The Arab Spring was a violent, frightening, yet uplifting period of revolution in The Arab world that lasted for more than a year. Filled with numerous civil wars and protests, civilians participated in extreme demonstrations of their frustration, such as Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in attempts to show the governmental intrusion and affliction he faced. This action carried across multiple Arab nations over a short period of time, with multiple Arab civilians following suit with similar actions. However, this period of revolution is so notably remarkably for another reason – the amazing and innovative way in which social media was used as a news network, connectivity platform, and artistic platform for expression to effect change across Arab states and globally. Artist Khalid Albaih does exactly this, using his political engagement and creative ability to produce works of art that create global waves.
“Revolutions take time, especially with a population that’s already broken,” said Albaih, referring to the various Arab nations in 2010 who prompted revolution. Dependent on the youth, revolutions are born from educated intellectuals fighting within the system and rebelling against an existing power structure. In extremely politically established states such as Tunisia, revolutions are such a rarity due to the fear and danger of governmental response. “If you start a political group under a dictator, you’re either with them or completely crazy.” In this case, many Arabs were “completely crazy,” revolting against long-established power. The work by Albaih is so innovative because of the non-violent, individualistic yet far-reaching power of his pieces. The messages transmitted through his work were not only felt in the first-degree by Arab protesters, but also by global entities like the US and Europe, free from the chokehold of dictatorship. “Social media is the newest dangerous weapon,” says Albaih, as with such a majority of global youth being so present on social media, the weapon of revolution is not limited to those in the country in which change occurs.
One piece of Albaih’s talk that stuck out to me, in particular, was his discussion as an artist with work “going viral.” As a photographer myself, having covered journalistic topics whether it be news or music, I have seen a few pieces of my work “go viral” and then quickly die down days or weeks later. Albaih shared how this can be dangerous to artists specifically, as it quickly gives the artist a lot of power and over a short period of time, however equally quickly dissipates. Albaih’s goal as an artist to make long-lasting work, with global reach and impact is one that resonates with me personally, as social media does truly offer a platform with unlimited scope and possibility.