New Forms of Protest

Last summer, the Korean musician PSY sang out in protest against consumerism in Gangnam, a posh district in Seoul. His video shows him dancing, as if on a horse, in front of wealthy-looking men and scantily-clad women. For reasons only posterity may help us to understand, Gangnam Style became Youtube’s most frequently watched video clip. A series of parodies were produced by groups as far distant from Gangnam – geographically and ideologically – as NASA and Greenpeace.

Gangnam-style protest reached the art world with particular fervour. Chinese activist Ai Weiwei released a Gangnam Style video in protest of censorship in his country. Reacting to this video, Jewish-Indian artist Anish Kapoor – whose works are on display starting 18 May 2013 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin – animated art museums in England and the USA to shoot a video in support of Ai Weiwei. Shortly thereafter, the Philadelphia Art Museum posted a video with its staff members dancing to the Gangnam tune, though their object of contention is not immediately apparent:
 continue reading

I’m Jewish. Wanna Check?

T-shirt with message about circumcision (I'm Jewish Wanna Check?)Eric Silverman’s long-awaited Cultural History of Jewish Dress was released last month in Bloomsbury’s prestigious fashion history series (formerly Berg). It brings up to date a subject which has long been in want of revision: Jewish clothing was last surveyed in 1967 – almost fifty years ago – by Alfred Rubens in A History of Jewish Costume. The scope of the book is broad, spanning three thousand years in regions and cultures as distant from one another as the Middle East, Russia, North Africa, Europe, and the USA.

Drawing on the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud, on a selection of secondary sources and newspaper articles in English, Silverman, a US-American anthropologist, chose an analytical rather than empirical approach. Instead of categorizing garments, he chronicles controversies fought over the ages about what Jews should and should not wear.

 continue reading

The Art of Tahrir Square: Adam Thirlwell’s Kapow!

The idea that revolution – real revolution – lies in an accumulation of minor changes in daily life, as opposed to violent uprisings in the streets, is finding increasing popularity, in particular among the media literate who proliferate trends with ever-increasing technical expertise. This idea is Adam Thirlwell’s point of departure in his most recent publication, Kapow!, a novel about the Arab Spring, set in Tahrir Square in 2011.

Accordingly, riots play only a minor role in the novel. For Thirlwell, the true needle bursting fundamentalist Islamic bubbles one after another, is pop culture. “Kapow!” spells out the cartoon sound for violence.

view of a page in Adam Thirlwell's Kapow!Uprisings are both the backdrop and a metaphor for the story, which is a love triangle. Nigora, the heroine, is married to Rustam, a media-grouch, who stands for everything old, such as unfashionable gym socks, cassettes, and even burkas. Nigora finds herself increasingly attracted to Ahmad, a tech-savvy hipster in Brooklyn glasses, who makes movies on his digital camera. Ahmad believes that private life – meaning drugs and food, books and movies, fashion and sex – is “larger than the revolution.” It is. His activities have expanded his horizon beyond the borders of Egypt and they connect him in style and thinking with youth cultures around the world.  continue reading