Dia Batal‘s work, currently on display in the exhibition Tracing Landscapes, “uses Arabic calligraphy as a vehicle to explore notions of identity, memory and migration.” In her unique script, Batal brings words to life in various forms, including writing on silk screens, and creating the words out of powder coated metal. I am from there, for example, takes a line from Mahmoud Darwish and casts into a shape “inspired by compasses and other navigational tools.” This work “creates an object that points to home, a device to determine a psycho-geographical direction, a bearing full of both intent and longing.” In Alphabets of the Arab World, she goes through an Arabic alphabet inspired by the “Arab Spring” from alif for Irhal (leave) and ba for Bouazzizi to Ya for Youtube.
Batal…cites her mother, an artist who has used poetry in her own work, as an artistic influence, as well as the calligraphic works of Kamal Boullata and Samir Sayegh, which piqued her interest in “using language in art as a comment on different social and political issues.”
Back in 2011 Batal took part in a conversation about “history, meanings, and narratives are not privileged over space” which questions “the notion of space as the realm of the static, the locus of history and of unchanging identities” which you can listen to here.
On the London Review of Books blog, Palestinian-British writer Selma Dabbagh, author of Out of It, goes back to the old question of “who you write for” and acknowledges: “The question of who you write for, as an author of fiction, can be as tedious as the one about how autobiographical your stories are, but it’s harder to dismiss – especially if your work is in English about the Arab world.” Dabbagh goes on to discuss “art as resistance” and how it can be seen as a luxury:
Art as resistance is an idea that is gaining traction in the post-2011 Arab world. Programmes that promote it – in Palestine especially – can be criticised for diverting funds that are needed elsewhere, turning the occupied territories into destinations for political tourists, and doing no more than allowing a handful of creative individuals to convert their misery into money. But art can be cathartic and consoling and it can help to build consensus.
It’s a short article, but worth a read. Dabbagh leaves us with this thought, starkly connecting what we read and how it might be connected to the lives we grieve: “I can’t help feeling that Baghdad would have been harder to bomb if a few writers of the stature of, say, Gabriel García Márquez had been living there.”