Visual Culture & Pop Culture

Graffiti and Street Art

eL Seed is a French-Tunisian street artist who draws on classical Arabic calligraphy and contemporary graffiti to create “calligrafitti” in public places and in the studio.  In this short video filmed during a visit to Harvard in April of 2012, eL Seed talks about the power of art to transform public space, his work in post-revolution Tunisia, and how it relates to his mural “I’m taking back purple.” 


Additional Resource:

Comics and Graphic Novels

Increasing scholarship on the role of "sequential art" in educational settings (including such resources as the MLA's Teaching the Graphic Novel, and local educator Mareen Bakis' The Graphic Novel Classroom) informed and inspired the Outreach Center's exploration of the ways in which the medium of comic arts and graphic novels can be used to teach and learn about the Middle East and Muslim communities.

Comics and Muslim Representation 

In this panel talk held in April of 2011, presenters explored the development, context, and significance of representations of Muslim identity in comics and graphic novels.  

Comics and Muslim Identity

Comparison and contrast with Jewish identity in 20th century comics by Hussein Rashid, Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies Focusing on Islam, Hofstra University.

Muslim Identity and Superhero Comics

A. David Lewis, Special Curator, CMES Outreach Center, Co-editor, "Graven Images: Religion in Comics and Graphic Novels"  

Comics and Post 9/11 Culture

Jeffrey Melnick, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Drawing the Tunisian Revolution

Dubbed “the Zorro of the Tunisian Web," world-renowned Tunisian political cartoonist _Z_ was one of the most influential players in the opposition to former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and has played role in domestic Tunisian politics that has, in many ways, had more impact on the country than many of Tunisia’s politicians.  This short video highlights a talk he delivered at Harvard in November 2013, sharing the development of his art and activism.  



Hip Hop and Education

In the spring semester of 2010 the Outreach Center put on a workshop looking at Hip Hop in the Middle East region and Africa. The workshop particularly focused on emergent global forms of Hip Hop culture that provide unique points of access into contemporary socio-cultural currents in the Middle East region. Some of the inspiration for this inquiry and initiative comes from an appreciation for how contemporary art in general, and Hip Hop in particular, informs regional studies through a cultural studies lens. There is a broad range of applications and uses of Hip Hop for secondary school courses including inquiries into contemporary issues, youth culture, race and gender politics, national (and trans-national) identity, globalization and media, literature and linguistics, and art and culture.

Introduction to Hip Hop

Hip Hop and its multi-level artistic and cultural forms are increasingly taking on global dimensions. With historical and cultural roots in urban America, Hip Hop has been adapted and re-formed in a variety of global settings, not the least of which is the Middle East region and Africa. The universal themes of Hip Hop—urban life, social criticism, political language use—can be seen in these new settings and regional languages, but the meaning of these expressions is deeply contextualized. In order to appreciate and teach about Hip Hop culture in the Middle East region, it is imperative to get an overall sense of Hip Hop's legacy in America. The following lecture by Professor Josef Sorett, Department of Religion, Columbia University helps provide a historical context, a treatment of Hip Hop's major expressions and categories, as well as a nuanced narrative of Hip Hop's dramatic leap from an underground urban movement to global mainstreams.

Going Deeper: Appreciating Hip Hop Culture in Order to Understand its Unique Presence in the Middle East Region

Another way of approaching Hip Hop as broader social world, beyond five elements (Mcing, Djing, Breakdancing, Graffitti, Knowledge) and the notion of Hip Hop as way of life / identity marker ("I am Hip Hop"), is through thinking of Hip Hop as encompassing three interpenetrating spheres: 1) artistic expression, 2) media discourse, and 3) the discourse of Hip Hop fans and activists. This framework, suggested by Jannis Androutsopoulos in his article from the book, Global Linguistic Flows, creates a template for appreciating the diversity amongst global Hip Hop communities and the ways that Hip Hop within the Middle East region is always in dialogue with global Hip Hop artistic models and practices while continually re-contextualizing those forms into significant local meanings and expressions.

Artistic Expression (producers): 
Hip Hop lyrics are a central site for understanding and appreciating a Hip Hop community's self-formulations, core values, and socio-political messages. Artistic expression also includes the aesthetic presentation of the culture, from dance moves, postures, dress, musicality, to the style and conventions of the language used. In a study on the way language is used by Egyptian Hip Hop Artists, Angela Williams demonstrates how Egyptian artists appropriate metaphors, tropes, and even verses from American Hip Hop culture while transposing and translating the meanings to local concerns and issues.

Media Discourse (mediators): The means of dissemination and presentation of Hip Hop culture, including the cultural circulation and transmission of its various forms, is largely configured and conducted via technological mediums, both commercial and otherwise. Commercial mediums include such outlets as television, music videos, magazines, concert tours, marketing and advertising, recording studios and distributors, radio, and the internet. Outside of globalizing corporate forces other media counter-forces are becoming prominent in the growth of Hip Hop culture worldwide, and this includes the sharing and performing of Hip Hop through social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, etc.), blogs and grassroots websites, file sharing, as well as parties, street gatherings, and other non-commodified venues. A fascinating study by Adam Haupt entitled Stealing Empire describes the ways Hip Hop communities in South Africa have resisted mainstream media outlets and defined themselves as active, creative agents in a consumerist society. 

Discourse of Fans and Activists (audience): In Hip Hop culture there is a fine line between fan, producer, and artist; much of the reception of Hip Hop is active and could include participation in producing underground radio shows, documentaries, sharing mix-tapes and playlists, commenting on YouTube videos and consuming Hip Hop commodities. Fans and activists also arrange shows, benefits, protests and recreational gatherings that feature and utilize Hip Hop performances and they represent the pulse beat and real-time metric for judging emergent Hip Hop productions. The use of social media to connect people globally has created a new forum for reception and one of the ways that Hip Hop artists from the Middle East region have connected with fans has been through YouTube and other social media. Particular videos that feature relatively unknown and un-signed artists have the potential of going viral and generating momentum and fanbase that present unconventional pathways to broader spheres of listeners as well as international tours.

Other important cultural forms of Hip Hop that are often less commercially oriented are the practice of Freestyle and the Battle. Both of these activities can take place in a formal configuration (known as a "cipher") of Hip Hop artists and fans where an enclosed gathering creates a central focus for exchanges and expressions that are spontaneously created on the spot.

Art and Iran: Technology, Visual Culture, and Power

Webinar series co-sponsored by the Harvard Art Museum

How are contemporary Iranian artists influenced by cultural traditions of the past? How do modern technologies influence or shape contemporary visual culture?  This two-part webinar held in January 2013 explored themes of leadership, authority, and power in the great Persian epic the Shāhnāma (The Book of Kings) and the work of graphic novelists Amir and Khalil, authors of the graphic novel Zahra’s Paradise

Session 1 (AdobeConnect webinar recording)

Viewers joined Mika Natif, Assistant Curator for Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art, Harvard Art Museums, to investigate how technologies influenced artistic production in the Islamic world from the 9th century on, as well as representation of themes such as love and power.

Session 2 (AdobeConnect webinar recording)

Digital graphic novelists Amir and Khalil explore the influence of the great Persian epic the Shāhnāma (The Book of Kings) with Olga Davidson, Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies & Civilizations at Boston University.