, non-sectarianism, that were widely promoted in the past decade through seemingly progressive media content.


My farewell to Creative Commons Arab world…

Thank you, Donatella Della Ratta

Jessica Coates, February 18th, 2014

Donatella Della Ratta
Donatella Della Ratta / Joi Ito / CC BY

Creative Commons extends its deepest gratitude to Donatella Della Ratta. For almost six years, she’s been working as a tireless advocate for Creative Commons and open culture in the Arab world, increasing the knowledge and adoption of CC, conducting outreach to creative communities, and connecting activists throughout the region. Dona has done all of this with grace and tenacity in the midst of an oftentimes unpredictable and sometimes unstable political and social environment in much of the Arab world. We thank you, Dona.

Even though Dona is leaving her position as regional coordinator for the Arab world, Creative Commons will continue to support this incredibly important region. We are in the process of bringing on two new part-time regional coordinators, as we’ve done with other geographic areas. Below is a note from Donatella.

On my way back from Amman, where the fourth Arab Bloggers meeting was held this year, I was thinking that it all started here. Back to early 2008, I was lucky enough to breathe an atmosphere of excitement and change that pervaded the Arab region, and encouraged the Arab youth to gather and discuss ideas, projects, new challenges. Technology played a key role in these gatherings: at the time, open communities such as Linux, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and the like, were being formed and getting together. We started the Creative Commons Arab world community during that wave of change, connecting with the other Arab communities which were using technology to create content together, promote social change, defend freedom of choice – and of expression.

We launched the first archive of CC-licensed broadcast footage with Al Jazeera, at a time when the lack of foreign journalists on the ground in Gaza during the Israeli attack had made information a very precious and scarce resource. Since 2008, many things happened in the Arab region. The Creative Commons Arab community has grown exponentially, and many countries have joined: together with Jordan and Egypt, where we had already official affiliates prior to 2008, informal communities started to gather in Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, UAE, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Oman, and Mauritania. The latest addition has been Yemen, where few months ago the first training workshop on CC and open licensing was held in Sana`a.

During these years, we have held CC Salons everywhere in the region, from Doha to Casablanca; we have hosted CC Iftars in a number of Arab capitals, from Damascus to Amman. CC Arab communities have gathered in regional meetings four times (2009 Doha; 2010 Doha; 2011 Tunis: 2012 Cairo). We have hosted CC training sessions, panels and hands-on workshops in many regional, tech and community related events. In 2011, we started the first Pan Arab peer-produced and CC-licensed music project, “It will be wonderful”, which is still traveling around the world and being remixed. We produced the first collaborative, open-licensed comics fanzine between Egyptian and Moroccan artists. And many other exciting projects are in the pipeline: books, videos, music, and training toolkits, in Arabic and free to share.

Meanwhile, the Arab uprisings have happened, and this was probably the biggest change that the region witnessed in decades. Today the Arab world lives in difficult conditions: after the first wave of excitement for the toppling of many authoritarian regimes in the region, the civil movement for change has now to face tough challenges. Activists are being jailed and tortured, and creativity and cooperation are being repressed in an atmosphere of dire restoration. One of the most prominent member of the CC Arab world community, Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, has been imprisoned by the Syrian government for two years without charges, probably being guilty of having dreamt a more free and open society for himself and his peers. Yet, against all odds, the Creative Commons Arab world, together with many other youth-led movements and communities in the region, is still producing content, sharing and building on other people`s ideas, and working for a better, more open society.

After five years spent as Arab world regional coordinator, I am proud to have helped this community to come together, and humbled by the strength and energy of this youth. While I am leaving my official role at Creative Commons, I will always be involved with the amazing Arab community and work together to push forward new ideas and exciting projects, despite all the problems we have to face in the region. And we will be waiting for our friend Bassel Safadi to join us in new, upcoming challenges.